Trip type: Bushwalking
Start date: Tuesday, 7 August 2018 – 6:00am Sunday, 26 August 2018 – 8:00pm
Months: June to August
Sights: Arid mountains, gorges, dry creek beds, waterholes
Hazards: Dehydration, Snakes, Hyperthermia, Hypothermia
Activity Leader: Jay Sims
Group: 10 female maximum
The Larapinta trail hike takes 18 days, plus another 2 days for arrival – the day before, and departure the day after (in total 20 days).
The group is a female empowerment group to help women appreciate the great outdoors with other like minded sisters.
Nothing prepares you for the beautiful experience of the MacDonald Ranges, the appreciation of arid nature, and the intense connection you have with it.
I organised the trip for women, those that identify as female, and non-binary folk, under the banner of She Devil Trekkers (see https://shedeviltrekkers.wordpress.com/). The group promotes female empowerment and diversity.
The planning of the trip began last year in a discussion of the next She Devil Trekkers trip after completing the Overland track in Tasmania 2017, a 90km hike through the winter period thick with snow, storms, and crowded huts. I was the only She Devil from that experience who would continue onto the next adventure. There were four people in the new group including myself.
Yushu applied through ANUMC trip. Yushu and I had hiked before on a snow shoe trip and even on two of my first lead trips in Namadgi National Park.
Next were Trish and Simone, mothers based in Melbourne who had applied through my trip promotion on the She Devil Trekker’s Facebook page. We did not meet until Melbourne airport when we realised we were on the same plane to Alice, briefly catching up like old friends over coffee together before flying out.
The Larapinta Trail is an 18-day extended walking track in the Northern Territory, Australia. Its total length covers 200km – 300km+ from east to west with the eastern end at Alice Springs and the western end at Mount Sonder, one of the territory’s highest mountains. It follows the West MacDonnell Ranges, sometimes along the ridge line, other times on the plain below, in the West MacDonnell National Park.
The trip will test a hiker’s skills on multiple fronts:
It is medium to challenging difficulty, where the hikers must carry their shelter, sleep and cook systems, with 4-5 days’ worth of food which can weigh between 15 to 20kg.
Rock scrambling climbs through the mountain ranges which are not only steep, but as many guides and trip reports advise, the shale rocks wear down hiking shoes very quickly. Newly worn-in shoes are recommended for this trip.
The arid climate additionally presents multiple challenges including the requirement to manage water (up to 5 litres), the food between three scheduled food drops along the route to replenish supplies, and to conserve participants energy based on the time of day.
No matter how much you research and try to prepare you can only do so much without adding to your pack weight with unnecessary equipment. I was the lead hiker and organiser for the She Devil Trekkers Larapinta Trail 2018, so I needed to make sure that I carried a PLB, GPS, physical maps, first aid kit, and that everyone else carried the necessary items to be fully self-sufficient. Sometimes, things don’t go the way you planned, and you just have to accept and adapt, more on this later.
Day one set the pace with seeing a dingo in the first 10km hunting a euro (cousin to a kangaroo/wallaby). A week later, as we camped on a river bank. We encountered a black bearded dragon that emerged out of the sand in front of us while we were having dinner. Like typical tourist we surrounded it in seconds to taking pictures and recording its movement in the wild. Later, we encountered wild bulls that had escaped from the many cattle farms in the area. There are even rumours of brumbies this far north, we found a horse skull near one of the water gorges.
We spent each night either cowboy camping (without tents) watching shooting stars under the moonlight or enjoying the luxury of the three walled shelters. We had breakfast at sunrise, and dinner at sunset. We would grow stronger and faster carrying our homes for 18 days on our backs. Ascending and descending hills with the best views of the red desert. You grow to appreciate the minimalist life only using essentials but when the opportunity arises you do really enjoy a properly cooked meal (or five) after surviving on dehydrated (cold soaked kangaroo Bolognese) meals day in and day out on the trail.
It took us 10 days to build up callouses around our feet, for our bodies to adjust, and to strengthen from hiking with pack weight. Our bodies were not used to crossing such distances, especially in the weather we were not acclimatised too. Our hiking distances were between 18 – 25km per day, in dry heat through rocky ascents, dusty red desert, rocking hopping dry rivers or rock climbing/scrambling with weight of our packs. At the beginning we hiked as a group, later paired up and hiked at our natural paces.
Between Bond Gap and Mulga Camp
Hugh Gorge Water hole
We were humbled by beautiful vistas on mountain ranges, marveled at the water gorges, occasionally taking an ice-cold dip in some. We took photos of lizards, birds, and vibrantly coloured flowers that were a stark contrast to the red, sandy desert and sparse woodland environment.
The best bonds you form are those you form during the struggles together. You become accustomed to being isolated in the wild. We knew when we were alone and when we weren’t. The hikers we met shared the same sentiments and appreciation of the land. For those 18 days our lives comprised of hike, eat, eat, eat, drink, sleep, and repeat. It was a simple life. More time to think, to appreciate your surroundings and to sit down and get to know your hiking pals.
There were times where things still went awry, even after all my planning. My booking for Standley Chasm for a cultural tour for the group fell through. Turns out their online booking system doesn’t work and even though I booked and paid I still had to pay again in cash. The first lesson learnt was to bring receipts for everything, because I couldn’t just go online to prove my purchase as the Wi-Fi they had specifically doesn’t work for iPhones. We were all iPhone users…
The second time things went awry was on the last day, when the transport company we were expecting to pick us up never arrived. Thankfully my Garmin InReach GPS had texting capabilities and I was able to get my partner, Eddy, to follow up with the transport company. Turns out they had the dates wrong (pick up the following day would have caused issue with our flights home), here we were at the end of the trail expecting an 11am pick up. Eddy was able to save the day by getting the company to arrange a later pick-up on the same day! Lesson two: check you have the correct dates and double check the transport company has those dates plus a copy of the itinerary from the company to make sure that it listed the with right dates.
After the trip was done and dusted, would I do it again? Yes, I would change very little of the trip, as for the most part it went well. I was in good company, there wasn’t a day where I wasn’t laughing with the women I was hiking with. You had to laugh at the difficult parts and reminisce about the highlights.
Jay Creek Three walled shelter
The experience from this trip has me eager to plan another longer distance trip. What do I have planned in the future? Bikepacking, the Hunt 1000 (ACT to VIC in 11 days through Alpine ranges) and 6 weeks on the Bibbulmun track (1000km hiking) in Western Australia.
We got up at 2:30am and leaving camp at 2:45am, the hike up to Mt. Sonder to watch the sunrise as part of our final goodbye to the beautiful trail we spent our 18 days living simply on. Arriving at the peak by 5:20am the wind was so cold that the layers we had on were not enough. Our fingers and toes were in pain as the cold wind bit through the material of our clothes. We were waiting for an hour and a half for the sunrise. As the rays of the sun began to peek from the horizon, many day tour group hikers started pouring through. They crowded around each other for warmth, making a lot of noise on top of a mountain waiting for the sunrise. By 7am the sun had mostly risen, we had taken enough selfies. We promptly left the noise of day tourists behind us walking down and watching the shadow of Mt. Sonder retreat from view.
Arriving back to camp at 9am, we packed all of our things and got ready for the car, we excitedly discussed what we would do once the bus picked us up. We could get food from Ormiston, and snacks from Standley as we retrieved our food drops. By that time, the bus was overdue and by thirty minutes. We realized there was a chance the bus might not come.
After a worried GPS text sent to Eddy, he checked and confirmed that the transport company thought they weren’t picking us up until tomorrow!
Eddy was able to get them to arrange transport for pick up at 2:30pm that day instead, as well as confirmed the hotel booking was on the correct date. Thankfully it was! I was greatful to have my InReach Explorer with the ability to send texts as there was no reception to contact the transport company.
The bus finally rolled in and we took full advantage of the stops to retrieve our tubs to also pick up our desired food. I, of course, went overboard with pie, coke, banana, and ice cream from Ormiston, then more ice cream from Standley Chasm.
Organising lessons for next time:
Print bookings receipts along with the itinerary for the trip
The hike to Red Bank Gorge was uneventful in terms of the view, but a good time to chat with Simone at a cruisy pace (4.28km/h).
We arrived at Red Bank Gorge by 11am! qw rested, had lunch, and then headed over to the gorge which was stunning with turquoise water, lots of bird life. It was a peaceful couple of hours there with a little boulder climb for me and Yushu.
I did an interview on my gopro with the gorge as my backdrop before heading back to camp.
As we were setting up our tents for our final cowboy camps, we listen to excited conversations from hikers who were about to start their endeavours from Mt Sonder. Good luck to them, I felt jealous that they were about to start their amazing journey as we finished ours.
Woke up at 7am to pack up and have breakfast at Glen Helen by 8am. We left at 9am to head towards Rocky Bar Gap. Missing the entrance, we had to backtrack about 30 m.
Feeling slightly lethargic and hungover from the night previous, I slogged through the hike the slowest of the group. We had lunch at Hill Top to see the intimidating views of Mt. Sonder starting to tower over the trail on our way to Red Bank Gorge.
Starting to become more sombre as the trip nears the end. I missed being in the outdoors with a group of people who share the same appreciation fr so long. Though we didn’t know each other at the start; coming to the end I wouldn’t change the people and the experiences we shared on this trip for a lifetime.
We missed the breakfast period and were too early for the lunch period from 11:30am to 2:30pm, so we opted for a meat pie, fruit salad, orange popper juice, and a crunchie. On the bright side, we still had Optus reception!
Yushu arrived at 11:30am, and Trish and Simone 11:50am. Trish was not in a good mental state, the last unexpected 4km to Glen Helen wore her down mentally and physically in the heat (29 degrees). She has booked herself into a proper room to have time to herself away from the heat. There was concern whether she would continue or not tomorrow.
We had a large lunch, a couple of beers and too many potato chips. I think the fried food and alcohol got to me, so I spent the rest of the morning in the shade trying to nap off my bloated and tipsy state.
I sat by the Finke River, pant legs folded up to my knees. The only sound was the soft breezes rustling the dry grass reeds across the bank. The water was cool enough to walk through in the shallows. If you’re still enough, you start noticing the bird life that surrounds this area.
After I walked back to the camp, the girls confirmed that the showers here were hot! Taking my time, I hopped in and, low and behold, actual warmth! The luxury of a warm shower was bliss.
Back at camp, i interviewed Yushu and then headed to the restaurant for a couple of wines and a cheese and cracker nibble.
I met a mother and daughter, from Ormiston (we met them as they were hiking towards Mt Giles). Unfortunately, Sunday, the daughter, got a sweat rash infection in her underarm that was the size of half a golf ball. They returned the following day and stayed at Ormiston before staying another night in Glen Helen. 9 days from Red Bank Gorge to Ellery, cut short by 1.5 days.
Glen Helen Campsite
4 dual plugin ports
4 showers (though the ones around the back of the caravan campsite had HOT water)
Restaurant that serves hot potato chips!
Decently stocked fridge for hiking snacks, icecream and chocolate
Outdoor seat facing a sandy river beach, where people can go for a swim
I laid in bed watching others pack for their next section of hiking. My group did not get up until 7:30am! it was justified rest day to enjoy ourselves and explore this hiker’s heaven.
Before breakfast (kiosk opened at 10am), hiked the Ghost Gum trail, a lookout over the gorge with an amazing view of the main waterhole, turquoise in the morning sunlight below with white sand. The hike looped down through the gorge back to the kiosk. The 1.5km trail probably took us about 2 hours, as the boulders between the smaller waterhole and the main waterhole was an obstacle in itself to cross.
We had a big breakfast of course. Cheese and bacon turnovers, plus two cokes, an apple and an orange (hiker hunger for Jay).
After breakfast, we hiked Pound Gap Walk, to walk all the excess amount of food while maintaining fitness. Seeing the adjacent views from what we had at the Mt Giles Lookout. The hike to the highest point was uneventful but the views were worth it while enjoying a green apple. We completed that hike without packs in 2 hours (8km averaging 4km/h). Afterwards, we celebrated with a quick dip in the main waterhole in the gorge in our bra and undies. Though the water was nice in the shallows, the further into the centre you swam the cooler the water temperature was. Not as cold as Ellery Creek though.
We saw a Perentys lizard sunbaking in the shallows of the main waterhole.
For the rest of the time we were enjoyed our lunch meals with a dash of iced coffee/chocolate, coke, chips and fresh fruits.
Ormiston Campsite (100m from campsite look for Larapinta sign!)
The Kiosk carries fruits, drinks, ice cream, iced beverages (chocolate and coffee), smoothies, variety of meals (all day breakfast and lunch), packet chips (chicken, salt and vinegar, twisties), chocolates, feminine hygiene products, toothbrush/paste, deodorant, conditioner (no shampoo…) and band aids
The outdoor seating area of the kiosk has two power points to charge from, plus another two on the kiosk external wall with the two lamps
Caravan park section
Coach campsite section (just before hikers’ campsite)
Two outdoor toilets
Three raised platforms (two in the tour site and one in the Larapinta campsite
Multiple natural water holes at the gorge, the main one gets the most sunlight (closest to the kiosk)
Multiple walks around the area (Ghost Gum walk and Pound walk being the most popular)
Up at 5:30am with pleasant messages through my InReach account from close friends.
I expected it to be colder last night, certainly the wind was cold, but I did not feel as cold sleeping. I got almost a full night’s rest, bar the odd toilet break urgency.
We arrived at Ormiston Campsite, and we have Optus coverage! I was able to call my sister, mum and Eddy. It was good to hear from familiar voices and be able to catch up with current events back home. It was also nice to have a scroll through Facebook messages and post a few things on Instagram.
We ate a couple of burgers, ice blocks, cans of coke zero, and pastries from the café. My god, it was the best thing I’d had in days.
When it was time to have a shower, consistent with my other showers, it was cold and underwhelming. I was pretty devastated to have another cold shower but I quickly warmed up in the afternoon sun.
The other Canberra group strolled in later that day, Trish and the French lady do not seem to get on well. She’s lovely to chat to but will not acknowledge Simone or Trish, only Yushu and myself. Such odd drama from what could be considered an incident over water at a campsite, a day or two earlier.
Note: download StarTrack app for star gazing or cowboy camping.
Day 12 – Serpentine Chalet Dam to Mt Giles Lookout
Woken up by organisers of the Larapinta run at 5:30am, got up at 6:30am, got dressed, and hiked on.
The Ilanga Pass was beautiful adding a different view and type of hiking for us. It included things like Rock hopping and boulder climbing. Those are my favourite types of terrain. You don’t even feel like you’re ascending, just having fun climbing over rocks in the cool shade of the valley.
Once we emerged from the pass, we saw great green views of the ridges, the classic orange, white, and green speckled ranges.
We were climbing towards the saddle to waterfall gorge. Once there we were somehow hoping for a waterfall but of course it was dry and quite underwhelming. I continued down the river bed to climb to the Mt Giles Lookout point which felt like endless switch backs.
Once at the top, the view to Mt. Giles was stunning and even better looking east, we could see Mt Sonder’s silhouette. We hiked another 2km to the sheltered campsite and it was well worth the additional distance since we could sit to admire the gallery and canyons to Mt. Giles and the surrounding areas.
We had time to set up camp, hang out things on trees and rest. We were talking about the burgers, and drinks from Ormiston and the beautiful water showers we would have.
The sunset was spectacular here. The egg like shape of the sun setting in the horizon as it spilled orange lights like wildfire across the horizon was almost a 360 degrees view. I took a time lapse, but nothing compares to seeing it in person.
Waking up abruptly to the strong wind blowing my hair.
I wasn’t cold, it was just a sudden awakening. I slowly fell asleep only to have my alarm going and 30 minutes later Simone waking us to enjoy the sunrise, reminding me to setup the time lapse on my phone.
We stayed until the sun had risen before the hills, leaving camp by 8.45am. The hike was uneventful, arriving at Serpentine Chalet Dam by 11. We’ve set up our beds in the shelter and relaxed. We wrote in our journals, got into a very personal discussion about families and had moments to sleep.
Met a group of 3 hikers from Canberra, a couple and another tag along.
Met a Melbourne couple hiking from Mt. Giles Lookout. They were very dehydrated and drinking the tank water without filtering.
We went to bed by 7:30pm, I sleep by 9:30pm, and woke up due to heat by 11pm. I was kept awake after that due to being uncomfortable from heat until 2am.
Shelter with two platforms and 4x Solar USB charging ports in food cub board
Two large rain water tanks
One outdoor toilet
Note: InReach device – Can message people from my iPhone contact list (provided the number has +61) without syncing them to my Inreach contacts list
Hiking trip research – Pan 9 way – England 18 days