Tom and Judy
Thunderboy and Judy
Jasper, Snickers, Judy, Pepper & Thunderboy
Well, we made it!!! Yesterday was our first drop camp of the season. On a scale of 1-10 I would put this one at a 7. We did have a few issues, but we did our job and that is always a great feeling.
You see, when we started our llama business we had planned on mostly doing day trips with the city folks and other visitors, but the hunting aspect has really taken off. Llamas are very calm pack animals so they can carry many sensitive things that other pack animals can't be trusted with, like cameras, rifles and scopes. Unlike most pack animals llamas are very calm, even when it comes to sticky situations like fitting themselves and their very full packs into small, tight spaces. They are not easily startled and are not usually afraid of too many things, like the unexpected deer running across our path; that would send a horse into a full gallop, with or without his rider.
We were to meet our hunter at 8 am, so it was a little later than we normally like, as the mountain is a very dangerous place to be once the storms roll in. There have been a few pack trips that I have literally run to get back to the cover of the forest. Now, I know that doesn't sound right, trees being a big target for lightning, but anything is safer than being out in the open above timberline. Up there, rocks are the attractant, leaving a human as the tallest thing for miles around, and being a wonderful "ground" for the lightening to spread it's dangerous tentacles. Thankfully yesterday's hunter listened to us and camped at timberline.
In general, when we work with hunters, we will take them to their camp, and then I will go and get their animal (if they are lucky and skilled enough to fill their tag) during the week. This means that quite a few of our pack trips I do on my own (as Tom will be at work), with llama cohorts of course. To pick them up out of the woods, we can usually wait until it is convenient for us to pull their camps. If it is a busy season, this works out wonderfully because I try not to make my boys work two days in a row. Needless to say I need a break in between as well!
This specific hunter is going for Rocky Mtn. Big Horn Sheep. To get this tag is a once in a lifetime chance, it took our hunter 13 years to draw. One of our sheep hunters last year had waited 17 years! So these guys are very excited and really enjoy the fact that their camp was delivered by llamas, and that they were able to bring things that they would have to leave behind if they carried it themselves.
Like I said, this wasn't one of our longest hikes as we talked them into staying in the trees, just below timberline. They will have much more shelter and are not far at all from a water source. The round trip was about 9 miles, you have to remember that timberline, in general, is at about 11,500 to 11,700 feet of elevation. It might not seem all that far when you consider we start at 9,000 feet, but a pack string can not "bush whack", so we stick to the winding trails. This is the first year in a long time that we didn't open with snow on the ground at the top of the mountain, that in itself was a prayer answered! We are usually trudging through 4-6 inches of snow for the last few miles if our hikes, so this was a real treat. We even made it home before the t-storms hit.
Our troubles began when Hunter (the llama), just stopped, no going forward, no going back. I could not get him to move for the life of me. I tell the kids all the time "use your brain not your brawn", but failed to take my own advice. I just drug that llama for as long as I possibly could, and then I'm embarrassed to say, I threw a baby fit! By the time Tom had come back to check on me, I threw my arms up in the air and gave a primal scream! Obviously Tom took those llamas and I just walked away, to get the llamas further up the trail. It wasn't long before he caught up with us and I had cooled down enough to ask how he had solved Hunter's problem. Hunter hadn't wanted to be in the middle, once Tom put him at the end of the pack string he was fine! I wish I could say the same, my baby fit really took a lot out of me-ha! Why hadn't I used my brain like that!?!
Now Hunter is happily moving along at the end of his string, and Snickers decides to lay down, he was "awful tired". So, we gave him as many breaks as he demanded and slowly made our way up the mountain. This is a somewhat new pack team to us, so there was definitely some training involved. Llamas are also pretty trusting animals, and since they are comfortable with us, they did not resist this new experience too much. We took Hunter and Jasper, our experienced packers, Snickers, Pepper and Thunderboy are the newer ones to the team. All three of them have packed before, but not too much with us. It was a little bit of a sad day, because I had retired my lead llama Marcel. He is getting too old to pack, but doesn't realize his age (like many of us). He was pacing the fence as we pulled out, like "Hey, you forgot me!"
The trail that we were on is a very rocky one, it heads up Mt. Rosalie, directly behind the ranch. It is one that we have hiked quite a bit, but never tire of its beauty. The pine forests tower above and the bristle cone pines are twisted from the strong winds. The bark is blown off of the dead trees, so they are buffed to a spectacular shine. Every now and then we got a peak of the top of the mountain that we were climbing, very majestic.
It's the trip down the mountain that we really enjoy. The llamas are unloaded, we have done our job well, and we can finally relax a little. It is also when we have a chance to take pictures. As you can see, the llamas packs re much lighter and smaller than you might think, but they still look a little cranky! I had to giggle when Tom was taking that first picture of us, he says "Damn, I'm photogenic!"