By Ashley Lodato
Fifteen-year-old valley resident Cody Wottlin has been working for Steve Darwood’s Cascade Wilderness Outfitters for two years and has done a fair bit of horse packing, so a recent trip into Spanish Camp in the Pasayten didn’t initially seem like it was going to be anything out of the ordinary. He and another packer, Al Whitworth, had just dropped some guests and gear at Remmel Lake and were getting ready to settle themselves at Spanish Camp when Cody looked back and saw smoke.
“I knew there were hikers in the area,” Cody said, “so I figured maybe they didn’t know about the burn ban. I told Al I’d go take a look.” Cody left his string of pack animals at the camp and trotted over to investigate.
As tends to be the case, where there was smoke there was fire. Cody arrived on the scene to find a little forest fire, about 30 feet by 50 feet and growing. “I ran back down to camp, got Al and a shovel and Pulaski, and we fought the fire for three or four hours,” Cody said.
“There were burning trees and ground fire,” he said, “and the ground was super hot. We were just trying to put the flames out before they spread. You think it’s smoky in the valley now—it was impossible to breathe right there at the fire.”
Once Al and Cody got the fire somewhat contained, they went over to Remmel Lake and asked if any of the guests they had just dropped off were willing to help. Two of them (one of whom was a firefighter) were up for the challenge, so they replaced Cody and Al at the fire for a while, cutting line and working to control the burn.
Cody and Al finally made it back to Spanish Camp around 11:30 p.m., where they took care of the animals, ate some dinner, and rested their stinging eyes for a while. Then they went back to the fire and fought it until 2:30 a.m. “We got a big cold snap and that did a number on the fire,” Cody said.
Meanwhile, Rob Wottlin (Cody’s father) and Steve Darwood had started riding from a Chewuch area trailhead at 10:30 p.m. to intercept Al and Cody and the guests, due to sudden emergency trail closures resulting from new fires in the area. “They rode all night to get to us,” said Cody, “and they had to use their crosscut saws to clear 42 trees that had fallen across the trail.”
All in a day’s work.
Most of Cody’s work as a horse packer is more routine: dropping camps, setting up camps and tearing them down, some deluxe guided trips and beautiful day rides. It’s a pretty unique and rewarding summer job for a kid who first sat on a pack animal at 16 months of age. “Claude Miller put me up on a mule when I was a toddler,” Cody said. “And he always says it looked like my mom was ready to kill him for it.”
During the school year, Cody can be found at Liberty Bell High School. But look for him next summer out in the backcountry, where every work day has the potential to become an adventure.