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We propose a load balanced and energy aware routing protocol (LEAR) that is designed to improve the lifetime of large-scale wireless sensor mesh networks by balancing the energy consumption in the nodes. The proposed protocol selects routes to enable equitable traffic distribution across the nodes so that all nodes maintain similar expected lifetimes. We implement LEAR in a commercially available wireless sensor platform and perform extensive experimental evaluations of different aspects of the protocol in the laboratory. Our results show that LEAR can significantly improve the lifetime of large-scale wireless sensor networks that typically experience a high degree of load imbalance and inefficient resource utilization when using a link quality based routing protocol.