Associated trip report: Andy and I headed for the north side of Mt. Adams for what has turned into our annual waxless ski touring-for-turns trip. Good information from the Randle RS led us to impassable snow on the 2329 road between Takhlakh Lake and Meadows. The road quickly became solid snow, and there was essentially continuous snow from the road along the route of the Divide Camp trail (well marked, again, by outlaw snowmobilers, who motored right past the special signs posted for their benefit). We carried the skis to about 5000' out of fear of pollinating our ski bases, but decided to risk it after that (not a problem - at this point). It was a brilliant sunny day with a brisk cooling east wind, and the snow was perfect for climbing with the waxless skis. At the edge of treeline (~6200') we found the site of our base camp from two years earlier, a very nice location near the last trees with shelter from sun and wind, great views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and the Goat Rocks, but best of all, clean running water.
Previously, we had found a collectable flow of meltwater from the roof of undercut snow around a large rock. When I first looked this year, with much more snow cover than two years ago, I didn't see the rock exposed at all, but closer inspection by Andy revealed an eight foot horizontal tunnel in the snow leading to the rock, dripping a nice flow of water (~8 l per hour) from its roof. After setting up camp and procuring water, we set out toward slopes above camp to check out the central Adams Glacier area.
The snow was a little cupped near camp, but smoother as we went higher, and corned everywhere. The many moraine ridges held short steep runs, which we sampled, then we skied up to ~8000' and did a run back to camp. A refreshingly cold downslope wind on the larger glacier areas kept the snow in reasonable shape, but still it was a little slower than hoped. A check of our ski bases back at camp showed no pollen, but right after sunset I went on a little tour through snow we had skied earlier and immediately gained a thick layer of the tar-like coating. It seems that predicting pollen conditions is more difficult than predicting ski or avalanche conditions.
The first night was very warm, and no refreezing occurred around camp even with the cloudless night. For the second day, cloudless again, we decided to tour east, and so skied up the central Adams Glacier to ~8000', where we were able to ski over to the eastern Adams. We skied up a steeper slope above the glacier (below the N ridge) to ~8800' to do a run, and found the only difficult snow of the trip. Lacking the cooling downslope wind, the snow had softened into varieties of mush or, higher, a little breakable crust. We skied down to the Adams, then farther east to a nice looking snowfield on the N ridge, which we booted up to ~8600', and got a good view onto the Lava Glacier. This run had good snow even though it had gotten quite hot. We then made our way back up the eastern Adams, crossed to the central Adams, and did the run back to camp. No pollen problem (and no after dinner skiing!).
Our water source, however, decided to give us a surprise: despite the very warm day (~90 in Seattle), the tunnel roof had stopped dripping. But now we could hear water somewhere in the blackness at the end of the tunnel. By digging out the floor of the tunnel, we were able to enlarge it enough to get through it, and there we found what looked like a snow cave, with water flowing in relative torrents from its ceiling, formed on one side of our favorite big rock. The walls of this cave were very unusual, though, in that they contained many micro-tunnels which branched and became smaller as they ran toward the surface of the snowpack. We puzzled over this for a while (all the while collecting water) before making one more discovery which seemed to help explain things. At the base of the big rock was a small hole, ~1' in diameter, into which was being sucked a strong flow of air. The flow was constant and did not seem to change at different times of day. We figured that this hole had been sucking air through the overlying snowpack, slowly creating all of the micro-tunnels and the cave around the rock, until finally one micro-tunnel reached the snow surface and began to enlarge more quickly. We're still wondering where all of that air was going - perhaps into a lava tube and then out again somewhere lower on the mountain?
The second night was a little cooler, but still there was little refreezing despite another clear night. For the third day we went west, first skiing over to the western lobe of the Adams Glacier, then up part of it to some nice looking snowfields leading up the NW ridge. We booted a snowfield to about 9200', then had a nice run down to the base of the Adams, turned west again and skied up and across the Pinnacle Glacier to the next ridge, where we could see Trout Lake and Mt. Hood. We then skied down the Pinnacle Glacier in nice corn and headed for camp. Pollen surprise #2: in the last ~800' back to camp (starting above treeline), our skis suddenly started to pick up large amounts of pollen, and were black when we arrived at camp. We had just skied up through this snow in the morning without pollen problems, and the only significant change seemed to be that it had become cloudy in the afternoon. It would seem that pollen can be present on the snow but only stick to ski bases under certain conditions. Fortunately we were well prepared for pollen, having brought a good supply of solvent, rags, and various waxes (F4 seemed to work well in the field). Despite frequently observing the impressive north face of the northwest ridge (NFNWR), we missed seeing the skiers descend it, only noticing their tracks once back to camp; photos from that descent can be found here.
The third night was significantly cooler, and this time the clear skies allowed the snow to refreeze solidly; in the morning we could see that a marine push had filled the western valleys with fog, and the previous days' haze was mostly gone. For our last day we decided to head back to the best run we had had, by the western Adams and NW ridge. The snow there, however, was only slowly softening, so we crossed over to the central Adams in search of more morning sun, and found the best conditions of the trip, smooth and fast snow, so even the lesser angled slopes were great fun for turning. We skied until it was time to get our gear and head down to the car, leaving camp about 3:00. The ski out was a blast, with fast consolidated snow, little glades with smooth snow for turns, and some navigational challenges to avoid getting stuck on melted-out ridgelets. We were able to ski all the way to the road, then most of the way back to the car with only one short carry. No pollen problems at all on the way out, but we found the car coated in massive amounts of pollen. Very mysterious.