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!