For over 4,000 years, llamas have been used to carry loads through rough mountain terrain. Out West, it’s not uncommon to see llamas carrying tents, sleeping bags, and food for hikers. In the Great Lakes region, llamas are still an unusual sight on the trail, but an increasing number of people are starting to go trekking with them. They’re agile, surefooted, and tread lightly on the earth. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports:
For over 4,000 years llamas have been used to carry loads through rough mountain
terrain. Out West it’s not uncommon to see llamas carrying tents, sleeping bags, and food
for hikers. In the Great Lakes region, llamas are still an unusual sight on the trail, but an
increasing number of people are starting to go trekking with them. They’re agile,
surefooted, and tread lightly on the earth. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar
(leaf noise) (walking)
“This is pretty, the lake out here.”
Cheryl Topliff is leading her llama named Streak through the woods at Seven Lakes State
Park in Michigan. Streak is mostly black except for his feet, his face, and the front of his
“And he’s got curly locks on the top of his head – he’s cute.”
And he’s a bit unusual; he’s a talker.
“I’m getting a fully narrated tour.”
Cheryl Topliff originally got Streak because of his long wooly hair. She’s a fiber artist
and weaves with llama fur. But recently she and her husband got interested in hiking
with their llamas.
“For me personally, it is just getting outdoors on a nice fall day and getting some exercise and
walking, plus the comradery of the other llama people.”
Streak sets the pace for a group of hikers and their llamas. They wander through
meadows full of flowers. They find their way through deep wooded groves. And
trudge up and down hills.
He does like to walk and he likes to be out in front of the whole group.
But today’s trek isn’t for fun. Streak is working on getting certified as
a pack llama – that’s a llama that has been tested to make sure it’s trained
to carry loads and behave well in the backcountry. That means they go
where they’re led and don’t spit or kick.
Dave Foy is with the Pack Llama Association. It’s his job to make sure Streak and the
rest of the llamas are properly tested.
“Not every llama is a pack llama and people have a tendency to think so because that’s
what they’ve really been bred for but some of them don’t like it so a pack trial will put
through a regime of obstacles and trials.”
Such as jumping logs, crossing bridges, and walking through muddy streams.
“Now try to enter that water as close to the flag as possible. We want to make sure he
gets his feet wet.”
Cheryl Topliff’s husband, Don, goes first with a llama named Standing Ovation.
“It’s very shallow. Step over.”
But Standing Ovation wants nothing to do with the water. He hesitates, (“come on”)
(squish), slowly walks in (splash), and then suddenly lunges and jumps to the bank
It cost him. Standing Ovation loses points for bad behavior.
Streak goes next. He crosses the water with out a hitch, and continues on down
(amb of hiking)
“Wow, I’ve never seen a llama up close.”
“Hey, hey, quiet, nice guys.”
Streak and the rest of the llamas are an unusual site in the woods, so people out trekking
with llamas often have to stop to answer questions about what they’re doing. Margaret
Van Camp organized today’s pack trials. She says llamas seem to have gotten a bad
“People who don’t have llamas don’t have a positive impression of llamas. They always
think they spit and they think you can’t ride them. What are they good for? But then they
see you doing this and they realize you can have a lot of fun with them.”
“Wow! Look at the pretty llamas.”
Margaret Van Camp says the nice thing about llamas is that they find their own food,
don’t need much water since they are related to camels, and they don’t damage trails like
horses, mules, and bicycles.
“So that’s why llamas are so nice – because they’re so enviro-friendly they make it easy
to carry more with no more impact on the environment than you – probably less than you
with your hiking boots.”
That’s because llama’s have padded feet like a dog, not hooves which is why on federal
land, llamas are allowed on trails that are closed to horses. And that’s one reason llama
trekking is growing in popularity.
“All right, if you can come one at a time. This is a kicker hill. Next llama. He’s rearing
to go. He’s revving his engines.”
“We’re going mountain climbing. You ready for this big boy? (llama noises) Good.”
By the end of the hike, Streak has negotiated all the obstacles and passed all his tests.
(amb: trailer door)
Cheryl Topliff loads him in the trailer and heads for home with damp feet, a muddy
husband, and a couple llamas ready for their next adventure in the woods.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamar Charney.