This is not the story of how a lady and a llama fell in love. That is a great story for another time. This is the tale of how the llama first helped the lady discover an appetite for outdoor adventure.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who grew up in Connecticut. She adored books that would take her to fantastic places as well as the magical worlds of the ballets she studied. She dreamed of growing up to be a lady so that she could travel the world to experience far off lands, foreign languages, and fancy meals.
On the other side of a great big continent, a llama grew up in California. He loved to be outside in the wild, running and playing sports with the other animals. But he also wanted to explore, taking long walks into the forest to be alone. He was independent and curious, and he learned to take longer and longer walks, carrying everything he needed on his back so he wouldn’t have to stop exploring when night came.
It wasn’t long after the lady and the llama started spending time together that they both got to thinking that perhaps they made a strange pair. Would a llama go wine tasting and enjoy discussing theatre and literature? Would a lady want to sleep in a tent and climb a mountain?
Sometimes the lady would see a female llama decked out in Patagonia with enviable hamstrings and she’d wonder if her llama wouldn’t be happier with another llama. Even if she cooked him delicious vegetarian meals and dressed up for him, wouldn’t he eventually wish for someone who would want to spend time in the forest with him? The lady wasn’t sure how she would like that and if she could keep up on his long walks.
One warm February day, the lady asked the llama to take her on an adventure to Crater Lake. She had heard it was a beautiful place, and the lady loved beautiful places! So the llama helped the lady choose warm clothes to pack, and rented her a pair of cross-country skis, and off they went into the beautiful winter wonderland. The lady had never carried a heavy pack, had never been backcountry camping, and she hadn’t been on skis since she was a girl. But she marveled at the beauty of this magical place, quiet and covered in pristine snow, with hardly anyone else around. She was excited and delighted to be carrying everything she needed with her. It wasn’t long before their ski tracks were the only ones in the snow aside from the strides of snow rabbits and long legged deer. She and the llama skied 17 miles the first day, and when the llama set up the tent the lady snuggled into her sleeping bag and slept very well indeed, despite the icy ground.
On the second day, the lady was tired and had blisters on her delicate feet, but when the llama asked if she wanted to turn around she responded with a firm “no way!” She was stubborn enough to finish what she had begun, and curious to discover the enchanting vistas she knew lay beyond each twist in the path. That afternoon, snow flurries started to fall. “Is snow falling from the tree branches, or from the sky?” the lady wondered at first. There had been nothing but a big yellow sun on the weather forecast, and the lady imagined herself settling down by a roaring fire at Crater Lake Lodge for hot chocolate very soon. Her cold toes and tired legs were starting to make the winter wonderland seem a little less beautiful.
The llama did not want to worry his lady, so he called in to the Ranger Station to let them know that they were out on the trail and that it had started to snow. The Ranger Station suggested that they may need to “bunker down.” The lady did not like the sound of that. The Rangers did not have any of the snow mobiles she had hoped would carry them to warmth and safety. But the llama felt confident that they would reach the end soon, and so they carried on as the snow fell heavier around them.
They pushed on into the white landscape until the lady could go no further. The sky was completely blank and the trail had long ago disappeared. She began to imagine loosing digits and limbs to frostbite and was mad at herself for being so silly as to think that a lady like her could keep up with the adventures of the llama.
But the llama got to work. As the wind threatened to carry away the fabric, he set up the tent in a grove of trees and gave her his dry insulated pants to wear as she got into the tent. The night was long, cold, and wet. As the wind howled outside, she was scared that the snow that fell on top of them from the trees above would bury her alive, or that a branch would fall and crush them in the tent. She couldn’t drink water or eat anything; she was more afraid than she had ever been in her life.
But the llama was there with her, and he knew that they would get through the storm. He made jokes and checked to make sure she was okay, although he knew she was afraid. Through the night and into early hours of the morning he spoke with 911 and Search and Rescue. He was told that help was on the way, but couldn’t be told when to expect help or what to look for. He was told to keep cell phones on and to stay put.
But it wasn’t long before their cell phones were out of battery, and staying inside the cold, wet tent was an unappealing option. The lady got up and skied in circles to stay warm, looking for signs of helicopters or snow mobiles. She blew into the fluorescent orange emergency whistle. She carved the llama’s name in the snow as she would doodle on a notebook, trying to keep herself from thinking about how weak she felt. She scanned the horizon for signs of human life and saw none.
The llama called to her from across the vast white meadow. He had found tracks! Up and up they went, up as far as they could see! He believed following the tracks would lead back to the trail, which they could then follow to safety. The llama carried the lady’s pack as they struggled upwards, covering crests of snow. Each time the llama would disappear over a hill and out of sight the lady hoped he would return with news that he had found something. She followed along slowly, disheartened, dehydrated, and defeated. The llama kept ahead and urged her on. She took small steps, as much as she could manage, and lifted her head as she reached the top of the most recent hill—and saw the llama calling to a friendly silhouette in the distance! He called the llama and the lady up a little further, where he and his friend had a camp nestled into the snow. There sat a yellow tent, glowing with all the warmth of the blinding winter sun. They offered the lady dry clothes and hot soup, and then the llama tucked her into the warm yellow tent to rest. They called Search and Rescue to say that the two lost skiers had found them.
A few hours later, six Search and Rescue skiers arrived to escort the lady and the llama back to the trail and to safety. With their guides, the lady and the llama skied another 13 miles back to the lodge and their car. The lady had never been so thankful to see a building with heat and walls to keep out the wind and snow, and the warm, kind faces of the understanding Search and Rescue staff. On their way home, the lady and the llama devoured a pizza, slurped down soda, and covered their salads in ranch dressing. Junk food had never tasted so good!
The lady was humbled by her adventure with the llama, and thought that perhaps he wouldn’t want to take her with him ever again. But this was the first time she felt the natural world say to her “I don’t care that you are here, and my beauty does not depend on you bearing witnessing or liking me.” The challenge motivated her; it intoxicated her. She had suffered and survived. And she wanted to be tougher and stronger and so that the next time, she would be prepared. And the llama still seemed to like the lady, so that was good.
A year and a half later, after many camping weekends, adventures to extreme landscapes, and trips to R.E.I., the lady and the llama returned to Crater Lake together. In search of a cool refuge from July heat, they arrived to find the snow gone and the landscape dotted with colorful tourists with cameras and children. The royal blue crystalline water and the rugged low wildflowers bouncing in the mountain breezes hinted at the harsh environment of the landscape, and the lady smiled at these subtle signs she wouldn’t have appreciated before. She had seen how the weather could change in an instant, and learned that many had died in and around the enchanting lake, but not her. The glistening mouth of this cruel volcano had been there for thousands of years and she hoped it would be there for thousands more. And she was thankful that her small stupidities had not changed it, not one bit; but it had changed her, that was for certain. The lady kissed the llama as they watched the stars come out over the lake, and then headed back to Camp Mazama to dream of their next adventure.