Story by Kyle Miller; photos by Nicholas Cryder and Scott McAllister
Some lines haunt your dreams—so aesthetic, so isolated, so perfect. Deep in the Northeast Cascades, there is a small peak among the giants called Bandit. What’s impressive about Bandit is that it has a 3,500-foot, continuous chute on its northwest face called the Black Hole Couloir.
We arrived at the Bible Camp at 4 a.m. and packed the final gear into our bags, knowing all too well we had a long day ahead of us. We would be following the Napeequa River for around seven miles to the base of Bandit before bootpacking straight up the gut. I went through a checklist of what was needed. “Will I need one ice axe or two?” I chose two.
We followed the river up numerous creeks, avi paths, pillow fields and steep forest along the way. My splitboard barely made purchase as I side-hilled among the still-firm crust at the base of the valley in the morning sun.
After six hours of skinning we finally reached the base of Bandit, but which couloir was it? We switched into crampons and bootpacked through the firm crust under the rocky slopes, trying to get a better look and the massive gullies along the way.
The base of the colouir was filled with avalanche debris and did not look too inviting. We pondered turning around, but we had already come so far. So after a quick second we decided that we would push on in hopes that conditions would improve.
Once above the avalanche debris, it quickly turned to a few inches of fresh snow on a smooth surface. While not perfect, it was much better then expected. It seemed the higher we got, the deeper the snow got and the more dramatic the walls were with twists and turns around every corner.
By now, we were deep in the couloir and the snow was consistently getting better. There was a break in the rocks, and we were standing on the upper apron looking deep in the Napequa Valley and the Dakobeds in the distance.
One of our partners, Nicholas, had hit a wall with a lack of sleep and decided that he would take a quick rest while we pushed on. After digging out a flat bench, we bid farewell and pushed on up the last 1,500 feet of climbing.
The snow was deep and the postholing was a chore, so we switched off leading the way. I would kick in 40 steps, then Scott would do the same. We used this process for the next two hours until arriving at the col almost five hours after starting our journey up the Black Hole.
The summit was windy and it was obvious a front was approaching, so we quickly transitioned and talked back and forth about how we would descend the line. As we prepared to drop in, we noticed that Nicholas was heading up the final section and we were stoked to see that he made it.
Conditions turned out to be so much better then expected. It was thigh-deep stable pow for the first 1,500 feet until reaching the upper apron and shin-deep for the next thousand feet until reaching the avi chunder, which had warmed up in afternoon snow.
The climb had taken much longer then expected, and by the time we reached the base of the couloir the sun had set. The next nine hours of bushwhacking through the forests was a blur, and we finally arrived at the car at 5 a.m.
Was it worth it? Without a doubt.
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