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Leader of the Pack

first_imgThe Llama Wrangler on Mount LeConte In 1984 LeConte Lodge switched to llamas to reduce trail erosion. Before that, horses and mules had been used for 60 years. Through the lead rope, Householder could feel the rhythm and mood of the llama train. A coal-black llama named Jack was in the lead, followed by Cooper, Jimmy, Bruno, Rueben, Little Deer, and Andy. “They’re anxious to get back to the parking lot,” he said. On the job: Alan Householder leads llamas on Mount Leconte. Photo by Jessica Tezak Householder’s llama packing trip that October day was one of his last. On November 24, the lodge’s last day of the 2020 season, Householder retired as LeConte’s llama wrangler, a job that surpassed his wildest dreams from day one. Just beyond Grotto Falls, Householder placed nylon mesh masks over the llama’s muzzles—not to discourage them from spitting, but to prevent them from chomping on waxy-green plants like rhododendron and mountain laurel that could make them sick. Stream crossings gave the team a chance to drink, and there were several stops along the trail where the llamas took designated potty breaks. It was 5:15 a.m. and pitch dark when Alan Householder parked the livestock trailer at the Trillium Gap trailhead at the foot of Mount LeConte. The autumn leaf change was in full swing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and by mid-morning, the parking lot would be overflowing. “I took this job because I really like hiking,” he said. “I thought I’d last a couple of years and move on. There were days when it was raining, or I’d be really tired, and it felt like a job. But in the big picture, I always knew it was a great opportunity. I loved having the Trillium Gap Trail as my office.” From black bears sneaking up behind the llamas to having the entire team slide down the mountain after one member slips and falls, Householder has experienced his share of “llama drama.” Householder’s rapport with the llama team rose to a new level in 2014 when he married Chrissy Mann (now Chrissy Householder). They met as crew members at LeConte Lodge. In addition to working as a labor and delivery nurse, Chrissy tends to the llamas’ health needs and accompanies Householder up the mountain whenever she can. “I learned a lot of llama psychology from Chrissy,” Householder said. “Llamas don’t want affection; they want respect. At first I’d bark orders at them, but that was the wrong approach.” Householder and the llama team reached LeConte Lodge—elevation 6,400 feet—at noon. The lodge and kitchen were roped off due to COVID-19, but there were plenty of guests.  “I feel for these guys,” Householder said. “They’ve already made it to the top. For them, going back down is the final insult.”  “The hardest thing for the llamas is working in the summer,” Householder said. “They like it cold.”  Except for a year-long hiatus in 2011 to have knee surgery, Householder, who’s 65, has been leading llamas for LeConte Lodge nonstop since 2002. Three days a week he and the llamas haul perishable foods, clean linens, and mail to the top of Mount LeConte via the Trillium Gap Trail—a nearly 14-mile round-trip hike with an elevation gain of almost 3,400 feet. The trip down the mountain that afternoon posed more challenges than the climb up. The pack saddles were filled with dirty laundry and trash. At each rest stop, the llamas emitted a soft, low-frequency hum reminiscent of Buddhist monks chanting in deep meditation. Householder said this was not a sign of contentment, but of restlessness. A major ingredient in the llama wrangler’s job is the sheer amount of walking. During the lodge’s nine-month season, Householder hiked a total of 1,300 miles. Walking is in Householder’s DNA. He has completed the Appalachian Trail, as well as the Pacific Crest Trail. In 1997 he and guidebook author Allen DeHart became the first to hike the Mountains-to-Sea Trail from Clingmans Dome in the Smokies to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. “Jack is a leader because he doesn’t mind having a person in front of him,” explained Householder. “He’s as laid back as a llama can be.” After 1.3 miles, the llama team reached Grotto Falls, one of the most photographed waterfalls in the Smokies. Every llama hauled between 40 and 60 pounds. Only in muddy sections of the trail did their soft footpads leave any tracks, and the whole procession was eerily quiet as it climbed up the north face of Mount LeConte. And in the winter of 2005-2006 Householder became the first American to complete the 435-mile Australian Alps Walking Trail from Melbourne to Sydney. “Alan has gone above and beyond to see that the lodge gets what it needs, and the llamas get what they need,” says John Northrup, general manager of LeConte Lodge, about Householder. “People think it’s an easy job, just hiking all day with these fuzzy, cute animals. But it tests you in every way.” When dawn broke at 7:15 a.m., Householder and his seven llamas were on their way.  During the descent, Bruno, the third llama in line, kept stalling, which caused the line to bunch up. Patient as always, Householder dropped the lead rope and went up and down the line, feeding each llama a carrot and whispering in each left ear. After several minutes, the team was back underway, this time in perfect formation. “I will miss working with these guys,” he said. “They each have their own personality, and they don’t talk back.” But for now, Householder and his llama team were all alone. Working by headlamp, Householder brushed each llama and cinched their pack saddles. The cargo that day consisted of clean laundry and Styrofoam meal trays bound for LeConte Lodge, which is the highest overnight lodge east of the Mississippi River and only reachable by hiking one of five different trails.last_img read more

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Qatar says Gulf crisis has no impact on World Cup preparations

first_img(REUTERS) – Qatar said yesterday a rift with fellow Gulf Arab states that includes economic sanctions on Doha has not affected its preparations to host the 2022 World Cup, and alternative sources for construction materials had been secured.Soccer’s governing body FIFA said last week it was in “regular contact” with the 2022 World Cup organising committee of Qatar, after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, along with Egypt, severed ties with Doha over alleged ties to terrorism – charges the Gulf state denies.The 2022 World Cup is the centrepiece of a carefully crafted strategy to project Qatar onto the global stage via sport. The dispute could impact its preparations.In the run-up to the tournament, Qatar is scheduled to host multiple events across many different sports, aimed at improving infrastructure and expertise.“I can confirm to everybody that there is absolutely no impact on the progress of work in the Mondial facilities and that work is proceeding normally,” said Ghanim al-Kuwari, executive director at the Qatari committee overseeing preparations for the World Cup.In remarks carried by state news agency QNA, Kuwari said Qatar’s local World Cup organising committee had completed around 45 percent of the work in accordance with plans.Most of the construction materials needed for building World Cup stadiums had been coming by land through Saudi Arabia, a route now blocked, but Kuwari said alternative suppliers have been organised.“We have actually organised alternative sources from other areas in order that the work on the project is not impacted.”He said that while some goods had come by land, most materials were coming by sea, adding that some materials were being locally made.Separately yesterday, the International Olympic Committee said it hoped the diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar by its Gulf neighbours would not affect sports development in the region.Hamad Port in Doha was bustling with activity this week, with ships bringing in food supplies as well as building materials for construction projects including World Cup stadiums and a metro line running alongside highways that stretch out of Doha.last_img read more

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