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 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…

CDT Day 11

Mile 30.8 Gila alternate, camping at 5433ft
All night long I’ve had bears and lions and coyotes having a dance party around my bed.¬†It was one of those nights where every snap crackle and pop is a bunyip and me having every nerve standing on end is the thing that will save me.
Of course that’s complete codswallop and when I finally stop staring at the pine trees and ever lightening sky above me I realise that for once in¬†my late-night light-challenged¬†campsite choosing career, I’ve actually chosen a stellar one. If only I’d known that I had a pretty bear-proof setup¬†I may have slept better.
There were actually a few coyotes yip yipping to each other through the night…I really need to remember to look up “are coyotes mean”. It’ll sit nicely alongside my google searches of “what to do if you see a grizzly”, “how not to become a mountain lion chew toy”, and “best vegan chocolate cake recipe” – the last one having nothing to do with anything except it’s a fairly regular search of mine.
I find my water and¬†it takes a while to¬†scoop out and filter, then¬†it’s hikety hike time. The morning has some clouds moving in and out;
¬†I enjoy the chance to hike without my hat so I can stare up at the trees while my vision isn’t¬†limited. Another water source, another break. Eat a few things, drink a few electrolytes, hike a few miles.
The trail meanders along happily through the trees and along a dirt track then starts to descend to the Gila river. It’s one of those descents that looks like it should take 20min but takes an hour.¬†As I’m nearing the bottom the sky starts spitting at me. No worries, it’s warm and it’ll pass. I’m finally at the bottom (hooray my ankle says!), I find a little spot to sit for lunch and it starts spitting a bit more. I quickly fetch some water,¬†take out everything from my pack, line it¬†with a rubbish bag, put it all back in, put a bag over the top and the sky absolutely explodes.
Huge thunder and flashes of lightning. I’ve got my raincoat on and dig out my rain pants. I’m huddled under a tree (I know not the best place during lightning but I’m not sitting in the open!) and wrap my useless shredded polycro groundsheet around me because all of a sudden the temperature has dropped dramatically and it is freeeeezing.
I’m stuck there for about an hour and the rain finally eases off a bit so¬†I start moving. I need to move to get some warmth into me!
The ‘trail’¬†follows the Gila river through a deep canyon. The basic idea is just to follow along as best you can jumping from one bank to the other when the one you’re on turns ito cliff face. In between there is a lot of bushwhacking, getting scratched by all the scratchy things, climbing¬†over rocks and boulders, ducking under trees, clambering over fallen logs and walking¬†through gravelly wash.¬†Oh and of course wading through the water and trying not to fall over¬†or get swept away.
Due to the rain the water is flowing pretty fast and it covers my whole leg in some places. I have to find more trees and rocks and things to huddle under as more thunder and lightning roll through a few more times.
It’s exhausting, very slow going, yet quite exciting. It’s more of the ‘choose your own adventure’ part of the CDT that I’m really enjoying. There’s no dozing and just plugging away at miles (although there’s plenty of that on the road walks).¬†It’s a puzzle that you have to solve with every step.
My rain pants rip up to the knee and the water is filling them up like sails that are trying to send me downstream.
42 river crossings later it’s time to call it a day It’s tricky finding camping spots in amongst the jungle, but I eventually find one and set up just in time for the rain to start again.
I’m completely wet and soggy and go to sleep crossing fingers for sunshine and rainbows.

CDT Day 9

Silver City – Zero miles!

A perfect zero (a zero is zero miles hiked). I sleep in, do laundry, pick up my spot, get a bunch of wry smiles at my multicolour leggings and fluffy boofy clean hair. I wifi hop around town to catch up on emails and blogging, buy lunch at the co-op (such good resupply food!), sip coffee and listen to the insanely good voice of Barb at the Yankie Corner coffee house, indulge in amber ale and sweet potato fries at the Little Toad Brewery (a brewery named for meee! Toad is one of my lesser-known nicknames).

Watch out Silver City - hikertrash comin atchya
Watch out Silver City – hikertrash comin atchya

 

Commemoration of returned SPOT (YAY!), clean fluffy boofy hair, and behind me Madam Millie- Silver City's celebrated brothel madam 😉
Commemoration of returned SPOT (YAY!), clean fluffy boofy hair, and behind me Madam Millie- Silver City’s celebrated brothel madam 😉😂

 

Yummy amber
Yummy amber

The buildings of Silver City are so cute, the people so so friendly and welcoming, and the walls decorated with bright colours and murals. All good things within walking distance – everything you want a trail town to be!

Tomorrow is post office and hiking on! To Canada!

CDT Day 8

 29ish miles (Silver City)
I’m awake I’m awake. I don’t know how my alarm manages to sound so insistent. I’m keen to get a wriggle on the rest of the 3 mile climb up burro peak so pack up and move along.
I enjoy the climb, the rock hopping, the views¬†to the desert below. It’s overcast so not too hot. The terrain changes with each step upwards.¬†The spikey stabby desert morphs into pine needle-y forest and I love it! Different plant smells waft in and out and I’m constantly taken back to the PCT where I first smelled all these smells. I hope that doesn’t continue, because¬†although I absolutely love the PCT and love being reminded of it, the CDT is its own special world and deserves its own memory triggers for the future. I’m also missing my trail family hard as I adjust to this solo hiking world I’m in.
Trees!
Trees!
I come around a corner and a big shaggy brown furry bum galumphs off in front of me. BEAR!!! She (he?) is so gorgeous! I yell out hello and watch for a good 15 seconds as she runs away further down the track. I just want a cuddle!!! My longest bear encounter yet.
I turn on my¬†music on my phone and set it to speaker so I don’t¬†startle any more bears coming around corners.
The water is off on a parallel track and I have to backtrack to find it. Officially the murkiest mankiest water so far. I grab 2L even though it smells like mud. Mmm nom nom.
Somehow I miss my trail turnoff, but¬†I hate backtracking so decide to be ‘clever’ and take the next turn off…bad idea.
I come to a fenced off private area where I thought there should be road access amd water. There is neither. No biggie…I’ll just follow the fence line cross country and meet up with the trail. Except the fence goes up and down and up and down and is generally a bazillion times harder tha backtracking .2miles would have been.
And then.
The fence is no longer next to me, it’s in front of me. This whole area is fenced off so I have to go back to the road I came from. Noooooo. About 2 miles wasted.
So I follow the fenceline and am cut off again by a barbed wire fence. Huh??? I didn’t enter any fences but somehow have ended up inside¬†the fenceline. I can see the road up ahead, and by now I am a pro at scrambling under barbed wire so I¬†smoosh my pack through the mini opening and¬†lay on my belly to scuttle through. I can hear an atv whirring behind me. Oh crap!!! There are ‘no trespassing’ signs all over so I hurry my butt up to get through and skedaddle before¬†it shows up.
I make it through and find myself on a dirt road. Yay a road! I happily march along, excited that I’ve got some kind of certainty to where I am headed instead of my cross country expedition.
Except I’m on the wrong road.
I’m missing a map and after a couple of miles I realise that my assumptions filling in the gaps of the missing map have been completely wrong. I’m walking a road running parallel north of the one I should¬†be on, that is about to dead end.
GAAAAAH. I try cross country for about half a mile then decide it is lunacy as the terrain is going all over the shop so I cut across to another road and finally know where¬†I am. It’s where¬†I would have been about 3h ago if I’d backtracked and taken the right road.
Ok. It is what it is. Now to march on with my dwindling water under the now-exposed sun.
Somehow¬†make it to the hwy where¬†I have a long road walk into Silver City. I decide I’ll walk as long as I can before light¬†disappears. It’s a speedy hwy and I have no intention of walking on the side of a 65mph road in the dark. My plan is to walk till light is fading, hitch into town, and slackpack the remainder in the morning.
My feet are screaming at me, ghosts of plantar fasciitus past, and I can only go an hour at a time before I need a 10 min break to elevate my feet.
Light is fading, the sky is thundering and I decide my time is up. I half-heartedly stick my thumb out for a hitch but no-one is having a bar. I think they can tell I would much rather finish the walk tonight and sleep in tomorrow. So I continue. And my feet scream but I keep telling them to think of all the sleeeeeeping. The sleeeping iiiiiin.
On the outskirts of town the houses and area is how you would expect the outskirts of town to be…a bit dodgy. But then the houses get nicer and nicer. They become gorgeous and the¬†perfume of flowers wafts across the humid night. I breathe it in and make my new CDT memories, of that hard day followed by that gorgeous humid night in that oh-so-pretty town of Silver City.
The Palace hotel is my choice of residence for the¬†night. I fall in carting my stink with me and am told the last room has gone. Nooooo. But miracle of miracles the latest guest comes down and says he doesn’t want the room. Hooray!
It’s the cheapest of cheap rooms, no private shower and no window but¬†I don’t care. The hotel¬†is from the 1830s and has so much character¬†I want to stay. And I also don’t want to walk to the other side of town!
Once in my room I drink water. And more water. And actually eat some things. And drink more water. Another miracle- my SPOT has been found and the finder has skipped up to Silver City because he is getting off trail, and it’s waiting for me at the visitor’s centre!

I can’t wait to explore the town tomorrow- it’s a zero for me and my grumpy feet ‚ėļ Some magic tablets to help make my feet happier and crampy muscles less crampy, earplugs in and


I faaaade far away to a land of waterfalls, lakes, and all the frozen drinks.

CDT Day 7

Day 7  117.8 (16.8) 7270ft
I wake throughout the night. I have a headache and my legs are cramping up. Not good.
I get up in the dark and start hiking. I am so sloooooow. My phone dings at me as I’d taken it off plane mode¬†and put the sound on the alert me when I have signal. It¬†does its usual go crazy thing. I post a message to see if anyone is behind me so they can keep an eye out for the SPOT,¬†I email the water report to update, and put¬†up a fb status so any friends who are following know I’m alive. This all takes too long!
Finally I find the windmill. There is a gross tub full that I am about to filter from, then check the comments on guthook for the water and find a tap under the windmill! Fresh flowing cold nectar of the gods!!! So happy. But sooo tired. Crap yesterday and dehydration really took it out of me.
I coordinate with an awesome friend to¬†post me a new¬†SPOT to Silver City (somehow SPOTs are hazardous and can’t ¬†be sent expedited by REI??), see more emails that need responding to and generally waste too¬†much time.
The trail is a marked trail now with signs¬†instead of long range sighting for posts and cross country hiking. I’m in a daze as it wanders up and down hills, seemingly going in circles but apparently going forward.
It’s hot again but there are trees. I stop often and try to jump start my motivation but I’m not feeling it. I realise I’ve only eaten a probar and bowl of cereal since I got up yesterday. No wonder I’m sleeeeepy. ¬†I don’t feel hungry and my stomach is still adjusting to the water so I just have small bits and pieces from my trail mix.
I find a spot to hide from the hottest part of the day and put my feet up. Next thing I¬†am opening my eyes and 30 minutes has passed. I don’t even remember deciding to nap!
Onwards onwards I force a bit more food in, stop to collect more water and finally arrive at the trailhead for the big climb up Burro Peak. I  was planning on heading up late afternoon to avoid the sun, but now some storm clouds have come in!
As I round the corner to head up the trail I’m confronted with epic trail magic!!! There are buckets hanging filled¬†with fruit, gallons of water, a case full of beer, soft drink and fruit juice and a bag filled with all kinds of snacks. Giant thanks to Trail Genie who set this up! I eat a banana and take a fruit juice and head on up.
Trail magic!
Trail magic!

 

Just as I’m wondering if I’ll make it before the storm a huge clap of thunder sounds behind me. Shite. Going up 1690ft in elevation with a storm is not the best idea. I have bad track record of trying to out hike storms so I contemplate staying with the trail magic but look at the elevation and there is a flat spot 2 miles up that should be good for camping.
I make it 2 miles with rain slowly dripping on me and see that there is actually another flat spot in another mile. Except as I’m about to commit another thunderclap sounds and I bail. Better to find a good campsite and set my tarp up well here.
I set up my tiny tarp for only the second time on trail and wonder if it will be big enough, strong enough if I hit a real storm… cross all the things. The storm doesn’t eventuate but rain pitter patters on and off as I eat food and do¬†all the night time things. Tomorrow¬†I will have all the energy back and stop doing baby miles. Hopefully.