The Angel on the Mountain

By Don Janssen (Copyright Nov. 2017)

We are indebted to Don Janssen of Yreka, CA for sharing this story about being a young boy whose parents were part owners of the Garland Hot Springs Resort in the 1950s.

Here am I no longer young nor completely old. Here’s what 1953 looked like. Mom and Dad had bought a resort called Garland Mineral Springs way out in the boondocks 11 miles from Index, Wash. It was a place where you could come and take the waters and be revitalized. It was a partnership with some people in Wenatchee. Mom and Dad stayed at the resort and worked hard to restore a three story hotel and a bunch of cabins.

I and my brother, Dick, had a wide world we’d never known. Forests of cedar and fir trees surrounded us. The North Fork of the Skykomish flowed a couple of hundred yards away. Great mountains thrust up from the river valley floor, and we swam in a huge hotel swimming pool – outdoor, of course. The downtown parts of Index supplied our basic food and goods, and I bought science fiction magazines from the town’s one and only store.

We were into the second season living at the resort when a great thing happened for my parents. A crew of perhaps ten surveyors and engineers came to stay all summer, and they rented most of the cabins. They were plotting a road to go farther up the “Sky” and over a pass to the east. Most of the men were young, sturdy athletic types. Dick and I got to be friends with some of them.

One warm evening we were on the front porch of the hotel. Jack, one of the surveyors, was scanning the hills and mountains around and about when he exclaimed, “What’s that! Harry, look at it.” He handed the binoculars to him and pointed so Harry could see. He looked hard for a few moments and said, “It looks like a cabin to me!” The rest of the evening was spent with surveying equipment plotting and mapping the exact location of the mysterious cabin.

The next day brother Dick came to me and said, “Jack and Marve are going to try to hike up to the old cabin on the mountain. They figure it’ll take a day. They said you and I can go along. We’ll pack a lunch and wear boots. It’ll be great fun.” I thought about it for about two seconds and yelled, “Yaaaa!”

The next weekend we met at the hotel, early. Jack and Marve and Dick and I set off down to the river and crossed over to the other side on a great cottonwood that had fallen to make us a bridge.

On the other side we tripped and pushed through tall weeds until we came to the base of an avalanche. The surveyors had figured that we could go up the avalanche to the altitude of where the cabin was and then cut across through the forest to it. As it turned out the avalanche was made up of huge boulders; the size of buses, the size of houses. We could hardly climb up. After hours of jumping from monstrous rock to craggy boulder we gave up in this path. We agreed we’d go off the rocks and enter the forest and angle our way there. We still had lots of time to find the cabin.

It wasn’t as easy as you’d think. The mountain was so steep that most of the time we were jumping from tree trunk to tree. Fortunately we had the luck to find a game trail that angled upward on the face of the mountain. Finally we arrived at a dry creek bed that made climbing easier.

I was completely worn out. We sat and ate our lunch, and the guys tried to talk me into going on. “I’ve had it. I’m going back.” So Jack said, “Listen, just go down this creek bed, it’ll take you to the river about a half mile above the hotel. Then follow the river down to home. Take your time. We’ll go straight up to the old cabin and see you about dinner time.”

“Ok! See you later,” I said and walked down the dry creek. As I walked down farther the walls of the ravine got steeper and higher. I continued down and climbed over logs and boulders, and a tiny stream appeared. “I should be in sight of the river soon,” I thought. The ravine made a sharp bend north, and I stopped. There, a few feet ahead, the creek bed ended. I crept forward to the edge of a cliff that dropped about 200 feet to where a big stream poured by and disappeared into the forest. The cliff was too steep to climb down. I looked around. There seemed no way out. The rock walls were steep and too smooth to scale. I leaned against the north wall, and then I noticed a mossy ledge that edged off the
stream bed a few feet away and angled down the face of the sheer rocky cliff.

The path appeared to go all the way down to the grassy creek side. “I could get down if I went this way,” I thought. I had just stepped out onto the slick, mossy ledge when a voice transfixed me. “Where are you going, Donnie?” I looked to where the voice came from. There, lit by rays of sunshine that filtered through the fir trees above – there stood my brother, Dick.

“Oh, I just found this way down the cliff,” I said. Dick scrambled down to where I stood. “Nope, it’s too slick. A guy could get hurt bad. Come on, we’ll find a better way.” With that I followed him back up the stream bed to where we were able to climb up into the forest and descend through the brush and trees down to the larger stream we’d seen from above.

We crossed the creek on a downed cedar and climbed up onto level ground. In a few long minutes we came out of the deep woods onto the North Fork of the Sky, and we could see a column of smoke that rose from Mom’s cookstove at the resort. We went downstream and crossed the cottonwood bridge. At home I put on my bathing suit and spent an hour or so soaking in the soothing waters of the hotel’s mineral water pool.

The surveyors came back much later and described the old cabin: The back had been stove in by snow and small avalanches. They only found a froe for splitting shakes and a handle for an ax.

None of us intrepid mountaineers, seekers for the truth, fearless daring doers, and adventurers ever breathed a word of how many stupid mistakes were made or how close to disaster we came. If someone told we’d all have to ask permission from Mom to do anything.