History Corner - That Cabin on Squak

By Bill Longwell

(Ed. Note: This article was originally published in the spring 2001 Alpiner.)

Ed. Note: This article is re-published here for historical purposes and entertainment, and should not be taken as an endorsement of the building of cabins on public land. The club fully endorses the principles of:

Leave-no-Trace

Tucked away from sight and hidden beside a musical stream in a grove of Squak Mountain’s tallest evergreen trees, a cabin has stood now for 24 years.  During the 10 years it warmed,  fed and slept its builders and their various visitors, this eight-by-12–foot  cabin provided a secret and peaceful shelter from the noisy school day and a place to spend a darkening afternoon before the climb to the summit and the walk home.

This cabin, built over a period of four years, was a culmination of much dreaming and planning.  In the late 1960s and during the 1970s, few walked on Squak Mountain.  It wasn’t until late 1971 that anyone found an entrance into the Phil’s Creek Valley, where this cabin stands.  It was late November 1971 that Thrush Gap saw its first visitors and for years they walked alone in this quiet and seldom-visited corner of Squak.  They walked here for two years before someone discovered the cabin site.

In the first years of its existence, cabin visitors looked from its wide front windows downslope to see the lights of small-town Issaquah.  They heard outside its protective walls large animals rummaging in the nearby forest and the howls of coyotes baying just outside the door.  They shared space with wall-climbing mice, with deer curious about the noises inside, the walls, and with dogs occasionally sniffing their way along the nearby hidden patch.

This cabin stood about 100 concealed yards above a decaying stringer bridge that once carried ancient logging trucks to May Valley.  From that bridge, if one looked from just the correct angle, one could see buried in that dense stand of trees the cabin’s large windows.

This cabin warmed its visitors during the coolest nights of winter, during several foot-deep snowfalls, and cooled them during an evening so warm its sleepers lay outside their sleeping bags.  The cabin builders kept the nights in mind when they planned its construction.  And, it is the memory of the nights in the Squak cabin that lingers in the musings of those who were fortunate enough to sleep there.

The builders assembled this cabin piece by piece.  Every nail, every part of the frame, every piece of its plywood shell came two and a half miles up the Phil’s Creek Trail on the backs of Phil Hall and myself.  It took four years and 56 five-mile roundtrips to carry up enough materials to complete this cabin.

Most of the building came up on my back.  I often carried heavy loads up that trail.  I parked at Phil’s house, loaded my pack frame with building materials stored in his garage, climbed the steep road to the trail, and trudged along Phil’s Creek and Thrush Gap to the hidden cabin site.  Only once did I drive to the summit with a supply of materials.  I took the chance that no one would find my driving the road or see me unloading.  I drove back to Phil’s and raced up the trail to retrieve my load and cart it downhill to the cabin site.  That drive saved me four or five pack trips.

I carried 80-pound loads of plywood, dunnage my dad had saved for me from his work.  I found it easy to carry that much weight 25 years ago.  My only difficulty was crossing the two-foot-wide string logs on the old bridge below the rising cabin.  I always picked my way carefully across that old bridge when carrying such heavy loads.  But on one occasion on my passage across that 20-foot log, I tripped on a protruding knot and fell headfirst from the bridge into the creek, about six feet below.  I dove into that creek, expecting the worst, but somehow my heavy load slipped over my head and broke my fall.  I was pinned upside down until  unbuckled my pack frame.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I broke my collarbone in that fall.  I never told anyone, never went to the doctor, but was sore for some time.  Today my collarbone sports a good-sized knot, a souvenir from that fall.

In July 1975, Phil and I finished the exterior of the cabin, then built two double bunks, plus a portable bunk that could be installed when needed.  Phil taught shop at McKnight Middle School and there built a stove from a 35-gallon oil drum.  We carried it to the cabin along with the chimney pipes.  Phil also made several candle lanterns, which we nailed to various locations around the cabin walls.  We brought some metal containers and carried in a supply of food we might use when camping there.  During Christmas vacation 1976, we prepared the cabin for its first overnight visitors.

On the first weekend of January 1977, Phil and hiked up to the cabin to spend our first night, a night four years in the planning.  We ate a warm dinner next to the warm stove; we had carried up several presto logs to burn in that stove.

The next weekend I brought my daughters Ann and Gretchen to sleep there.  They had watched its building for four years.  After a steak dinner and several cups of hot tea, both girls picked out their bunks and quickly fell asleep.  I stayed up.  I had brought several sets of school papers, which I read and graded in that snug cabin, papers carried by backpack and graded by candlelight.  That night, long after I had snuffed out the candles, the girls and I awakened  to hear the howls of coyotes, seemingly just outside the door.

Later, I carried up a 55-gallon drum, buried it in a hole, and added a seat to provide a toilet for the cabin visitors.  We had everything we needed.  Over the years we slept 19 times in that cabin.  My daughters often invited their friends.  Once we slept ten there and another time seven, crowded but warm.

Various people came up to sleep in that cabin:  my two daughters, my brother, two nephews, and numerous young people.  But mostly Phil and I camped there.  Even after Phil retired from teaching and moved to Sequim, he came back to spend several  nights in the cabin we had built together.

One early afternoon four of us backpacked to the cabin and a young dog followed us, ready for an adventure.  We fed it from our food;  it had never had such a fine time  The dog tried to sleep in the confines of that cabin, but woke me up several times during the night to let it out.  And I got up just as many times again to let the dog back in.  The next morning we delivered the dog back to its house and apologized to its owner for its absence.

Often I would hike to the cabin after school, build a fire, drink a cup of cocoa, and watch darkness fall.  Then I’d snuff out the candles and walk over the summit and on to my car down in May Valley.

We entertained famous people in that cabin.  Phil and I once invited Harvey Manning and Bob Woods, fellow Mountaineers and longtime authors, to spend a night with us up on Squak.  Harvey had long been curious about the cabin.  We cooked steaks over an outside charcoal fire and ran through a catalog of hiking memories.  Between the four of us, at least 150 years of collective hiking provided the basis for that discussion.

We didn’t know it, but that night in May 1985 was the last night we would ever sleep in that cabin.  Late in November 1987, I hiked up to the cabin to prepare it for another night visit and found it trashed.  Inside lay 63 beer cans.  The bunks were ripped out and burned in the stove;  the cabin was a wreck.  I never went back to camp there.  After that, only occasionally did I return and then only to show others hiking with me where I had spent so many wonderful afternoons and evenings.

One day in the mid-1990s, I received an ominous telephone call from Steve Williams of King County Parks.  He wanted to discuss the cabin.  I was hesitant to call him back.  He told me he had heard via the grapevine that I “was associated” with that cabin in some way.  Was it all right for to burn the cabin down; it had become an eyesore.  I reluctantly told him yes.

But I think it’s still standing there among the tall trees and beside that musical stream, waiting patiently for its familiar sleepers.

(Ed. Note (2001):  Until a few years ago the cabin was still visible from the trail accessing the summit off Thrush Gap, but rumor said it has been trashed even more.  Is it still there?  Note the meticulous detail that Longwell recorded; his numbers were surely accurate; he was noted for his accurate detailed record-keeping.)

Hannah Wheeler