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Mount LeConte llama packer
end of the trail


The following article was published in the 14 November 2011 edition of the Knoxville (TN) News-Sentinel.  If I am violating any copyright laws, please tell me and I'll delete the article.

When I worked at LeConte, we used pack horses.  The "pack man" was Amos Matthews -- here are some photos of Amos and the pack horses.



The following article is quoted from the Knoxville (Tennessee) News-Sentinel

November 14, 2011


Alan Householder, right, and LeConte Lodge site manager Chris Virden, left, packing supplies onto a llama.


Mount LeConte llama packer reaches end of the trail

By Morgan Simmons

Monday, November 14, 2011

GATLINBURG It was 6:30 a.m. and still dark when Alan Householder pulled into the parking lot at the base of Mount LeConte.

There were eight llamas in the livestock trailer, and in less than two hours Householder had them packed and ready to go.

Each animal would be hauling about 70 pounds of perishable foods, clean linen and mail up the mountain. Standing in the parking lot with their eyes half closed, the llamas began emitting a soft, low-frequency sound that seemed to come from the back of their throats. Householder called this their "anticipatory hum."

As the llama team started up the Trillium Gap Trail, it was immediately apparent that Householder was limping. LeConte Lodge was 6 miles up the mountain. The return trip in the afternoon would make for a 13-mile day, and despite the custom knee brace and hiking pole, Householder appeared to be hurting with each step.

"I'm a bird with a broken wing," he said. "Walking to me is a spiritual exercise, like meditation. I was hoping to do this another eight or 10 years."

Last winter while hiking across New Zealand's North Island, Householder tore the meniscus in his right knee. Despite arthroscopic surgery, this will be his last season leading the llamas up Mount LeConte.

A meniscus tear is one of the most common knee injuries, but Householder, who is 55 and from Maryville, is no ordinary hiker.

Three days a week Monday, Wednesday, and Friday he leads the llama team to LeConte Lodge atop Mount LeConte, the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After delivering clean linens and fresh food, he repacks the panniers with dirty laundry and garbage and returns to the parking lot.

Householder and the llamas hike 40 miles a week while the lodge is open from late March to late November. In 10 years as the llama packer, he has made more than 900 trips to LeConte Lodge, and logged at least 11,700 miles on the Trillium Gap Trail.

Householder believes his knee injury is the result of his offseason backpacking rather than the llama packing. He has completed the entire Appalachian Trail, as well as the entire Pacific Crest Trail. In 1997 he and guidebook author Allen DeHart became the first to complete the Mountains To Sea Trail from Clingmans Dome in the Smokies to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

In the winter of 2005-2006 he spent his three-month vacation backpacking in Australia, where he became the first American to complete the Australian Alps Walking Trail, a 435-mile footpath between Melbourne and Sydney.

Householder injured his knee last winter while hiking 900 miles across New Zealand's North Island on the first leg of the 1,800-mile Te Araroa foot trail. In addition to hiking, the route includes water crossings. Householder had arranged for a kayak, and was running down a steep hill with a heavy backpack to make his connection when he felt a jab of pain. Two days later his knee was swollen, but still he managed to hobble another 700 miles to finish the North Island segment of the trail.

"I was descending steeply down a cow pasture and moving way too fast," Householder recalled. "I was trying to act like I was 20 years old."

LeConte Lodge closes for the 2011 season Nov. 22. This winter, instead of returning to New Zealand's South Island to complete the Te Araroa foot trail, Householder plans to rest his knee.

Next year he'll continue to work for LeConte Lodge but instead of llama packing, he'll be a crew member at the lodge. LeConte Lodge is training Householder's replacement for next season that runs March 19-Nov. 20.

Householder knew nothing about llamas when he took the job 10 year ago. Today, his rapport with the animals is one of his strong suits that, plus his willingness to patiently answer the same llama questions over and over.

"Alan has the right temperament to deal with the llamas as well as the people he passes on the trail," said Tim Line, manager of LeConte Lodge. "We hate that he won't be doing the job he loves, but we're glad to keep him."

Llamas do the pack work for LeConte Lodge because they're more sure footed and leave less of a footprint than horses or mules do. Householder's scariest moment on the job happened in the summer of summer 2010 when, two miles below the lodge, the second llama in the line stepped off the trail, pulling the lead llama with him.

"It was a domino effect," Householder said. "The whole team went tumbling 40 feet down the mountain. They were tangled in ropes, upside down and on top of each other. It was a train wreck."

No llama was seriously injured. The accident occurred on an especially steep slope where the trail forms switchbacks. This turned out to be a good thing because Householder was able to drag each llama downhill to the lower switchback.

Householder works two teams of llamas, eight in each team. Last Wednesday the pack line included two veterans 18-year-old George, the llama with the perpetual smile, and Basso, who is 16 years old.

Householder said that unlike himself, when llamas are ready to retire, they simply sit down at the start of the trail and refuse to get up.

"I've had an incredible walking life," Householder said. "It's been a great run. I just want it to go on and on."



LeConte Lodge Site Table of Contents

Photo album
Brief history of LeConte Lodge
 Joe's LeConte stories
Reverend A. Rufus Morgan 
Gracie McNicol: 244 times up LeConte
 Links to other sites
LeConte Lodge in winter
LeConte Llama Wrangler Retires After Ten Years
(Nov 2011)
Suggested reading
How to submit your articles for publication. 





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