This spring I tried something new by going on two nature walks with llamas. The first hike was part of the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival in eastern Oregon. The second hike, just north of Burns, Oregon, was to help a llama get certification for the Pack Llama Trial Association (PLTA).
On the first 4-mile hike, my llama was Marty McFly, AKA “The Professor.” He was not the most dominant llama there, but he was considered to be the smartest. He was always on the lookout. Llamas have large eyes, much like pronghorns, so they can spot predators.
If you go on a hike with pack llamas, they can carry all of your gear. Well, at least 60 pounds of gear. You have to weigh each pack so that they are about even on both sides.
On both of the hikes I went on, I worked with llamas from the Burns Llama Trailblazers group. They have llamas that are trained in packing, cart pulling, and livestock guarding. They train the llamas to do packing from a very young age by having them carry miniature packs.
So what’s it like walking with a pack llama? Kind of like walking with a very big and inquisitive dog. These highly-trained animals keep a loose lead and they’re very sure footed. Though some are more spirited than others, they have an overall gentle nature.
We stopped for lunch at a small lake and tied off our animals. My llama had been quiet the whole trip, but once we stopped he became more vocal. I thought he sounded like Chewbacca from Star Wars. The reason he was complaining was because he wanted to keep going. Llamas can walk many miles in a single day.
On the second hike I went on this spring, we traveled three miles. My llama that day was a young female named Manzanita. She was going for Basic Pack Llama Certification. She had to walk a three-mile course with 250-500 feet elevation gain. The llamas in this level carry 10% of their body weight.
We would encounter five different obstacles. These would include walking through tight places, moving up/over/across obstacles, and walking at least ten feet down a flowing creek. Did you know llamas often have a fear of water? Neither did I.
Manzanita did fine and passed all of the tests with flying colors. There are four levels of PLTA certification. At the highest level, the llamas walk on a 10-mile course with 2,500-3,000 feet elevation gain. There are 20 obstacles. The animals carry 25% of their body weight.
I was happy doing the shorter hike. My llama companions had a good walk and so did I.
If you are interested in helping out with pack trials, they can always use more volunteers to lead the llamas so contact the Pack Llama Trial Association .