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Llamas on the Trail

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Llamas on the Trail

Postby homeranch » Mon Feb 16, 2009 5:04 pm

In response to a request for a thread on llamas from a backpacker, I am starting one. I began looking into llamas as my back began to give me problems, we eventually got 5 pack llamas, and tried doing llama commercial packing in the Nevada wilderness areas. I thought we would get backpackers who were older and tired of toting a pack, what we got were Easterners, New Yorkers who were afraid of horses, a few trips with demanding folk and we gave up the idea.

But we pack with our llamas, there are pros and cons, as with most things.

The biggest pro is that it lets the very young and the old and broke down (sorta like me).

Our boys can comfortably carry 75 lbs apiece, and when in good condition 95 apiece depending on terrain. They can go where ever you can go without needing to use your hands. We carry table and chairs and sometimes coolers of pre frozen foods (not in bear country though)

Care? you can keep a number of llamas on land as small as a half acre, they are easy keepers, our almost never see a Vet.

More later, got to go watch the jeepers get stuck in the creek, it rose with all this rain.



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Re: Llamas on the Trail

Postby rlown » Mon Feb 16, 2009 5:18 pm

I saw a couple bringing some Llamas down the trail from Vogelsang last year, and it really looked like a great option. I've two (pretty useless) horses at altitude. I know that you have to give a Llama a chance to acclimatize as well, but how do you trailer them to your site? how do you outfit them? how do you feed them at altitude?

Russ
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Re: Llamas on the Trail

Postby homeranch » Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:13 pm

I saw a couple bringing some Llamas down the trail from Vogelsang last year, and it really looked like a great option. I've two (pretty useless) horses at altitude.
I know that you have to give a Llama a chance to acclimatize as well, llamas are happiest above 13,000 feet, their natural elevation, until last year we lived at 6,000 feet, so we never concerned our selves with acclimating them. I would do with them (and with horses) what I do with myself, get to elevation, take it easy for a day, and make the first few days out easy
but how do you trailer them to your site? There is the rub, I have a truck and trailer, if you don't have one it is an investment, because the llamas are light, you don't need much trailer, as long as it is enclosed sides and top, A llama weighs 3-400 lbs so two, the minimum, you don't want to have just one, they are miserable alone will not over tax even a fairly light rig. So a reasonable car/truck and trailer works great, I have used the back of my fullsize pickup also, but the height of the ground is a problem
how do you outfit them? Packs and saddles are available on the net, with much argument about what works best, just google llama packs and stand back.
how do you feed them at altitude? If you think of their natural habitat, it is pretty marginal, most American llamas are way over fed, they prefer browse to grass, so we take breaks in the bushes and let them munch, then we find meadows with good grass and tie them out, we carry one pound of grain per llama per day, they get that at the end of their work day, makes them happy.

We move their tie outs frequently, so that they do not denude and area, when we leave, we scatter the droppings, the meadow will look mowed rather than butchered as horses will do.
Last edited by homeranch on Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Llamas on the Trail

Postby BSquared » Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:46 pm

homeranch wrote:llamas are happiest above 13,000 feet, their natural elevation...
Yah, I can't help remembering flying into Cuzco, Peru, years ago. After being thoroughly altitude sick for two days, we took a tour through the countryside, still panting from the sudden change to 11,000 feet, and I commented on the lack of llamas (there were plenty of burros, but no llamas except touristy ones). "Oh, señor," said the guide,"the llamas are only found at the high altitudes."

-B²
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Re: Llamas on the Trail

Postby gdurkee » Mon Feb 16, 2009 8:30 pm

I thought llamas would become more popular, but they've never really become very common. I see only one or two parties per month.

It's definitely best if they're your own llamas, rather than renting them. Most problems come from people who don't know how to handle them. They sometimes just sit down and don't move, especially if alone.

Although a high altitude animal, they're definitely subject to altitude sickness like any mammal going up in elevation. I saw a llama with what was very likely HAPE two years ago at McClure (9,600').

We've had, I think, three dead llamas over the years -- two from exhaustion and bad care; one disappeared and likely taken by a lion; also one abandoned and injured, though eventually saved. The owner was charged a couple of thousand dollars for abandoned property and cost to NPS of getting it out of backcountry.

Seem like an OK critter, but keep in mind Muir's Dictum: No man is truly free who has care for more than his own two feet.

Finally, make sure you check on grazing regulations ahead of time. True, they don't eat much and their impact is minimal, but they're still subject to grazing regulations on meadow opening dates and any maximum nights of stay for some meadows.

g.
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Re: Llamas on the Trail

Postby rlown » Mon Feb 16, 2009 11:43 pm

I didn't mean to get homeranch into a hotbed of controversy. I saw a group training Llamas on the
Vogelsang trail and they looked and smelled tame compared to the mule train i followed in, dust and otherwise. Apart from the grazing regs (and dead Llamas), are they reasonable to share the load vs. carrying it yourself?

If i could put them in the back of the dodge, and boot them up to the high country a couple times a year, i'd be happy.. well less heavy.

Russ
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Re: Llamas on the Trail

Postby homeranch » Tue Feb 17, 2009 9:30 am

No worries about controversy. I stated in my first post that there were pros and cons.

I will address gdurkee's comments, and if there are more questions and comments, that is great. Llamas are one arrow in your quiver, but they are not the only arrow one should have.
thought llamas would become more popular, but they've never really become very common. I see only one or two parties per month. Llamas, like owning any animal are a commitment. Most Americans are urban or suburban dwellers, owning and caring for livestock requires a little bit of land.
It's definitely best if they're your own llamas, rather than renting them. Most problems come from people who don't know how to handle them. Only a few people rent llamas, for myself, I would not. knowledge comes from experience, and that of course, like any endeavor takes time and commitment. When I first got my llamas, my son and I had a pretty steep learning curve, I read everything I could get my hands on, and then went walking, we learned a lot. We had a great time doing so. If one's desire is simply to use the tool, I don't advise getting livestock of any sort. The llamas have been good friends in the hills, they have personalities and characteristics, just like people, they are just politer:)
They sometimes just sit down and don't move, especially if alone. Having one llama is not okay I cannot emphasize that enough, you need two at a minimum, they are herd animals and need the company of other llamas. Our llamas know the packing routine and they must always be put in the order they want, Petey in front, then Que Si, then Gus, then Milo. If I don't do that, they complain and get balky. The sitting down is called Kush ing. It is usually the result of the llama being out of condition, hungry, thirsty etc, just like hiking with a child, if you are a responsible llamero they are less likely to Kush. Gus our biggest and strongest is also naturally lazy, he has been a problem on a number of trips. I just disconnect him and leave him. As soon as his "brothers" are out of sight, up he comes, and trotts after us.
Although a high altitude animal, they're definitely subject to altitude sickness like any mammal going up in elevation. I saw a llama with what was very likely HAPE two years ago at McClure (9,600').

My guess based on my knowledge of llamas is that it was not hape, more likely food poisoning, lupine is one of the plants that will kill a llama, or make him pretty darned sick. A story about Milo is here; http://www.greatbasinguide.com/northtwintrip.htm Llamas have developed their lungs so that the higher they go, the better they process oxygen, a llama over Forester Pass which we have done with them, is a happy camper.

We've had, I think, three dead llamas over the years -- two from exhaustion and bad care; one disappeared and likely taken by a lion;

That should not happen with well cared for and trained llamas. That said, humans die in the wilderness too, it is part of the process. Lions do take llamas, although the only personal experience I have is one taken from a friends corral east of Chico. We lived in lion country, saw them near the house, but never lost a llama. I never leave the llamas alone when on trips, somebody must stay and watch them which can be one of the "cons". When possible we also have dogs, they help keep the llamas safe. I have found lion tracks within 30 feet of our llamas in the Nevada wilderness, the llamas alerted (they have a very curious alarm call) and the dogs barked.

also one abandoned and injured, though eventually saved. The owner was charged a couple of thousand dollars for abandoned property and cost to NPS of getting it out of backcountry.

One should not abandon one's child or wife or friend or animal in the hills, but some people are not too smart.

Seem like an OK critter, but keep in mind Muir's Dictum: No man is truly free who has care for more than his own two feet.

Tis true, and for your trip you will need to do trade offs, I sometimes use a backpack, and sometimes I use the llamas. Our summer trip will likely be 8 people, on any given day group can split up to accomplish various objectives. If it is just one person you are not going to bag any peaks, but you can go fishing. Set your goals, determine your tools. I have trudged up many trails carrying a back pack with food and gear for a week plus technical rock gear, I no longer enjoy 90 lbs packs on an eastside uphill trail in the summer sun, the llamas do a great job.
Finally, make sure you check on grazing regulations ahead of time. True, they don't eat much and their impact is minimal, but they're still subject to grazing regulations on meadow opening dates and any maximum nights of stay for some meadows.

Grazing regs normally are written for horses and mules, they are not onerous, and one has to look hard to see that llamas were in a meadow, even if they were there a couple of days, if the llamero is responsible and moves the tie outs frequently.

Regarding transport, horse trailers work great, we have a two horse slant load, with the dividers taken out it easily carries 5 llamas.

Some people will rent a Uhaul trailer, or even a Uhaul truck, as long as it has ventilation, it works well

I have seen a llama loaded into a Subaru station wagon..

One of our friends used an old RV with the insides removed.

My Jeep Wrangler can tow a 1500 lbs trailer, if I had a 900lbs trailer I could haul 2 llamas.

There are ways to surmount obstacles.

If we do the PCT and use the llamas, we have four llamas, carrying 80 lbs apiece, that is 320 lbs, If we go backpacker light, that is, say 30 lbs of personal gear each, that leaves 260 lbs available for food, resupply is much less of a problem.
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Re: Llamas on the Trail

Postby gdurkee » Tue Feb 17, 2009 10:18 am

Ahoy again:

None of my factoids were meant as criticism or even controversy. Just pointing out some of the disadvantages based on my observations for people who don't have direct experience with packing llamas. I've had a number of friends over the years think that life would be easier using a burro. After one or two forays, all abandoned the idea. I suspect it's the same with llamas unless you're really into them.

As a clarification, in National Parks, anyway, they are a pack animal and, unless specifically mentioned otherwise, are covered by whatever grazing regulations apply to a meadow or area. (there's a story about an attempted pack chicken, but I'll save that for some other time...). That said, the local backcountry ranger would probably be a little more willing to extend stays because it's a llama if the people are doing a good job of moving it.

Also, there was an MD with us from UC Davis when the llama came in. He was pretty sure it was HAPE. When the llama got down to Piute bridge, he was fine. It's not impossible it was lupine poisoning. But, though I've heard about it for decades as affecting both horses and mules, have never actually run into an animal that was sick with it. Again, I'm only recording observations here.

Finally, as I think about it more, I've got to say that we've had more incidents with llamas as a percentage of llama users than with horse packers or backpackers. I think that's a direct result of inexperienced users -- the same could be said of people who bring their own horses and mules vs. professional packers. Obviously you work with your animals a lot but a large percentage of others don't seem to.

Take care!

g.
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Re: Llamas on the Trail

Postby Ozark Flip » Tue Feb 17, 2009 2:15 pm

The llama could of indeed had HAPE. If it was sickness due to flora the llama would be foaming. And when I say foaming I don't mean just a little foam out the mouth. It will look like a run-away washing machine gone very bad.

Anyone know the proper protocol for disposing of a pack animal? I was told by a backcountry ranger and I was shocked. It would be interesting to see what others say.

homeranch - You must be lucky to keep your llamas out of the vet. All too frequent vet visits had me thinking of getting rid of mine. They are constantly challenging one another and trying to better their pecking order.....too much injury to themselves. And yea, always tie a llama train in the exact pecking order they have established or else you won't really go anywhere.

My .02,

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Re: Llamas on the Trail

Postby ERIC » Tue Feb 17, 2009 2:18 pm

Ozark Flip wrote:Anyone know the proper protocol for disposing of a pack animal? I was told by a backcountry ranger and I was shocked. It would be interesting to see what others say.


I know of one story in the Minarets area where dynamite was used.
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Re: Llamas on the Trail

Postby Ozark Flip » Tue Feb 17, 2009 3:51 pm

Precisely Eric....dynamite. Whew dogs, all the trees and brush turned redish brown.

I wondered if anyone else had heard of this.

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Re: Llamas on the Trail

Postby gdurkee » Tue Feb 17, 2009 4:30 pm

Campers:

Yep, dynamite. Very common when a horse or mule is close to the trail or water and there's not a pack of hungry bears close at hand. Short straw blaster.

Ozark: interesting about the foam. None in our case. Have to remember that. Thanks.

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