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I'm here at the Grotto Falls parking lot at the bottom of the Trillium
Gap trail with the Mt. Le Conte llama train.
We will be taking fresh linens up to the lodge, as well as bringing
down garbage and dirty laundry.
The llamas get a quick snack of alfalfa cubes before the hike, and
then they're off on their 6.7-mile journey to the top of Mt. Le Conte.
The Le Conte Lodge used to use horses to bring supplies to the summit,
but the large horses had difficulty maneuvering the steep, rocky
trails and did a lot of damage in the process.
The lodge switched to more mountain-savvy llamas in 1986, and have
used them ever since.
Llamas carry supplies up the trail three times a week, rain or shine.
About one mile into the hike we see grotto falls, and follow the trail
After the falls, we unexpectedly see a bear, but it takes one
look at the llamas and bolts.
Time for a water break.
Trillium Gap marks the halfway point, and the trail starts to get
steeper and rockier, but nothing the llamas can't handle.
Llama hooves have leathery pads that provide great grip for the many
slippery rocks covering the trail.
Llamas have been used as pack animals for about 5,000 years, and can
carry about 30% of their body weight up steep mountain trails.
The llama wrangler, Alan, lets me lead the llamas for the final push
to the top.
Finally, after four hours and almost seven miles, the llamas break
through the trees and climb up to the kitchen of the Le Conte Lodge.
The whole crew comes out to help unload.
After words the llamas get to eat under the gaze of their adoring
Clifford kisses the cook,
and then they all get a pancake lunch.
Eight llamas brought up supplies today, their names are Rex,
Hi I'm Alan Householder I'm the llama wrangler for Le Conte Lodge.
They use llamas to bring supplies up to this rustic wilderness lodge
because they have low impact on the trails,
and they've been using them for about 25 years now.
The worst thing that's really happened with the llamas -
we were going down one day
and this one day we were about a mile from the summit, going down,
and we saw a big bear cross our path and went down below the mountain.
I didn't think much of it.
So the eight llamas and I were continuing down the trail,
and by that time there was a stampede behind me and I looked and a
black bear was chasing us. Must have smelled the food in the cans.
He chased us for about two or three tenths of a mile until the llamas,
who were trying to get away from him, were all tied up in each other
and tangled into a big mess. I had to throw some rocks to chase the
bear away. He looked pretty hungry, he looked like he might've taken
on a llama, but fortunately that didn't happen, and really that's
probably the worst thing that's happened with the llamas.
Standing 6,593 feet tall, Mt. Le Conte is the third highest peak in
the park. With no roads leading to the top, the lodge must depend on
the llamas to frequently bring up fresh supplies and take away waste.
Lucky for them, these llamas can keep it up three days a week all
If you're interested in climbing Mt. Le Conte with, or without the
llamas, be sure to check out "Hiking Trails to Mount Le Conte,"
available at park visitor centers, or on our website at