Forest Service llama caught by Ajax trail crew | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service llama caught by Ajax trail crew

Abigail Eagye and Joel Stonington

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

After going on the lam for the second time, Hadley, the 2-year-old llama, was found hanging out near the top of the gondola. His wandering just might clinch the contest to rename Copper Trail, a run on Ajax that goes under the Gentleman’s Ridge (the sofa) chair and is a connector to Copper Bowl. “The llama is sort of a herd creature,” said Martha Moran, recreation manager with the Aspen/Sopris Ranger District, who has rented Hadley for summer backcountry work. “He likes people so he goes up to the top of the gondola. He must go up Shadow mountain and cross over. He’s been up there twice now.”Hadley and his 14-year-old companion Kerbert, also a llama, are temporary residents at the Forest Service office in Aspen. The agency leased the llamas this summer on a trial basis to see if they were helpful as pack animals for its rangers.

Moran said Hadley was probably spooked by bears in the area, so he jumped the fence and headed for the hills. A few days later, Hadley was found by some Ajax summer rangers (ski patrol in the winter).”He was just grazing,” said Tim Cooney, a ranger. “We tried to approach him with some oatmeal but he was skittish so we left him alone. Then he moved towards the maintenance shed and we built a fence around him. He was savvy, trying to go under the rope.”Cooney said Copper Trail may be renamed Lost Llama because of Hadley, though there are also other fierce contenders for the name such as Legal Tender (because of an old mine) and Columbine, the name of an 1800s-era whorehouse.”We also thought of Stink Foot, because of our former mountain manager Steve Sewell,” said Cooney. “That was an old nickname that he had. It remains to be seen what will win out. Lost Llama has a ring to it, but Legal Tender might get it.”

Matt Sandate, a visitor information specialist with the Forest Service, received numerous calls the last time Hadley fled to Aspen Mountain, but he wasn’t surprised by the llama’s escape tactics.”They can jump like Michael Jordan,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”Hadley and his 14-year-old companion Kerbert, also a llama, are temporary residents at the Forest Service office in Aspen. The agency leased the llamas this summer on a trial basis to see if they were helpful as pack animals for its rangers.”It’s a test this summer because we were focusing on high-use wilderness projects and carrying a lot of stuff,” Moran said.

The rangers’ packs can weigh up to 80 pounds, and they often carry awkward objects such as signs, wood posts and shovels. The llamas can carry up to 80 pounds each, allowing the rangers to considerably lighten their loads.Although the Forest Service can use horses as pack animals, they pose problems because they require trailers for transport. Some trail heads are too difficult to access with trailers, but the llamas load easily into the back of a truck. Horses also can’t live in the enclosure at the Forest Service office in Aspen, so employees would have to drive as far as Carbondale to collect them each time they’re needed.Moran said she and her staff will review the llama test case at the end of the year. If it’s deemed a success, the Forest Service will rent more llamas next year. But perhaps they’ll need a taller fence.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is abby@aspentimes.com