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 🙁
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 – flat 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…