CHUCKEY, Tenn. (WJHL) —Over the past few years, activities with animals — like goat yoga — have grown in popularity, and now one Tri-Cities local is putting a new twist on a favorite pastime in our region — hiking with llamas.
Sandy Sgrillo and her company, The Wandering Llamas, have been hiking the trails for years now, introducing people to the wonder of having a four-legged hiking companion who can carry all of the gear!
For this Trail Team 11, Sandy took our team into the Sampson Mountain Wilderness on the Horse Creek Trail. Before you get going, Sandy outlines the hike.
“We’re going to take the Jeep Trail down here, and it’s trail number 94,” she said. “We’re also going to pass a little bridge, which goes to a loop trail, but the llamas aren’t allowed on this trail. There’s a waterfall here called Squibd Creek Falls. So we’re going to take [another trail that would eventually lead to] Pete’s Branch Falls, but we’re going to just stop…and go back.”
When walking with llamas, you will be leading them along using a lead rope. When using this rope, it’s easy to want to loop it around your hand, around your waist or even clip it to your belt buckle, but it’s important not to do this. This is because if you’re attached to the llama and they get scared or decide to run, you will be stuck. So, while hiking with a llama, it’s important to hold the rope with a firm grip in a way that can easily be let go if necessary.
This activity is one everyone of all ages can participate in.
“People just love the llamas,” Sgrillo said. “It’s interesting, it’s fun, it’s different. The children enjoy it. Even older people — I have people in their 80s, they come out and they say, ‘This is the most fun I’ve had in 30 years!’ So, it’s nice to have people enjoy something new.”
And then there is the most-asked question everyone has before heading out with a llama: Do I have to worry about them spitting?
“Everyone’s afraid they’re going to get spit at,” Sgrillo said. “You’re really going to have to do something to aggravate him to the point where he’ll spit at you. Like the vet, they come and give them the shots and stuff; they might turn around and spit at the vet because that hurts, you know? But they’re not just going to spit at you for no reason; you have to give them a reason.”
So, make sure to keep them happy by knowing what they like and what they don’t. While it may be tempting to want to scratch their face or rub their ears, llamas aren’t like horses and would prefer if you didn’t do that. Instead, llamas like big scratches on their neck. Also, don’t forget the snacks! Like any good hiker, these llamas will want a break to snack and rest. Sandy says graham crackers or animal crackers are some of their favorites. However, be aware — while they can snack with you, they’re not supposed to snack on the trail.
“We have to be careful because the Rhododendron here is toxic for llamas,” Sgrillo said. “They are just like goats, just pick at anything they find.”
As mentioned earlier, one of the best aspects of the llamas is that they can carry all of your gear!
“They’re just fun to be with. They’re beautiful to look at; they’re sweet; they’re kind, and they carry the stuff for you so you don’t have to carry anything,” Sgrillo said. “So, while hiking, feel free to pass along your bag, water and any other gear you may have!
While you’re out hiking with Sandy and her llamas, she says it’s important that people just breathe and take in the scenery.
“I try to get people to relax and stop being hyper, stop talking so much — just relax and listen, just stop and breathe and listen,” she said.
“Llamas are not mean, spittin’, kickin’, terrible animals; they’re very sweet, they’re very affectionate, they’re smart and they love to get out and do this as much as we do. And they will not spit at you if they’re raised properly.”