Trekking: Let Yaks Carry the Gear
By Ruth Higdon
Yaks have been used as beasts of burden for thousands of years in Asia. They have been bred over this time period to carry loads over high mountainous terrain without roads or bridges. The unique physiology of this amazing animal allows it to survive in this harsh environment. Their hooves and leg structure allow them to climb steep mountains and climb over obstacles that would stop horses and other beasts of burden. They do not like to walk in deep snow, but they can handle any other type of trail.
An adult yak can carry about 120 lbs. and they can forage for food along the trail. They naturally want to walk in a line and are great traveling companions. The yaks are rarely ridden in the Himalaya, but can be trained to ride. Steers are easier to handle and can carry larger loads. Training a yak to carry a load is straightforward but takes time and patience. It is very important to have a balanced load and to watch for hot spots under the straps and saddle. It is important to attach bells to help with locating them in the morning after an overnight.
The best saddles are the ones they have in Nepal and Tibet. I have tried Llama and Alpaca saddles and they do not fit well. I have made my own out of fiberglass but they are not as strong as the cured wood saddles. In a future blog I will sketch out a design. It is best to start strapping on a saddle at any early age. It is wise to bring yearlings along with a saddle and no load to get used to the trail. Yaks are intelligent and will learn a trail after one or two trips.