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Eagle River couple’s hiking trio brings unique presence to local trails

Published: Dec. 4, 2020 at 5:00 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Getting out and getting active can do wonders for the mind, body and soul. Perhaps your favorite way to do that is by taking a hike, a snowy stroll or a combination of both.

So who’s your hiking partner of choice? Hikers, bikers and canines are among the more common, but an Eagle River couple’s trail team is a trio you likely haven’t seen before: three llamas, ranging in age from teens to late 20s, who seem to enjoy Alaska’s outdoors just as much as their owners do.

“There’s a reason why we’re doing this after almost 40 years,” said Phil Nuechterlein, “is we really do enjoy them, and it gets us out in places, to places we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Most of the time, we have them with us.”

Phil and his wife, Linda Nuechterlein, said they began raising llamas back in the 1980s. Phil had seen an advertisement for a pair of them in the now-defunct “Early Winters” catalog, which in turn sprung a candid and partly comedic conversation about possibly purchasing llamas of their own.

“They actually had a couple llamas for sale,” Linda said. “We started talking about that, and we said, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great?’ They’re a wonderful animal, a wonderful companion.”

When this little family of five – including three sets of four legs – hits the trails, they’re often met with both enamor and surprise.

“I was like, ‘That is the weirdest looking moose,’” said Nick Straka, who was fat tire biking along one of Eagle River’s trails on Thursday. “Today, all of a sudden, there’s a llama on the trail. A couple of them. I was like, ‘Oh, shoot! Is that a moose? Nope, what is that?’”

Alexander Zlatkovski, a skier traveling along a nearby river, reacted similarly.

“It’s very interesting,” he said. “I saw those llamas quite often when driving, but never up close. This is the first time, and I’ve lived here for 20 years.

“So it’s quite a celebration,” he added. “I’m going to go home and tell all my family.”

Joining Phil and Linda on the trails that day, per usual, were Cerveza, Raul and Julio.

“They’re the best companions, in the backcountry, that you can get,” Linda said. “A lot of times, they pick out things you don’t see. And, they’re a best friend forever.”

Phil said the llamas - which also happen to have coronavirus-type antibodies called nanobodies, he noted - simply make the outdoor experience that much better.

“We feel really blessed to have these public lands and have access that’s so close to home,” he said, “and, you know, we’re among the luckiest people in the world to live in a place that we can do this.”

Needless to say, there’s nothing quite like it to beat the winter blues.

“You know, llamas make people happy,” Linda said. “They always laugh and giggle. And I don’t know anyone who’s been mad when they saw a llama, you know?

“We’re so lucky to live in Alaska and this kind of environment,” she added, “and then if you have companions, it makes it that much better.”

The Nuechterleins and their llamas hike all year round. You can get a glimpse of some of their other Alaska adventures on their dedicated Facebook page, Alaska Llamas.

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