Making tracks up Debar
By Tony Goodwin
Although only 3,300 feet in elevation, Debar Mountain rises prominently from the flatter terrain to the north and west – the direction from which it is approached. Summertime views are unique but limited pretty much to Meacham Lake and the lower mountains to the west plus the expansive sweep of the St. Lawrence Valley to the north. A winter ascent, however, offers the possibility of views to the south and east, especially at the end of a good snow year when one stands five or six feet higher on the consolidated snow.
Debar is not snowshoed all that frequently, so you may be breaking trail for the final 2.6 miles from the junction of the summit trail and the snowmobile trail you have followed to that point. Total round-trip distance is nine or ten miles depending on whether Meacham Lake Road is plowed to the lake for ice-fishing access. To ease the trail breaking, the best time for an ascent would be in late February or March after a thaw has consolidated the base. There is also the possibility of skiing as far as the lean-to, which sits 0.8 miles short of the summit.
The start is at the north end of Meacham Lake Road on State Route 30. If the road is plowed, proceed for a half-mile to the parking area at the north end of Meacham Lake. If not, the shoulder on Route 30 is wide enough for easy parking. In any event, there likely will be snowmobile tracks leading into the campground. The snowmobile trail, which runs from the highway to the Debar Game Management Area, receives heavy use, especially on weekends. Snowshoers should stick to the side to allow passage to the riders.
Nearly a mile from Route 30, you reach the campground’s entrance station. One tenth of a mile beyond, a sign points left to the Debar Mountain trailhead. You can save a few steps by angling away from the road at the entrance station and cross a field to join the road to the trailhead as it enters the woods. It is mostly flat to the summer trailhead, located 1.6 miles from Route 30. A gate and trail register are just beyond. The sign here says it is 4.5 miles to the summit, but it actually is only 3.5 miles.
The trail, really a road, continues mostly flat and is sporadically marked with red markers. The trail alternately traverses thick spruce swamps and mature open hardwoods before reaching the junction with the Debar Mountain Trail at 0.9 miles from the summer trailhead. Any snowmobile tracks go right toward the game-management area. Bear left (still with sporadic red markers) and continue on the flat for another 0.3 miles before starting an intermittent climb, becoming steady a half-mile from the junction. Through the trees, the profile of the ridges of Debar and Black Peak are visible, and you can finally see that all of the flat terrain traversed so far is actually leading to a mountain. The steady climbing eases at 0.9 miles as the trail crests a shoulder of Black Peak. After a flatter section, the trail again steepens (this may be where some who have chosen skis will change to snowshoes) and reaches the lean-to at 1.8 miles from the junction. If you have traveled by skis this far, this is the place to switch to snowshoes as the final 0.8 miles is quite steep.
If the snow is well consolidated, snowshoe creepers will provide the traction required to ascend most of this steep section. In softer snow, you may have to resort to the age-old and fatiguing technique of kicking steps on a few of the steeper pitches. Fortunately, this steep section is soon over as you sense the approach of the summit rocks. As noted, there are good views to the west and north. Azure Mountain with its fire tower is the most identifiable landmark to the west. Further exploration and bushwhacking around the summit block will likely yield views to the east and south.
The descent to the lean-to should be quick with lots of opportunities for butt sliding on the steepest pitches. The more skilled may even be able to glissade some of the pitches while staying upright. Then it is the joy of easy hiking in the broken track you worked so hard to create on the way up.
Directions: From the junction of NY 86 and NY 30 in Paul Smiths, drive north on NY 30 for 12 miles to the north end of Meacham Lake Road on the right. The turn is 2.9 miles north of the junction with NY 458. If coming from the north, the turn will be on the left, 5.7 miles south of the junction with County 26.