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Kyle Miller Skis the Black Hole Couloir on Bandit Mountain, Deep in the NE Cascades
Posted on April 11, 2011

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.

Author: - Monday, April 11th, 2011

  1. Erin

    Hey Kyle-
    what an excellent adventure! I’m jealous! having been an avid mountain biker used to day long treks through the wilderness of Southern CA, Northern CA, and parts of OR & WA carrying my bike/gear through mud, sitting and flowing water, sand traps (though thankfully rare indeed), bogs, and my favorite :riding straight up through canyon passes that were so shear & barren that although rarely traversed, there was hardly any vegetation or under growth because it had so little to adhere to (hard all the way to the surface, but on top the sand and debris just brushes away without any effort)! Here, the dirt, rocks and debris were shifting so badly that many times we would be peddling for a good 45 seconds to a minute desperately trying to give our hardcore,bulbous, knotty (as he old timers like my Pop called them) tires to “grab on” to the nasty terrain before were completely depleted! Once these tires got a good grip, then were would start slowing start marching forward again.
    I grew up in cold weather and our family often had to traverse them to get out of jams-but I never had the opportunity to trek through cold weather systems like the ones you and your buddies seek out intentionally. I am inspired by the “heart” you guys show when searching for the perfect…whatever. For some it’s the perfect “line”, like you who wanted to ski down this very obscure mountain, (Bandit). But for others, it might be searching for the perfect “wave”. The major difference is is that going to a beach, regardless of how far away it is, or how gnarly the reef is, is is not nearly as dangerous, fearsome or life threatening as it is for you guys just to arrive safe to your destination (having climbed, rappelled, skimmed, skied and snow-shoe’d it).
    After a bike accident, and on a trek that was to be especially light and brief since out of town uncles and cousins wanted a taste of what us Southern Biscoes’ were up to, ended abruptly when I was in the lead and as I went up over a hill (not2 miles from the trail head where we started) that I had been on many times before, I was surprised when my biked tipped over the top, only to find the hard dirt just seemed to disappear, fall away from the part I had ridden to the top, I since the rains had washed the other half of this hill away, I went off the other side 30 feet or so into a cactus garden of small bushes and many medium and small sized rocks that just tore me up!
    My back has never been the same. Several spine surgeries and once traffic accident where a car ran into me on my bike while I was riding to class at a local college, I have had to give up riding all together. But when I read stories like yours it inspires me that there are always things that we can do to live on the edge. I do not mean to say that I can do 1% of what you do, but what I am saying is that even though I cannot use my bike in the wilds maybe I can hike one day, or even go camping. The adventuring spirit in me is so lost, feels that it is missing out on so much…If any of you kind enough to read this have any ideas on things i can do, starting at a novice level, with my very active physically fit-hardcore hubby, I would be so very grateful!
    Thank you Kyle for allowing all of us Eddie Bauer customers to share even a little bit in the thrills of your adventures! Take care and God Bless you and yours! Erin

  2. Kyle Miller

    Hey Erin

    Thank you for the kind words they really mean a lot to me.

    Its amazing how most of our injuries happen so close to home and all it takes is a split second mistake. While I love the physical aspect of climbing its really the mental aspect that drives me. The alpine environments of Washington are harsh and inhospitable but hold some of the most stunning scenery I have bared witness too.

    I look forward to bringing my stories to Eddie Bauer. There are some really cool ones on the way.

  3. Liz Enger

    really enjoyed reading your story.
    While I don’t really know you beyond picking you up at Lower Northway and riding the gondola with you, I am honored to know you, neighbor.

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