Lorene Grassick: A Life in the Hills with Load-Lugging Llamas

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Grassick with Major Spots, grandson and great grandson of Jedidiah and Fred Astaire

If you are lucky enough to go hiking through the Sierra Nevadas one summer and happen upon a woman in her late 70s leading some llamas and some equally lucky tourists, you’ve probably come face to face with Lorene Grassick. The grandmother of reinvention, Grassick is on her fourth career as a pack llama trekker and breeder.

“I had great examples as a child. My mother was an entrepreneurial woman and both my parents worked all their lives. I am just lucky that I was able to turn my passion into a business that allows me to spend my days with the special soul karma of friendly llamas.”

Grassick has always been ahead of the game in terms of life events. Before attending high school, she starting a career in book-keeping for her apricot-orchard owning parents in California. By 16 years, she was married and at 19 she already had two children. For the next ten years, Grassick was an accountant for several businesses until she fell out of a tree picking apples and broke her right arm.

“My husband was in the Air Force and I was on unemployment because of my arm but really I needed to work. I had always driven the trucks on my parent’s orchard so when a job opened for the driver of a 73-passenger school bus I signed up. Having been a Girl Scout leader, I liked the kids, the chatter.”

Grassick enjoyed the job so much, she stuck with it for 11 years, never returning to book-keeping. When her husband retired early and went to college to get recertified, she followed suit and attended night school while driving the bus during the day.

She started with landscaping but quickly switched to mathematics and social sciences, which she then started teaching. Grassick loved learning and continued to go school while teaching, getting a Masters in Education and teaching credentials in math, social sciences, driver education, and special and gifted education all of which she taught for 15 years until she retired early at the age of 58.

“They gave me the golden handshake. So, yes, I took that. I had plans you see.”

Plans indeed. Over the years, Grassick had been an avid backpacker. She had hiked far and wide through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, lugging her own bags.

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The famous Fred Astaire

“I was tired of carrying the weight and wanted an animal to help me out. I read up on llamas and figured this was for me so I bought three untrained ones to carry baggage. I got some packs and saddles for them and started out on a whole new career,” Grassick laughs.

Grassick lives on a 12 acre-farm and already had two horses so it wasn’t as much of a stretch as you may be thinking. Initially, she bought the llamas to carry her load and that of her friends and family during hikes but quickly an opportunity emerged.

“It was so wonderful being above 10,000 feet, so beautiful and unspoiled in the high country. I decided I wanted to do it all summer, every summer, and the only way to do this was to get someone else to pay for my trips and my time. So I bought three more cheap untrained weanlings that same first year and opened my Highland Llama Trekkers business.”

But that wasn’t the end of it. Grassick had made a promise.

“One of my first purchases was a male and I promised the owner I would not have him gelded if he turned out as good as he said he would,” Grassick explains. “Well, he was exceptional. He weighed 375 lbs and I called him Fred Astaire – he was pure black with a white tuxedo, in formal dress you know. So I had to buy him a girlfriend, Feliz.”

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Jedidiah

The show-stopping Fred produced big and beautiful offspring but unfortunately (in the world of llamas) they were 90% female. “Then I was in trouble. I had female llamas and could not breed them back to their sire so I had to buy another stud, Jedidiah, to breed with these girls.”

But good old Jedidiah, national champion of the Alpaca Llama Show Association produced mostly males giving Grassick her present day beautiful pack string of 12, friendly, intact male llamas.

And all that already 21 years ago.

Today, Grassick specializes in breeding long-living llamas ideal for mountain packing with a minimal fiber coat, strong legs, high performance and all-around friendly temperament. Her llamas are still award winning and designated as CCARA, a classical designation of sorts. The remarkable 78-year-old still treks with clients but only seasonally from July to October.

And she has no plans to stop anytime soon. “I don’t plan on ever living without llamas. I’m having too much fun,” Grassick says in all seriousness, brief and to the point.

Lorene Grassick’s tips on starting a business:
  • Communicating with potential clients the product or service you have to offer is the key to success.  Your task today is much easier than 20 years ago.  The internet, social websites, inexpensive websites, plus local chamber of commerce advertising and membership will get you there.
  • If your potential clients are local, attend as many local functions as you can, meet and introduce yourself with a name tag that advertises your product.  Do not be too aggressive with personal advertising.  Let them come to you and ask questions

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