It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision signing myself up for a five day, full pack trek to Mt Giles in the West Macdonnell Ranges National Park, just west of Alice Springs. Challenging, off track trek and climb up Mt Giles just for fun. No worries. All I had to do was buy some new boots and gaiters and start some training and I was off.
We were picked up from the motel and headed to the Ochre pits where stuff got sorted and we got our share of food supplies. That, plus 4 litres of water certainly loaded down the pack, but not feeling too bad. The Ochre pits is an important site for Indigenous people and was used for ceremonies and trade. We headed up through Inarlanga Pass, a narrow rocky gorge with those fantastic, glowing red rocks overhanging. It was one of those places protected through time where ancient plants survived through all the changes, cycads and ferns and ghost gums growing.
The first treat of the day was lunch laid out on a tablecloth, on a rock, sushi! How spoilt am I? From the other side of the gap, we can see Mt Giles across the Alice Valley. It looks really high. Then I find out that the guides didn’t find any map to use. How are we going to spend 5 days in the wilderness without a map? But there it is laid out in front of us. Down along the Larapinta track for a while and then over to a rise where we would spend the first night.
I thought I was doing OK, the day was starting to heat up and we didn’t have far to go. But I quickly faded and found it really hard going. My hips were feeling very weary even though it was not rough going and I started to feel that maybe I couldn’t do this. Oh no! What would happen if I couldn’t keep going. This is stupid, I haven’t come this far to stop here. I felt really awful when we reached our campsite and knew I would have a headache and feel sick. I didn’t want the guides to be worried but of course they could see I wasn’t doing well. I took my dinner to bed so I could eat when I felt better.
Of course I felt so much better in the morning. It must have just been a shock to the system with the heat and all. What a relief. After porridge and coffee, we left camp really early in the morning to walk in the cool. Further along the rise we could see the days walk laid out in front of us again. We were going to walk across the Alice Valley.
The guides pointed to the creekline outlined with the trees that we would follow and the small hill we would walk around and then over to the base of a spur leading down from Mt Giles. The scenery was magic, Mt Sonder and Ormiston Pound were in the background and everywhere the colours and rocks were amazing in the early light.
Following the creek was nice and cool in the shade and there were finches in the bushes so we knew there must be waterholes nearby. There had been quite a bit of rain about a month ago and most of the creeks had got some water in them. We were following dingo tracks and then came upon camel tracks. Not a lot of other animal life until we came upon frogs! There must have been enough water for long enough for the frogs to hatch and grow. Surprising.
The creek bed was sand or it was rocks or boulders to climb over until we left the creek and were walking through spinifex, mulga and the occasional ghost gum. We had made really good time walking and I was feeling great and found our spot to camp for two nights right where they said we would be. The only trouble was finding a spot between the rocks to put our little shelters. The best part was that there was a spring up the gully and a small pool to have a splash in. Spring water and and a wash, what else do you need? Lots of food, that’s where Ben, the guide, got his man bun on turned into the chef extraordinaire.
I still was not game to look at where we would walk the next day, the summit of Mt Giles, the third highest peak in Northern Territory at 1389m a whole 9m higher than Mt Sonder. Just take it as it comes and I’m sure it will be fine. Another early start saw us starting up that jagged spur and before I knew it, I turned around and was astounded by the view and what we could see.
Next breather, we could see further over Heavitree Range to the south.
Saying to self, don’t look up, don’t look down. One foot in front of the other. This is not so bad after all, at least we didn’t have packs on. Then we were at the summit. WooHoo! And the view over the other side and all around. There was our map, we could see the whole way we had come and where we would be going tomorrow. The log book at the top showed that apart from someone checking on the motion cameras monitoring native bush rats, we were the only other people up there so far in 2016.
Then the decision was which way to go down, back the way we had come up or a more adventurous roundabout way down the next hillock which I named JoDunKriBen Hillock, ‘cause every hill needs a name. I figured that the other way couldn’t be any scarier than going back down the way we had come up, so onward we went down JoDunKriBen. It was only really scary in one spot where you had to stretch across a space of smooth rock and nothing else under you. Easy peasy. It was a relief to get back down and have lunch and admire the view eventually from the bottom. What an achievement! Now we are more than half way through our trek.
Time for some wine. One reason the pack is so heavy is the two sachets of ‘dry red’ wine I have been carrying. Now is the time we need to treat ourselves.
Day 4 saw us up really, really early as today was going to be hot 35⁰. All of the stars were bright against a dark sky. The nearly full moon was setting later but still there was plenty of night time without a moon to see the stars, that’s one reason for coming out here. Porridge and coffee and packing up were all done in the dark. It was light enough when we started walking to follow our creek and negotiate the rocks. They were pretty spectacular in places, granite worn smooth into wavy shapes and you thought you must be by the sea.
The morning passed quickly and walked through Ormiston Pound and crossed over to Bowman Creek towards Bowman Gap. Literally, before I knew it, we were putting down our packs and here we are. A fabulous waterhole and sand to camp on. How wonderful to be able to have a ‘hip hole’ just where you need it. A great swimming spot to float around and look up at the sky and think ‘How lucky am I, this is just the best thing to be doing and in a place where it is not expected’ and a walk further up the creek, just because you never know what is up the creek and around the corner. Then home to a beautiful risotto and floating candles. Thanks Josh and Ben a beautiful way to nearly finish a great trip.
Confession time, it was not a totally wilderness experience, there were water drops for the first and the last nights. Plus, when it became apparent that the coffee supply would not last until the end of the trip, the satellite phone, which I assumed would only be used in emergency situations was used to tell the boss that we would need additional supplies for the last night and there it was along with two jerry cans of fresh water, ground coffee and milk powder. Thanks Holger.
The last day was an easy walk back to civilisation. Such a surprise when you see your first other humans after only seeing dingo tracks. But wait, there’s still more surprises. To get across Ormiston Creek you have to wade through chest deep water. I graciously let one of the guides take my pack balance above his head while I walked carefully across. At least that way my stuff didn’t get all wet. One thing we had been anticipating and discussing for days, was an Iced Coffee at the kiosk at Ormiston Gorge where we finished. It didn’t disappoint either, then we had another swim before jumping in the troopy to head back to Alice Springs.
The last view I had as we drove back was of Mt Sonder, the end of the Larapinta Trail, 230km of walking track from Alice Springs. I think the guys had convinced me that I could do that as we walked along, but gee, it’s such a long way. Still it is a spectacular sight. You never know………