A 10 Day Desert Journey | Traversing 252km across the West MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory
[Part I]: Found on Camper’s Pantry
This blog is split up into two sections. The first section (visit Camper’s Pantry) covers everything you need to know about one of Australia’s most arduous and epic multi-day treks, known as The Larapinta Trail, in the Red Centre of Alice Springs, Northern Territory. I delve into the history of the Larapinta trail, introduce you to the region’s local Aboriginal People and their dreamtime stories, trip logistics and planning, my nutrition preparation, introduce you to LTTS, and how to physically prepare for this adventure.
[Part II]: Continue Reading Here
The second half covers my raw adventure trail notes. Everything I share with you is what I did to prepare for my solo and unsupported Larapinta Trail expedition, applying my experience from years of summiting mountains in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, outdoor guiding in Europe, and consistent dedication to physical conditioning with peak performance specialists in Australia.
Alright, let’s kick things off!
All statistics and data was recorded using my Suunto 9 watch – hiking duration is inconsistent and at times includes/excludes break times
Personal Stats: 26 years old, approx. 62kg, 5’3”
Pack weight: 23-26kg (fluctuated based on how much water I carried)
The Larapinta Trail at a Glance
The trail runs along the spine of the West MacDonnell Ranges running from Alice Springs (Telegraph Station) to Mount Sonder (Rwetyepme). The track was officially completed in 2002 and has been gaining a reputation for offering one of the most incredible walking experiences in Australia and the world. The ridgelines are dramatic, walking on quartzite is challenging, and the views are breathtaking. The rugged landscape is truly humbling for any adventurer, but the undertaking offers 360° views, glorious sunsets, remote desert feels, and refreshingly cold water holes.
The Larapinta Trail rises 1,000m above sea level seven times along its length, from its base altitude of 600m. The trail crosses a variety of terrain including valleys, gorges, gullies, dried out riverbeds and waterfalls, as well as high ridgelines and summits, sandy flats, and aboriginal lands.
The Larapinta Trail follows the songlines of the traditional owners and custodians of the Central and Western Arrernte Country. The Arrernte people of central Australia have journeyed through this land for a very long time. It is of utmost importance to acknowledge that we walk, sleep, and talk on the land they have traveled across. Arrernte people continue to practice their culture, art, and pass on stories in and around Alice Springs. Continuous efforts are made to maintain their customs and practices, and to help celebrate their traditions and long standing culture.
Importance of Aboriginal Art
Art is a very important practice in Aboriginal culture. Aboriginal artwork traces the history of the dreamtime stories and the development of Central Australia. Artwork is displayed and celebrated and kept alive. The Araluen Arts Center does an incredible job of depicting Arrernte stories central to Alice Springs. I highly recommend visiting a few different art stores, galleries and centers to learn more about the Dreamtime and celebrate the local culture and connect to the landscape and history of the region.
For many Aboriginal people in the past and present, art has been an integral practice of sharing Dreamtime stories. The first famous aboriginal artist was Albert Namatjira, who held a sold out exhibition in Melbourne in 1938. Many different styles are used today and it’s an important source of income for aboriginal communities. The central desert is the heart of Australian Aboriginal Art. It is depicted on signage like trail info, maps, and government information boards. It is nationally and internationally acclaimed. I recommend dropping in a few different art galleries in town and supporting the local artists.
This was my second solo and unsupported multi-day trek. I am still new to multi-day treks, and my packing list via Ligtherpack still shows massive areas for improvement. My gear taken must be taken with a grain of salt. I am happy to have started with a basic system. I now know I am gearing towards ultra-lightweight trekking and will slowly update my gear to reflect my new trekking goals.
My documented experience is a personal and authentic account of my thoughts, feelings, and trail realities. My vision is to share how I’ve gone about an adventure as I enjoy taking on challenges, finding alternative practices, and challenging conventional camping and trekking practices. I am here to share a wild & raw account of an incredible journey across one of Australia’s most stunning and humbling deserts.
Larapinta Packing List
Find my trek specific packing list here, on Lighterpack
2 Route Options
So, as I’ve mentioned before, this route can be walked from west to east or east to west. The benefit from starting west to east, is there is no time constraint on your walk, because when you finish at Telegraph Station, which is about 4km from Alice Springs town center, you can call a taxi for a pick up and it’s an inexpensive transfer into town. If you start from Alice Springs and walk west, you need to have ordered your shuttle prior to your departure because there is unreliable service along the route.
The NT trail maps are written starting from Telegraph Station, Alice Springs. For me, I chose to walk into town, because it was important to have maximum flexibility and allow myself the freedom to walk for as short or as long as my heart and legs desired.
I chose to use the Larapinta Trail Trek Support (LTTS) team to transfer me from Alice Springs to Redbank Gorge. LTTS is subterranean and most of the team has an ex-military and Special Forces background. Their involvement in various remote regions of Australia makes them the best to learn from and rely on. They are professional and highly experienced, and share a lot of wisdom and positive trail encouragement.
As a solo traveler, I know how important it is to feel supported, encouraged, motivated, inspired, and believed in. I also know the importance of professional knowledge, expertise, and asking the right questions to maximize safety out in the field. Investing in the right company to take you the extra mile, is never a penny misplaced.
Introducing Larapinta Trail Trek Support (LTTS)
Morning Logistics – Covering the basics with Zak from LTTS
Here are some general notes that I took away from my 2 hour transfer with LTTS in hopes of empowering you to feel confident in your abilities to take on this trek.
If you have limiting self-beliefs and doubts, like I do, I hope that some of the information I learned from Zak (from LTTS), will help take you through that zone of doubt, and motivate you to hike the Larapinta Trail.
Thank you Zak and LTTS for imparting all of your wisdom on me!
1. THE GOLDEN RULE – Zak says: “How you travel and perform in the next 24-48 hours will determine how the rest of your walk will go.”
- It’s no lie that I am an overachiever. Its good practice to manage ambition & drive to sustain your energy and physical performance.
- It’s normal to begin a trek with lots of adrenaline and lose sight of what’s really ahead.
2. WATER – the most important resource on this trail. The maps show water tank symbols at all the main campsites. Rangers monitor and refill all water tanks. Water treatment is personal. When walking solo, you’d want to reduce the variables of risk. I always treated my water.
- My temperatures ranged from 32° to 37°C. I had a maximum carrying capacity of 6.6.L and I used a SteriPEN (lithium battery powered, UV light) to treat my water.
- As I got more acquainted with my environment, I carried less and refilled more periodically. On average, I consumed around 6-10L of water a day. Dehydration and Hyperthermia (heatstroke) is common on this trail. Rescues and deaths do occur.
- Dehydration is a serious condition. When in doubt, rest and create shade. Drink electrolytes and only resume walking if your condition improves. Sometimes its best to resume walking the following day.
Signs & Symptoms of Dehydration –
What does a negative response to dehydration look like?
- Lowered blood volume, stroke volume, and cardiac output
- Heart rate increases
- Reduced muscle blood flow & sweat rate
- Increased body temperature & blood viscosity
- Impaired endurance performance
- Lowered attention and focus
- It is recommended to drink 250ml of water for every 15 minutes of physical output
- Furthermore, it is recommended to replenish 4-8% sugar content. This range allows for proper sugar absorption by the body
3. SAFETY: Plan, Organize, Refine, Engineer – Zak says: “always be good to go.” As a solo female traveler, it’s important to reduce the variables of risk. I asked Zak if its safe to leave my pack at the base of Mt Sonder and just hike the summit with a day pack. His rule of thumb was that wherever he would go, his pack would go with him. The goal is to minimize risk and be ready to go. Be organized, prepared, and neat. Knowing that you have everything you need on your person to survive an emergency situation will give you a peace of mind.
4. REST – I completed my walk from 26 September to 5 October 2019. I was recommended to walk from 5/6am-11am/12pm then take a siesta from 12pm-3pm when the UV and heat is at its highest. Resume again from 3pm-7pm. This was relevant to the season I was walking in. The take away: rest when the heat and UV is at its highest.
5. DINGOES – they howl if anyone didn’t know. I actually didn’t ask what they sounded like before I started my trail. This made me paranoid that they were around without me knowing about it.
- So, dingoes will only come around if you’ve created a mess around you. Some campers have a tendency to scatter their belongings and forget about open food packages etc. We can avoid unwelcome critters if we manage our camp and litter.
- Just keep everything neat, tidy, and tucked away. Keep food scraps and used packaging sealed in a Ziploc bag. Don’t leave snacks unattended.
- Dingoes are sly and active by day & night. Zip up your tent every single time – this is also a smart snake precaution. Tie your boots together and attach them to your tent pole if you’re not sleeping with them inside your tent. There should be nothing loose around your tent. Strap your belongings down and clip your pack to your tent pole if you leave your site unattended.
- Lastly, dingoes love the smell of used socks and underwear. Chuck these items into a sealed bag.
6. GETTING INTO CAMP LATE – I told Zak that solo nights were my biggest fear, and rocking up to a campsite after dark was something that stressed me out. He encouraged me to challenge myself and give it a go one evening. I took this on as a good challenge, so I gave it a go. I know that time under discomfort will be key in growing more confident in being alone at night, including walking in the dark.
- I know many women who are unable to set out on an adventure because of this similar fear. I completely empathize. I used to go to a summer camp that tested our sense of navigation by blindfolding us, taking us to an unknown vantage point, and then making us walk back (without the blindfold) to camp in the dark, alone, and without a flashlight. I failed every single year. Though solo nights are uncomfortable, they do become manageable over time.
7. WALKING AT NIGHT – not recommended by LTTS, or by me. From personal experience, I would never walk through a gorge at night again. Refer to Day 3 of my trail notes on this. Nighttime walking is only OK if you know what to expect on the trail.
8. HIGH’s & LOW’s – celebrate & accept both extremes. The ups & downs are a crucial part of the process. Without the downs, we cannot elevate and feel the highs. I love hiking and trekking, but not all days are glory days. The hard days can be both rewarding and depressing. Embracing both feelings is a natural part of the journey we are consciously choosing to undertake.
9. SELF PRAISE – if you are doing well and life is good, tell yourself that. We need to give ourselves credit for what we are putting ourselves through. Celebrate your journey, your achievements, and your grit. When you’ve dodged a boulder and were just shy of a face plant, give yourself a pat on the back. Celebrate all the little wins along the way.
10. FOOT CARE – when you rest, take your shoes and socks off, remove your insoles and chuck them on the sun to dry out. Turn your socks inside out and allow the sun to dry them and kill the bacteria. Clean your feet & massage them.
11. ELECTROLYTES – in addition to consuming these throughout the day, Zak recommends consuming about 1L of them before bed, to allow the body to absorb them over night. This allows your body to absorb the nutrients overnight, leaving you feeling better recovered the next morning.
PRO TIP: To avoid going to the loo during the night, consume a pinch of sea salt before bed.
12. DRYNESS / MOISTURE – your eyes and your mouth are your biggest sources of moisture. Cover your mouth with a bandana and consider using a nasal spray to moisten the nose and avoid nose bleeds. You can concoct your own: in a spray bottle, combine water and sea salt!
13. SPF LIP BALM – not to be forgotten!
14. LITHIUM BATTERIES – these can be found ONLY in Coles if any of your electronics require them. Lithium batteries last much longer than conventional batteries.
TRAIL NOTES & ROUTE SUMMARIES
DAY 1 – 26 SEPTEMBER 2019
Stats: 09:43 start / 20.01km / 8hrs10min / 30,986 steps / 4355 calories / 827m ascent / 818m descentRedbank Gorge to Mt. Sonder Summit return with a side trip to Redbank Gorge
Wow, today felt like a day to acclimatize to just about everything. New surroundings, new bush feel, and one hot dry and arid climate. Today’s section is officially section 12 of the Larapinta Trail, but for me, it was just the beginning. I began my day with a strong sense of curiosity about everything I was about to undergo for the next few days.
Naturally, I started on the wrong trail! I got a little anxious and originally I started correctly, but then my sneaky inner voice told me to doubt myself, so I turned back, took another trail that was more distinct and then backtracked yet again. So there you have it, my first loop-y experience, right from the get go!
I don’t usually set walking goals, I just get to where I get to when I do. But I kind of hoped to make it to Hilltop Lookout for my first night under the stars on a summit. As I was climbing Mt Sonder steadily, I found myself making some extra pack adjustments, getting used to the dry heat, focusing on deep belly breathing through my nose and reminding myself I still needed to put sunscreen on. What a shock lugging up a 26kg backpack up Mt Sonder! I had filled up my maximum water capacity, which was 6.6L, and I actually drank every drop of it before returning to the campsite.
Mt Sonder is the Northern Territory’s 4th highest mountain. It is called Rwetyepme in the local Arrernte language. It towers 1,380m above sea level, and various farther desert peaks stretch far and wide. The view north looks 100km into the Tanami Desert, and to the west is Mt Zeil, or Urlatherrke, which is the Northern Territories highest mountain. The trail up to the summit is very well marked but it’s also very exposed. You’ll be confronted with jarring sun along the whole way up. The ground and the rocks soak up so much heat from the sun, the actual temperature radiating around you and through you can be a solid 4-8°C higher than the air temperature.
I met a few hikers along this summit, including a school group. I also came across one gentleman who was descending the peak and he questioned me why I was climbing a return hike with my massive pack. Well, simply put, I wasn’t looking to make my walk easier. I made a decision that my pack would go wherever I went and that became the first step in reducing the variables of risk as a solo trekker.
Upon completing the return hike, I set up my shelter, went to check out Redbank Gorge, and watched a rock wallaby eat its dinner. It was then journal time and dinnertime. I got back to my tent and I prepped all my water for the next day, cooked my dinner (tonight it was Campers Pantry beef in black bean sauce) and watched a few shooting stars light up the sky. I was finally experiencing bliss. The day ended on a high and although I did not reach Hilltop Lookout, I opted for a much needed early night.
DAY 2 – 27 SEPTEMBER 2019
Stats: 07:54 start / 27.10km / 8hrs29min / 34,112 steps / 4045 calories / 405m ascent / 435m descentRedbank Gorge to Finke River
Woke up a little stiff and sore, and not overly well rested. A combination of my rather thin sleeping mat and waking to strange noises around me had me catching up on sleep as the morning rolled in. I ended up having a late start considering the season I walked in had the high temperatures rolling in quick. Zak said I would only make that mistake once and he was pretty accurate! Not being a morning person, I knew the early starts would be key, but nonetheless challenging.
The first 10km started pretty easy – flat through shrub with intermittent sun exposure. The trail progressed into a steady hill climb to the top of Hilltop Lookout where I took my first arvo siesta (roughly 40min). Though the sun was beating down hard, I was feeling quite good. I wasn’t having much luck with my hiking boots though. I’ve had them for almost 10 years but having recently transitioned to barefoot and minimalist shoes, my good ol’ boots ended up numbing my feet. Luckily I had my Salomon runners to change into! They ended up being my trekking shoe – a good back up, but overall, a poor choice.
Today’s motto was to keep the movement consistent. I worked on stopping a little less frequently and maintained a more steady pace. Descending into Finke River was absolutely incredible. I felt like I was passing through mars: a red, arid, sparse with trees landscape, that seemed to extend outwards and onwards unlike anything I have seen before. Seeing new life emerge amongst the fire-burnt areas was also really special.
I had a long day to begin some reflections about why I am drawn to the idea and practice of trekking alone. I’ve never been an overly independent traveler… The thought of doing something alone was always rather daunting. For my first multi-day trek, which was the Overland Track in Tasmania, I did it mostly for myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I could organize a whole trip and all the logistics around it, and complete it all alone. This became the start of learning to trust in myself and in my abilities. Though it was a rocky start, it was my start nonetheless.
Then I took on this Larapinta Trail as my second trek. I built on my first trek and continued the journey of building on that newly found trust in myself. I also realized I wasn’t willing to wait around for others to make time for adventure. As soon as I was ready for the next epic expedition, I consciously chose not to let anything get in the way.
As Day 2 came to a steady end, I found that I wasn’t overly hungry. Probably due to the heat…but I chose to force feed myself anyway. My headlamp attracted all the giant moths over so I had some company at the dinner table. I ate a few spoonful’s of chicken and veg and called it quits. I prepped my water again for the next day, which became one less worry in the morning.
Another starry night had me feeling like I was living the dream. Unfortunately I went to sleep with a painful heat rash on my thighs; this must have been from the black leggings I wore, which attracted the sun. Though my sleep wasn’t overly interrupted, just before falling asleep, I found myself talking out loud and introducing myself to all the animal noises I heard around me. I definitely sounded like a crazy person, but hey, I wasn’t exactly looking for company!
DAY 3 – 28 SEPTEMBER 2019
Stats: 06:07 start / 40.86km / 14hrs10min / 60,664 steps / 5953 calories / 1030m ascent / 891m descentFinke River to Serpentine Chalet Dam
I woke up chilly! I always forget that this isn’t atypical for a desert, ha! 4am hit and I was shivering! Waking up cold made it all the less appealing to get out of my sleeping bag and start the day early. But all I had to prep this morning was my water. I only filled up 1.7L worth because Ormiston Gorge was only 8km away. I figured I’d do my bulk refill once I get to the next water tank there. If you pass through this Gorge, there is a swimming hole, but I was keen to continue trekking.
Upon reaching Ormiston Gorge, I refilled my water to full capacity, and left the Gorge around 9:15am. The blanket of heat felt very heavy from here on out. It was difficult to see how I would get through the day. I already felt weighed down (hmm no kidding considering my pack was 25.6kg at this point). The day became all about mind over matter.
I could see the faint trail line in front of me for miles on end. I think that made it all the more difficult, as I could see the stretch in front of me, not getting any shorter. I was crossing a fire-blazed region, with no shade to hide in. My nose was as dry and crisp as the earth beneath me. I was breathing through my nose, expanding my belly, and then exhaling through my nose, compressing my belly. It felt like a good system that had me focusing my thoughts on something specific.
I climbed towards Razorback Ridge. I eventually reached what I thought was the lookout point. So I rested. I was nauseous at this point. My stomach felt uneasy and I had a slight headache coming on. I felt unsettled and uncomfortable in every resting position. All I thought to myself was how badly I didn’t want to vomit. So I worked through my discomfort with more conscious breathing. I further rested for 30-40 minutes before continuing onwards. I had semi-decided I would camp at Waterfall Valley, and that I’d just call it a day. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do…
Where I rested was not actually the proper ‘lookout point’. I was still a km or 2 away from the actual Razerback lookout…oops! The panoramic views were breathtaking and added new energy to continue onwards to Waterfall Valley. To my dismay, my inner fears had me avoid this campsite because the low valley had a lonely eerie vibe. To most, the valley would have felt like a safe haven, a green embrace of Mother Nature, and a welcoming tent pad to retire for the night. For me, it was just too daunting and I wanted to camp next to a water source.
So I resumed trekking, climbed out of the valley, but shortly after took a break to sob some pain away. I had two options at this point: suck it up and stay at Waterfall Valley with my last 3L of water, or hike in the dark and get to camp around 9pm. Not knowing what I wanted to do just yet, I took a gulp of electrolyte water. After some mild whinging, I checked in with myself again and decided to give the trail a push to the next official site. My body felt better and my mental state was returning to normal.
I was walking above the valley now, racing against the last little bit of daylight. The sun was setting a stunning orange glow over the ranges. Shortly thereafter, I began walking in dusk for the first time. I started missing a few trail markers, which was a good enough indication that I needed to finally whip out my headlamp. My new challenge of walking in the dark for the first time was happening!
I estimated my arrival into camp would around 9pm. I began descending into a gorge called Inarlanga Pass. I was walking into my 38th-39th km at this point. The markers were so sparse, that every marker I got to, I did a little cheer! At one point, there was a trail marker that sharply pointed straight up the gorge. I was horrified when there was no marker in sight thereafter. I found myself scrambling up a gorge wall struggling with the pack on my back. I had to make my way back down and attempt a further descent and try and find a marker. In an attempt to dodge having to down-climb a massive boulder, I walked around a cycad or low palm tree, and ended up getting stuck with my pack in it. Oh, what a moment!
I gave myself some time to allow feelings of anger, fear, and uncertainty, flood my mind. Eventually, I came to peace with the reality of potentially setting up an emergency shelter in the pass. But before that, I was still determined to continue a steady descent into the darkness. I’m glad I did because at one point, I miraculously come across a trail marker. My heart finally skipped a beat with relief! I had just made it through one of the scariest solo moments yet!
It was a huge relief to get into camp with 2 other campers there! I welcomed fellow hiker presence with open arms at this point! Not knowing even how to process the day, I quickly prepared my shelter, stretched only a little so as to not disrupt the sleeping couple, and with heavy emotions, I went to sleep.
DAY 4 – 29 SEPTEMBER 2019
Stats: 07:58 start / 14.96km / 5hrs50min / 22,509 steps / 2131 calories / 472m ascent / 600m descentSerpentine Chalet Dam to Serpentine Gorge via Counts Point Lookout
With a bit of a slower start to the day, albeit the first few kilometers were nicely sheltered from the sun, the trail began with an exhausting climb. I was puffed right from the get go and really felt the efforts of the previous day, catch up with me. But the reward was grand! The trail worked its way up to one of the most beautiful views yet.
Reaching Count’s Point Junction, you turn left for one of the most epic lookouts, ‘Counts Point’, which is an out and back sidetrack, well worth the work. Leading up to Count’s Point, there is a little gully that is home to an ancient grass known as Lomandra Patens. It grows on scree slopes above the dry creek. The views stretch out to Mt Sonder, to its right is Mt Zeil, and the high towering wall of rock on the right is Mt Giles.
The 30-50km north-south winds were really refreshing as I was completing my round-trip of Counts Point Lookout. Thereafter, the steep descent into Serpentine Gorge was gnarly with sharp rocks, heavy sun exposure, and some decent blisters taking form. At the Serpentine Gorge car park (just before the official campsite for trekkers), I got my first nosebleed. Having had a nasal spray for this trek would have been beneficial.
At the Gorge I couldn’t hold back and I took 3 cold neck-deep plunges. These were the most refreshing plunges to date because they were so well deserved. The campsite is a short walk away from the Gorge. Take a left at the junction, and the campsite is about 150m from there.
DAY 5 – 30 SEPTEMBER 2019
Stats: 06:40 start / 19.96km / 6hrs25min / 28,458 steps / 2441 calories / 554m ascent / 598m descentSerpentine Gorge to 6.7km past Ellery Creek (26km marker going east)
Intuitively I felt this might be the halfway point of my journey. It felt like the last 4 days had just gone by so quickly because of how full on each day was. During the day when the sun beat down on me, the travel minutes ticked away very slowly. But by the time early arvo hit, the sun would set quickly.
Today’s stretch crossed sharp jagged ridgelines, steep ascents and descents, en route to Ellery Creek. The trail passes through the Roulpmaulpma Aboriginal Land Trust. They graciously allow the Larapinta Trail and its walkers to cross their lands. The trail passes through Gap Creek, which has a sandy bed with River Red Gums. The climb along the rocky trail takes you to Trig Point with beautiful views of the southern ridges that parallel the Heavitree Range.
Following the weathered and rocky dolomite trail along the southern base of the Heavitree Range, the trail takes you on numerous hill climbs westward for 2.5km, zigzags up the slopes of the Range, and then takes you through a steep descent into another gully. Here live the Common Brushtail Possums.
Upon crossing the creek and grassland, I reached the information shelter at Ellery Creek. This was the most incredible water hole, not only along this trail, but in general, amongst nature, protected by beautiful red walls. The dip in Ellery Creek Water Hole was the most luxurious and blissful treat to end the day!
This waterhole is accessible to 4WD’s so be aware that this spot can get busy. It’s still 100% worth going to! I ended up driving back here on a separate occasion after my trek to enjoy another epic swim. After a few hours of recovery passed, I attended to some large growing blisters, reorganized my pack, and decided to hit the trail and camp a few km’s past Ellery Creek.
After a steady 2.5km climb out of the campsite, the trail leveled out. I wanted to be away from the crowds and opted for a random campout wherever I would find a good spot. Just before the sun went down, I found a relatively flat patch of ground, 6.7km from the original Ellery Creek campsite. I watched a lovely sunset, cooked up a small dinner, and hit the sack.
DAY 6 – 1 OCTOBER 2019
Stats: 06:02 start / 24.45km / 7hrs40min / 35,663 steps / 3675 calories / 472m ascent / 418m descentStarting 6.7km past Ellery Creek to Hugh Gorge
It was great to wake up just before the sun, pack up quickly, and enjoy a relatively flat trail for the next little bit. I took a quick break at Rocky Gully, dried my shoes and socks out on the sun, ate divine ice cream from Camper’s Pantry, washed my feet and re-bandaged my blisters. I do not recommend camping here as it’s very dry and bare, and has a ghost town vibe. Use it for a water refill and keep walking ahead.
By this day, I was well acquainted with the terrain, the conditions, and the demands. I didn’t stress about having to fill my water to full capacity anymore. I filled up enough to last me till the next refill station and this ended up nicely reducing my pack weight.
My next stop was right at midday at Ghost Gum Flats. This rest spot has an elevated platform and a single standing Ghost Gum (Corymbia aparrerinja) with 3 large burls. I rested under the shade of Ironwoods and Corkwoods for about 3 hours. I needed the hefty rest today, more than any other day. The couple I met on the morning of Day 4 reached this same spot and we enjoyed a blissful rest. I highly recommend camping at this location. This location is peaceful, open, and comfortable.
I ended up leaving this site around 4pm when the heat died down only slightly. I was heading for Hugh Gorge. The trail continued northeast, ascended over numerous low ridges and then climbed east to a boulder-topped ridge. The vast views here were truly noteworthy.
Thereafter, the trail descends into sand-filled creeks and winds through thickets of Mulga and Wichetty Bush down into Hugh Gorge. Arriving to the presence of another solo walker, who was traveling from the east, was refreshing and welcoming. We were both super grateful for each other’s company and had some great trail chats.
DAY 7 – 2 OCTOBER 2019
Stats: 06:06 start / 25.34km / 10hrs30min / 37,779 steps / 3592 calories / 1038m ascent / 668m descentHugh Gorge to the summit of Brinkley Bluff via Section 4/5 Junction
Last night was wild. We had raging winds that kept us up for most of the night. Though the wind was refreshing, it left me poorly rested. With an early start, the trail began with a long winding section through Hugh Gorge. The trail markers are sparsely placed here, so this section involves some navigation.
If you camp in Hugh Gorge it’s certainly possible, and you can collect water from some of the small water pockets around. However, it’s important not to rely on water in this gorge. If the Northern Territory has been very dry, it can be very risky to rely on this gorge for water. Best practice is to always have enough from the main water tanks.
The trail climbs to Rocky Saddle, and then zigzags through the northern side of Linear Valley to meet a creek bed, which continues to be followed southeast to meet Fringe Lily Creek. The track then climbs to the top of Razorback Ridge with outstanding views. Upon taking in the views from the top, the track becomes a slow scramble through Spencer Gorge, towards Birthday Waterhole (this waterhole is a sidetrack that I did not take). It is, however, a semi-permanent waterhole and has a maintained water tank.
From the Birthday Waterhole Junction, the trail continues to the summit of Brinkley Bluff. A large cairn at the top of the summit marks the end of your hard work for the day, if you choose to camp up top. There is a logbook that you can sign and numerous tent pads to choose from. I highly recommend camping up here. Enjoy some epic top-of-the-world feels!
DAY 8 – 3 OCTOBER 2019
Stats: 06:18 start / 16.88km / 7hrs / 25,960 steps / 2210 calories / 717m ascent / 774m descentBrinkley Bluff summit to Alternate High Route via Standley Chasm & Millers Flat
I began descending Brinkley Bluff summit as the sun began rising. The sky was a canvas of melting morning hues and beginning to gradually warm the day. It was just mesmerizing to wake up with the sun each morning and then fall asleep as it set. These were some of my favourite moments of each day. Re-connecting to nature and resetting the body clock is just one of the many reasons why I enjoy walking in solitude.
But waking up with sharp dull pain in my feet right from the get go was a damper, that’s for sure. I knew I had done some serious damage to my metatarsals and it was a direct result of my footwear being less than adequate. The terrain under my roughly 26kg pack was unforgiving, to say the least.
Anyhow, back to the route: the route began with gradual descents over rocky outcrops, crossing several small saddles. A few climbs and scrambles later, I reached Reveal Saddle with promising views. The trail later continued through another untracked rocky creek bed for 1.6km before reaching a sealed road. Upon turning left on the sealed road to follow it north for 500m, I reached the car park and kiosk of Standley Chasm.
Standley Chasm (Angkerle Atwatye) is private land that is owned by the Iwupataka Land Trust and is operated by the Angkerle Aboriginal Corporation – the direct descendents of the Western Arrernte Aboriginal People. The chasm has a unique microclimate that is home to ancient Cycads and other protected native plants and animals. Standley Chasm is a Rock Wallaby Dreaming Place and a “women’s dreaming” site that is sacred to Arrernte women. Only women could come here to collect bush medicine and perform their sacred rites. The stories and songs could only be passed on to other women who had also gone through the ceremonies.
Throughout the day, the temperatures rose to 36°C, but it still felt much hotter as more heat radiated from the ground. I ended up hitting rock bottom soon after I started, so when I reached Standley Chasm, I succumbed to all my pains and discomforts. I dried out my shoes and socks off in the sun and ate some snacks. Any time that I stood up, I struggled to hold my balance, and would teeter-totter back and forth on my feet. Though the rest was very much needed, it did make the pain more agonizing.
Catching myself in this moment of ultimate weakness was an important realization of how far I had actually come. I lost sight of my achievements. I got lost in my emotions because of the nature of my situation and I let my emotions momentarily sabotage my experience. It took some time to turn this mentality around, but I did.
Self-sabotage on trail is very confronting. I called myself weak. I didn’t respect the limits of my body. I felt the machine I worked so hard to build just kept braking on me. Devaluing our achievements is a form of self-sabotage that we may face in day-to-day life or adventures. This experience became a catalyst for me to work better with my body and treat it with more patience and love.
As my rest came to an end, I strapped on my pack and began the next section. The first part out of Standley Chasm comprised of several hard-core ascents and descents. Thank goodness for my Black Diamond Carbon Trekking Poles that I borrowed from my good mate AJ, because without these, the trek would have been much harder.
There is a steep descent into a creek junction known as Angkale Junction. The track follows a rocky creek bed for 100m and then resumes on a well-constructed walking track. A steep climb then begins to Gastrolobium Saddle, which is named after a poisonous plant that grows here after fires. Upon crossing the saddle, you descend into a wide valley of Cycad Creek. You reach the top of a waterfall and follow a steep down climb to its base. Trail markers are sparse here. There are some semi-permanent water holes along here, but water collection from these should not be relied upon.
Millers Flat has several tent pads, no water and no shade. I opted to charge up the Alternate High Route and add another summit camp set up instead. I highly recommend sleeping on the summit. The route up to the summit through Mesic Gully was gnarly as. This is a sheltered gully with plenty of palm trees and ferns. It was heavily charred from the recent fire blaze that swept through in January 2019. The route wasn’t the easiest to follow, with many fallen palms along the track and heavy undergrowth.
The track later deteriorates into a rocky streambed following a route to the top of a dry waterfall. The last bit is a solid scramble up some slopes before the track clears up and follows a more defined climb to an obvious saddle. A steady climb ensues to the crest of the Chewings Range and then a further 900m takes you to the summit. Here, I finally dropped my pack, set up camp, skipped dinner and retired to bed. I chucked my earplugs in for the first time on this trail, desperate for an uninterrupted sleep.
DAY 9 – 4 OCTOBER 2019
Stats: 06:01 start / 36.84km / 10hrs56min / 52,552 steps / 3512 calories / 461m ascent / 923m descentAlternate High Route summit to Simpson’s Gap via Jay Creek
I must have slept decently well because I had more energy and ambition than I thought I would have starting the day. From the summit, my route was heading towards Jay Creek via the ridge crest towards the top of Pravda Spur that offers some great views southeast of the plains. Then I continued descending a steep eroded track before reaching a gully at the bottom, which lead to a low ridge to Tangentyere Junction. From this junction I followed the trail east to Jay Creek campsite.
After a solid breather at Jay Creek, I looped around the site in a lost fashion, having lost sight of where I had actually come from. Finally, I was heading in the direction of Mulga Camp where I would again refill my water supply.
With further undulating hills and climbs, the trail continues towards two semi-permanent waterholes at Spring Gap with fresh signs of Dingo presence. Thereafter, the trail passes through dense mulga woodland and more creek beds.
Heading into Simpson’s Gap, the trail meanders through open plains. I walked into the long hours of the night again today. I got into camp around 10pm, and I was surprised that the site was so close to the road, hearing the odd car or two pass by. After 9 days of complete silence, sleeping close to the road was a little disrupting.
DAY 10 – 5 OCTOBER 2019
Stats: 06:20 start / 26.14km / 9hrs22min / 37,784 steps / 2714 calories / 586m ascent / 568m descentSimpson’s Gap to Old Telegraph Station
Wow, today started hot as! I was flooded with a triple threat of feelings: fatigue, desperation for my feet to recover, and ‘trail end’ anxiety, all at once!
Let me take you through my internal dialogue:
wow I’m almost done my walk!
wait, am I ready for this to end?
maybe I should camp an extra night…
how cool if I actually finish in 10 days?
this isn’t a race; don’t get caught up about the number of days…
The list of thoughts, feelings, and emotions were long… It was a cacophony of polar opposite thoughts in my head.
As the day progressed, it became increasingly difficult to reach the end. The terrain was unforgiving and I stopped many times. My stop-go style today made the day go by very slowly. A slow descent into another gully lead into a slow and steady climb around the southern side of Hat Hill, and then continued to the saddle between Hat Hill and Rungutjirba Ridge to the north.
Relief hit me when I got to Wallaby Gap for a much welcomed rest stop. I had phone reception here so I ended up booking my hotel room for the night! From Wallaby Gap, it was another 13.5km till Telegraph Station. I had about 5 more hours of walking left, which at this point, felt very unmanageable… From here on out, every little rolling hill felt like a massive climb. One such climb was up to Euro Ridge. Euro Ridge was absolutely breathtaking. The light wind was refreshing and the views were incredible, both of the vast landscape, but also the geological features of the area.
Euro Ridge is part of the Charles River Fault where the rock to the north was uplifted 350 million years ago. Many euro droppings are spotted around this ridge; the euros are the most common kangaroo species in the rocky hills of Central Australia, but they’ll mostly be active at night. From this ridge, Alice Springs becomes clearly visible.
The track then descends northeast into a saddle and low knoll and passes the lowest summit of Euro Ridge. The trail meets a rocky vehicle track just before the railway line. Taking a left to cross the Alice Springs to Darwin railway over a small saddle and over a low knoll towards a crossing of the banks of the Charles River. This railway line was completed in 2003, with its first passenger service, ‘The Ghan’, in 2004.
The trail began to slowly connect with civilization again. I passed under the Geoff Moss Bridge (built in 1980) under the Stuart Highway and the spiritual journey along the Larapinta’s songlines was starting to come to an end.
The trail merged onto a shared walking and mountain bike trail. From here, the last few kilometres became really mundane. But heading towards the Old Telegraph Station beckons interest. It was the Overland Telegraph Line that connected Australia to the rest of the world between 1872 and 1928.
The trail ends at the shelter where you sign out your walk in the logbook. Just before the end, I called a cab and organized a pick up at the Telegraph station. If my feet were in better shape, I would have happily walked into town, but the grind and the push was over for me. I proudly signed the logbook and allowed my eyes to tear up at my incredible undertaking. I was flooded with many emotions.
POST WALK REFLECTIONS
Trekking in new extreme bush conditions was another riveting experience. The Larapinta trail was not a tick off my bucket list. It was a journey I chose to experience that had me confronting some new inner struggles, learning more about myself, the environment around me, and experiencing a profound connection to the land that has been walked on for more than 80,000 years by Australia’s first nations. I was drawn into the power nature had over me.
I was in my peak physical condition, but the red center of Australia nearly broke me. I had set out with a strong pace, a strong mind, and fiery spirit. Tears streamed down my face at the end, my stomach twisted and turned from hunger pains, and I still managed to stand on 2 damaged feet. I was in a blurry bubble of “what the hell did I just do?” moment, and I struggled to comprehend that I was done.
252km later, I learned to have compassion for myself, to appreciate where my body, mind, and spirit were taking me, and gratitude for the help and support I received around me to make my adventure happen. The support of my parents, Camper’s Pantry, and friends that believed in me was a massive contribution to the success I had in achieving the completion of my second solo multi-day expedition.
I cannot recommend this trail enough. With the right mindset, a solid training program, and enough hiking and multi-day trekking kilometres under your belt, this is a trail that can be done. It is a humbling trail and it can break you, but the rewards are grand! Be prepared and stay humble out there!
Right on Day 1, I experienced chafing – I highly recommend a balm for this.
Your nose will be dry. I highly recommend nasal spray to avoid dry and bloody noses. You can make a homemade spray bottle with water and sea salt.
Avoid wearing black in the spring/summer. White, beige and neutral colours are the way to go. Long sleeves provide great sun protection. Marmot saved me and I cannot say enough positive words about this top
Tent Rain Cover:
I took a risk and didn’t pack a rain cover to reduce my pack weight. Not a risk to be taken season dependent. Be aware of the forecast and time of year you are intending to complete this trail.
The track was well maintained so gaiters were not necessary. However, I would recommend the mini Salomon gaiters for protection if you are worried about spinifex / snakes.