Trekking with the Wallowa Llamas in the Eagle Cap Wilderness

When Greg won the 2006 Oregon Wild photo contest, one of his prizes was a gift certificate for a three-day, two-night trip with the Wallowa Llamas. So we redeemed that gift certificate on July 18 and went on an awesome trip into the beautiful Eagle Cap Wilderness. The whole set of pictures is here.

We started out on Friday at the llama ranch just north of Halfway. Seven llamas got loaded into the back of an old school bus (bwahahahaha!). We humans rode up front.

We were supposed to start at the Summit Point trailhead and hike up to either Pine Lakes or Crater Lake. But the trail went into higher mountain territory where there was still snow, so we started at the Boulder Park trailhead and hiked into Eagle Meadows instead, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise since I’m still not in the best of shape after being laid up with a broken foot all of May and June.

After the hour and 45 minute drive up and down Forest Service roads, we arrived at the trailhead. The llamas were unloaded, saddled up, and laden with heavy packs. (We humans just carried day packs…woo hoo!)

Besides me and Greg, there were four other guests in our group, in addition to our tour guide, Raz, and his assistant Lisa. Raz and Lisa brought up the (distant) lead with the llamas while the rest of us hiked on ahead to our lunch spot. The scenery was instantly spectacular. This is the meadow we crossed just before reaching our lunch spot 2.5 miles from the trailhead.

We ate a delicious lunch (all the food was provided on this trip) by Eagle Creek. Raz has these two wooden cook boxes that when put on the ground side by side served as a nice flat preparation area, with the utensils and supplies inside within easy reach. Our feast of a lunch consisted of bagels, bread, salami, cheese, homemade red pepper spread, fresh veggies, and delicious cherries from their orchard!

After lunch, we had to cross Copper Creek, which had no bridge. I chose to wade rather than risk falling off one of the logs spanning the creek. The creek was wide, but only ankle deep. Shortly after crossing the creek, we could see Copper Creek Falls crashing down a cliff.

Greg bushwhacked over there when we hiked out on Sunday and although it was too sunny for a photograph, he got a video of the falls. Pretty impressive.

This is Bench Canyon Falls, which splashed down right by the trail.

In the late afternoon, after hiking 4.4 miles from the trailhead (and gaining about 1,300′) we arrived at beautiful Eagle Meadows. It stretches a lot further than this picture conveys. Eagle Creek runs through it. What an idyllic setting!

After Raz, Lisa, and the llamas arrived, some of us helped Raz lead the individual llamas to grazing ground. You take their lead rope and they follow you around without question. They’re quite curious. They grazed a little distance from camp and whenever we were out peeing or collecting firewood or taking pictures, they would watch us intently.

We set up tents while Raz and Lisa started on dinner. In addition to a stove, they had an oven setup which was pretty nifty, allowing Raz to heat up the meals that his wife had cooked and frozen for us a few days before. We had fresh veggies with ranch and blue cheese dip, merlot and chardonnay, raging bull chicken over quinoa, homemade Scottish oat bread, plus banana bread for dessert and a post-dinner drink of tea or hot chocolate.

We were all feeling pretty tired, so by the time dinner was done and cleaned up, we were ready to turn in. The days are long this time of year, so it was still a little light out when we went to bed. I slept better than I did when I went backpacking last summer. I stayed warm, for one thing, despite the fact that we woke up to frost in the morning. I woke up in the middle of the night and stuck my head out of the tent to see the stars, but it was just past the full moon, which made the sky too bright to see all the stars I might have. Still, there were a lot, and the bright moon illuminated the mountains and meadow all around us. It was VERY cool!

Morning dawned bright and beautiful and despite the overnight frost it warmed up very quickly as the sun came over the mountains.

After a breakfast of fresh cantaloupe plus Swedish pancakes and coffee and tea, Greg and I wandered the meadow taking pictures while Raz and Lisa moved the llamas to fresh grass. The scenery was stunning and vast. I wished I’d had a wide-angle lens! Next time. This is stitched from two shots.

We all set off on a day hike up to Eagle Lake, the source of Eagle Creek. It was 2.9 miles away and 1,300 feet above us. The scenery along the way was fantastic. Here is the group hiking toward Needle Point.

We saw lots of different wildflowers, including more penstemon than I’ve ever seen in my life.

We stopped about halfway up and Raz made us lunch, which included fresh veggies, gouda cheese, brie cheese, crackers, slices of baguette, and kippered herring. For dessert we had homemade ginger cookies plus apple slices with gjetost, a Norwegian goat cheese that made a pretty good pairing with the apples. One of the best trail lunches I’ve ever had!

Being out of shape and picking my way carefully up the rocky trail, I found the going tougher than I normally would. It was also pretty hot, well into the 80s, and the stunted trees provided little or no shade. But the scenery kept me motivated.

Beautiful Eagle Lake was a welcome sight. At 7,500 feet, it still had large patches of snow on and around it. Not surprising, considering the winter we had this year. The water was VERY cold! I was hot and could have used a refreshing toe-dip, but I refrained. Lisa, however, dove into the icy water not once but twice! Brrrrrr!

There was heather growing along one side of the lake. I sat on the shoreline surrounded by it and admired the lovely view. Damn, the Wallowas are gorgeous!

The hike back down was just as hard as going up because of the rocky trail. I was paranoid about my foot and where I put it, so it took a lot of concentration to watch where and how I walked. I stumbled a few times, but made it back down okay. Back at the meadow, Greg and I washed up at the creek while dinner was being prepared. Ah….so refreshing. The creek ran along the edge of the meadow near our tent and made for pleasant background noise while we slept at night.

My hunger overcame my general dislike for lasagna and I ate some at dinner that night. That was after having eaten quite a few crackers with sundried tomato pesto and cream cheese. As if that weren’t enough, we had salad with pomegranate vinaigrette (YUMMY!) and garlic bread, plus apricot bread for dessert. I will never eat this good in the backcountry again!

During dinner we saw a deer in our camp nearby. She seemed wary, but definitely not frightened of us. We would see her again periodically throughout the evening and next morning. She passed within 20 feet of me when I was back in the trees peeing. I spoke softly to her so as not to startle her. She looked at me and decided she didn’t like being that close and walked (not ran) away.

No frost Sunday morning, but it did sprinkle a few times in the early morning. But it didn’t last and once the sun was up it warmed up even faster than it had the morning before. After a breakfast of Mexican grits, muffins, and oranges, we packed up and headed out.

Whereas the llamas had been half an hour behind us on the hike in, they were about 15 minutes behind us on the first leg out. So after crossing Copper Creek, waiting for Greg to come back from his waterfall expedition, I was able to get a shot of the llamas in action, fording the creek. They are very sure-footed, not giving a second (or even a first!) glace to where they’re setting their feet.

Back at the trailhead, the llamas were loaded in the bus and we set off back towards Halfway, where I had a delicious shower that night at the hotel. Oh those post-backcountry showers are so wonderful.

All in all, we had a wonderful time! Our group wasn’t too big (they can be as big as ten guests) and they were fun people to talk with. Raz and Lisa were awesome leaders and cooks and they handled pretty much everything having to do with the llamas. They seem to be gentle patient creatures. The only troublemaker was three-year-old McNash. It was his first time doing this and he gave poor Lisa a hard time. He wouldn’t walk with the other string of llamas and Lisa had to lead him by himself. Even then he gave her some trouble. Here he is getting saddled up at the beginning:

We didn’t see many other people. Over the course of our three days, we saw a few people with horses, a few hikers, and a few backpackers, probably a dozen people total the whole weekend. The scenery was stunning, the food was awesome, and the llamas carried all our stuff! This is the way to go! I was enchanted with the Wallowas after my visit last year, and I remain enchanted. Greg and I both want to go back again. And again. There are a lot of trails to hike, lakes to see, and mountains to gaze at.