I hear a nonplussed, bored sort of sigh behind me as I pick my way gingerly down the steep hillside towards the lake that awaits far below. Given the sort of views I’ve been party to all morning, vistas that have inspired more descriptive clichés than I’ve had hot dinners, this might seem a bit surprising. However, it’s not one of my fellow hikers expressing their disinterest and general ennui with the sheer beauty of the Swiss countryside, it’s my hiking partner Dalai. Dalai is a llama. In fact, appropriately enough given his name, Dalai is the Boss Lllama. The strange buzzing sigh he’s emitting at regular intervals is known as a “hum” and is the llama’s primary form of communication with other members of its herd. It makes me giggle literally every time I hear it, which is just one of the reasons hiking with a llama is such fun.
Our group met with its four legged hiking companions earlier in the day, further down the mountain, at the home of Hugo the llama farmer. They were quickly loaded into a horsebox and driven up to the start of the hike, and very soon we were on the trail with Dalai and his friends. The idea behind llama trekking is that walking with an animal makes you walk more sedately, taking in your surroundings as you go, rather than piling along on a mission to bag as many peaks in as short an amount of time as possible. Llamas make good companions because of their ability to be trained to walk on a lead, their gait, their temperament and of course that entertaining hum. The whole spitting thing is reserved for amongst themselves, they rarely spit at humans. Llamas are real charmers.
Ambling along through the summer pastures high up in the mountains of Saanenland, it’s hard to imagine that this is ski country in the winter. Granted we aren’t currently walking in one of the actual ski areas, but looking around, it’s virtually impossible to discern where the runs and lifts are anywhere around Gstaad. It just looks like pristine Swiss countryside, filled with clean, happy, productive cows, every variety of Alpine flower imaginable….and llamas. The last two don’t coexist too happily, with the llamas treating the walk as a slowly moving buffet table.
Arriving at the bottom of the descent after just one runaway llama incident, it’s interesting to see that our woolly friends aren’t overly enthused by the lake. There’s a lot more snorting and buzzing going on than usual. According to Hugo, llamas don’t like standing or running water of any kind. We should keep our eyes open for puddles even, as the beasts can decide to jump them rather than walk through or round. So llamas can be alarming too.
We park our camelid compadres in the shade of a tree, away from the lakeside and take a break for lunch and a paddle. The Seeberg lake is reputed to be an energy hotspot, a bit like where ley lines converge, so it’s a good excuse for a prolonged sit in the glorious alpine sunshine. Chatting to Hugo, it seems there’s no real purpose to the llamas, other than as companions. They can’t carry very much weight (lunch was about the height of it), they’re not useful for meat or milk and even their hair isn’t particularly prized, limited to use in rugs and blankets. But as hiking buddies, they are extremely popular, particularly here in Saanenland.
Dalai and his friends may share genetic material with their harder working South American brethren, but these 100% Swiss llamas have a pretty easy life it has to be said. And yet, there they sit, under their tree, sighing ostentatiously, as if they’ve really got the hump.
Trekking with llamas in Gstaad with Lama & Co costs around £55.50 per person for a three hour trek with a picnic. It’s also possible to trek with goats and some sheep are currently undergoing training.