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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2017 National Veteran Motorcycle rally- and other fun stuff

This event comes around every 2 years and it was the first time I got to ride a veteran (pre-1919) motorcycle. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, the 1914 Douglas has a clutch, 2 gears and brakes. We set off for the long drive to Nuriootpa, South Australia, across the Hay Plain and I had decided to break up the trip with a night camping out.

We have driven past Yanga National Park a few times, so this is where we set up camp by the muddy Murrumbidgee River for some peace and quiet.

I was looking forward to some nice fresh fruit and stocked up at a roadside stall near Mildura with mandarins and oranges. I knew about the fruit fly exclusion zone, so didn’t bring any fruit from home, but forgot about the rigid quarantine inspections at the SA border. Dammm. There goes my nice fresh fruit. So then I had to buy some more fruit and got walnuts too.

We arrived at the rally just as the earlier arrivals were setting off for a short warmup run before the rally proper on Monday. I hadn’t had time to have a practice run on the bike and wasn’t feeling too energetic so I was a bit apprehensive about jumping on with about 120 other old bikes and taking off. So I rested on Monday, then had a practice ride around the oval, run starting it, using the foot clutch, valve lifter and air and fuel levers. OK, I think I will be right for Tuesday. Negotiating STOP signs, traffic lights and other traffic is a bit nerve racking, so Grandpa did the short ride through town until the morning tea stop, then I hopped on and rode through the beautiful, green Barossa Valley to lunch and then Grandpa had the ride back into to town. That plan worked really well. Those 500cc’s might be more than one hundred years old, but they work really well, even accelerating uphill past other bikes.

Douglas

Our Douggie

Now a week is a long time to be looking at old bikes and listening to old blokes talk about old bikes and watching them work on old bikes, so of course I also had a plan to go for a walk. The Heysen Trail passes nearby, it is a 1000km walking track from the coast south of Adelaide to the Flinders Ranges. Paula and I were going to walk about 20-30km overnight. We started through farmland with sheep grazing on the green grass. There were numerous hills covered in bush and pine plantations and communication and fire towers. There was a stone wall hiding in the bush and so many wildflowers out in the spring.

We camped at the Rocky Paddock campsite with what looked like manicured lawns courtesy of the hundreds of kangaroos living in the forest. Along the trail are some lovely places to stay and we passed the ‘Old Schoolhouse’ set up with beds, a fireplace, a toilet and water tank. It was so beautiful I could live there.

Then it was back to the caravan park which had a creek and parks around it. There was a bush garden growing endangered plants and harvesting seed, and a bush chapel if you felt inclined.

The only thing left to do then was to drive 14 hours back home again, until next time.