Larapinta Trail Day 6 – Hugh Gorge to Brinkley Bluff

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 – such 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 😉 ). 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!

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.

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!


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.


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!

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! 🙂
View of the salt lakes outside Alice Springs from the plane.