“I landed the Grumman G-44 Widgeon on the grass landing strip and taxied around a small herd of caribou. I shut the plane down close to the Iuka Falls Hotel, and my sixteen-year-old twin sons jumped out, grabbed their thirty pounds backpacks and raced toward the old man leaning against his Jeep.
“We’re here, Mr. Malachi,” they both hollered simultaneously.
“No need to shout. I may be old, but I ain’t deaf. I can still hear an ant crawling through the grass at forty paces.”
His matted, white beard and his uncut long hair gave him the appearance of a true mountain man. But it was his clothes that intrigued the boys from the time they met him four years earlier. He wore what appeared to be the fur of a bear, with pants made from buffalo hide and his leather boots had never been polished.
I tied down the plane, grabbed my gear and walked toward the hotel.
“It’s good to see you, Malachi,” I said. I pointed down what served as Main Street. It was the only street and ended at a lake a half mile from town. “Someone put up a new building.”
He turned and looked. “Yep. Some city feller from Vancouver built it end of last summer. He figgered he could open one of them businesses that cater to tourists.”
“Did it work out?” I asked noticing the dusty windows.
“He left a week after the first snow. Now the only thing it attracts are critters.” He told the boys, “Toss your gear in the back. I want to get up the mountain before it storms.” He leaned closer to me and whispered, “Can you tell them whippersnappers apart because I sure can’t.”
I laughed and confessed I sometimes called them the wrong name.
Malachi Amos zigged and zagged up switchbacks, through one meadow after another, crossed a stream thirteen times. I had over the years memorized each crossing. He eventually turned onto a path still too narrow to be more than a wildlife trail. We drove straight up the mountain for a hundred yards before he turned and stopped at the edge of a sheer cliff overlooking the Iuka Falls. We arrived at the now three-room cabin complete with a two-seater outhouse, a front porch, and a lean-to for the Jeep. The boys again rushed to the edge of the cliff to stare at the falls.
“Dad, I can see why Mr. Malachi never leaves his cabin unless he has to. I would never get tired of this view,” Amos said.
“After a dinner of venison, beans and biscuits, Malachi told the boys his plan for the summer.
“You are really going to teach them how to be guides like yourself?” I asked.
“Yes, and we are going to get to the top of Dall Mountain. We came close last year, but had to turn back because of an avalanche.”
“We will make it this year,” the boys said.
I left after five days, and flew back two months later. My sons met me at the hotel.
“Where’s Ol’ Malachi?” I asked.
“He stayed up at the cabin,” Malachi answered.
“He let you drive his Jeep?”
“We both know how to drive it,” Amos said.
He grabbed my gear and tossed it in the back with all the effort it took to lift an eagle’s feather. It was then I noticed both boys needed s shave… and a bath.
“What have you been doing?” I asked as my son Malachi expertly and slowly headed up the trail.
They each answered, and I eventually figured out they had become expert marksmen with a bow and arrow, they built a shelter in the woods and stayed there for a week, and they had guided ten groups of tourists on fishing and camping expeditions.
“How about Dall Mountain?”
“Piece of cake,” Amos said.
“Yeah, the weather was perfect,” Malachi added.
“Did Ol’ Malachi summit with you?”
“Yeah, and he carried an old army ammo can to the top. There’s a notebook in it for people to sign if they make it that far.”
“Do you want to come back next summer?” I asked.
They stared at each other then at me.
“What?” I asked with a bit of trepidation.
Malachi said, “We were hoping we could spent the whole year up here.”
I knew they were serious, and immediately began to think of what I could tell my wife when I returned home alone.