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.