Written by guest blogger Kaet Wild
As I approached the Debar Mountain lean-to and stared up at the peak, it became clear to me that I wouldn't make it before dark. I sat down and contemplated my next move. Had I really come all this way just to turn around now, less than a mile from the summit? It was hard to accept the reality of the day, but I decided to head back down on the condition that I would return within the month and finish what I started.
I thought about my plan for the second attempt. I decided that I'd ski in from the trailhead instead of snowshoeing the entire way. I figured this would save me some precious time, and the first mile or two was relatively flat and ideal for skiing. I'd also start earlier -- much earlier.
I planned to do my second attempt alone, as I'd done the first. But the night before the big day I ran into a good friend, Dave, and told him about my upcoming adventure. He was intrigued, and when I asked if he'd like to come along, he delightedly agreed. I explained that I thought it would take us about five hours based on my first attempt and the fact that we'd be skiing the first half. Boy, was I wrong about that calculation.
A chilly and discouraging start
Dave and I agreed to meet at the trailhead at 8 a.m. As I drove there, I stared at my car's thermometer, willing it to increase from -13 degrees Fahrenheit. It dipped to -15 degrees.
I approached Meacham Lake Campground, where the trail begins, and realized that the campground roads weren't plowed. They weren't plowed last time either, but my Subaru had made it through the 6 inches of powder without a problem. This time, however, there was a 2 foot ice barrier created by plow trucks that was impenetrable by my little Subi. That meant we had to park on Route 30, adding an extra mile to the skiing portion of the trip.
Although I was feeling discouraged, we headed out. I regretted the entire excursion almost immediately. My hands were so cold, I thought to myself, "I think I am going to lose fingers today." It wasn't even 5 minutes in and we had to stop so I could add more layers.
I highly recommend bringing multiple gloves, hats, neck warmers, and socks when winter hiking. If you don't double up, you can swap articles of clothing if one becomes wet. Once I doubled up my gloves, I was feeling a lot better -- I had summoned my inner Wim Hof and directed my blood to flow to my extremities. We skied through the campground and continued on the snowmobile trail until we saw the sign indicating the turn-off point for Debar Mountain. From there we had to break the entire 2.5-mile trail to the summit.
We continued on skis for another mile or so after the turn-off point. Once we started to ascend, we switched to snowshoes. We kept our ski boots on because they were warm and comfortable, but I think it's worth switching boots if you don't have quality ski boots. One mistake we made at the switch was leaving our poles behind. I think they would have been helpful on the steeper ascents.
Dave and I arrived at the lean-to fairly soon after the switch to snowshoes, and we stopped to have some snacks and water. I could barely make out the summit from the lean-to this time because of how much snow had accumulated on all of the tree branches.
After the lean-to the route was an obstacle course, with snowy trees bent across the trail forming a branchy tunnel. We hooded up and made our way through, crawling at times, with each knock of a branch dumping snow onto us.
The trail became steep after this -- we gained about 800 feet in the final half-mile push. Dave and I took turns breaking trail and it felt as though we'd never make it. The snow was above our knees and we moved slowly as our snowshoes slid backward slightly with each step.
Besides the frigid temperature, which had warmed to about 5 degrees by noon, conditions were great. There was no wind at all and we were able to plop in the snow and enjoy a few silent breaks. During one of these breaks, Dave reminded me of an old Italian saying, "poco a poco," meaning "little by little" or "bit by bit." I was glad to have him along not only to help me break trail, but for his companionship and encouragement.
Sweet, sweet summit
It was 1 p.m. when we finally reached the summit, the time I had approximated that we'd be heading out of the woods. I couldn't believe we actually made it. We celebrated by warming our faces in the sun and since there was no wind, we were able to enjoy our time and relish in our glory for awhile before heading back down.
From Malone, take Route 30 toward Paul Smith's College for about 20 miles. Turn left onto Meacham Road (this road may be closed at certain times or days). Bear left at the Y and enter Meacham Lake Campground. The trailhead sign is on the left. Follow signs to the parking area.