[pct-l] llamas from a llama packers point of view

Marion Davison mardav at charter.net
Sun Feb 6 21:41:20 CST 2011

Since people are chatting about llamas and I am the official llama 
packer on this list, I feel the need to chime in.

  I own a herd of llamas for packing.  We have finished CA sections
H and I and have done major parts of G, B, C, D, J, and K with our
llamas over the past 14 years. Llamas are very much at home on the JMT, 
since it is so similar to their natural habitat.  They have great lung 
capacity, warm wool to handle the cold, and are light, efficient eaters 
(cud chewers).  They also don't need a lot of water.  It can be 
challenging to get your first llama to be willing to cross streams.  We 
are fortunate to live very close to the PCT at the Mojave River, and we 
use it for stream training.  Once you have a confident lead llama who is 
willing to cross, it is usually a trivial matter to get the rest of the 
string to follow him.  This is how we typically cross a JMT stream. 
Most crossings have a ford (wading crossing) for stock, and a log or 
rockhop (dryfoot) crossing for hikers.
When we approach such a crossing, I will cross, dryfooted,  on the hiker 
crossing and wait at the other side of the ford.  Ray will lead the 
llamas up to the ford and turn them loose.  The leader llama leads the 
whole string across the ford (wading) and walks up to me where I wait on 
the other side.  I lead the whole string out of the water and then Ray 
crosses the hiker crossing.  So the llamas wade but we stay dry.  They 
do this with complete calmness, almost boredom.  They often stop in the 
middle to drink and just hang out and cool their feet.
Llamas are very surefooted.  Ours are quite happy to walk on 45 degree 
angled slab.  They don't like to walk on snow, because they know they 
can break through and get hurt on something underneath.  They prefer to 
go around snow. This limits us.  We can't go into the Sierras in June. 
We wait until the snow is mostly gone. The best time to hike with llamas 
in the Sierras is mid July to mid September.  One reason they are such 
confident walkers is their eyesight.  They have a  horizontal slit pupil 
that allows them to see both their front and back feet as they walk. 
They have the largest eye of all land animals in proportion to their 
body size.  They are extremely alert to their surroundings.  They will 
stop to stare at airplanes in the sky, and will stop and stare at 
wildlife a great distance off.  If we look where they are looking, we 
may see the wildlife too.
They aren't much good at jumping, so they can be stymied by a log that 
is up over chest height.  We have sometimes had to cut logs or cut a 
detour to get around them.  For this reason, we do trail work on section 
C every spring.  We take a chain saw and cut out all the trees that fell 
during the winter.  The llamas carry all the gear, so we can travel 8 to 
10 miles a day and get out all the trees.  Some of the big ones can take 
a couple hours.  You can see some pictures of this work here:> 

You can see pictures of our llamas here:> 

We also know some goat packers.  The bureaucracy of the High Sierras 
makes for interesting situations.  There are trails where horses are 
allowed and llamas are not:  The High Sierra loop in Yosemite for 
instance.  There are trails where llamas are allowed and horses are not. 
  The Tuolumne River gorge downstream of Return Creek is one.  There are 
trails that allow llamas and horses but don't allow goats.  The southern 
Sierras near Mt. Whitney doesn't allow goats, not even on the PCT.  This 
is ostensibly to protect the local bighorn sheep population from 
exposure to disease.

Yes, llamas do spit.  We load our llamas with 50 to 80 pounds, depending 
on the size and athleticism of the particular llama.  Our longest llama 
trek was 305 miles.
That answers the most commonly asked questions we get about llamas.
One quarter of the llamas who live in the USA live in Oregon.  In our 14 
years of llama packing, we have encountered other llamas on 5 occasions. 
  So it is not a very common practice here in California.
Marion (Llamalady)


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