This is a beautiful post from Jessica of Seed Pod Craft (I'm still waiting for a spare moment to make my Sweet Pod! It's next on my list after Vivian's blessing dress...). She also shares a sadder part of their trip on her own blog. That's one of the things about getting out in the thick of nature; it's wild and beautiful, but sometimes the wild parts can be sad as well. I wrote to Jessica about my own strong memories from childhood, both of watching our mother cat give birth and also of finding a little kitten that had frozen to death. Those were extremely powerful, formative experiences for me. I'm reading Last Child in the Woods right now and the author talks a lot about the importance of not experiencing only the sanitized version of nature and animals, but the whole circle, life and death. It's hard, but important, and beautiful in its own way.
We left at the crack of dawn with a 6 1/2 hour drive ahead of us. It was a rather uneventful drive. We started listening to the Oliver Twist audio book (we couldn’t survive road trips without audio books, I tell ya) and made several potty stops as we had an unfortunate stomach funk making the rounds through the family. Poor Logan was throwing up the night before and I was feeling pretty yucky as we drove. Colorado is a beautiful place though, and as we closed in on the San Juan mountains I couldn’t believe how jagged and beautiful they were. The towering clouds that formed over the mountains were amazing to me. I wish I had taken pictures, but I was waiting for my 24 hrs of queasiness to be over.
We camped that night in what Barry read was the most scenic campground in Colorado. It’s right on Molas Lake right outside of Silverton, CO. Scenic it was– and cold and rainy.
The next morning we got up early to pack our llama packs. With all of our stuff laid out on the tarp we could see, and hear, the wall of weather coming toward us. We hurriedly broke down tents and stowed everything in the van before the torrent began. We had to postpone our 8 o’clock meeting with the llama guys until the downpour let up.
At about 10 the rain let up to a drizzle. Barry used their garage to finish packing where it was dry and llama guy Mark showed me the ins and outs of llama saddling. I loved those llamas. I’m just an animal lover to the core. I remember watching my grandpa groom and saddle his horses as a little girl wanting so bad to be a part of the care taking, but too shy or self conscious to ask. It’s kind of silly, but strapping the saddles on the llamas was like living out that childhood wish. They were good boys, those llamas. Turk was the white one, Two Socks the dark one in the middle, and Tecate the big guy in the foreground.
The men hooked the trailer to the van, I put the llamas in the trailer and we were headed to the trail head.
The drizzle stopped when we got there. It stayed pretty cloudy as we hiked, but not another drop fell!
Llamas can carry up to 80 lbs. We didn’t have them loaded down that heavy and they were ready to walk as quickly as we’d let them. Unfortunately I had to be a pack animal too so that Hunter had a way to get up the trail. Truth be told, I was not nearly as cheerful a packer as the llamas were. I just couldn’t get comfortable and felt so off balance because with a kid in a hiking pack all of their weight is at the top of the pack so you feel it on your shoulders. No matter how I adjusted I couldn’t get all the weight down on my hips. I seriously think I may have been more comfortable with a SweetPod because the baby sits low and most of the weight is on the wearer’s hips. Anyway, enough of my whining. It was a beautiful hike, which I can say cheerfully now that I’m looking at the photos and not actually doing it.
It was really steep though. We gained about 1800 feet of elevation in a little over 2 miles. Switchback after switchback, one foot in front of the other.
The kids were great. Brenna tended to hang back with me, but Jonah can just motor on and keep up with whoever there is to keep up with. The llamas were great too. They were great followers no matter who was leading. We let the kids take turns leading all three, we separated them a few times so they could each have one, and Barry led them all on the really steep parts. They were definitely my favorite part of the hike.
After climbing up and up and up we got to this little basin and set up camp.
It really couldn’t have been more beautiful. We had a little meadow to stake the llamas out in and big logs to sit on surrounding our camp fire. Hunter loved just sitting in the dirt and scooping it up into his lap and wrapping little sticks with leaves.
He wrapped this stick in a leaf so intently he didn’t even notice me nearby with the camera. He’d get the stick covered and say, “Bup. Bup.” (which is how he says “wrap up”) over and over. He was incredibly dirty, but incredibly happy the whole time.
If I were to do it again I would definitely invest in some kind of packable toilet. Digging holes for 5 kids is a lot of work, pretty gross work when you’ve got a stomach thing working its way through the family. I’d probably just get one of these seat lids that fit on a bucket and several bags. The bucket could just have stuff packed in it and would fit in a llama pack no problem. We packed out plenty of poop as it was because our potty learning Ian just could not relax enough to go in a hole. Both he and Hunter were in disposable Pull-ups or diapers the whole time.
I’d also find a roll up table and pack some food in a cooler. I had no idea we could bring a cooler if we had wanted to, having been trained well by my parents to pack lightly for backpacking trips. The luxury of llamas is that you can bring stuff– even real food if you want. So, if you’re ever crazy enough to try this bring milk! Bring lettuce! Hey, you could even have ice cream!
I would remember card games. Doh!
Another thing– I’d check the weather better. We were in much higher mountains than I had backpacked in when I was a kid living in Idaho. Idaho is pretty dry and gets warm during the day. Colorado is cooler and wetter up in the mountains. We were fine (you don’t go through too many clothes when you don’t ever take off enough clothes to change your underwear, which was the case with all of the males I did not personally have to diaper and clothe I found out as I went through things to do laundry when we got home. Gross.), but an extra sweatshirt and maybe even long johns for everyone would have been nice.
So, that’s the first half of our trip. I honestly didn’t like lugging a baby up a mountain, but it sure felt good to take him off my back in the heart of pristine wilderness, set up camp, watch the llamas chomp to their hearts’ content, and see how happy my children felt about doing something so hard and being somewhere so beautiful.