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[TR] Bandit - Black Hole Couloir 3/2/2008


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Trip: Bandit - Black Hole Couloir


Date: 3/2/2008


Trip Report:

I love Washington. I love John Scurlock. Hemming and hawing about what to do on Sunday had me staring at a photograph that's been on my mind ever since I first saw it I can't remember when: http://www.pbase.com/nolock/image/57354353


I knew Phil would be interested. An email late Saturday afternoon got a call soon thereafter.


"What time do you want to leave tomorrow?"


"Does three seem unreasonable?"


"Yes. It always does. See you then."


Phil showed up early. He apologized and went to sleep in the driver’s seat while I finished getting my shit together. Something very unsettling about seeing a driver fall asleep so easily. I did my best to stay awake during the drive. A little before Stevens Pass we encountered fresh snow falling. By the time we hit the pass the roads were covered. Phil drove slowly. At Cole’s Corner the stars had come out and the night was beautiful.


"Could be a good day Phil," I said.


By the time we got to the trailhead I’d finished a full thermos plus one travel mug of coffee, and had eaten a freshly made jimmy dean pork sausage biscuit bought from a Chevron somewhere en route. Delicious.


We made a half hearted attempt at locating the trailhead to Napeequa crossing, but opted instead to cut thru Tall Timber ranch. Phil remembered the trail as having being circuitous from when he had taken it last year to reach a nearby couloir. I needed no convincing. All that stood between us and where we wanted to go was Tall Timber, some private property, and a few "No Trespassing" signs. So moving quietly in the predawn night, somewhere between 5:30 and 6, we set off in form true to the name of the peak we were after.


The skin up the Napeequa river was pleasant and uneventful. Very similar to Gold Creek. We found a crossing to Twin Lakes creek with little trouble, and afterwards had smooth sailing with ever increasingly beautiful views.






Anybody recognize this peak in the background?




After a little over three hours we figured we were where we needed to be. The problem was that because the Black Hole Couloir is so embedded into the cliffs that surround it, and because of its W/NW aspect, there’s no way to see it until you’re actually in it. Phil consulted his map “We need to go up here” Thankfully he nailed it, because even though it was only 9, we wound up needing all the time we could get.




See, it's right above us:




As we started up the lower apron I began to notice that the snow was dreamy. At only 3000’, it still felt light and fluffy. “Could be a good day Phil”. With Phil in the lead we quickly gained 600 or so feet. The sun was out, although blocked by the surrounding peaks. The Walrus, Richardson, and Pilz glaciers (I think) began to show themselves from across the valley. The area was stunning.


“I could go to sleep here” Phil said.


We still couldn’t see anything that resembled Scurlock’s photo, but skinned on. We started to feel the icy remains of avy debris, and came across a few hard bluges, so we switched to crampons. Soon after we were back in powder.


A few hundred feet more and we crested the lower apron, turned the corner, and stared in slack jawed awe.




Before us snaked a bead of snow that stretched for as far the eye could see. Which in our case meant just under 3500'. Phil and I looked at each other. Phil remarked that he felt his motivation returning. I felt like I’d won something.


The snow was feathery light, and ranged anywhere from shin deep to upper thigh. Wallowing was a word tossed around frequently. There were places where it was so deep that no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t move up. So we’d switch to skins for a few hundred feet. Phil was usually quicker at this than I, and would take the lead until I caught up. It was a good sytem. I don't have many pics from this section as I was rather busy.




Somewhere along the way Phil began expressing concern for the snowpack. Lower down we’d noticed the crown of a small wind slab fracture off to the side. The snow was definitely wind affected in places. I like partners who talk about conditions. We dug a pit. I saw a very faint layer about 20 inches down. We did a shovel test. Inconclusive. Which to me is always a good thing. The only time a shovel test is conclusive is when it’s time to get the hell out. So I looked elsewhere for signs. I wasn’t seeing any lines propagate as I broke trail. The snow felt unconsolidated for the most part. When our boots touched bottom we were hitting a softish mix of what felt like avy debris, which meant there would be some cohesion. Basically, I liked what I felt. Phil had more reservation than I, but after we talked about it we decided to continue on.


At about 5500' Phil began to question whether he had it in him to finish. The going was slow. I encouraged another 1000’. At 6600’, with a little less than a 1000’ to go, I pulled out two Starbucks dbl shots. My plan worked perfectly. Freshly juiced, Phil quickly jumped back into the lead.





We switched leads again a little later, at which point Phil began to voice greater concern for the snowpack. I didn’t blame him. We were perched 3500’ up a continuously steep couloir, thigh deep in snow with occasional wind affected built up along the edges. It would have been worse had he said nothing. “Maybe I’m just being careless Phil, but it feels good to me.” I wasn’t lying. With every step I was watching what the snow did. And all it had been doing for the last 5 hours was absolutely nothing. “Just stay away from the slabby stuff,” he said.




And so began the final five hundred or so feet of our climb. Me veering towards the edges where climbing was easier and Phil reminding me to stay in the middle where it felt safer. At some point I heard Phil say he was stopping. I looked down and realized that the slope had gotten significantly steeper. I looked up and I was so close to the top I could almost touch it. I felt incredibly at ease. The hard part was over. I slid my pack to the side and retrieved my ice axe. A dozen or so more steps and I found myself perched atop a dizzingly beautiful col. It was a little after 3. Clouds were moving in. I scampered over to the other side to take a peek and then quickly went about getting ready to ski.




As I slid onto the slope a big smile crossed my face. It felt good to have my skis on. I wanted to veer a little to my left, where I would have some room to turn, but if anything went it would go directly towards Phil, waiting below. So I billy goated down the right hand fringe until I joined up with him.


We decided to ski one at a time into safety zones, but because there really weren’t any we decided we’d ski it fast. Fine by me. My first few turns were cautious as I tested the stability. Then I cut loose. Including stops for pictures, I took us less than 15 minutes to descend what had taken over 6 hours to climb.








At the bottom we ate what we had and rejoiced in what we’d just had the pleasure to experience. Then we huffed it back to the car, arriving 14 hours after we had left.






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