Sawtooth Lake is the biggest Lake in the Sawtooth wilderness, a huge tarn glacially carved, its roundness framed by rugged peaks. A beautiful place for a base camp from which to do day-trips into the surrounding country. It was the second summer in a row that Sarah and myself plus two other couples, the Stewarts and Willy, had won the pack services of several high-octane young members of Sun Valley Ski Education’s Nordic Race Team to carry our packs up and down a mountain trail. A mountain trail that led to a high basecamp in the Sawtooth that we had designated as the drop and pickup place. The auction event whereof we won the team’s services was part of an annual fundraiser.
We met the ‘kids’ at the Sawtooth trailhead. They were stripped down, in running garb. Beautiful athletic gals and guys. All American youth. Smiles all around, we shook hands with the kids, they shouldered our packs and were off. Half way to our Sawtooth Lake base, we met the kids coming back down in full lope and laughing. Five days later, the same scenario only in reverse. We carried light daypacks, snacks and water bottles only. Same day-packs used during three days of exploring the alpine country around Sawtooth Lake. To the big packs, we had added more goodies and libations than we normally would. Came back from our day outings, ate fat, enjoyed fine wine and a nightcap. What a deal! Sweet. Check out the pics.
So, we’ve done goats, llamas and human porters this summer. In our wild trails history, Sarah and I had been supported by porters in the Himalaya and by camels (love camels) during an African trek. A buddy and myself had done a long trail in the Middle Fork of the Salmon country with mules. During some hunting trips with buddies, I’d used horses for packing.
For our 80-day Walk About through home country in 2017, we quickly decided it would be llamas. We had disqualified goats immediately. Except for short trips, there’s lotsa’ maintenance and logistics with human porters. Equines – big boys and girls with big packs to handle – are just not easy for elder dudes to handle. It hurts if they step on you too. Also, they have much more impact on the country and require packed-in feed in some wildernesses. Llamas, smaller and two-toed like camels and deer, have less impact on the country, graze and browse on a number of plants and can go off-trail in places you would not take an equine.
But not just any ‘ole’ llama. I’d learned that years ago packing llamas for a couple summers on 2 and 3 day outings when I operated Sun Valley Trekking, my former outfitting business. Like any two or four legged beast of burden, you gotta’ be in shape, well trained. Some of those llamas could only pack 25 pounds in the beginning and we did have to knee them in the ass and pull them around at times. Beau Baty of Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas from whom we rented O’Reilly and McShane is on a mission – to develop the best breed of pack llama in the US. He has over 100 llamas, which includes an Inca bloodline, the biggest and most robust among llama breeds. Makes his own excellent tack and ensures a training that serves a wide range of rental clients from families with small kids to big game hunters packing out wild meat from remote country. His llamas are in shape – out there often. Check out these videos of the WRTL operation.