"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Llamas are an aging hiker’s best friend

By on September 24, 2018 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments

Josh leads the team through the headwaters of the Skykomish.

story and photos


Three years ago, sunning at spectacular Spade Lake peninsula camp, I announced to my hiking partners Len Lamb (since 1976), and Justin Weedman (since 2004), that this may be my last backpacking trip.

Len immediately said: “We’ll tell you when you’re done, bud!”

With that encouragement, I eked out two more years, revisiting meaningful lakes and experiencing new ones.

But, 50-pound packs were progressively causing back issues, so with great sadness, 2017 was to be my final year to carry heavy weight, for accessing the most exotic lakes. I was now relegated to day hikes, not offering the alpenglow and immense pleasure of waking up in the high country.

Just before Labor Day, I phoned Len to propose a day hike to Lake Minotaur for the umpteenth time.

He said: “Get packed, we’re going to Blue Lake!” Len’s carpentry companion Josh Osburn and his wife, Lisa, had llamas. Len, Justin and I had been to Blue Lake in the rain, so this would be an opportunity to see it under clear skies.

Brad shares his load with pack team within sight of Glacier Peak on the PCT. Photo by Josh Osburn

I jumped at the chance to go again with a llama taking half my burden.

A 25-pound pack would put spring in my step and make me feel like an Indian Scout. I’m back baby!

We met at the Little Wenatchee trailhead Saturday morning, arranged gear, and started up the trail toward our first night’s camp, Meander Meadow, just below the top of the Little Wenatchee watershed.

As Lisa set up camp, I could see this was going to be a different kind of trip. Table and chairs, hot dogs, cheeseburgers and bacon. I was used to dehydrated Mountain House stroganoff. We ate like kings.

Climbing out of the meadow the next morning, we quickly intersected the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT. We turned left (south). Bob and Ira Springs’ book 100 HIKES, describes this segment of the PCT as “Offering one of the longest meadow walks in the range. Where else can hikers wander at and above tree-line, seldom dropping or climbing more than a few hundred feet, never with any difficulties, and always with views?”

We appreciate ridge trails, and this sky-route undulates from the Little Wenatchee to the Sauk drainage, alternating distant views.

Justin fishes at Lower Blue Lake.

After a pleasant 1 1/4 miles, we arrived at Dishpan Gap, and turned right onto the Bald Eagle Trail.

Skirting the top of the Skykomish watershed, we enjoyed ripe huckleberries and heather parkland roaming, rounding to the far side of the valley. Shortly, we passed the hiker-only high-route that we had taken three years earlier. It climbs over the ridge and drops 800 feet to 5,500-foot high Upper Blue Lake. That route would be too rigorous for the llamas, so we took the long way around the ridge, adding three miles.

We had the lower lake to ourselves; not so at the upper lake. The three-day weekend gave ample time for hikers doing the popular Meander Meadow/Cady Ridge loop, to include the high-route to Upper Blue Lake.

I had heard stories of llamas having sour dispositions, but other than an instance in the parking lot where one kicked Leroy the dog with lightning speed, these sure-footed pack animals were very well-behaved and mild mannered. In my estimation, more agile and better suited to exposed, rocky sections of trail than horses.

I’m a believer. Llamas are a man’s best friend.

Upper Blue Lake.

Stately Waylan in Meander Meadow. “We bonded, developing a subtle understanding and silent respect,” said Brad.

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