written by our members
|LP 101--LLAMA PACKING FOR THE BEGINNER
Wes and Mary Mauz of Timberline Llamas Inc. Backpackers since 1968, llama packers since 1984, and professional llama packing guides since 1985. The purpose of this course is to prepare the person with no llama packing experience for their first outing. It is assumed that you, the student, possess basic camping skills and back country navigation skills. You might be a backpacker who is tired of lugging the load, a person with a physical limitation, a person who would simply enjoy having a private porter, or all of the above. One thing is for sure: you will find that packing with llamas is a joy. So lets begin. Back country travel using llamas to tote all the camping gear and food can greatly enhance the experience and extend your time there. You are not the lugger of the load and so are more inclined to enjoy your surroundings (which is why you are there in the first place), and you can stay longer with more supplies. You and your llama companion become a team, with you as the team leader.
POSITIVE CONTROL: Your load lugging friend is smart and is inclined to be an opportunist, and a successful back country experience depends on you exercising common sense in maintaining positive control of him at all times. A llama that gets loose becomes the first priority for your time; if he is not recovered, the loss can ruin a pack trip. Positive control of the llama is making certain that 1) his halter is securely buckled, 2) the lead rope is securely attached to the halter, and 3) the other end of the lead rope is securely attached to a tie out or held properly in your hand. A tie out is an object that is solid enough to hold the llama when he pulls hard, as in a lunge. Rope knots can be a problem in that, if not made properly, they can (and will) work loose-freeing the llama. We have developed a lead rope with an eye splice on both ends, one end with the snap, and the other with a carabiner. The carabiner takes all the knot tying out of the procedure, essential when trekking with clients who have questionable or no knot tying skills. The snaps have given us (and other packers) a few escaped llamas due to bent or weak springs, so now, before leaving the trailhead, the snaps are duct taped against working loose. Periodic checking is essential, just a quick glance at the critical points is all it takes.
AT THE TRAILHEAD: Now that we know how to hang onto to our friends from the Andes, lets go to the trailhead for an overnight trek. Llamas have a strong herd instinct and are more comfortable with another llama along, so we have two for our trip, with two persons. Transporting the llamas can be accomplished in a variety of ways: van, trailer, or stock rack in the back of a pickup. After unloading, the snaps of the lead ropes are duct taped and the llamas are tied out to the trailer or other handy, immovable object.
LLAMA GEAR: 1. For carrying the load: pack saddle, pack pad, set of panniers, hand-held scale to weigh the panniers, extra carabiner, and lead rope. 2. Items of their own: Essentials: overnight picket rope with a screw picket for each end, and first aid kit. Optional: grain and grain bowls, collapsible water bucket, and bug spray. On extended trips, llama dietary supplements such as grain or high protein pellets may be essential. We use a pack saddle and panniers that we have designed and manufacture. They are available from us or through Rocky Mountain Llamas in Boulder, Colorado. The pack saddle and panniers were developed through trail experience, with the first priority the comfort of the llama, and strength, durability, and ease of use second. The pack saddle is made of two pack boards that rest on the llamas rib cage, and two cross trees that are attached by pivoting brackets to the pack boards and which serve to keep the load from bearing on the llamas spine. The pack saddle is held on the llama by front and rear cinches that are attached to the pack boards. The two panniers hang on each side of the llama from the cross trees with the hanging straps placed all the way over the cross of the cross tree. The panniers consist of an open main compartment and two end pouches, each with a full length outside zipper. Inside the main compartment on the side next to the llama there is a partition that holds a ½ foam pad to protect the llama from sharp objects; this area is also good for storing maps. We also make a rain cover, and consider one essential to keep the load dry while it is on the llama. The packing and loading descriptions are for our equipment. For equipment by other manufacturers, you should become familiar with its use: 1) the packsaddle; which side is left and how are the cinches set up, 2) the panniers; which is left or does it matter, how to pack them, how are they hung on the llama, how are top load is held on, and 3) the system of front and rear straps to keep the load from shifting.
PACKING: The weight each llama carries is somewhat dependent on their size, though generally we try to keep the maximum to 70 pounds total (including the two panniers of equal weight and the top load), which is 20% of body weight for an average 350 lb. male. Smaller llamas should carry a little less, and larger llamas a little more. Some llama packers put 100 lbs or more on their animals, but we prefer to add another llama or leave some things in the truck rather than placing undue stress on an animal which could lead to poor performance, injury and ultimately a shortened packing career Lay out the gear and food in a nice grassy spot and place each set of two panniers close by. Food and personal gear is easily organized in stuff sacks, different colors for different purposes and persons is handy. The panniers are packed one pair at a time. After they are packed, the panniers are weighed with the hand-held spring scale, and items are moved from one to the other so each pannier of the pair weighs in at 35 pounds or less, depending on how much top load there will be. The total should not exceed 70 pounds. When placing equipment in the panniers, keep the sharp objects to the outside, away from the llamas side. We usually use one pannier for the kitchen equipment and food. The gas stoves and extra fuel are placed in the end pouches so that, in the event of a leak, the rest of the equipment and/or food isnt harmed. The tent, sleeping bags, llama gear, and personal gear are placed in the main compartments, and smaller items and water bottles go in the remaining end pouches. One of the end pouches should have the rain cover; we have adopted the convention of putting it in the right front. The screw pickets, picket rope, extra carabiner, and extra lead should be placed where they are easily accessible while on the trail. Bulky foam pads can be placed outside on top of the panniers and held in place with the cross-over straps attached to the top of each pannier. Tents and tent poles can be placed on top. Keep in mind that items on top raise the center of gravity and should be the lighter ones; this keeps the twisting-over factor to a minimum. Your personal gear that you will need during the day (water bottle, snacks, camera and rain gear), can be placed on your llama or carried in a day pack. Many people are more comfortable having these things with them and easily accessible, and thus use a day pack. When they are on your llama, your access is somewhat limited and if you remove much weight from one side, you should transfer some from the other side to re-balance the panniers (just a pound or two difference between the panniers can be enough load imbalance to cause the panniers to shift as the llama moves along). Its a personal choice, though, we recommend for beginners in particular, the use of a day pack.
:LOADING THE LLAMAS: Now that the gear is packed, the next step is to place the pack saddles on the llamas. The pack saddle rests on the back, is held in place by cinches that go around the rib cage, and is the device from which the panniers hang. It is very important to place and cinch the pack saddle properly; done improperly, the llama could suffer a rub spot which can result in his being temporarily disabled for packing. If you have an experienced llama that stands still for you, great; if not, tether the llama close to the trailer with the lead rope shortened so the llama cant swing around too much. We use the convention of working with the llama from his left side, so position yourself on his left side and your helper on his right. Your helper will assist in centering the pad and pack saddle, making sure the cinches are flat, passing the ends of the cinches to you under the llama, and adjusting the fit of the saddle.
PACK PAD: The area under the pack pad (behind the shoulders and over the rib cage) should be checked ahead of time for foreign objects such as twigs, pine needles, burrs etc.--anything that could cause the llama discomfort. Place the pack pad on the llamas back with the long axis centered over the spine and the front edge just behind the llamas shoulders. When the pack saddle is cinched down, the pad should protrude beyond the saddle equally front and rear. PACK SADDLE The pack saddle is oriented with the name plate (left side of the saddle) to the llamas left side, centered front to back on the pad, and placed forward enough on the llama so that the front cinch passes through the llamas front legpits and across the sternum (large, flat, callus-like area at the bottom of the ribcage). Once positioned, snap the Fastex buckle of the front cinch and pull down on the webbing end to make it snug (take care to not entangle the llamas hair in the buckle and cinch). Adjust the centering of both cinches with the cinch webbing at the buckles on both sides, so that the connecting strap between the front and rear cinches is centered on the sternum. The rear cinch is positioned front-to-rear by adjusting the connecting strap so that it is just behind the ribcage on the short hair on the llamas underside. Care should be taken to make sure it is not too far to the rear where it will cause discomfort to the llama and could interfere with urination. Snap the Fastex buckle of the rear cinch and tighten it loosely so that your hand will easily slide between it and the llamas side. The rear cinchs purpose is to provide stability for the load and is not used in the same manner as the front cinch, which serves to hold the saddle on the llama. The front cinch is made tight such that your fingers will just slide between it and the llamas side and the saddle doesnt twist on the back when the cross tree is pushed and pulled. Because the llamas wool will compress and the load will settle in, the front cinch should be periodically checked for tightness by reaching under the left pannier to feel the cinch; the first check should be a few minutes after the panniers are loaded, and subsequent checks made occasionally during the day, particularly when going up or down-hill.
PANNIERS ON THE LLAMA: Now that the panniers are loaded and the pack saddles are on the llamas, its time to place the panniers on the llamas. The panniers hang from the cross trees by their hanging straps (loops of 1 webbing sewn into the top edge of the pannier) and are positioned all the way over both short sections of the cross tree. The panniers in each set are identical so they can be on either side of the llama, but for ease of packing organization we designate one to the left and the other to the right (by L or R in permanent marker on the lower right-hand corner of the flap). The chest and tail straps are attached to the D rings at the pack seam; their function is to control shifting of the load and pack saddle to the front or rear when going down or up hills. Have your helper take the right side pannier to that side and get ready to set the hanging straps over the cross trees; you do the same on the left side. Next lift the panniers by their hanging straps up to the height of the cross trees, and one of you put the hanging straps over the cross trees, and support the bottom of the pannier after the straps are on. Next the other places his/her hanging straps over the cross trees, overlapping the first set. The panniers can then be allowed to hang on the llama; step back and take a look from the rear, to make sure they are at the same height, and positioned so that their centers are on the outside curve on the llamas ribcage, with the bottom of the panniers at the same position on each side. If they are too high the load has more of a tendency to roll sideways; if too low, they tend to swing and will interfere with the llamas gait. The height can be adjusted by changing the lengths of the hanging straps using the ladder lock buckles on each. The front and rear straps should be attached at this time. They have 1 webbing ends and 2 pile-covered middles, with a snap and ladder locks on each end. Inspect the pile closely for foreign matter and remove any so that it is smooth on both sides. The front one is easily done, placing the snaps on the D rings that give the best fit. To adjust, pull the webbing ends, centering the pile covered area up snug (but not tight) to the llamas chest The rear strap takes a little more fitting and technique. It fits under the tail in the indentation at the base of the tail and above the anus. First, with one of the snaps attached to the lower D ring, stretch the strap out and loosen the end straps so you have more than enough length. Then, in one smooth movement, lift the tail up and place the pile section under the tail and snap the other end to the lower D ring on the other pannier. Adjust the length of the end straps so the pile section is centered and stays up under the tail , but is not so tight that it prevents the llama from lowering his tail. The proper D ring is determined by the angle of the end straps, they should be in a slight down angle from under the tail to the D ring. The rear strap can be left in a slack position when going up or on the level, and should be snugged up when going down hill. Last of all, place any gear on the top using the cross over straps. They have Fastex buckles for connecting over the top and adjusting. Try to run the cross-over straps through a strap or loop on the gear so that, if the gear wiggles loose, it wont fall completely off.
ON THE TRAIL: Its time for what weve all been waiting for: getting on the trail with the llamas! First of all, proper handling of the lead rope is important; it should be coiled in your right (convention again) hand in such a manner that it will not become tangled around your hand or wrist if the llama pulls away. Leave about five feet of lead rope free so the llama doesnt have to follow right on your heels, which is uncomfortable for both of you. Do not tie or fasten the lead rope to your body in any way. If the llama shies at something, you dont want to be yanked off your feet and possibly injured. Rather, you want to stay on your feet and play the llama with your hands and arms. In bear country, it is a good idea to attach a small bell to the lead snap or the bottom ring of the halter so that bears will hear you coming and have a chance to avoid you, rather than suddenly encounter you on the trail. Now that youre on the trail, you and your companion who is leading his or her llama are a team. You should stay close together so that the llamas are not anxious about being separated. You and your companion should work together and communicate. Keep an eye on the position of the panniers on the llamas; even if they are of equal weight, the geometry of the load might cause one to start to drop lower, twisting the pack saddle. If this happens, pull the cross tree until the saddle is centered again. It might be necessary to transfer a pound or two from the low-side pannier to the high-side pannier. Its not necessary for you to do much thinking for the llama when the trail is in good shape. When you come upon obstacles, such as mud, downed timber, brush, stream crossing, bridges, poor trail conditions, very steep areas, and many others, it is necessary that you pause, give the llama the full lead rope so he can see well, and give him time to evaluate what he needs to do. Many times he will need to be encouraged by pulling on the lead rope. Common sense should prevail. Take a minute to size up the situation, talk it over with your hiking companion, work out a plan and proceed deliberately. After some experience, much of this becomes automatic and intuitive. Keep in mind that a good pack llama will follow his human leader willingly (almost) anywhere, including onto dangerous areas where he could be hurt; the llamas welfare should be foremost in your decision making. Stream crossings and mud seem to cause the most anxiety with llamas; they probably see it as a bottomless pit thats going to swallow them up. Experienced llamas have little trouble and some seem to enjoy wading. Having their feet in water makes them want to go the bathroom, and you should try to keep them moving so they dont do so in the water. When you come to water on the trail, give the llamas a few minutes to drink; be patient, it may take them a minute or two to decide. Dont be alarmed if they dont drink all day-they might be getting enough water in the grasses and plants they eat. They know when to get water, and all you have to do is give them the opportunity. Water crossings are good opportunities for the humans to take a break for a snack and drink, since the tempo of travel is interrupted anyway. Narrow water crossings that you can step across dont require much preparation, but be careful: llamas tend to jump over and they may land on you, since you are pulling them straight at you with the lead. To avoid this circumstance, step to one side and pull the llama over as you extend your arm to the side, and be prepared to step out of their way. Wide water crossings may require you to wade as you lead the llama across. A lot of llamas, especially the inexperienced ones, tend to launch themselves into the water, and you should be ready to avoid being landed on. Stand sideways so that you can see them and hold the lead outward to one side as you encourage them by pulling steadily on it. You should be ready to move out of the llamas way if a collision looks imminent. A sloping gravel bottom is a much better entry than a vertical bank. At some crossings, there is a people bridge and a separate place for livestock to wade. Weve found the easiest way to handle this type of crossing is to leave the llamas at the water entry point with one person while the other crosses to the exit point. Using a length of rope (the picket rope works well), throw a loop over to the person at the entry point, tie or clip the lead rope of one llama to a loop tied in your end of the picket rope, and have the person on the opposite end pull him across; repeating this procedure with the second llama. Tie the llamas to a tie out as they come across, and wait for your human companion to come over
LUNCH BREAK While on a days trek, you will want to take a lunch break-for both you and the llamas. You should select the site with the needs of the llamas in mind, choosing a place that has some grass for them to lunch on. An easy solution to exercise positive control of our lunching-munching buddies is to get a screw picket from the panniers and place it where the llamas will have ample grass when their leads are clipped or tied to it. In these situations, it is a good practice to clip the two lead ropes together (whether they are being held or clipped to the screw picket) as an extra safety measure two llamas together wont get far as one and will be easier to retrieve than two individuals, should one or both get loose. Remove your lunch from the panniers and enjoy. Sometimes the food panniers are removed from the llama for lunch, it depends on how much weight is in involved, and how long you plan to stay. If you have just a few things and the panniers arent greatly out of balance it is okay to just remove lunch; if its a lot of weight, then its best to remove the set of panniers. Be sure to check the balance of the panniers after lunch before starting back on the trail. It is not unusual to have a rain shower during the day, and such is the case on our trip. When you see that rain is inevitable, that is when to prepare--dont wait until the first drops fall because covering yourselves and the load on the llamas in a panic can result in mayhem. First, find a tie out for the llamas or have your companion hold them, then get their rain covers and your raingear out. Remember, their rain cover is in the front end pouch of the right pannier. Place the rain cover over the top of the saddle and panniers and tuck the edge around under the bottom of the panniers where the elastic will hold it in place. Put your rain gear on and youre ready to resume.
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS You are likely to meet people with horses on the trail, and there is trail etiquette to follow in this situation. As soon as they are within earshot, call to them and tell them you have llamas and that you will get off the trail. If possible, get off fifty feet or more. If the trail is on a hillside try to get off on the downhill side (this is because most animals perceive an animal above them as more of a threat, as in a mountain lion). Be considerate of horse people, they have to deal with a big animal that can get very nervous when confronted with an animal with which they arent familiar. At the same time, keep an eye on the llamas, especially if the horses make any sudden movements that may frighten the llamas. This applies to on-the-trail encounters with dogs, as well; many llamas will be familiar with dogs, but seeing them away from home may remind them too much of a coyote. They may make an alarm call and/or become skittish, so ask the dogs owner to hold the dog as they go by to prevent a close encounter that could result in injured animals.
IN CAMP WITH LLAMAS After a few hours on the trail, weve arrived at our destination: a small lake right at timberline. Were all a little trail weary after all the work today, and a relaxing couple of hours before dark will be welcome. First, have your companion hold the llamas while you scout for a campsite, preferably at least 200 feet from any water. Included in the site selection is consideration of where the llamas are going to be picketed, which should also be away from the water; they can be led down to the water for a drink. Its best if you can observe the llamas from the campsite; youll want to be checking on them, even during the night. Besides, they are good company and a source of entertainment. Their picket line should run across an area that has good grass and has a dry area where they can kush (bed down). There are noxious plants that can be harmful to llamas and you should learn about the ones in your area and avoid them when possible on the trail and in camp. Now to unload the panniers and saddles and get the camp set up. Find a tie out near your campsite and secure both llamas. If there is no tie out, one of you will have to hold both lead ropes, or you can put a screw picket in the ground temporarily, and as at the lunch break, clip the two lead ropes together for positive control. Unloading the llamas is the reverse of loading; take off the top load and set it aside. Unclip one end of each of the front and rear straps and clip the free end onto the D ring with the other end. Now, with you and your helper on each side, lift the panniers up and off; set them down. If you have to unload the panniers alone, lift the left hand one up and off and set it down, and hold onto the cross tree to keep it from twisting over as you move around behind the llama to remove the right side pannier. Unsnap the Fastex buckles from the left side of the saddle and remove it. Give the llama a little scratch where the pad was, fluff up his wool, and check for any rub points. Before you set up your tent and camp, the llamas need to be put out on their picket line. Get the two screw pickets and the picket line from the panniers. For two llamas, the picket line should be at least 30 feet long with at least two drop loops tied twenty feet apart. The leads (ours with the carabiner on the end) are 10 feet long, and the 20 foot spacing of the drop loops will keep the llamas far enough apart so their leads wont get tangled. Position one of the screw pickets on one side of the grassy area and tie off the picket line with a knot, two half hitches or a bowline, then tie off the rope end with an overhand knot back on the picket rope (this prevents the bowline from loosening). Walk across the grassy area paying the picket rope out as you go until at least the 30 feet are paid out. Install the second screw picket and tie the picket line to it in the same manner as the other end. The picket line should be stretched out but not taught. Now attach the carabiner of each lead rope to a drop loop. The llamas are picketed and are free to move around in an extended circle, as they drag the picket line and their leads. In the event of a lunge, the picket line acts as a shock absorber. Llamas need to learn to be rope wise. If you have an inexperienced llama, he might get tangled in his lead rope and you should keep an eye on him. If he gets tangled the lead rope could be wrapped around his body and/or legs and could be very tight. You should act immediately to untangle him: (1) attach the extra lead to his halter and clip the carabiner any where on the picket rope (this maintains positive control while you deal with the other lead), (2) with the tangled lead, unsnap the snap at the halter or the carabiner from the picket line to free him; free up the lead rope and resnap at both ends, (3) remove the extra lead. Hopefully, he has learned something and wont repeat the same mistake. Give the llamas a little time to settle in as you set up camp. Later, if you have some grain, offer it to them it (or a substitute granola bar) will be eagerly accepted. Before dark, take them to water (or bring a collapsible bucket or pot of water to them) and give them a few minutes to drink if they want to. The last thing to do is to check on them before you turn in. During the night you can tell if something alarms them by the sound of their feet on the ground, a stomping sound; another good reason to have your tent nearby. If they have bells on, you will get to know normal sounds and sounds that require your attention, such as our greenhorn friend getting tangled again. If you have a nature call in the night be sure to use your flashlight to check on them. Aaahh, morning! The best time of the day, get the stove started and have a hot drink as you wait for the sun. This is a great time for photographs of the camp and llamas with the warm light of the rising sun. But I digress. Your morning starts with the normal camping chores after checking on the llamas. They like to take their time getting started, rolling, eating, and chewing cud. You should give them a chance to drink before you settle into breakfast and packing, which usually takes a couple of hours. Packing is much the same as at the trailhead. At some point during the packing process, bring the llamas up near the camp and tie them out so that you can take up the picket line. You might leave the picket line out this time for the water crossing, looped over the cross tree or tucked under the flap. Check the pack pads, cinches, and rump and chest straps and put them on the llamas. Load as you did yesterday and youre ready to go. Your companion wants to take some photographs of wild flowers and the llamas on the trail, so he/she asks you take his/her llama. How did he/she know you could string llamas together? First, make a loop in your lead rope about a foot down from the snap at the halter; then slide the lead rope of the other llama through the extra carabiner (that youve been carrying) thats clipped to the rear hanging strap of the left pannier on your llama; clip the carabiner of the rear lead rope onto the loop you made in the lead rope of the front llama. The effect of this is to tie the lead ropes together so that, by leading the front llama, you also have lead rope communication with the second llama. In the event of a problem with the rear llama, he will be pulling on the loop in your lead rope rather than on the lead llamas halter or pack. Start off down the trail and the llamas will string out, and youll be amazed at how well they will track along, even over obstacles. With longer strings, some llama psychology has to be practiced since they have preferences as to where they are most comfortable in a string. I have had as many as eight llamas in a string for extended travel, nine for a short river crossing. Its very important to keep moving, even slowly, when handling a long string. If you stop and they start to mill around it can be a big problem--just keep circling. Its amazing that the llamas seem to understand whats expected: similarly, a trouble maker will seize the opportunity to cause problems. Your return down the trail is uneventful, except that the rear llama balks at some mud. You, however, were able to encourage him by pulling on the lead rope with out affecting the front llama because of the drop loop in the front lead. When you reach the water crossing your companion catches up and takes his/her llama. The water crossing is much smoother this time, a testimony to your learning curve. The hike back to the trailhead goes well and you find that its hard to pass other hikers going up without stopping and answering a lot of questions about trekking with llamas, a subject on which youve become an expert. You explain the virtues of your four-legged porters and that packing with them is pretty simple, just a matter of common sense and practice.
What to do with this Llama!
One of the yearly activities for the public, llamas, and llama owners is the Fairplay Race/Walk each summer on the fourth Saturday of July since 1982. The town of Fairplay, CO invites llama folks to enjoy the Burro Days celebration. It allows folks to take advantage of their hospitality, the towns primitive environment, and to race llamas on a 3-mile course. The race is open to the general public. Llama owners bring additional llamas for use by the public. The racers are broken into classes: runners with pack llamas, runners 12-19, runners 30-39, runners 40-49, runners 50-59, runners 60+, and walkers. Ribbons are distributed to the first three places in each class. Mother Nature upped the stakes this year by raining constantly for three days. Prior to the race, the three river crossings were definitely changeling for the 60 runners with pack llamas and walkers with llamas. The race started on Front Street (the towns earliest main street), down to the river bottom and the first river crossing. Most runners were successful at crossing, but many of the walkers chose to by pass the first crossing and use the highway bridge. There are climbs in and out of the river bottom, circling around the active Mountain Man rendezvous Camp, back to the river bottom and the rock fields, river crossing through the marsh and straight across the dam, foot bridge, over jumps, through the tunnel, circle the camp ground and lake. The final portion of the race is through the tight willows, through the last river crossing, up Killer Hill and back to Front Street through the Ghost Town to the finish line. The racers and walkers have a great time challenging both participants and llamas. After the last walker returns from the course, we have an obstacle course for young children to take a llama through a small course with provided llamas and each child receives a participation ribbon. So, whether you own a llama or not, come to Fairplay, CO for an enjoyable weekend with llamas. For more information contact: Roger Miller at the following: 719/749-0119 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The race is sponsored by RMLA and coordinated by members of Llamas of Central Colorado (LOCC).
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