Sunday, May 20, 2018

Lower Eagle River Trail

Neighbor Julie, Phil and llamas on the boardwalks.
It was a nice day to take a short hike with the llamas to the Eagle River. The network of trails along the Eagle River in this area of Chugach State Park is often overlooked, so I decided to write a blog post. The lower Eagle River trail runs along the Eagle River with convenient trail access if you just want to do a short hike close to home. We walked over to a subdivision road near our house to pick up a connecting trail which descends about 500 feet to the lower Eagle River trail.

To access the lower Eagle River trail, most people start from the Briggs Bridge where there is a small parking lot outside the gate.You can also pickup the trail from the campground and parking lot (fee area) near the river. (It's reported that the parking area inside the gate is closed and locked by 10 p.m. so be sure to leave before then.) 

From the Briggs Bridge access, the lower Eagle River trail goes east for about two miles through birch and spruce forest over relatively flat terrain. The old section of trail skirting the private land has been improved over the years and is now clearly marked. (See photo on left.)  Boardwalks have been added to a marshy section next to the Swan Pond. Remains of charred trees and scorched ground remind us of the wildfire that burned about 25 acres in this area over the Memorial day weekend in 2016.  More info on the May 2016 wildfire at this link - Hiland Road Wildfire. 

Before the trail reaches the South Fork, a trail to the left cuts through the woods and takes the hiker to the confluence of the South Fork and Eagle River. If you walk a short distance beyond the trail to the left, you will reach the South Fork itself. The bridge across the South Fork is long gone so you will have to ford the stream if you want to pick up the trail on the other side and continue on to Barbara Falls. Since our destination today was the Eagle River, we took the trail to the left. It's a short hike from here to the Eagle River. When the salmon are in, be particularly "bear aware" along this stretch as you could surprise a bear due to river noise. At the confluence, there is a grassy area and exposed gravel bar where you can take a break and enjoy views of the river and surrounding mountains.

Trail Conditions were wet and muddy on May 20th (Sunday) so waterproof footwear is recommended.  We often see moose and swans in the ponds, but didn't this time. We didn't see bear sign either, probably because salmon are not in the river yet.  The water levels in the South Fork and Eagle River were fairly low.

May 2016 Wildfire Burn Area

The trail is open to biking as well as hiking so it's not unusual to see fat tire bikes on the trail. It is also common to see rafts and kayaks floating by on the Eagle River at this location.

Llama gazing at moose in pond.

For more information on this hike, go to

Topo Map - Lower Eagle River Trail

Alaska Hike Search

Briggs Bridge Access
Pack rafters near the confluence of the Eagle River and South Fork.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Llamas, the Ultimate Backcountry Hiking Partner.

Go further, stay longer and hike harder with your 300 pound (llama) hiking partner! 

Llamas have been raised in South America for centuries as pack animals. The packing ability of llamas combined with their ease of transport enables them to be utilized in a wide variety of situations and makes them ideal for packing. They are popular with hikers and hunters on longer overnight trips because they can carry most or all of the gear. Your next Colorado trail guide: A 300-pound llama.

There are many advantages to using llamas over other types of pack animals.
  • Llamas do not have hooves. They have two-toed padded feet with a toenail which grows over the top of each toe. This makes them very sure-footed. The pads do much less damage to the environment because they do not tear into and dent the ground the way hooves can. For this reason, llamas are often allowed on trails where horses are prohibited
  • Llamas are browsers, not grazers, and can eat various plants while moving along the trail. This means less time required to stop and graze.
  • Llamas also require less feed than other pack animals. This means that less weight in the packs is devoted to llama feed.
  • Llamas are more maneuverable and smaller than other pack animals and can go through/over/under/into almost any area that people can. This is not true of other pack animals and gives llamas a tremendous advantage.
  • Llamas are easy to transport. 
FAQ - How much can a llama carry?
The amount of weight which llamas can carry depends upon their age, condition, the terrain and distance to be traveled. Just like people, llamas need to get into shape before going on long hikes with a lot of weight. Younger llamas and llamas packing over more difficult terrain should carry less weight than when traveling on less difficult terrain.
Based on age, llamas can carry a certain percentage of their lean body weight. You should estimate their body condition before determining if the actual weight of the llama is a good estimate of lean body weight. An overweight llama will not be able to safely carry as much weight as one in good body condition. A one year old llama will be about 125 to 200 pounds. A 2-3 year old llama will be about 175 to 300 pounds. An adult llama will be about 225 to 450 pounds if not overweight.

                                   Approximate Amount of Weight Llamas Can Carry
                                   Age                  Percent of Body Weight
                                   1 year              10%
                                   2 to 3 years      Up to 20%
                                   Adult                20 to 25% 

FAQ - Can you ride a llama?
Because a llama weighs much less than a horse, it is not an animal that can be ridden by an adult. For example, if a llama weighs 300 lbs., then it could typically carry 60 - 75 lbs., which is 20 - 25% of its body weight. (See above chart.)

FAQ- How do you transport a llama?
Llamas are easy to transport because they require no specialized equipment. They are smaller than traditional pack stock and lie down once in the transport vehicle. A covered windproof pickup (photo), van, horse or utility trailer all work well. The photo on the right shows llamas being transported in the back of a small pickup truck with an overhead canopy.

FAQ- Are Llamas Used on Pubic Lands?
Llamas are also used to carry equipment and supplies for trail maintenance crews in state and national parks. (See my Sept. 4, 2017 blog - "Llamas Do Heavy Lifting for Chugach State Park Trail Crews".) Click on the links below to see how llamas are being used in Rocky Mountain National Park. You may be surprised!

In conclusion, those who use llamas are thankful for their quiet companionship and willingness to "do the heavy lifting" without complaining. I like to think of llamas as a "backpack with four legs." People who have packed with llamas will often decide "not do it any other way again."