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High-country camel.

Hiking or riding horseback on your favorite forest trail this summer, you may be surprised to meet a llama-or you may be leading one yourself. Llama treks are increasingly popular with backpackers and hikers, particularly in the mountainous western states and along the eastern seaboard.

"The llama trip our members took last August in Yellowstone National Park was so successful we're planning to offer it again this year, plus two llama trips in Colorado, " said Ali Phillips, director of AFA's new American Forest Adventures Program, which combines the Trail Riders Program with newer outdoor adventures (see pages 50-52).

"We thought llama trips would be a good idea because of the animals' low environmental impact, which fits in well with our conservation ethic at AFA, " Phillips explained. Like elk and deer, llamas have padded feet, which cause less damage to the terrain than the hoofs of horses and mules. "And it's an alternative that isn't as expensive as horse trips, " he added. Llamas are naturally suited for mountain travel. They're adept at carrying 70 to 90pound packs along steep, narrow trails, enabling hikers to penetrate deep into often unseen areas of scenic National Forests and Wilderness regions.

Llama treks offer the same wildernness beauty as horse or backpacking trips, but the llamas make the trips more memorable. Although they've been bred in this country since the 1930s and were seen in zoos much earlier, llamas are still new and exotic to many people.

"Hikers like llamas because they walk at a leisurely rate of about two miles per hour, " said jim Watts, director of Watts a Llama? Leisure Treks in Raymond, Washington. "They're usually a congenial animal stroked or you can pat their fleece, but they don't like to be touched on their head or face. If they don't know you, they'll often move away until they've satisfied their curiosity."

Llama trekking is an unusual vacation that makes for great conversation around campfires during the trek or over a cup of coffee with friends after you return. Llamas' camel-like faces, multi-colored fleece, long necks, and curving ears make them a curiosity worth talking about-especially when they "hum."

"Usually their hum is very pleasing but I remember one llama that had a three-note hum he kept up for more than an hour. It got a little wearying, " grinned Watts. When distressed, a llamas' hum takes on a whining tone and when in danger, llamas seem to gobble like a turkey.

"In spite of stories about llamas spitting cud like their cousin camels, they usually only spit at other llamas-and then only if they're upset," Watts said, adding that cantankerous llamas aren't used for hiking trips.

Most people love llamas but that fascination isn't always shared by other animals. Elk and deer have been seen cavorting in camp with llamas, and bears run away. Llamas, on the other hand, rarely run from anything, according to Rory Russell of Alpine Llama Adventures, a breeder and packer in Twisp, Washington.

"On one trek in the North Cascade Mountains with three well-trained llamas, we ran into eight bears in an hour and a half," laughed Russell. "The llamas were great but the bears really had a rough time. They didn't know what to think about the llamas. They're strange-looking animals, and their scent is far different than most animals encountered by bears. "

Unfortunately, horses, often spook at the sight of llamas. Watts recalls passing horsepackers on a trail once when the outfitter dismounted and introduced his horse to a llama. "That's smart. Horses will get along with llamas once they get used to them. Until then, it's a good idea for riders to dismount and lead their horses past llamas if the trail is wide enough, " he said.

Hikers, too, often get excited when they see llamas. Some people walk right off the trail while they're staring at them," said Russell. Watts said "The sight of llamas on the trail almost always brings smiles, but if we're passing a grumpy backpacker with a 60-pound load on his back, he usually just looks envious. "

Some of the most intriguing llama treks in the country this year may be in Yellowstone National Park with Wyoming outfitter Jermy Wight of Star Valley Llamas. Wight said this season's trips will include views of Yellowstone acres that were blackened last fall by the worst forest fires in the park's history.

"The skiing trip in Yellowstone this winter should be an educational experience. " Said Phillips. "We will be some of the first people allowed in the Park after last summer's fires, and we'll have a great opportunity to survey the extent of the damage. "

"We saw many of the fires and a lot of the smoke last August on our AFA trip, " said Wight. "This summer, there will already be new growth in the burned area and AFAers will be able to see the contrast and learn about fire ecology. "

On last year's five-day AFA trek, Wight led his string of seven llamas, six guests, a cook, and a wrangler up Bechler River in the southwest corner of Yellowstone, hiking past a series of waterfalls to where three rivers mix hot and cold running water in a thermal basin that provided relaxing warm water swimming.

"Then we went over the Continental Divide at 8,400 feet and entered a beautiful geyser basin at the west end of Shoshone Lake. The elk were bugling their mating calls, coyotes were howling, and the whooping cranes chimed in. It was a beautiful experience. Later we went into the Lone Star Geyser Basin and then on to see Old Faithful, " he said.

Typical of today's llama treks, good food and comfortable outdoor accommodations make Wight's trips memorable for more than the spectacular scenery and fresh mountain air. AFAers who take Wight's trip dine on rainbow trout, New York-cut steaks, and beef and ham dinners throughout the trip.

The llamas' menu needs far less attention. Aside from small amounts of pelletized grain, little food has to be packed for them. Llamas mainly browse for their food-eating only four to six pounds a day compared to 18 to 20 pounds needed by a horse or mule-and streams provide the minimal amounts of water that llamas need.

"We give each guest a Certificate of Llama Handling at the end of the trek, " said Wight. "They pack and unpack their llamas and spend time handling them, rather than just holding a rope and leading them on the trail. After the AFA trip, people remarked how much that added to their experience."


American Forestry Association's expanded outdoor trips program-American Forest Adventures (incorporating Trail Riders)-will feature a series of llama packtrips during 1989. Here are details:

*Yellowstone National Park july 31, August 31, and September 11 departures).

* Bridger Teton National Forest, Wyoming July 3, July 17, and August 14 departures)

*Mount Zirkel Wilderness, Colorado (several dates from July through December)

Details of the entire American Forest Adventures program-including a complete trip list-appear on pages 50-52. For more information, write Ali Phillips, American Forest Adventures, P. 0. Box 2000, Washington, DC 20013.


For trail outfitters packing in and out of federal Wilderness areas each season, trouble is brewing over permanent caches stored within designated Wilderness boundaries. At the forefront of this controversy are the outfitters on Idaho's Frank Church River of No Return Wildernss (FCRoNR), who are suing the Forest Service for the right to keep their caches there.

Anne Fege, spokesperson for the Forest Service asserts that the lawsuit pertains only to the FCRoNR, but admitted that the results could have implications " for other Wilderness areas as well.

Caches are structures or areas where supplies are stored for future use. A cache may be an underground barrel, a covered platform in a tree, or a small shed. The outfitters say they need them to ensure the safety and well-being of clients. The Forest Service maintains that caches violate the 1964 Wilderness Act and are unnecessary eyesores.

Under the original 1985 Management Plan for the FCRoNR, permanent caches and camps were to be removed over a 10year period, with no new caches allowed. In July 1987, the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association (IOGA) sued to keep the caches in use. The lawsuit was dropped after an out-of-court settlement was reached in January 1988. As part of the settlement, the Forest Service established a five-member task force to study the issue of caches on the FCRoNR. Their advice goes to Forest Service Chief F Dale Robertson, who will make the final decision some time this month (January 1989).

It would be more detrimental to the Wilderness to pack everything in and out at the beginning and end of each season, " said IOGA director Grant Simonds. "The trails are usually wet then, and the erosion from packtrains is worse than the caches themselves. " Grant also noted that during fall and winter, outfitters might take hunters as far as 150 miles into remote Wilderness for four to six days. Trails are often unmaintained and packed with ice and snow during these seasons. "Under these conditions, a cache is necessary to ensure the health and well-being of the clients. "

Joyce Mickelson, an outfitter with the Salmon River Lodge, described being caught for several days in an autumn rainstorm: A cold wind came up, the temperature dropped, and it kept on raining. We had a hiker who was fast approaching her endurance mark as well as hypothermia. " Mickelson and her party stopped at a cache, where dry firewood and hot soup refived the woman "as nothing else could have."

Both Mickelson and Grant assert that a good outfitter's cache or camp is neat and unobtrusive. Unfortunately not all outfitters are good" outfitters.

Some of them use the caches as excuses not to clean up their camp, " said Payette Forest Ranger Earl Kimball, whose district lies within the FCRoNR.

The key question seems to be whether the caches create enough impact on the Wilderness to offset their safety and convenience to the outfitters.
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Title Annotation:includes list of llama pack trips
Author:Wolcott, John
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jan 1, 1989
Previous Article:Rambling: will Americans do it?
Next Article:Announcing American Forest Adventures.

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