On mountain trails, I’ve wished countless times that somebody else would carry my backpack.
Perhaps I could borrow an idea from a Sun Valley couple’s experiment: Let that somebody be a goat or a llama.
Backpackers Bob Jonas and Sarah Michael, both in their early 70s, have had enough of lugging 50-pound packs. But they’re not ready to give up wandering the Idaho wilderness.
So last summer, they searched online for pack animal rentals, then set out with a pair of goats for a six-day June trip from Fairfield into the Smoky Mountains. They next month, they tried out two llamas for a seven-day traverse of the Pioneer Mountains from Trail Creek Summit to Copper Basin.
The comparison didn’t come out well for the goats, which wouldn’t cross shallow Warm Springs Creek without being pushed and pulled simultaneously.
“They’re very sweet and cute and photogenic,” Michael told me, “but we didn’t find them as useful as these very well-trained llamas.”
Michael and her husband plan to share what they learned at a free lecture and slideshow, 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday at The Community Library in Ketchum. Their “Goat and Llama Packing 101” promises practical information for novices interested in backcountry travel with pack animals: cost, transportation and other logistics.
And a novice can do this, Michael emphasized.
“We’re not horse people, we’re not mule people. We have very little experience packing,” she said. “Both animals are small enough and gentle enough that you can get the pack on without a rodeo.”
They paid a Boise business $35 per day per goat and rented its trailer to pull behind their pickup. An Idaho Falls llama outfitter charged $45 daily per llama, plus trailer rental and $50 per person for a half-day seminar on how to pack the llamas.
That extra $10 daily for a llama, Michael said, takes 70 pounds off a hiking group’s backs instead of the 30 pounds a goat can carry.
Besides their aversion to wet feet, the goats betrayed other faults in her tale of the two trips: disobedience, greed for stolen potato chips, unwillingness to keep going beyond 4 p.m.
Of course, the goats are kid-friendly and entertaining, she concluded. Maybe just the thing for a family.
But I have a feeling that if Jonas and Michael do this again, they’ll opt for what she calls the “no-drama llamas.”
On the couple’s high-altitude Pioneer trip, more rigorous than the goat adventure, the llamas didn’t drag her around the trailhead, balk at snowfields or steep passes, raid the stash of llama cookies or complain when their packs shifted.
“Plus, OReilly and McShane actually walked along behind us,” Michael said. “No need for pulling or pushing.”
And they did it for eight to 10 miles a day.
You know, suddenly those llamas look pretty cute and photogenic to me.