Larapinta Trail Day 7 – Brinkley Bluff to Millers Flat

FWAP FWAP FWAP. Ugh why didn’t I pitch my tarp properly. Sensible Snakebite knows still night at bed means nothing for future wind potential, yet lazy Snakebite said it would be totally fine and no need to spend 2 minutes fixing it. FWAP FWAP FWAP. I could get out of bed now, or just lie in bed dozing until the next gust makes the tarp go crazy and it wakes me up. It’ll die down soon. Fwap. FWAP. Fwap.
From 1130pm until 330am it gusts, then dies down in time for me to get 2hours sleep.

I wake to people shuffling around on the ridge. I unzip my tarp, roll up the door and look at the beautiful glowing horizon. At least I pitched in the perfect direction for lying in bed and watching the sunrise.

 

Tent view


I get up and wander over to the edge where Turtle is sitting. Salt joins us after a few minutes and we stare at the horizon, chatting sporadically, and generally being in a sleepy, awestruck daze. The view is amazing across the valley and distant mountains. Last night we could see the Alice town lights.

Brinkley Bluff Morning Sunrise
Good Morning!


Eventually I tear myself away from the view and pack up my things. There is layer of red dirt on everything from the wind.
Hiking down from the bluff is, as usual, very rocky but it’s skinny razorback descent that is fun to clamber down and awesome views either side. I’m hiking straight into the sun which is blinding, but warms me up and soon my puffy and Owly (beanie) get shoved away, and my sunnies, hat and suncream appear.
A couple of very steep but short climbs but then down down down. It’s about 10km from the top down to Standley and I pass a lot of groups that are making a day trip up and back down. It’s nice to have a chat to some of them, a lot are enamoured with my socks and gaiters, and the guides are always keen for a chat. I think having a conversation that isn’t “Are we there yet” is a little bit exciting for them ūüėȬ†
Once at the bottom it’s a few more km through the creek bed in the gorge. It’s wide, easy navigation but suddenly THUNK. I’m at a bitumen road. Huh?
I spy a sign and this is actually the road. I wander 700m to the cafe where I order a ginger beer and endure stares from the clean day hikers and clueless chasm walkers. The day hikers will usually hit a few walking trails. The chasm walkers are just here for the Standley chasm and will walk about 2km. Salt is here and has decided to hike out. I sit and sip the sugary ginger goodness, pick up my food drop and arrange all my things. I clear all the little nooks of my pack of rubbish, then sit and stare into the never never while waiting for Turtle to arrive.
Salt takes off down the trail and we may see him again on the final night as he is due to walk into Alice the same time as us, but I have a feeling he will finish up early.
Turtle and I were going to stay here tonight, however there isn’t much room for camping, the food at the cafe is minimal, and the hike tomorrow will be hot and hard. So I’m just hanging until I can confirm a change of plans with Turtle.
I wander over to the lawn area, lie down with my feet on my pack and close my eyes. A few minutes later Turtle arrives! She has a special talent for chatting to everyone and taking her time ūüėČ
We decide to hang around camp and take a few hours off out of the sun, then hike about 5km late this afternoon to make tomorrow easier.
I wash some socks and undies in the sink in the laundry area and hang them to dry. We plug our phones in to charge, order salad sandwiches that are served with a non-hiker portion of packet chips. This is inhaled and washed down with a soy flat white. I immediately feel like another, but refrain. We take the little tourist walk down the chasm which is stunning! Huge huge towering walls, beautiful lush vegetation due to it being one of only a few permanent water sources in the area, light bouncing around and little education signs along the way.

Standley Chasm


Back in the camp we fill up water, soak dinner, do all the things we can possibly do, then have one last coffee while waiting out the last of the heat before we climb the giant climb up above the chasm. Mmmm proper coffee.

The trail goes steeply above the chasm and around the back and down the other side. It is absolutely amazing. Just stunning. We make little videos and generally waste time as it is too amazing to leave. Except we have to as our light is disappearing fast. It’s not long before the headlamps come out and we are hopping, jumping and scrambling through the creek bed. There aren’t a lot of signs, so we call out “sign!” excitedly with every one that we see. A small comfort on a confusing trail. Are there snakes out here? I freak myself out a little bit, then remember all the night hikes I’ve done in mountain lion territory, eat a couple of spoons of concrete and continue. We are soooo slow tonight! Tricky tricky trail.

We finally arrive a Millers Flat, which is some tent sites cleared in the tall grass.¬† We set up, I heat up some delicious tempeh for dinner, then as it’s getting chilly we say goodnight to the mice and spiders crawling about, and head off to sleep with the pretty pretty stars watching over us.

Larapinta Trail Day 6 – Hugh Gorge to Brinkley Bluff

“DOO DOO DOO DEE DO”
We are blasted awake by Turtle’s alarm that she forgot to turn off. Not a big deal as we were due to wake up in 20ish minutes anyway, but the noise made me jump a mile.
I get all our things from the mouse-proof cupboard, make coffee and sit up drinking it snuggled in my sleeping bag. Luxury!
We are getting a slightly later start today as we have to navigate through a tricky canyon and headlamp is not going to cut it.
Packed and out, we stumble along in the dark into the river bed in the canyon. Within 20 minutes we are questioning our navigation! It’s very overgrown, lots of flood debris and downed trees, plus boulders and rocks to scramble over. We find what we think is a path and are rewarded with a blue triangle sign up ahead after a few minutes.
As the light grows, it trickles through the canyon lighting up the bright orange walls that surround us. There are a few pools of water in this canyon- the first we’ve hiked past in a while. The light is magnificent, the walls are mind blowing, the words are so completely inadequate. We have an amazing time doing some rock climbing and hopping up and down boulders. We see a rock in the shape of a camel that Turtle tries to call a dingo. Definitely a camel. I decide the canyon is too amazing for silence and it needs an epic classical music soundtrack to walk through! I turn up my phone as loud as it will go but it does a dismal job. Next time I’ll bring a boom box. Boom box for Mozart baby.

Early light in Hugh gorge


The canyon is all over too quickly and the trail continues into a mostly sandy bottom gully. We climb up and over a saddle, then down down down a valley until we are at the foot of our big climb.
It’s just stunning today. There are jagged peaks above me and I try to guess which is the one we’ll be summiting, but this trail always surprises!
It’s one of those perfect climbs where it is a mix of legs and hands and climbing and hiking. It switchbacks up and the sun climbs with me, getting hot so I take a few moments as the trail curves briefly around the other side of the hill into the shade to sit and nibble some dried fruit.

Top of the Razorback

 

Yew! I’m at the top of a wicked razorback! Steep drop-offs either side, big wind. Just the right amount of “ooooh dear”. ¬†I hike along the top with the beautiful views for a while then bump into some very fresh looking people. They are hiking the opposite direction and will be camping where we were last night. I’m very confused as to how they managed to be so clean. Then I remember that there are LOT of drop off points along the Larapinta, and not everyone attracts dirt like white on rice (like I do). Oh well. I tell myself that looking feral makes me look more hard core, and move my stinky feet up ¬†up up the wicked climb. It’s all loose rock and tiny steps. Any more wind, or any rain and it would be a dangerous spot! So. Much. Fun.¬†
Climbing down is sketchy, loose rock, steep slopes to step on without much foothold. Bloody gorgeous.

I climb down into the canyon jumping off giant boulders and hopping from big rock to big rock, guding myself down with my hands and scooching along my butt. I reach one giant boulder with a 2m-ish drop the other side. I’m just about to throw my poles down to the ground and jump down after them when I spy I lovely long stick in the sand. A moving stick. A snakey stick.
“Sorry mate. I’ll let you go first.” Mr Snake slides towards me and under the giant boulder. I find another path to go down, and take my time from then on as I don’t want to accidentally jump on any of his friends! Go to sleep snakes, it’s winter time!

Although ‘winter’ doesn’t really apply out here. It’s a hot hot day and I love the little patches of cool shade in between the hot sun.¬†The traditional European concept of 4 seasons was not created with central Australia in mind. Here in the land of the Arrernte people¬†there are 5 seasons and it is currently Alhwerrpa (roughly June – August).


I make it to the Section 3/4 Junction campsite. There is a shelter, water tanks and drop toilet. I fill my water, have a big drink, eat some food and the rinse my bandana with the tank water. I lie down on the platform with my shoes off, the lovely cool bandana covering my eyes and have a glorious nap. I wake and take my time going through my pack and reorganising my food and things. Turtle arrives and after a brief break we start the hike out to Brinkley Bluff with all our water containers¬†full. Brinkley is supposed to be one of the best campsites on the trail. We will get there late, but it’s so nice to hike out in the low sun. It’s still hot and we are sweating bullets climbing, but it is beautiful.
After Stuart flat and up the first hill is when the real climbing starts. Giant stair climbing meets box jumps! It’s a thigh burner for sure. We are hugging the side of the mountain on a skinny switch backing trail. The light is fading fast round us and everything is glowing. With every step the view gets better. We take out our headlamps as the light is not good enough to see, and as we reach the top of the bluff we are treated to the last little glow of deep colour on the horizon, mixed with the first stars.

There are so many people! It takes a while to find a little spot to sleep. I carve out a place and set up my little tarp in case of wind. I can still peek out and see the stars so I am happy! Right at the monument on top, I manage to get some signal and check in with my dog sitter and am treated to a few photos which makes my heart happy. I would love my little fluffy guys to be hanging out with me out here! I send some emails as bats swoop swoop swoop above me. The moon is out and it is bright! ¬†I haven’t done the best job setting up the tarp, but don’t want to re-do the stakes as everyone is already asleep around me and I don’t want to make too much noise. I fear I will regret this.

Today has been amazing! Absolute favourite day. Let’s do it again tomorrow!
Goodnight bats!

Larapinta Trail Day 5 – Ellery Creek to Hugh Gorge

Ugh what a night. The temperature dropped massively in the night and I was freezing on my little platform. I sought to remedy this by laying my tarp over my sleeping quilt, only to wake up with a soaking wet quilt. A pack of dingoes ran into the canyon in the night and started howling Рsuch a creepy howl! Kind of like wolves but spookier. So there was not a lot of sleep.
The stars, however, were beautiful as the moon was dark and I got to watch the milky way glide across me through the night. Yay stars!
I wake grumpily and pack up my things fast. I head out, headlamp on and start the small climb after the river bed. We are climbing up over the other side of the mountain and dropping to the plain below. The sun is rising just as I get to the top of the hill and the plain is bathed in gold. I see movement to my left and spy a kangaroo!!! Finally an animal on the trail (apart from the dingoes). There is wildlife in the desert!
The trail drops down into the long grass and heads north east to join up with the northern part of the ranges. A long “Larapinta flat” day on the exposed dirt. The morning is crisp and lovely and I try to hike fast because the temperature is going to rise quickly.

This way


I make it to Rocky Gully camp early at 1030am (which is possibly the least exciting camp I have seen on trail) and find a small patch of shade in the dirt in which to sit down. Lunch at 1030am!!! Jack and Turtle roll in not too long afterwards and we do all the break things – eat, get excited about what we are eating, complain that we don’t have enough to eat, and refill all our water.
I head out about 45min later into the heat and towards our camp for the night. It really is a piece of filler trail today just to join the two sections of mountains – nothing too exciting to see. The ground is rocky so my feet are hurting, and I’m really excited to see a platform midway under some gorgeous corkwood trees and next to a giant ghost gum. Jack is lying down and in bad shape as he hasn’t got the hang of electrolytes and their importance in desert hiking. I give him some of my electrolyte powder and he takes off after a few minutes instead of hanging out for his core temp to decrease and rest like a sane human. The idea of “getting it done” is a dangerous one in the heat – if you are too hot, if you are feeling weird or bad or not quite yourself STOP. Rest. Allow your core temperature to decrease. Drink electrolytes. ¬†Then, hopefully when the temperature has dropped some, head out. The desert is not forgiving – a little mistake out here is never little.

Ghost gum flat
Ghost gum

I hang up my tarp to dry and elevate my feet to wait until Turtle arrives to see how she is faring.
It takes a while for her to arrive, and when she does I find out she had a really bad nose bleed! Rotten desert heat and dust creating havoc with our bodies. We hang for a little bit, then hike out together then spread out on the trail as we head in to the Hugh Gorge camp.
There is a shelter! The first one we have arrived at to sleep in. I pack-splode all over one of the platforms and raise my feet. Jack got some amazing trail magic- he spied a group of people past the shelter heading down a 4wd track. He asked the group leader if she had any electrolytes he could buy, and she gave him a whole tube and an orange. They are staying 200m down the road in a permanent group tentsite and she offered him a ride to Alice if he isn’t feeling any better tomorrow. Talk about luck! We play around with trail names for Jack – Electrolyte doesn’t roll easily off the tongue so his name is now officially Salt.
Turtle arrives and we all lie about trying to soak up energy from anywhere. We are zapped.
We eat dinner at 5pm and faff about doing nothing and everything for 2 more hours before setting up beds. Two groups of people arrive in the meantime from the East; the older trio looking decidedly annoyed to see that the shelter is occupied, the other a dutch couple that kindly answer our bazillion questions about what Larapinta magic we have to face tomorrow. Turtle’s new trail name for the day is Questions.
With our dinner in our bellies, and our water all refilled, we lie down and hope for a warmer night than last night. As soon as the lights are out we hear scurrying under the platforms. I just up, turn on my headlamp to see mice running about. We quickly rearrange things, putting all our food and smelly stuff in the cupboard so hopefully we don’t wake up with holes in our packs, and hopefully the cupboard is indeed mouse proof!

Larapinta Trail Day 4 – Serpentine Chalet Dam to Ellery Creek

I slept well despite the potential dingo/cat/ giant echidna attack, although I was really warm with the tarp above me. We make coffee and head off at 6am, guided by our headlamps before the first light appears around 630am.
It is a ‘Larapinta flat’ morning, meaning rolling hills, for the first 6km then a nice big switchback climb through tall grass and shrubs to Counts Point. We climb fast, dump our packs at the top, hike out to the point (a 1.4km out and back alternate) and are rewarded by an absolutely amazing 360 view. To the west we see Mt Sonder down a valley that drops far and steeply resembling a giant ship’s hull, to the east we see along a long ridge that we will be hiking and our friendly caterpillar sits south of the road we drove in on that seems to follow us consistently (or perhaps is just really long and doesn’t change shape). Obligatory selfies and a couple of perfectly executed dance moves done we hike back to our packs, shovel in some spoonfuls of soaked oats and head down the super windy ridge.
Counts Point Larapinta Trail
Turtle and I on Counts Point

The ground is all rocky and very hard underfoot, and the sun is starting to bite, but it is brilliant. We pass a bazillion supported hikers in their tour groups- they hike decent km but carry nothing and have camp and dinner waiting for them when they finish. Slack hikers! (I secretly question why we didn’t choose this option ūüėČ ). My pack today isn’t too heavy as I only have 3L with me as opposed to yesterday’s horrible day long 5L carry.
As expected the ridge drops suddenly at the end and we have a very steep descent. The footing is much nicer than we’ve had, with beautiful big steps cut out of the rock. We pass more groups of hikers, have 3 near ankle rolls thanks to shakey non-stabilizing legs that are fed up with rocky descents, then finally land on a beautiful red dirt path. The soft powdery dirt feels like clouds underfoot compared to the rocks, and I fly down the trail to Serpentine gorge. I get confused with the carpark/ gorge/ hut/ water signage not knowing where the water tank is and worried I hiked past it, so end up sitting on the ground for a while waiting for Turtle so we can decode it together.
Turtle arrives and yay the hut, with water tank, is just around the corner. We always land at the gorgeous huts for our lunch break and never get to sleep there! Hopefully one of our stops will be in a hut.
I never thought I’d be so excited to hike on dirt


I lie on my back and lift my feet to get the rocky throbbing to subside, while awkwardly spooning cold refried beans from my plastic icecream container into my mouth. I drink some electrolytes, retape my feet, re-suncream ( I am working in THE sexiest above sock/ below skirt knee tan. About 6cm of tanned perfection), fill up water, soak my bandana and buff in water to cool me off and head off to Ellery at 1230pm.
It’s hot but there is a lot of wind which takes the edge off somewhat. I need a distraction from the glare so decide to pop my music on for the first time. I then give myself a “Well Done!’ Elephant stamp for such a good idea because it works perfectly. The trail is rolling hills, some big climbs, and generally pretty exerting but I’m able to bounce down them feeling amazing with my head full of tunes. There are some phenomenal rock formations with clear sea markings – it blows my mind that I’m looking at remnants of the shallow sea that existed here 800 million years ago! 800 million. I try, and fail miserably, at wrapping my head around that. I have lots of really cool scrambles and climbs over different types of rock, while looking across surprisingly green valleys full of trees. Another choose your own adventure type day as there is no space for a dirt trail through here.

Trig Point
Detail of the amazing rocks
The ridge gets more dramatic as the day goes on, dropping suddenly and climbing back up just as steeply. It’s cool to see trail winding far on the hills opposite, and as my energy fades a little I level up on playlist and get the ‘climbing mountains’ motivational songs on! I cross my fingers that we have passed all the groups of walkers for the day because I am now the star of my own (really long) music video, singing really loudly, coordinating with hiking pole dance moves wherever possible and grinning like a fool because it is a crazy beautiful ancient wonderland out here. I’m sure Turtle is nerd-gasming¬†somewhere behind me on the trail about all the rock formations that she loves.
I brace myself for the last km of the trail as some of the guides I passed said it was particularly hard underfoot on the way into Ellery. I’m not sure how it could possibly hurt more than yesterday! It doesn’t. It is actually fine. Note to self – don’t listen to guides. However, I do somehow manage to take myself on an unplanned extra alternate and add a couple of km to my day! I’m still happy though as I finally enter Ellery campsite.
I claim some platforms for Turtle and I, then wander down to the water hole. It is the coldest water on trail and I’m in need of a wash so I’m keen to jump right in. I make it as far as my butt then bail. So so so cold. Hurting deep into my bones kind of cold. Snow melt kind of cold. It takes ages for my feet to stop throbbing, but I’m sure it was good for them!
Ellery Creek


I collect our food drop from the store room and sit at a picnic table chatting to Jack and eating cold rehydrated chili on chips ( we added a packet of chips to this drop- genius!) for my dinner while waiting for Turtle.
She rolls in a while later, huge grin on her face. She can’t contain herself and shouts across the carpark “How good was today?!?!”
Food bag sorting, setting up beds and chatting to random weird hiker guy that rocked up that seems to have walked every major trail in Australia! He lists them all as he is searching the ground for cigarettes and asking all the car campers for beer. I’m sure he has some good stories but is a fraction too bizarre with a splash of the creeps for me!

A magical previous hiker has left some Rid in the hiker room, which is a godsend given I’m determined to cowboy camp every night. Tonight, again, I’m on a little platform under the stars. With just a couple of strategically placed hiker pole and loud pot booby traps around me because, you know, creepy dude. An almost perfect night, except some car campers have decided to watch tv.
Yup. Tv.
In the middle of the country with the best view you could ever hope for above, but one cannot possibly miss the latest Home and Away or Bachelor. Blergh. Earplugs ftw.

Larapinta Trail Day 3 – Ormiston Gorge to Serpentine Chalet Dam

I’m awake and staring at the stars from my little platform looking for a shooting one as a good omen for my day. Star sighted, I pack up my things in the dark, wander down the road to the kiosk where Turtle meets me and we make coffee with a hiker box fuel cannister. Fruit is always a luxury when hiking (or fresh anything) so I’d packed an apple in this drop that I ate before we headed off down the chilly dark trail just after 6am.
A high rock wall appears in the shadows next to us which looks extra spooky and impressive in the dark. I give it a hug, in an attempt to connect with some of it’s ancient wisdom (yes, I hug trees too) and we continue through a dry deep sand riverbed before climbing up the hills as the first light begins to shine. Mount Sonder is still in the distance, but ahead we have spectacular canyons and white gums glowing in the early light. Superb layers of orange and red rock are stacked up to form huge towering walls that would be an awesome waterfall in the wet season. We whistle the Jurassic Park theme song as I’m pretty sure there are some dinosaurs about to emerge from the boulders. We vow to return via helicopter after the rains begin!
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Underfoot is a gorgeous dark iron rock that reminds me of lava fields but is less porous, so we decide the black layers must just be old oxidation of the iron rocks. We are walking through some scraggly burnt trees when Jack catches us and zooms ahead.
This is so far my absolute favourite day!
Our climb to Mt Giles lookout begins after 8km and is a lot less steep than I anticipated. It is still a hard climb, more so towards the top, and the views are insane. The landscape is getting more and more dramatic and I’m so excited when I realise we are hiking across the top of this narrow ridge with mountains either side.
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I don’t want this part to end, except that the sun is well and truly up and burning fiercly so we don’t stay the top but begin the very steep very rocky descent. The land falls away veeeery steeply and I can see where our lunch spot must be in the distance, hiding in a gorge far below. Down Down Down. The ground is really hard underfoot and the trail is very tricky. My poles go away and my hands come out a lot to lower me down huge steps and navigate around large boulders. A group of supported hikers pass us in the most inconvenient place possible on the trail- they are hiking opposite direction but the same distance as us today without any packs! They are still making amazing time though. As he passes, the group leader admires our Dirty Girl Gaiters and my homemade anti-desert-spikything-leg-protectors that I made for the CDT last year that are still serving me well!

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Finally finally at the bottom. Sweaty and hot. Feet throbbing from the pounding down¬†the steep steps and all I want is lunch! It is not to be. Instead we hike through a rocky canyon that is actually really fun jumping up and down and around huge boulders. It’s choose your own adventure hiking, where every step is a puzzle piece towards finding the trail.
I spy shade! Shade! Glorious shade. The foot of waterfall gorge campsite is a perfect shaded piece of staggered rock that is like a mini ampitheatre. Shoes and socks come off and I elevate my hot feet, the rock nice and cool on my legs.
The usual lunchtime rush ensues with eating, drinking electrolytes, retaping feet, applying suncream, refilling snack pockets and topping up my hydration bladder with the extra water I have. It’s a hot day with no water sources so I’m carrying 5L that I’m doing my best to ration.
Out of the gorge we enter a vast pastel valley with a pass way down the end that we are to climb up and over. The spinifex covering the slopes looks like little soft green cotton balls, but is mean and spiky and stabs us all day long. More beautiful red rock sits at the top of the green slopes with amazing trees finding purchase in little ledges and cracks.
It is hot.

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The other side of the pass is even more spectacular. There is, however, no respite from the heat until we are up and over the pass. I find a little burnt out area with some tree coverage that looks non-snakey that I sit down in and enjoy 5 minutes (or maybe it was 10) of non-foot pounding where Turtle joins me. A piece of red licorice and a sip of electrolytes and we are back on our feet and around the corner into a new canyon.
This Inarlanga Pass. It starts like the first canyon with big white, black and pink hued boulders, then turns into an orange fantasy land. The walls are fluro orange towering high above us, the ground is dotted with ghost gums and huge cycads, and the boulders are big and tricky to get around. The cycads are phenomenal relics of long ago. Until recently it was thought the West Mac cycads were around during the Jurassic period, making our Jurassic Park whistling this morning quite appropriate! But recent studies show they have “only” been around for about 10 million years. I’m pretty sure that still warrants some admiration! ¬†Hiking poles go away and hands come out as we slide and scurry and edge our way through. My feet are so sore after spending all day on hard rock, but the hiking spectacular so I command my feet to take a few spoons of concrete.
Towards the end of the canyon the fading light of the day hits the top of the rock walls, making them glow even more.
Finally out the other side I find a sign that explains that this is the pass between the lands of two different people. I’m at the junction to the Ochre Pits which is a registered sacred site and still used today by the Arrernte people – they don’t access the pass without the permission of the traditional custodians of the land on the other side of the pass.
the light is well and truly fading now. The sky is gorgeous tonight and we turn a corner to unexpectantly find someone watching the sunset with his camera and no other gear. Turns out he is camping at the same place as us and has hiked up to view the sunset. The last km takes forever. It is way more than 1km and we swear at the sign! Mean sign.
There are a lot of tents set up, so we cross over the creek bed and find some flat spaces on the other side next to the water tank where Jack has already set up. I lay out my tyvec, blow up my mattress and fluff out my quilt, then wander over to our “dining room” (rocks big enough to sit on to eat dinner) where Turtle and I eat yummy food by the light of our headlamps. I fill up my water ready for tomorrow then scurry back to my fluffy quilty home for the night.
It doesn’t take long for me to fade away into sleep, but am rudely awakened by something walking around close by. The night is so quiet it’s easy to hear, and my spidey senses are all on alert. I shine my headlamp into the trees next to my bed and am greeted by two eyes staring back at me. Bloody dingo.
It scampers off and I sit up trying to see where it went, before giving up and lying down again. 5 minutes later it is back. GAH. I don’t want to be woken up by an exploratory sniff to my head, so ¬†I pull my tarp out and set it up super quickly. The beauty of a tarp is that I don’t have to move any of my things, but just erect it around me and am super impressed with how quickly and well I set it up. No adjustments required, perfect first go. This never happens and I am tempted to wake everyone up so they can give me a medal for Perfectus Tarpus Erectus. I self high five instead, and lie down in my mini house. I’ve got the little doors rolled up so I still have glimpses of my star friends, and hope they don’t do anything too amazing tonight that I miss. Goodnight stars! Goodnight dingos!

Larapinta Trail Day 2 – Rocky Bar Gap to Ormiston Gorge

It was dark when we arrived, still dark as we leave. I flip flopped like a salmon all night getting used to my sleeping mat and quilt again. I alternated hot and cold but it was quite a lovely night, although I paid the price for my diligent rehydrating before bed as I had to get up twice in the night to water the plants. Twice! Craziness.
There are camping sites spread across the Larapinta Trail with water tanks and pit toilets, and some with shelters. Without them there would be next to no water available. There are only a few permanent water holes in Tjoritja and they are very far apart.
I munch on one of my amazing peanut butter bars I made for pre-brekkie as I hike out with my¬†headlamp on. Turtle was still filling¬†water¬†as I left so I¬†enjoy my absolute favourite hiking¬†time – solo during the pre and post dawn hours. Everything feels like a secret that you are sneaking through in the morning. It’s all so quiet and sleepy and shy. It all changes so fast as the light moves across the earth- the colours change, the smells, the noise.
My thoughts weave in and out about nothing in particular. Just me, the crunch of my feet, the dirt and the light.
Mount Sonder Sunrise
Ghost gum sunrise

 

The dawn light touching Mt Sonder is stunning, as it is on the bright white ghost gums on the hills around me. The trail weaves up over the mountain and there is a lovely brekkie spot at the top with a gorgeous view that would have been a brilliant camping spot. I find that the top has a very strange and mysterious name “Hilltop Lookout”. I ponder the deep meaning of this, looking out eating my pre-soaked museli. When Turtle doesn’t catch up I keep hiking, with our pre-determined hiking plan of “we will catch up at water”. I find it difficult hiking with others for long hikes – hiking styles are very rarely the same. Faster hiking vs slow, long breaks or lots of short ones, getting up early or staying in bed as long as possible. Turtle and I hike really well on day hikes together, although we have recently discovered that for long days, because we tend to chat so much we actually tire ourselves out mentally! So out here we know we will be having a good balance of company and solo time.
On the other side of the hill climb the trail weaves down into the plains, then eventually crosses the Finke River which is mostly a dry river bed at this time of year.¬†Not far from the crossing there is a water hole that you can swim in, but I keep hiking across the deep sandy bed as I can see the shelter which means water and lunch ūüôā
The shelter is an open metal roofed building with 2 large sleeping platforms, a cupboard to store food at night, long shelves above the platform, and a great information sign describing the Larapinta sections either side with distances and elevation profiles (for Eastbound and Westbound hikers).
Finke River Shelter
Information sign
I do all my chores – filter water, loo (I’m very excited that there seems to be no need to carry loo paper at all as the loos are well stocked and maintained), eat food, refill snack pockets, take off shoes and socks and lie down with my feet elevated. Turtle arrives after a while and it ends up being a lazy 2 hour¬†lunch break! I love that about desert hiking ¬†– up early, big break in the middle, hike until the sun goes down. It doesn’t work as well out here as the number of daylight hours are limited, plus the temperature peaks late in the afternoon (around 4pm), but at least it’s a good opportunity to get our core temps down, rehydrate and rest before heading out again. Jack the solo hiker that was on our bus turns up to the shelter. He was camping at the same place as us last night but I didn’t see his tent – apparently there were two tents there but I only saw one, not wanting to wave my headlamp around too much waking people up.
The afternoon hiking is hot and hard underfoot. We arrive at Ormiston nice and early and collect our first food drop. Yep – food drop on day 2!!! There is a little cafe and I grab a lemony lemon calippo and ginger beer which counteract the desert heat perfectly. I wash out my socks and we are thoroughly entertained by some spinifex pigeons (punk pigeons with big spiky feathers protruding from their heads) while I wait for my things to dry and we charge our phones in the plug outside the cafe.
Spinifex pigeon
We find places to set up our cowboy camps and Turtle heads off to the Ghost Gum lookout while I play McGyver with my pack frame that seems to have dislodged itself. She returns a short time later and we eat delicious dinner, then I head back to my little home for the night to discover big, bitey looking ants. Eeps. It’ll probably be ok, but I’ve spent an unfortunate night being crawled all over by ants when I set up a makeshift campsite on the PCT. I don’t plan on repeating that mistake again!
Luckily there are some platforms dotted around the campground – 2m x 2m ish square platform wooden slats raised about 0.8m off the ground. I drag all my things to the nearest vacant one and that becomes my home for the night. I place my things around me and hope I don’t roll off!
The sky is beautifully dark once again, and I fall asleep with one line from an 80s song by The Church going over and over in my head “….under the milky way tonight.”

Larapinta Trail Day 1 – Mt Sonder to Rocky Bar Gap

We wake early from our comfy hotel beds and sort all our last minute¬†things.¬†We had a bit of a panic yesterday when the transfer company hadn’t delivered our boxes for our food drops, and the gear company hadn’t dropped off our fuel canister. We have 3 luxurious food drops organised – complete overkill¬†but we can, so we are! I’m so excited about our tiny food carries, particularly as the temperatures are forecast as unseasonably warm for our hike so we will be have a few 5L water carries. Thankfully the boxes arrived, and there was a fuel can in the lost and found at the hotel so all ok!
Our extra luggage and food supplies for our post-Larapinta road trip are all locked away in the hotel storage room, and our friendly driver Justin¬†arrives to take us on the 3.5h trip to Mt Sonder. Several pickups of other hikers around¬†Alice and we are on our way.¬†There are 3 groups on the¬†bus with us – one solo young guy doing a 10 day itinerary (same as us- not sure about particular km¬†per day/ campsites he will be at), one group of 3 taking 15 days,¬†and one big group of 6 with¬†huge packs, brand new leather¬†giant boots, and enough food for 3 weeks who are hiking Serpentine to Mount Sonder.¬†Yes I am Judgey McJudgeypants-ing their shoes and packs, because with our weather forecast of high 20s all week and no shade on the trail, they are going to be in a world of pain ūüôĀ
Finally we arrive and are here! Larapinta Trail! Turtle and I have the¬†obligatory starting photo taken, fill up water, empty contents of packs (except for water and lunch) into Turtle’s tent, then begin the climb up Mt Sonder. The driver told us¬†of the¬†Arrente (the people of Alice Springs)¬†story of Mt Sonder in which a lady becomes pregnant to someone¬†who is not her husband, so she is banished for eternity to lie on the ground and becomes the mountain. When you look at the mountain you can see her on her back with her face towards the sky.
It is a 16km return trip to the summit, and we climb as the heat goes up and up. The views across the desert are spectacular- I stop often to look out across the red landscape (catch my breath). I decided on the flight into Alice that the ground looks like a wrinkled sheet Рflat with big bumps all across. A sign at the airport told me the Arrernte story is that caterpillars and stink bugs fought around here which created the land forms, with the bodies of the caterpillars turning into the mountains. So many beautiful red and green striped caterpillars to see!
The ground is rocky and hard, then dusty, then rocky again. This trail has a reputation for being brutal on feet and shoes- I expect to need a new pair of shoes at the end of the trail even though it’s only 231km and my shoes normally last about 700km!
The top is stunning. I see Mt Zion in the distance, and Ormiston gorge where we will end up tomorrow. It’s hot with no shade so I sign my name quickly in the register and scurry back down about 1km to a shaded rock area where we eat our lunch.¬†Others from our bus¬†pass by, looking a little worse for wear and carrying empty 1L water bottles – hopefully they are more careful with water going forward.
Finally stumble to the bottom, I beeline for the pit toilet (the mountain is sacred land, so …), then¬†guzzle a litre of electrolytes, refill my water bladder, add my dinner and some water to my fancy rehydration machine (small empty screw top icecream container) and we start the hike to Rocky Bar Gap. We will be hiking into the dark but it will make tomorrow so much easier so we decide our fresh day one legs can have more km on them.
Sunset is magical. The light across the caterpillar backs glows deep red before everything fades to hues of purple and orange.¬†The days are short as it is midwinter so we don’t have lots of light to hike by. The stars start poking their heads out 2, now 7, now 10, then all of a sudden they are everywhere! Everywhere!! The headlamps come out and we stumble along in the dark with our million candles above. I get particularly stumbly and bumbly when it is dark, a combination of my body shutting down saying “It’s dark now! Sleep time!” and¬†weird eyesight that can’t judge distances properly via headlamp. So¬†my km/h slows right down. The weather is beautiful though and I relish the cool breeze on my slightly burned legs. Sorry legs! I underestimated the sun and didn’t apply enough suncream – this is one of those amazing places that actually has an ozone layer (unlike Perth) so thought I’d be right. I was wrong.
Finally at camp, I spy one tent set up. Turtle and I set up our cowboy camping spots then reconvene to eat a quick quiet dinner before sleep. I stare up at the sky mesmerised. I’m exhausted but don’t want to go to sleep because it’s too beautiful. You haven’t seen stars until you have stared up at them from your bed on the ground in the desert. Tonight in the clear outback desert air, I see possibly the best stars I’ve ever seen.
One more shooting star then I’ll close my eyes. Just one more…

Leaving for Larapinta

My dogs know. They always know. They pick up on my increasingly frantic energy that builds and builds until I explode out the door, shove my too many things into the car and make my way to the airport. I get more and more scatter brained as departure time looms, they get sadder and sadder, lying so low on their beds that they sink right in and become part of the fabric. They knew even before the suitcase was pulled out, and my bags and bags of hiking gear spread across every available surface to find all the little bits of very important stuff and things that I will carry on my back. They are sensitive little souls.
Somehow this scatter brained woman has managed to bid her fluffy cuddle monsters goodbye, get herself on a plane and is flying above the clouds and the great big desert centre of Australia- destination Alice Springs.
I’m hiking the Larapinta Trail,¬†planning 10 days for the 231km from Mount Sonder to Alice Springs through Tjoritja / West Macdonnell ranges which forms part of the land of the traditional owners the Arrernte people. The ranges are full of beautiful gorges, lots of rocks and some water holes, hopefully with enough water for some cheeky midday reprieves from the sun which is forecast to be averaging around 29 degrees for the hike. It’s going to be very exposed and¬†the rocky ground will be hard on my wimpy feet, slithery things¬†that shall not be named (Volde-slithers?) will possibly be out (but being ‘winter’ hopefully not too many!), and the water is available only in¬†tanks spread across the trail.¬†But the views! I’m so excited about looking out into the forever that stretches across the red centre. And the stars!!! I’ve packed my little tarp, but I’m hoping for cowboy camping (just sleeping on a ground sheet with no tent) every night. I’m coming for you milky way.
I’m hiking with¬†my friend Turtle,¬†and together we have assembled¬†the¬†most exciting 10 days of trail food I have had on a long hike! Most of my long distance hiking has been done overseas, which means I haven’t been able to make my own food. This time our kitchens and dehydrators have been working overtime, and we have coconut curry, lentil bolognese, tempeh stir fry, and tofu chili for dinners, re fried beans and macadamia/ almond butters (special Snakebite awesome recipe) for lunch, home made ‘clif bars’¬†plus nuts, nori and other tasty bits and pieces for snacks. Hiking nutrition level – expert 😉

A few more hours of flying to ponder all the things I have forgotten, an overnight in Alice, then it’s go time! ūüôā
View of the salt lakes outside Alice Springs from the plane.

CDT Day 106 – The End-Ish

5 miles hiked to Hwy 550
It’s a pretty lazy morning as we¬†only have 5 miles to hike to the highway. We take our time packing up, and we share a hot oatmeal as we are down to one packet for breakfast!! We each have a bar as well for the rest of the hike. My goodness I am looking forward to food.¬†Have I mentioned that? Mmm fooooood.
To balance out yesterday’s descent, today we are hiking ¬†up up up for 5 miles. It’s not overly steep, which is good as neither of us has much energy.
This has¬†been a tough section –¬†high altitude meaning our bodies are working hard for each breath, lots of elevation gain and loss,¬†inadequate food, cold cold cold.¬†We’ve worked hard for our miles and our views, but it has been absolutely worth it.
It’s also been mentally hard. Back in Durango I received news I would have to go home to sort out some things soon. I didn’t have an exact date, but while in¬†Pagosa I found out I had a couple of weeks. So my thru hike has become a¬†section hike. Hopefully just 2 parts so I can finish it off next year or the year after, but a section hike nonetheless – a dirty word to my thru-hiking wannabe ears.¬†I¬†fought back tears as I spoke to the Qantas agent to change my flight. It’s a tough tough thing to get off trail and¬†although I’ve hiked a hell of a lot of miles, including the hardest miles both mentally and physically I’ve ever had to hike,¬†and having to get off trail is out of my control, I¬†can’t help but feel like a giant failure.
I still have a couple of weeks to play with so we made plans for exploring¬†some of the ‘side trails’ of the CDT¬†up around The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. I’m excited about bougie camping- we’ll have a car¬†to set up a base from, a bigger tent (my half dome I picked up at an REI garage sale in which to go camping with my doggies! Yep I bought a tent for my dogs) and access¬†to as much food as we want. I’m planning on getting fat in Wyoming.
So mentally, today, these last official miles of my hike are hard. We take superfluous breaks as we have the time,¬†and the view looking back down the river through the mountains is glorious. This area around Silverton is simply magic. Hiking through here on the Colorado Trail and back on the Continental Divide Trail I’ve gotten to know the San Juans and southern Colorado well – but I could definitely spend much more time here exploring more and more trails. The land¬†with the soft curves of the orcas perched on top of the mountains, the jagged dramatic canyons, the beautiful blue high lakes and pools, the thin air¬†and crazy weather.
We make¬†it to the road and sit, exhausted, excited yet deflated, proud¬†yet dissatisfied. That’s it. All done.
No longer a thru hiker. No longer a thru hike.
.
Tourists hustle about us noisily with their giant cars, leading sticky children and slobbery dogs to the roadside view of the trees and valley from where we have just climbed. Everything is already too much. Too many people, things, noise, stuff.
Grizzly’s amazing sister arrives after a long drive to collect us, complete with a cooler full of food and drinks. FOOD! DRINKS!¬†We inhale burritos before even leaving the carpark, bags of chips and dip are opened. I feel the calories hitting my blood with a rush that feels both energising then suddenly exhausting, my body unused to so much food at once.
On to Denver we drive! We’ll wash and repack our bags, fill the car with food and exciting things like pillows, yahtzee, jumpers (sweaters), spare dry shoes and socks (luxury luxury luxury!) and be on the road asap.
Oh I’ve been craving these luxuries, but oh I need to be back in the dirt. I definitely don’t feel like I’m done, and I hope the last couple of weeks will help me transition back into¬†the fast, clean, noisy, connected, everything-instantly world. Although as anyone who has spent a lot of time in the wilderness knows, that transition is neither easy nor ever complete.¬†Wyoming I’m coming!

CDT Day 105 – The Descent

17.2 miles hiked
Camping @ 8921 ft
.
Our tent has turned into an igloo. Ice on the inside, ice on the outside. The ground is covered in frost and when I try to step into my shoes they have frozen solid.
So so so ccccold! Thankfully the sky is blue, although the sun isn’t particularly warm just yet. With all my layers on we hike down past¬†2 beautiful lakes and up around a corner to our first pass of the day. There is nada left in me today. My body forgot to do that thing where it recharges overnight, and I am struggling to climb. I find Grizzly and Tigerlilly at the top ¬†– the sun is finally out, so absolutely everything in our packs is spread out over rocks to warm up and dry out. I find out that they too are running on empty, so I feel a little better about my broken legs. My food bag has pretty much turned into a rubbish bag with not much left to eat,¬† but I dig through the rubbish while we are sitting and find an oat bar hiding at the bottom!¬†Yeow!
Finally our things are satisfactorily dry so they get stuffed away and we hike on. 2 more climbs and we all catch up at the junction of the CDT and CT. Tigerlilly is continuing on the CDT Рwe already hiked down thay way when heading south on the CT / CDT, so we are to exit the trail via the CT to get us to Silverton.
It’s very cold so we say our goodbyes, take a couple of photos and take our separate paths. I realise we’ve all been hiking together for 10 days! That’s a long time in hiker land, and awesome to have such great company.
A tiny bump then we start the great descent Р10 miles downhill. An epic mountain of switchbacks descends into a beautiful canyon. A creek meanders next to us, getting larger and smaller as we head down. The canyon quickly towers; the rocks massive above us.
Raspberry bushes appear on the sides of the trail and we take lots of much needed stops to eat as many as we can. Om nom nom.
The trees grow taller and aspens grow denser around us.¬†We finally reach the bottom of our 10 mile descent, and find a campsite near the rushing Animas river and a railway track. It’s actually flat! Amazing! Surrounded by tall mountains, we’re at 8921ft- a far cry from the 12500ft we were at earlier today. We eat the last little dinner rations from our food bags. We are still so hungry, but tomorrow is the last little section and then there will be food! All the food! Colorado has kicked my butt. The combination of altitude and cold has stolen my¬†insulation layer I have been closely guarding pretty much my whole life.¬†There are new bones I can feel poking out that¬†I don’t remember ever feeling. Must eat more foooood! Today has been a¬†stunning day. It gets an elephant stamp and gold star for sure.