Who Has the Right-of-Way? Close Calls with Dogs. A Llama Dies.

by Melinda Van Bossuyt


It occurred to me while hiking this summer that perhaps some folks might be confused about who has the right-of-way when meeting on a trail. Like in the game of Rock Paper Scissors where rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper, and paper covers rock, there are rules about who stops and waits and who goes when two parties meet on a narrow path. The rules are based on safety, courtesy, and ease of execution.

There are three basic types of trail users.

HIKER. The basic unit on a trail is the hiker. This is a person walking on a trail. The HIKER also may carry a backpack and still be considered a HIKER.

HIKER WITH LIVESTOCK. Next, there is the HIKER WITH LIVESTOCK. This person may be leading one or more burros, goats, llamas, or horses. (Persons with a dog or cat do not qualify as persons leading livestock.)

RIDER. Finally, there is the person riding a horse or mule. This person also may be leading one or more additional livestock.

Here are the generally accepted rules governing the meeting of the various combinations of these three trail users. In some jurisdictions, the wilderness permit will list these rules.

HIKER meets HIKER WITH LIVESTOCK. The HIKER moves well off the trail, preferably to the lower side and waits calmly while the HIKER WITH LIVESTOCK proceeds. It is helpful if the HIKER can be plainly seen and converses in a moderate tone of voice with the HIKER WITH LIVESTOCK. If seated, it is important that the HIKER not stand up before all of the livestock have passed well down the trail.

HIKER meets RIDER. The same rules apply as above. Sometimes it may be a difficult and steep hillside in which case it is wiser to move back down the trail to a safer location before moving off the trail.

HIKER WITH LIVESTOCK meets RIDER. In this case, the HIKER WITH LIVESTOCK moves off the trail and allows the RIDER to proceed. It is helpful to the RIDER if the HIKER WITH LIVESTOCK announces that he has llamas (or goats, or whatever) and asks the RIDER to wait while he moves off the trail. Sometimes, RIDERS prefer to dismount and walk by the other livestock for safety.

I was prompted to write these rules down because of meeting so many folks with horses and mules this summer who were surprised and grateful that we moved our llamas off the trail for them to pass. We learned there are plenty of llama owners who do not do this. The main reason to follow the rules of right-of-way is safety. I would hate to be responsible for allowing my llamas to spook a horse and cause a wreck that injured a RIDER.

We commonly meet HIKERS who do not give our animals the room needed to pass. We have learned to be very specific in requesting that HIKERS move off the trail. We explain to them that we have a new, young packer in the string just learning the ropes, or that our panniers are wide and might knock a person down. Usually these HIKERS simply donít know the rules of right-of-way. Once in a while, they are blatantly hostile to any kind of livestock. Of course, the real goal here is safety. We donít want anyone to be hurt by our llamas. And it is much easier for a single hiker to move off the trail than a string of llamas. Sometimes we will move off the trail for HIKERS, because it is easier for us in that particular location, or perhaps we want to have a rest stop.

The basic goal here is safety. For all of you who are out there hiking with your llamas, please follow the rules of right-of-way. Be safe and be courteous. Your actions reflect on all of us hiking with llamas.


We have had some close calls with dogs over the years and quite a few just this summer. HIKERS with dogs that are allowed to run free and unleashed can be a menace to livestock. The dog runs ahead of the HIKER down the trail and comes up quickly on the livestock. This can cause a ruckus or even a wreck. Sometimes the dog may be aggressive.

On one pack trip, my friend Tiare hiked out ahead of the rest of us with the llamas to scout for dogs. One fellow she came upon became very angry when she asked him to leash his dog and wait off the trail. It was a narrow spot and there was no place to take a string of llamas off the trail at that point. Instead of stepping into the trees on the level side of the trail, he climbed the bank on the upper side of the trail and allowed his dog to strain against his collar (he had no leash and just held the dogís collar) and leer over the trail. I can tell you it wasnít easy bringing a bunch of llamas that included a couple of newbies next to and below that dog with the grumpy owner. The llamas did not like it a bit, but they marched by without incident. Whew!

Two other times this summer, we met dogs whose owners willingly grabbed the collar and stepped off the trail. But they were behind trees and really just next to the trail, not off. The llamas could not see the dogs until they were right next to them. In both cases we had llamas in their first summer of packing break and run. In the first incident, one llama ran back down the trail 100 feet and stopped when called and told to stand. Then he looked embarrassed when he realized the older more experienced llamas had not run away. The second incident, one llama on his first pack trip spooked and got away from his handler which spooked a second young llama. They ran up the trail and stopped when called to stand. They did not look embarrassed at all, only terrified of the unknown predator lurking behind the tree. And those two llamas live with two black labs!

While hiking ahead of the string, I saw that a packer was coming with a string of mules and two additional riders. I sent Dave and Douglas off the trail with the llamas and let the packer know we had llamas and were moving out of the way. The packer had a herding dog that was running loose. The dog ran back and around a hill and came upon the llamas from behind in full herding mode just as the pack string was passing in front. This caused a big uproar even with our most seasoned packers. Can you blame them? Dave and Douglas were able to hang on and shoo the dog away. Then the packer whistled him back. Luckily, Dave had taken our string about 50 feet off the trail, and while our uproar excited the horses and mules a bit, they were far enough away that the horses and mules did not go bonkers.


One of the rules listed on wilderness permits is that trail users are to stay on the trail, not cut switch backs, and not walk out of the tread. We always try to follow these rules unless traveling cross country. However, there are trail situations that we skirt for safety reasons. One of these is poorly maintained bridges. We had a llama fall through a bridge when it gave way. He was okay but ever after had an aversion to walking on bridges. We also avoid walking on poorly maintained puncheon. Puncheon is a trail construction in wet or boggy areas that raises the trail with (most commonly) small to medium size logs that are placed crossways very tightly together. When poorly constructed or maintained, there can be large spaces between the logs. We have always believed this to be a hazard and walk in the bog with our llamas rather than take a risk of injuring one of our animals.

We were saddened to learn of the death of a friendís "best packer" this summer. He took his string across a puncheon that he had gone across many times before. But this time, one of his llamas in a string of five put his foot in a gap in the logs and snapped his leg. When tied in the string, the llama was not able to get his foot out of the gap before being pulled ahead by the llama in front. They were able to get him out to the trailhead because they were within a half mile of it, and a guy with a jeep helped them. An xray showed that the leg was shattered into countless pieces. The vet recommend euthanizing the poor llama. It was a tragedy for sure. This incident vindicated our breaking the rules of staying on the trail, but it was a very sad way to find that out.

I suppose the lesson is to do your best to follow the rules, but use your head when making choices regarding the safety of your llamas.