By Bev Henry
The packing season is over and the high country is buried under several feet of snow. This is no reason for your llamas to get fat and lazy. The winter months provide a welcome rest for hard working commercial strings of llamas. Most of us, however, do not have the opportunity to work our llamas all that much, and the critters welcome a little exercise to break the monotony of winter.
Crisp blue and silver days, with bright sunshine and fresh powder snow, provide a perfect opportunity for a little fun. Llamas seem to enjoy frolicking in the snow as much as we humans do.
When we lived in northern BC, winter occupied about eight months of the year, so we learned to make the most of it. Our home, on the shores of a small lake, was across the water from about fifty miles of little-used wilderness trails. These trails had been constructed by the local ski and snowmobile clubs years before.
Any time after Christmas, the ice was safe to walk on; we always waited until the first snowmobiles had crossed. On sunny weekends we'd fix a lunch, take a few llamas and bike across the ice and up the mountain trails. Packed snowmobile trails were perfect for winter hiking. The llamas seemed to have good traction with their flexible footpads and sharp toenails for gripping.
We often turned the llamas loose for a little fun. The trails were a welcome change for them, as we had limited space at home for our first few geldings. Once we had crossed the ice, we would turn the llamas loose. It was a very safe area with no roads nearby, and we rarely met other trail users.
The boys loved to go blasting off at a gallop, exploring the route ahead and then racing back to see what was taking us so long. I often thought they were like a bunch of kids let out of school for Christmas holidays.
One bright and sunny New Year's day we were heading up the mountain and had turned the youngster, Rowdy, loose to burn off some energy. He was somewhere ahead of us. We heard a snowmobile approaching and hoped Rowdy had enough sense to get off to the side. The snow was deep and trails were narrow, wooded, and uneven, so snowmobiles never traveled very fast. We came around a bend to see a young man on his machine at a dead halt, face to face with Rowdy, who wasn't about to yield an inch. The look of stunned disbelief on the man's face was priceless.
He was expecting moose, he said. For a few brief seconds, he had feared he was still suffering the aftereffects of wild partying the night before. We all had a good chuckle, shoveled out a passing lane, and continued on our way.
Another favorite winter pastime for the llamas and us is sledding. My carting team took to this like ducks to water. A child's sturdy molded plastic sled, a few lengths of plastic conduit pipe, a few fittings, and Voila! A llama open sleigh. Often we'd have a lineup of neighborhood kids waiting for a turn when we hitched up a llama and sleigh. It was a great way to meet the neighbors.
So don't let winter slow you down. Put on your thinking cap, look in the garage at the kids' old winter toys -- maybe something could be put to use. Or get out the packsaddles and panniers, the camp stove, hot chocolate and cookies. Dig out your winter long johns and hit the trails for a day of adventure. Even overnight camping trips can be a delight with proper winter equipment.
The hushed silence of the woods after a fresh snow; the startling rifle crack of freezing pitch pockets in the tall sentinel pines; the sudden flurry of a grouse exploding out of the powder snow -- wonderful ways to refresh your spirit after a hard week at work. The sparkling rainbow prism of hoarfrost on wild rose hips, mysterious tracks through the bush and the llamas' quivering noses and ears thrust keenly forward at every bend in the trail all add a little spice to those long dreary winter months. There's a whole new season out there just waiting for you and your llamas.
Hmmm… just think what fun you could have with a two rope and skis...
Bev Henry has been involved with pack llamas since 1997 and is now breeding athletic pack stock along with husband Barry in Barrier, British Columbia, Canada. Bev and Barry are focusing on preserving the old style Ccara llamas. Bev comes from a background of a lifetime training and riding performance horses, is an amateur outdoor photographer, and an artist who interprets her images in pencil and watercolor.