The Ultimate End-to-end Larapinta Trail

I just couldn’t get enough of the scenery of central Australia on my walk to Mt Giles in 2016. So, when a full pack end to end Larapinta walk was offered in July 2017 I just had to do it. I knew it would be hard and it was but so worth it. I trained and learnt a lot about specific muscles that would help me carry myself and all my gear for 15 days. At work, our Exercise Physiology students ran a staff fitness program and I now know what the difference is between my gluteus maximus, medius and minimus and about hip flexors and how they help when walking up and down hill and carrying a load. I still wasn’t real sure about how I was actually going to do it and survive. But too bad, I just have to do it or die trying.

Day1

I did invite Grandpa, you know, just in case, but no, “you go and do it and enjoy yourself” he said, what a champ! 2017 has been my year of bushwalking in case you hadn’t guessed after our big motorcycling year in 2016.

I am becoming quite familiar with Alice Springs and this time I flew in 2 days before the start of the walk. I wanted to acclimatise a bit so I wouldn’t feel like dying on the first day like what happened last time. We had a meeting with the guides and the group the afternoon before setting out and they gave us the run down on what to expect and went through our gear to make sure we had what was needed. I had some luxuries, like my little chair and some red wine and some snacks, not that we had to worry about going hungry as there were food drops along the way.

We set off from the Old Telegraph Station and headed west across the highway and the railway track. The day was quite warm and the pack was heavy and I was regretting some of my luxuries but too late now.

One member of the group was suffering badly and fell behind, I was glad it wasn’t me this time. Our first campsite at Wallaby Gap set the standard for the rest of the trip, plenty of dirt, a shelter, toilet, water tank and a beautiful waterhole and red rock.

The second day was a killer, up at 5.30 for porridge and ‘cowboy’ coffee then 27km which seemed to never end and a burnt, hard campsite at the end. The next day was a cruisy 10km to Jay creek and it seemed like we were on holidays. I camped in the sandy creek bed without the fly on my tent and watched the moon and stars. Some members of the group started to suffer from blisters but my feet were doing fine.

I was starting to get a feel for this adventure. The next day we had our first challenge, take the high route along the ridge to Standley Chasm or the low (and boring) route. We stopped at the junction and the guides gave us a great pep talk and off we went up and over the top. It was our first real view of Mt Sonder, about 180km away. How the hell were we ever going to get there? We were all feeling trepidation about how we would keep going to the end.

There were some hard days to come, over Brinkley Bluff, down Razorback Ridge, scaling up a cliff to Giles Lookout, boulder hopping up gorges, sandy creek beds and rocks.

Did I say rocks, hard, sharp, pointy, broken, rounded, endless, endless rocks. For every heart pounding ascent there was a spectacular view to make it all worthwhile. By about Day 6, I was confident that I would make it and everyone in the group agreed that nobody was allowed to wimp out now.

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Our guides kept us going with encouragement, stories and lots of great food. Even though we didn’t need the extra weight of fresh veggies and our share of the food, it was so great to get into camp and have our ‘salty snacks’, tea and then dinner and dessert cooked for us. Larapinta wraps for lunch were better than any café fare and I was amazed to find that I found the Kraft packaged processed cheese that went out of fashion years ago could taste SO good after the fresh stuff ran out.

The guides knew how to motivate us, apart from food they would lavish praise at the end of the day or after a particularly hard part. You know, “Well done there”, “Awsome job today”, “You guys are epic” etc. This all went to our heads so much that we needed more and more reassurance to keep us going and we would complain if we didn’t get it. We talked about what would be the best way to commemorate our epic, awesome effort in the first of these treks the company had put on. Well a couple of months later, we all got a certificate of Awesomeness! How awesome is that? Pretty cool.

Another load to carry was 4 or 5 days supply of trail snacks, snakes and muesli bars. All that sugar adds up surprisingly to about 2kg. Add 4 or 5 litres of water and I was having a good workout everyday.

Each night we camped at one of the shelters at the end of each section along the track, except one night we camped up on a high ridge, you know, just to enjoy the view and had to carry extra water up. At each camp there was water in a tank resupplied by National Parks, a toilet, a shelter to cook, hangout in or sleep for smaller groups than ours and a map of the whole walk where we could ever so slowly measure our progress. It was such a thrill to reach the highlights or pass the points we had been dreading. We had two nights of luxury at the trek company’s permanent camps set up each winter for their ‘daywalk’ trekkers. As they were outside of the National Park we could have a fire! What a treat, they had sit down toilets and a ‘birdbath’ with hot water!! And tents set up, so we could just dump our stuff and sit in a chair!!! While the guides cook up even better treats like bread and butter pudding and ice cream.

It was such a letdown the next morning to leave but I chose this hard option after much long and hard deliberation to be right out there carrying everything and not glamping. I am so happy with that decision.

We saw quite a lot of other walkers, in groups or solos, it was quite busy really in some places but there was plenty of opportunity to enjoy the solitude and peace. Then you would get to the ‘tourist’ spots and it was overload time. We might take advantage of an icecream or proper cappuccino but we were keen to get away from the crowds and look at trees.

And sunrises and sunsets.

I had one down day around Day 13, partly, missing home, knowing the end was getting closer and it was hot and we were walking through sand. It didn’t last long, we climbed our last, well second last hill and there was Mt Sonder, so close. There is an Indigenous story about a woman turned to stone as she slept with a man not from the right skin colour group. You can see the profile of her face, breasts, pregnant belly and belly button. It is so beautiful.

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We would be camped at Redbank Gorge the next night and then we would walk up there to watch the sunrise, which is what you do at the end (or the beginning) of the walk. Getting up at 2.30am to have breakfast and walk up in the dark just seemed like the most natural thing to do.

The sunrise was spectacular and so worth it and the feeling of having DONE IT!!! All 234km.

 

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One last bushwalk

I took one weeks leave from work in early December and forgot about all the hullaballoo leading up to Christmas to walk in the Snowy Mountains. I missed out on this walk last year, so I wasn’t going to miss out again. There had been some really cold weather the month before and I held out hope that we would get some snow but the weather forecast looked pretty good, except for some rain. That prompted me to buy myself a Christmas present at least, I do need a new rain jacket, so some expensive Goretex it was.

I drove to Cooma on Monday through drizzle most of the way and it was really cold when I got there, not summery at all. We all met Tuesday morning and did car shuffling to leave some cars at the Round Mountain end of the walk. We waited at Kiandra and tried to keep out of the rain and wind.

Our first night was at Four Mile Hut which was not far away, 4 miles actually or 7km. We were following the Australian Alps Walking Track on old fire trails, so the walking was easy, though hard uphill at first. It was an old miners hut, very rustic and tiny, only about 4 or five people could go in at any one time. I cooked outside because it wasn’t raining at this time, just a bit windy. The hut was nestled on the edge of a small valley filled with wildflowers, mullock heaps and a creek flowing with clear, freezing water. The general consensus was early to bed, so by 7.30, I was in bed, the snow grass was so soft and comfy to sleep on.

The next day was still overcast and threatening rain but it held off and I was thrilled to see a gang of Gang Gang cockatoos in the trees. We walked up higher into the clouds/mist and lunch was cut short as it turned freezing and more mist came in. It wasn’t far then to Happy’s hut where we were to camp tonight.

All the rain had made the ground really wet and the creeks rushing. The water flows in, around and under the tufts of snow grass and if you find a hole, you’re up to your knee in water. My shoes were really wet now, so I tried to dry them as best as I could at night and used the spare plastic bags I had brought the next day. That was better, though I had woken up with a terrible headache.

Sunshine in the morning and we were warned about the creek crossings, some would be fairly deep. So it was back across the soggy Happy Valley with views to Mt Jagungal now. I had forgotten my walking poles and thought a stick would be useful to cross the creeks. It was working fine until crossing one particularly deep creek I leant on my stick too hard and crack. I ended up on my backside and an impromptu wash as well as my socks. At least this creek was not as freezing as the others.

We continued on the Mackey’s or Mackay’s Hut (take your pick), set beside another beautiful flowing creek, no worries about how many cups of tea you have, or if you want another wash.

We left early the next morning because, depending on the weather, we might climb up Mt Jagungal that afternoon plus there were some more wet creek crossings ahead. We crossed Doubtful and Bogong Creeks, taking off socks and shorts. As it turned out, we had a long and leisurely afternoon at O’Keefes Hut as the days seemed to be nice in the morning and a bit more cloudy or stormy in the afternoon. It cleared up nicely that night, so we woke up to a heavy frost and frozen water.

After the frost it was a clear sunny morning, just perfect for bush bashing up to Mt Jagungal. Climbing up over the rocks reminded me of the Larapinta but today I didn’t have my pack on. The view from the top was great, not very far away was Mt Kosciuszko and the Main Range peaks that everyone else had been to but are still on my to-do list.

Kosciuszcko and Main RangeKosciuszcko from the top

We spent plenty of time up there chilling out, out of the wind and in the sun. The rest of the days walk was pretty much downhill to Dershko’s Hut, where I had walked to in March and we had another long relaxing afternoon.

Sadly, that was the last night but the stars were spectacular. There were already plans being made for next year’s walk and I will make sure I am on that as well. We only had a fairly short walk back to the cars, past Round Mountain and a coffee stop at Cabramurra before everyone went their separate ways and got caught up in all the Christmas goings on again.