Tom Seifert has traded teenagers for llamas, classrooms for the Foothills.
Seifert, a retired schoolteacher and high school boys basketball coach, trains his six llamas to carry gear for family backpacking and hunting trips into the backcountry.
“I had to do something,” he said while preparing Cisco and Gaius for a Foothills hike. “You teach school that long, I just can’t stop teaching. So now I’m teaching these guys.”
Seifert and his wife, Sue, got into llama packing about 20 years ago through a friend who asked them to exercise his llamas during the summer. Eventually, the friend retired from packing and the Seiferts became llama owners.
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They also are involved in the Pack Llama Trail Association, which certifies llamas based on their packing ability. But the Seiferts maintain their llamas simply for their own use; they don’t pack as a business.
“I’m 63 and they’re going to allow me to pack another 10 years at least,” Seifert said. “My son-in-law promised me a horse when my body goes ... but I’m going to hold off on that as long as I can.”
Llamas are nimble creatures that can handle the varied terrain of the backcountry, including going off trails. Seifert packs his llamas with 60-70 pounds of gear, which keeps them “walking happy,” he said. Two to three llamas could pack out a boned-out bull elk, he said.
The llamas also are excellent wildlife spotters, locating deer and elk before their owners.
“They will go pretty much anywhere you do,” Seifert said. “We have the ability now to get quite a ways into the White Clouds (while hunting).”
The Seiferts walk 75-100 miles a month in the Foothills to train the llamas and keep them in shape.
“It’s been 20 years of a learning experience,” Seifert said. “I’m continually learning about what these guys can do. Their personalities — when you look at these guys and get to hold them and hug them and take them up into the backcountry ... you do fall in love with them. There’s something that just grabs you about them and the more you work with them, it’s just fun.”