Knowing where you are going and what you should expect is a comforting feeling but change, learning and adaptation are about stepping outside your comfort zone and no better way to engage the process than exploring somewhere you have no idea what to expect. On our last trip to the Bench Hut, we had excellent stability and snow conditions. We had received close to 20 inches of new snow the night before arriving the hut and over the three day trip we ticked off the most popular lines accessed from the hut. It was on the last day and after skiing the Outer Space Couloir off the North aspect of Heyburn we decided to venture into the unknown and check out what is called the “Bat Cave.”
Looking at the North aspect of Heyburn from the top Bench Lake you see a huge chalkstone just at the cliff line above the snow apron and there is a very noticeable cave under this massive house-sized piece of Sawtooth granite. There wasn’t a ton of information on the route but we had read about a couple groups climbing up under this large chalkstone and through a cave to an upper couloir. There is only one way to know and that is to go, so we headed over to the cave entrance. We transitioned to booting and as we made our way into the cave opening, you could see the glimmer of excitement and wonder on all of our faces; we were like children watching a magician take what seems impossible and make it possible.
Once inside, the cave had the approximate area of a racket ball court and as you moved deeper a bright light lookers left opened to the outside world. There was a tricky move under some over hanging rock and up this small bit of snow to the light. From this small bench you could see back to the South and to the upper Bench lake. Happy with this, we could have just turned around but there was a very skinny strip of snow leading up; it was the theme of the adventure and we had to check it out.
The top of this little snow strip was the end of us heading up as the snow had several mini bergschrunds before ending in a large cliff wall heading up to the top of the Heyburn ridge. From this point you are surrounded by granite cliff walls and you are able to stand on top of the huge chalkstone that forms the cave; it has the feeling of a penthouse balcony over looking the city below.
The adventure was only half finished and now we had to hit one of North America’s finest Skilunking runs available. Opting to ski the small strip of snow we had just climbed was the first challenge and negotiating turns inside a couloir that is only 200cm wide with 178cm skis takes some interesting jump turns. From the top cave exit posed the toughest move as there was a significant drop off skiers right and committing to the line was very important. Once inside the cave we had several chalky turns before exiting out of the skier left opening shaped just like the state of Idaho and skiing approx 800 feet of cold smoke all the way to the lake.
It isn’t going to replace the enjoyment of skiing the 1,500 foot Gun Barrel or other classic Sawtooth lines but it was something wildly different and well worth the side trip to check it out.