Hiking with Yaks
Yaks' intelligence, natural agility and calm disposition make them outstanding pack animals. For over 4000 years Yaks have been used to transport goods across the rugged mountains. Today they are found all across Bhutan, carrying loads for back country travelers. Here Yaks serve as the pack animal of choice in situations that call for minimal environmental impact, ease of handling, agility and sure footed-ness.
Farmers routinely use Yaks to take the load off their own backs. Hunters successfully employ Yaks to pack game out of rugged areas that would be inaccessible to horses or mules. Families with small children have trained their Yaks to accept a lightweight rider, enabling their youngsters to take longer back country journeys. Commercial Yak packers have led scores of adventurous travelers on truly unique outdoor vacations with the support of their woolly packing companions.
Yaks for Packing
Male Yaks in good physical condition are best suited to packing. Both intact and gelded male Yaks make excellent packers. Many owners choose to have their pack Yaks gelded (neutered) unless they will be using them for breeding. Geldings generally tend to get along better in a herd with fewer dominance disputes. To avoid injury during normal pasture roughhousing behavior all adult males should have their fighting teeth trimmed. As social, herd-oriented animals, Yaks prefer living with other Yaks or with other herd animals such as sheep or goats.
On the Trail
Packing with Yaks is a very special experience. Besides taking the load off your back they are unique trail companions. They often spot wildlife and other back country travelers well before you do. They often give vocal comments on trail conditions or their opinions about when it's time to take a break. The way they negotiate obstacles with aplomb is a never ending marvel.
More than one Yak may be tied together to form a Yak pack string. Yaks follow one another quite naturally, and quickly learn to "line out" as they proceed up the trail. The most common method of hitching a string of Yaks together is to fasten the lead rope of the trailing Yak to the saddle of the Yak in front of him. Safety dictates that the attachment should be with a quick release knot or that a "weak link" of lighter cord or rubber should be used to allow the connection to break away if trouble arises. Leading a string of Yaks requires that you pay extra attention. You should look back frequently to check on them and take care when negotiating obstacles.
While they may drink from streams along the trail, Yaks may also completely abstain from drinking during the hike to camp. In either case they should be offered water in the evening after their ration of supplemental feed and again in the morning before hiking.