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Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Wed 14 Aug, 2013 8:44 pm
by forest
Okay so I know this one is late but I've been a tad busy.
This is my usual long winded trip report, Cut me some slack though is it was a 10 day trip and there's a bit in there worth writing about.
Besides it will give me something to look back on and read when I'm old and unable to do this kind of thing, you know "when I was young" etc etc....

If you don't have the time to read it that's fine. I have attached pictures as well for a brief overview. Gees it's hard compressing 600 odd photos into a short list, then an even shortend list for this email.

Most of you are well aware that between the 16th and 25th June this year I walked the Larapinta Trail in the NT, solo.
West to East (Mt Sonder back to Alice Springs), approx 230km's. Officially the trail runs from Alice Springs out to Mt Sonder, But it's easier with food drops and logistics to walk from Mt Sonder back to town. Which is what I did.
Now I love my bushwalking but the main drive for me to complete this walk was related to my family history. The trail crosses some of the country first explored by John McDouall Stuart. As a JMD descendant there were some pretty special places out there to be. More about that later.

This was an epic trip to complete in 10 days but I loved every minute of it. Some might say that's rushing it (Most track notes and guides are for 20 days), for the main part I'd disagree but I guess it's walk your own walk. I travelled quickly in the open, easier sections and smashed out some massive 30 + km days. But I also slowed right down in some of the more remote tricky sections. I did however do this walk with a very light pack. Most days it would have hovered around 8 kgs with food and water. Even through the sections that were dry (no water) and dry camps at night the heaviest I would have lugged was only about 10-11kgs. Having a light pack made a massive difference in the trickier gorges, very rocky ridges and all those big old hills. I guess I sort of rock hopped my way through those bit's which with a lighter pack was achievable to some degree. I wouldn't have had a hope at all on those big distance days carrying 20-25kgs or in the rocky gorges/hills keeping any pace up.

People that think (Myself included initially) Alice Springs, desert, flat.... man that's a fail. It's more akin to NZ or the Aussie Alps, but red of course and no snow, so nothing like those two examples. Mmm I don't know how to explain that one. It's very not flat and has lots of big red rock hills and ridges. That'll do for the basic's, check the pictures, It's very hilly !! This trail had something like 5500m elevation gain to walk up and a similar measurement to walk down.

Most days I was up 45 minutes before first light doing the usual camp pack-up chores and having breakfast and a coffee. That meant I was off walking each day at first light (about 7am), sometimes a little earlier with a headlight for a short time. I had one early day starting to walk at 6:30am (day 3) but that was it. I would highly recommend this practice to anyone walking out there. Not for the more traditional reason of beating the heat. My reasoning was the ambient light, more specifically the dawn light on those awesome red rocks the center of Australia has. Those first rays of light (and last of an afternoon) on that country just lights it up. Through the middle of the day the West McDonnell Ranges are a timeless beauty, Dawn and dusk and it's just a humbling experience and I felt one of nature’s privileges to see such a sight. Even with the distances I walk each day I was in camp around 2-3pm so that gave me plenty of time to bum around and play with backpacking gear. It was dark around 6:30pm and other than a bit of reading it was off to bed nice and early. Some nights sleep was difficult, either from some niggling walking ache or more troubling was that massive full super moon. Man that thing was bright from about 8pm till around 4am when it dipped out of sight. In a cuben fibre tent (Techno talk for a plastic shopping bag like material but very strong) it was like sleeping with the lights on most of the time. The old beanie over the eyes trick worked most times but on the warmer nights I'd get too hot. I have never seen such brightness of a night. No torch was required for nightly toilet runs so that was a plus I guess.

Most of the places I camped were inspirational, however some of the main Larapinta campsites I found quite dull. Nothing hugely wrong with them if you like mulga bush, a pit toilet, water tank and some clear gaps for a tent. It's really worth getting up on those ridges to camp out there. Yeh you have to lug in water but the few times I did that it was well worth it.

People say this track is hard on shoes/boots and feet. Yep, I'll pay that. Wearing 300g trail runners (Inov 295's) was a fine thing on most days but sometimes on the really pointy rock constantly all day I would certainly feel my feet that evening, but talking to others in the camps who wore boots and they were no different. Long fast days are only for the hardened walkers in big heavy boots, Lighter footwear sure can make things easier on the legs. I would NOT attempt this walk in light runners though if your new to long distance walking with a pack on, stick to your boots, Runners would be murder on feet if you don't have a few years use with them in rough conditions. I have read a few reports of people needing emergency evac this year due to wearing runners and severely bruising their feet to the point they couldn't walk any more. I'd say my runners could do another pass or 2 at Larapinta but after that they would probably start to fail in some way. The soles and tread are a little cut up just after this walk, other than that wear though they are pretty good. I didn't have any issues with Spinifex penetrating the rubber soles like some suggested I would. It's more the constant pounding on rocks that's hard on feet and footwear. I was much more fortunate than many others I passed in the blister department. I started to get a small hot spot on day 3 on one heal but that never really eventuated. Some people had epic blisters up to 1" round !!.

About the track, what more can I say other than rock, rock and more rock. I lost count of the amount of times I scuffed my toes on stubborn rocks early on in the walk. Long to short would be rock vs foot, rock wins. I did get a bit wised up to that and after about day 4 and lost that habit, well not completely. Sadly some damage had already been done to several toe nails which promptly turned black and are in various stages of falling off as I write this. Mostly the trail is very well marked. I found even where the markers were not in sight and well spaced out a bit of a path could be spotted leading through the rocks which were a different colour due to being repeatedly trodden. There were a few false trails too but fortunately I was onto those most times within a few meters. The gorge walking is pretty much an arrow indicating the direction down the gorge. I mean how many choices does one have when both left and right is a 100m+ red rock cliff. They are slow to travel down for the most part. Enjoyable for the first few.... I'd say by about the time I left Standley Chasm (Day 8) I was pretty much over dry rock creeks and boulder filled gorges. I don't mean that in a hugely negative sense, go walk the track and I'm certain you will know what I mean.

Gear (techno talk so don't read unless you’re interested) My Zpacks Arc Blast 52 litre pack worked great out there, The vented mesh back panel was well worth it and kept me less sweaty. But I did have a issue with the carbon fibre frame stays cutting into the hip belt. No drama though and it's all fixed up now under warranty (it was a known design fault so I found out). The actual frame design carried the extra load on a few occasions I'd lug more water very comfortably, It's a great pack and the hybrid nylon/cuben fabric shows no sign of wear from all the sharp rocks etc. My Hexamid tarp/tent was perfect for the climate out there. It was good in the wind and kept me dry in the rain, the low 480g total weight was a plus too. My clothing both worn and carried all was more than adequate, wearing light coloured skins/ leggings was a great idea for the sun and the stopped all those indirect scratches from the Spinifex. A light weight long sleeve merino wool blended top was also a great idea to walk in as it didn't get too stinky and dried quickly of an afternoon once I stopped. I took a spare set of very light grid fleece pants and a long sleeve top for clean camp wear which I used most nights if I wasn't too hot. My down jacket (vest and sleeves) got worn as a vest most evenings and mornings, I think the sleeves only got used 3 times up high when it was extra cold. My head Buff got worn most mornings and on cold ridges to cover cold ears, Nights I wore my blackrock down beanie. Montbell Wind gear - I took a really light hooded wind shirt and pants, they were key items for me out there. Either just for breaks or walking on the cold windy ridges, I used my wind gear many times each day as it's just so much more breathable than a rain coat and pants. I did take a very light OR Helium II rain coat which I only used once, but when I needed it I needed it, I don't know if I'd leave rain gear at home like some have suggested. Sleeping bag, I took a 20°F overfilled quilt. I would take a lighter quilt if I did it again, I just didn't need the rating so cold, most nights I was too hot and would end up half out of it. I nearly took my lighter 30°F quilt before I left, I regretted not doing so as I could have just supplemented it on the few extra cold nights with clothing. Most nights were around the 2-8°C mark, a few occasions it dropped below 0°C but not many, it was more wind chill than actual air temp. My sleeping mat was a Exped UL downmat XS (torso length), it was great but a full length mat while slightly heavier would have been more comfortable over 10 nights, especially with sore feet on hard rocky ground with just a section of CCF mat under them. My cooker was a caldera cone tri fuel job, worked flawlessly in wood mode the whole trip. But I did obtain permission to use a wood fuel stove prior to the trip from the NT head ranger.

I didn't see the number of people out there on the actual trail I expected too. For some reason I thought there would be many more. I crossed paths with 3 guided groups of about 6-8 people on paid walking tours but as for fellow self supported walkers I probably only passed about 20 other people. 10 of those other walkers were all on Brinkley's Bluff so for the most part I was by myself. Anywhere you could get a car though there would be gray nomads or people on day trips out of Alice Springs. I had some interesting conversations with the people travelling in cars, mostly they knew about the Larapinta but some didn't and were amazed to hear about it.

Fortunately I managed to scrounge up 5 other people to share the transfer from Alice Springs to Redbank Gorge from a wonderful forum called Bushwalk Australia (BWA). To those guys and girls it was great to meet you and share a few days together at the start. For obvious reasons it was also much lighter on the pocket to spread the $500 transfer out between 6 people. It worked out really well as we all flew into Alice Springs on the Saturday afternoon and promptly did a little shopping and paid our refundable deposit for the food shed keys in the tourism center. At 2pm (okay it was 2:30, they were late) we were picked up by Glen Helen Resort who drove us out to the track start and in and out of the 3 sites we left food drops. We all set up camp and had a bit of a chat around the various tents spread along the dry river before the actual track and Redbank Gorge. Then it was just off to bed for an early start the next day for the actual walk.

Now for the daily walk notes and comments. I scribbled a bit down each night to jog my memory.

For this trip I have broken the report down to an email for each day, so 10 more emails to follow this one.

Like I said, It's a long report, Think of it as a journey.......

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Wed 14 Aug, 2013 8:45 pm
by forest
Day 1 - 27.6 km

Today the plan was to climb Mt Sonder for sunrise. The summit of Mt Sonder is the official finish of the Larapinta Trail. We (the BWA crew) were awoken at 3:30am by a rather loud guided group of walkers heading for the summit at dawn too. Surely the guides could tell them to be a bit quieter around the campsite as not everyone enjoys being woken up at that hour by loud comments like "oh look at those tents, snigger snigger". Anyway I had planned a 4:30am start but ended up leaving camp about 5:15am as I thought it best to pack up my tent and hang all my food and gear from a tree. We had been told that Redbank Gorge and Ormiston Gorge were the two worst spots for pesky dingo's unafraid of ripping tents for snacks and food. I must say for me the climb up Mt Sonder was pretty easy, but I was fresh on day 1 and have been training pretty hard for the last 6 months. I reached the summit 7km's from camp and 700m higher in 1:45. I think I was the last to leave camp and ended up the first to the summit. There was a great little congo line of headlamps ahead of me most of the way to catch up to. It's unlike me to be competitive too..... . It helped that the trail was easy to spot and pretty well trodden, also I only had day gear in the pack.

Dawn from Mt Sonder was an amazing start to the walk. As I commented before dawn out there really is a special thing. Amongst other things standing on a 1500m mountain gives you a pretty good idea of what's about (pun intended). Irrespective of which direction you looked there was something to see. The one thing that stood out more for me was the massive silhouetted shadow in the valley of the mountain that is cast. It just looked like this huge pyramid shadow covering the desert. All the surrounding range and peaks were also in view. I managed to find myself a nice little quite spot just down from the peak as within 15 minutes of arriving it filled up with the guided group and the other BWA walkers quickly around the pinnacle. It had been quite a warm night @ about 10°C but the summit while not freezing was definitely fresh in the slight breeze. Most people quickly rugged up in down jackets, gloves and hard shells. A few phones came out as there was Telstra service up there. Nice to call Katrina when I didn't expect reception until about day 4.

Nothing major to report on the return walk back to camp. Again I was probably the last to leave the summit after enjoying a good 1.5hrs up there but overtook a heap of people on the way down. I woofed down a bit of a hot brunch then wandered into Redbank Gorge for a quick look before heading off for Rocky Bar Gap which was this nights destination. Most of the walk to Rocky Bar Gap was shared with a few other BWA walkers, It was a pretty easy section but quite desolate as it looked to have been burned off last year. I was tempted to continue on to a dry campsite 4km's further called Hilltop Lookout but made myself stop as 27km's was far enough. No point in burning myself out on day 1. Once I arrived at Rocky Bar Gap I straight away noticed it was a pretty plain campsite. A quick wander down to the dry creek and then through the actual gap to the other side looking for a better spot and a great camping spot was found over there with excellent views of Mt Sonder from the East. Should be a great spot to capture the first rays of light on Mt Sonder. I waited around the water tank and passed the info onto the other BWA walkers and by 3pm there were 4 tents nestled in enjoying the views. It did rain on and off between 4-5pm but after that it stopped to give us some nice sunset photo's over Mt Sonder. A few dingoes could be heard way off in the distance howling just on dark and then it was off to bed. I did have a headache though, nothing unusual about that for me sadly when walking.

Day 2

PostPosted: Mon 19 Aug, 2013 6:49 pm
by forest
Day 2 - 23.3 km

There were showers most of the night. Woke early for the Mt Sonder sunrise photo's we were hoping for. Fail, Cloud cover low on the horizon. Stood on the rocky ridge above camp waiting, waiting. Nothing. Oh well. Very scenic day, that track was excellent. Bit of a bump up over hilltop lookout but even that was pretty good. Lots of sharp rock on the hill though. I caught Bellie (BWA member) at the lookout re-taping the soles of his boots back on (again). The tape was just getting shredded on the rocks. The Finke River was very lush and green. Had an interesting run in with a scrub bull standing on the track just before the river. Probably could have gone round him, nah not my style. He wasn't impressed when he realised I wanted to walk where he was eating lunch, lots of snorting and stamping. Great idea Nathan, No large trees within 100m, Images flashing through my head of me and this darn bull running round and round and round a small shrub till he tramples me. Ah good he's running off, ah no he's not, he's coming back. Nope he's just snorting at me now from 50m. Keep moving towards the river Nathan, that was dumb.

I arrived at the Finke River campsite in 3 hours from Rocky Bar Gap. I utilised the gas hotplates there in the solid shelter and brewed a quick coffee and soup for lunch before moving on 45 minutes later. Bellie caught me just as I was leaving. Poor bugger, he wandered into the shelter with his sole in his hand, literally. His boots finally quit on him with total delamination of the rubber sole from the leather upper, only on day 2. Man that must have sucked. He was positive though and being only 3.5km's from Glen Helen Resort in a good place to hopefully get back into Alice Springs, get new boots and get back on the track.

The walk from Finke River to Ormiston Gorge was very pretty with great views of the range and some nice dry rivers. Took me 1:40 from Finke River. Loved the hot shower at Ormiston Gorge, Just walked in clothes and all, great chance to clean some gear, No shower between here and the end 8 days away though. Had a great chat with the nice lady in the shop there. Ormiston Gorge itself is stunning, It's so hard to respect the scale of the place just looking at pictures but it's massive. It was a pretty social afternoon here for me chatting to the other walkers. Had a chance to me some other BWA members which were walking the opposite direction. Good chance to relax as tomorrow is going to be massive with a 5am start. I have a very sore big right toe tonight, I must have scuffed it 4 times today.

Apparently the night before a lady caught dingos dragging her 15kg pack down the campsite, must be careful of them here then. Dingos were in camp that night, *&%$#! things, gees they are game here. It's not that they make you nervous, it's just you don't want damaged gear and stolen food this early into the trip. No issues for me though luckily but they did flitter by the tent a few times in the moonlight.

Day 3

PostPosted: Mon 19 Aug, 2013 6:51 pm
by forest
Day 3 - 34.2 km

Darn it's 6am, plan was to be already well gone by now as I had slept through the alarm for 5am. Today's plan was to complete the 29km dry section between Ormiston Gorge and Serpentine Chalet Dam in one big day. It's normally a two day walk with a huge water carry (8+ litres) involved for the dry nights camp at Waterfall Gorge. Doing it in a day meant I only had to carry 4 litres. Hence the early start as from all reports it's a big effort for a single day. I quickly smashed some breakfast and coffee and I was off at 6:30. Only needed the headlamp for about 30 minutes before first light. Great sunrise with speckled clouds scattered in the sky.

Straight up the ridge and along to Giles Lookout, Rough walking, or more small bolder hopping for 8km's on the soccer ball sizes rocks that cover the ridge top, Hard on feet/ankles especially in runners. Great campsite up on the ridge halfway along, nice sheltered rock edge and some small trees, I'd recommend that to people over Waterfall Gorge. Fortunately I could again call Katrina, I didn't expect that and it was a big bonus to see how my girls were going at home so frequently early in the walk. The drop down from Giles Lookout to Waterfall Gorge in a word is treacherous. I have been on worse tracks/scrabbles elsewhere but it's hard not to be conscious that as a solo walker it's all on you not to stuff up. It's just a whole steep section of very loose rock switchbacks etc, Problem is if you easily tripped it's going to hurt, badly at the least. Not life threatening but enough to make you very conscious of all those sliding, moving sharp rocks your walking down on.

Waterfall Gorge was eh, okay. After a short stint over the ridge it's just a long walk up the large open valley to a small saddle, Then another open valley with the walk down to Pioneer Creek (which had some brackish water) and then into Inarlanga Pass. The pass was very pretty after all the red open valleys so I found a nice ledge and settled in for a short lunch. After the gorge it's just a straight forward trail to Serpentine Chalet Dam where I planned to camp the night. Well I had planned a long hard day and I'm not saying it wasn't hard but I arrived at Serpentine Chalet Dam around 1:30pm and just wasn't enthused by the campground. Or the weird fellow walker there complaining about the lack of any water at Waterfall Gorge and how he thought he would die from thirst, um it's a dry section, well and truly known publically and in all trail notes and maps. The scary thing was this guy was meeting a school group to lead them for a week trip at Ellery Creek in 2 days, Man I wouldn't want him looking after my children. Then he started asking me questions like I should hope it doesn't rain as I would get wet, what it is like eating cold food all the time. He just couldn't get it that I actually had a shelter and cook kit etc plus my gear in such a small pack, I still think he thought I was full of it and didn't believe a word I said. So I loaded up with water for the night/next morning and continued a further 5.6km's to Lomandra Gully and found a great spot just behind a natural rock spine for the night, great little campsite. Didn't plan to put in such a big day, But I felt good and the weather was great for walking. Anyway tomorrow should be heaps easier and I shaved some distance of that with my bigger day today. I'll sleep well tonight. I'm really starting to miss my girls though.

Day 4

PostPosted: Mon 19 Aug, 2013 6:54 pm
by forest
Day 4 - 21.6 km

First up in the morning was the short steep section from camp up to Counts Point. *&%$#! freezing on the exposed ridge top and I guess about 80km wind gusts, light drizzle. Full wind gear, beanie, shell gloves etc and still freezing even when on the move. I was colder than in the snow last year at 0°C all day on Barrington Tops. Ah I have to put up with this for the next 5km's. My world has changed from rocks crunching underfoot to wind gusts and flapping nylon, crunching rocks are much better IMO. On the upside I could call Katrina again, abet briefly in the conditions, I had to duck down into the rocks downwind for a little shelter. Once the decent started though off the ridge an hour later it was the strangest sensation to not have all that wind noise, felt kind of peaceful all of a sudden. Bam kicked a rock (again), that will teach me to not focus on foot placement. The drop down into Serpentine Gorge was straight forward, The gorge nice but the designated walker campsite nothing exciting at all, just a rocky clearing with a tank and food drop shed.

I didn't enjoy the walk between Serpentine Gorge and Ellery creek much at all. I know I was tired after the buffeting I received on the ridge but what's with the trail going up and down every insubstantial hill for the next 6kms. I mean the whole walk has no shortage of hills, why pointlessly run the track up then straight down every little bump when 250m to the right is a nice open valley system. The walk could have simply followed that to Ellery Creek with just a few small saddles to cross. In the end I just did that, I'd rather put up with the spinifex off trail than stupidly go up 50m, then down 50m only to repeat again and again for no point. It's a complete waste of energy with views only of lowlands which were pretty much unchanged for this section. (Rant over, Like I said, I was tired).

The food drop at Ellery Creek was a nice incentive though. MMM Tim Tams and Iced Coffee. Ellery Creek was nice but the day was still cold and overcast so I in no way felt like a swim there in the cold water. Oh well, that's why I packed wet wipes in each food drop. Tonight I'm just camped on an undercover platform in the caravan area, nice to not set-up the tent. Chatted to some friendly gray nomads interested in my walk, what I was eating etc.

Day 5

PostPosted: Mon 19 Aug, 2013 6:56 pm
by forest
Day 5 - 31.2 km.

It rained until about 2am, very nice to be under the shelter and have no wet tent this morning. Today's plan was for a shorter "rest" day only walking to Rocky Gully. From the notes the track isn't too hilly today as it just crosses a big wide valley from the Heavitree Range to the Chewings Range. Nice relaxed 8am departure from Ellery Creek and soon enough I was at Rocky Gully 3 hours later. The trail's easy today and I'm cranking out some good speed with minimal effort. Mmm 11am, I'd had 2 nice little breaks already, not tired, Pretty dull campsite, Ah stuff it. So I decided to have a hot lunch at Rocky Gully then load up with water and continue to Ghost Gum Flat 8.7 km away for the night. So I cranked up the wood cooker and made up a nice big coffee and soup, just as I mixed it all in my cups along wanders this old Kiwi man walking the trail solo too. Picture this, Middle of nowhere, mulga bush and small eucalyptus trees everywhere in a semi cleared camp area. In wanders old mate and amongst his cries of exhaustion half throws his massive 90ltr pack straight on the small tree I'm sitting next too. Well of course his pack instantly topples over and squashes my just made hot lunch, sprays food and *&%$#! all over my pack and gear. I will not write what I said but I think he got the idea I was far from impressed, It's not like food is free out here. He did offer me some canned fish of some type (WT *$&#), no thanks. I'm sure he was a nice man and just made a bad call on dumping his pack haphazardly on a tree next to me, but I don't have a huge patients for this kind of thing when solo walking. Anyway that concreted my decision to move to the next camp.

I left Rocky Gully about midday and again, easy walking, high speed for me. It only took me 1:20 to get to Ghost Gum Flat, Or should I say I hobbled into the campsite. Just before the campsite the trail crosses a dry sandy river bed, It's just a narrow footpad between the long river grass. Or so I thought. Midway across at full stride (those that know me means pretty quick) I kicked the mother of all half buried/hidden rocks. Bam, straight over headfirst into the sand. Not good, sand in mouth and lots of pain in right foot, Have I broken something on that stupid rock ??. I must have sat on the single camp platform at Ghost Gum Flat for about 45 minutes playing with my foot. It hurt like mad to do toe crunches, any flexing etc. I wasn't even paying attention to my now semi detached toenails as they kicked the rock first. I knew that there was 4x4 access to the Hugh Gorge campsite 7.2 km away and I also was thinking what might happen if I had broken something tonight/tomorrow morning once my foot had cooled down etc. So a few nurophen plus and some panadol for extra measure and I continued to Hugh Gorge, gingerly at first until the pain killers started working. 5 minutes later I remembered I had carried water into Ghost Gum Flat for the night’s dry camp, 2 litres I don't need now. So I tipped that out as it was 2kgs I needed not be carrying. No real issue with the foot now whilst walking and I can feel the effects of the codeine, again a easy walk to Hugh Gorge.

It's been great walking today meandering across this huge valley that joins the 2 ranges slowly watching the Chewings range get closer (and bigger) all day, at the far right I believe I have picked out Brinkley Bluff but I'm not 100% sure (it turned out I was correct). Around 3:30pm I arrived at the water tank and the start of Hugh Gorge. I nice couple had already just set-up near the tank and they commented about finding some nicer tent spots after they had already set-up about 500m into the Gorge. It was a obvious choice for me so up the Gorge I toddled and sure enough there was one of the nicest campsites I have had the privilege to spend a night in. Small, flat sandy raised bank just screaming "camp here". Soon after setting up, boiling water etc a few people from a guided walk start crunching through the Gorge below my tent. Gees they were a bunch of sooks complaining about walking all day (with a tiny day pack) and how far was it to their pick-up car at the end of the Gorge. Get real people, you’re on a walking tour, yes - you have to "walk". Not quite sure what they expected but I just politely smiled and pointed them down the Gorge. I did laugh though at the 2 guides which loved my Hexamid tent and who both rolled their eyes at a few of the clients. Luckily my foot was feeling heaps better by now and shortly after I climbed into bed to read my kindle for a while and wrote some track notes. Wow so much for my rest day, I have ended up covering 31km's but I feel it was a good section to do it on, pretty easy walking. I'd recommend that others do the same for this section if they are inclined to do the trail quickly. In my mind I picture now skipping the camp at Fringe Lilly Creek and continuing all the way to Brinkley Bluff tomorrow. Quickly that though is dropped as what's the rush. I'm already ahead of my 10 day plan and it will be nice to have a super short day tomorrow and enjoy Hugh Gorge at a relaxing pace.

Day 6

PostPosted: Mon 19 Aug, 2013 6:58 pm
by forest
Day 6 - 8.5 km

Last night I slept okay but needed some more pain killers about 2am to dull the ache in my foot. That *&%$#! super moon was so bright last night, it's like sleeping in the daytime under the sun, for a 12 hour stint. Lots of dew on my tent this morning and some light condensation inside for the first time on this trip. Also the shell of my quilt was damp. Today I very much enjoyed the leisurely walk up through Hugh Gorge. It's a very pretty place with those huge red rock cliffs and ridges either side of you. Reflecting on the long day yesterday and the shorter day today I'm positive I made the right call as I could explore the Gorge with no rush at all. Upper Hugh Gorge was great and it's one of those places that's just too hard for the mainstream tourists to get too. It was absolutely freezing in the final gap of the Gorge with an icy breeze that just cut through my sweat damp shirt. The walking up the Gorge is very slow going as there is no real trail, It's just a free for all boulder hopping anywhere that looks clear and easy.

I shared a nice morning tea with a couple from WA walking the track in the opposite direction. It was quite funny as the ladies plastic camp cup split when her husband poured hot water in it. I insisted that she take one of my wax paper cups as I had 2. She felt so bad that someone with a pack half the size of hers was giving her stuff. After smoko it was just the short steep stint up over a rocky saddle and then down to Fringe Lilly creek. The water holes at Fringe Lilly held a good amount of water but it didn't look that great to me with some oils etc floating on the top. Probably from people having a small wash in the pools. I double sterilise pilled all the water there just to be safe. Basically I just spent the afternoon reading, airing out gear and having a good "chucks" wipe over to clean as much red dust off me as I could. There was also a fresh fire scar in the campsite which was disappointing to see considering it's in an area open fires are band. A nice campfire would be nice though and there is no shortage of fuel but hey, thems the rules. The couple camped last night at Hugh Gorge wandered in late afternoon and set-up just down from me.

This would be my first night not using the tent, just sleeping under the stars. I picked a nice sheltered spot next to a large green Spinifex bush and constructed a little rock wall around my head to stop the breeze hitting me all night. One thing I'm learning out here is most nights it's calm until about 2am, then a breeze/wind kicks up for a few hours. Just on actual darkness I heard rocks tumbling down the ridge above camp, quickly pumping the power to full on my H31 headlamp and sure enough about 60m up the ridge in the rocks a lone dingo is sidling around the hill. Wait a minute, (insert swear words) just on the other side of my protective Spinifex bush (which by now is looking rather small) two pairs of illuminated eyes stair back at me. *&%$#! hell there are two dingo's 1.5m away in camp and I hadn't even heard them. Sneaky buggers eh, Oh well they were soon seen on their way with few shouts and rocks thrown for good measure. I didn't want them back in the night while I was asleep. Mmm is this cowboy camping idea such a good one after all.

Day 7

PostPosted: Mon 19 Aug, 2013 7:01 pm
by forest
Day 7 - 16.4 km

Up early this morning (6:30am) as the plan was to be climbing razorback ridge for sunrise. The view was great along the ranges in that dawn light, the climb up the ridge steep but not all that bad. I had thought it would be worse than it was going off track notes and I was slightly disappointed it wasn't that hard. The trail that drops down to Spencer Gorge on the other hand would be a *&%$#! to climb up. It's just a narrow, steep, mini gorge kind of thing with plenty of large boulders to shuffle down. There is no real option for different routes, It's just straight down and I was glad not to be climbing up it. Spencer Gorge was nice but again slow going, this particular gorge has lots of fallen timber and spiky shrubs everywhere in the mix of boulders large and small.

The walk into Birthday Waterhole is taxing in all that soft river sand but pretty all the same. I had a nice hot lunch there in the soft sand and again, another fresh fire scar was evident. Walk time from Fringe Lilly was 3:15.

Now I was really getting excited as the next few features on the walk just up the trail were the main reason I was out there, Stuarts Pass and Brinkley Bluff. For those that don't know my family on my father’s side are "McDouall Stuarts". John McDouall Stuart led the first successful expedition to traverse the Australian mainland in the 1860's from south to north and return.

Stuarts Pass was a key point in his exploration as it enabled him to get through the McDonnell Ranges. I could be wrong but I believe I am the first "McDouall Stuart to go to Stuarts Pass, Even if that is not the case I would be lying to say it wasn't an emotional place for me to be. The whole way walking from Birthday Waterhole I was starting to well up knowing what's just around the corner, Come on Nathan, get a grip, you’re a man, harden up princess. Upon sighting the Stuarts Pass sign I wouldn't say I cried but I was very wet eyed and emotional with pride, I have never been to a location with such family significance as this (I need to travel more I know). Yeh yeh it's just a sign but to me it was so much more. How those early explorers endured what they did is beyond me completely. Brave men they all were, to be directly related to one such person is humbling standing in Stuarts Pass.

Anyway enough sooky stuff (for now) as I have a hill to climb directly above the pass called Brinkley Bluff. This is another of many places in the area named by John McDouall Stuart during his explorations. Regarding Stuarts journal (which I was reading on the walk each night) the section on Brinkley Bluff reads "Friday, 13th April, 1860, Brinkley Bluff, McDonnell Range. At sunrise I ascended the bluff, which is the most difficult hill I have ever climbed; it took me an hour and a half to reach the top. It is very high, and is composed principally of igneous rock, with a little ironstone, much the same as the ranges down the country". Well he sure wasn't wrong about the climb, I'm not sure on his route but if he went straight up the bluff from the pass that must have been very difficult. The Larapinta trail winds its way around the hill before dropping into a steep gully then straight up for the last section, I know I was fairly well puffed out when I reached the top. It was very warm too on all the rock climbing the track which didn't help.

Once at the top the 360° views just smack you straight in the face, literally. One minute your puffing away on the steep climb, the next you just pop straight out on the top. A group of Sunshine Coast walkers had claimed the few tent sites straight under the large rock cairn. I followed my friends directions that walked the trail last year and about 75m further along the ridge towards Standley Chasm there are a few nice sheltered spots in amongst some low shrubs and Spinifex bush. Tonight I would also cowboy camp with no tent. I was fortunate enough to have great phone service again and made a few phone calls to friends and family to report in where I was and how I was travelling. Sneakily I also called Tiger Airways and moved my flight home a day early to surprise Katrina as it was at this point I knew I would finish on my planned date and didn't require the "extra" day in Alice Springs. At the rock cairn marking the top of Brinkley Bluff there is a kind of visitors book marked "Galactic Mail". So I though I better write a fitting entry to my visit. It read "Today I, Nathan John McDouall Stuart stand atop the hill named 153 years ago "Brinkley Bluff" by my great grand uncle John McDouall Stuart. It is an amazing feeling to be here and the views are epic". Kind of corny I know but a was approached by the walking club camped up there questioning my claim with interest in the history of it. I don't have much else to report and I'll let the pictures I took speak for themselves of the views and perfect conditions that afternoon and evening, No one would get sick of spending time in a place like this, with these views. For me camping on Brinkley Bluff would be the biggest highlight of the trip. Stupidly the Sunshine Coast walking club made a bonfire that night, at least I know now who it was leaving fire scars along the trail. Very irresponsible of them and I would expect more from an organised club walk.

Day 8

PostPosted: Mon 19 Aug, 2013 7:05 pm
by forest
Day 8 - 24.1 km

Last night around 2am the winds really kicked up. I was sheltered between the bushes but still it was very gusty, I did get some decent sleep but it was scattered sleep once the winds blew up. The dawn and sunrise views were just as spectacular as the sunset the day before. I ate my breakfast before first light then just spent the next hour watching things illuminate with the vast orange glow. I also took some great photo's from the Western end of the bluff down over Stuart Pass and just like Mt Sonder there was a perfect pyramid silhouette of the Brinkley Bluff in the valley. I shouldn't snicker but some of the campers up right next to the rock cairn in the exposed sites had very flat tents in the morning, collapsed poles etc. It's a slightly amusing sight to see people emerge still drowsy from a miserable night amongst a pile of nylon and tent poles. Thanks to my friends that made me aware of the shelters sites just down the ridge.

I was mostly packed up anyway so once the dawn light was fully diminished and the sun was up proper I donned the pack and tottled down the 10 km to Standley Chasm in 2:15. Once there I raided my food drop and ordered from the kiosk the most deciduous piece of lemon pie complete with 2 huge scoops of vanilla ice-cream, washed down with a tub of mango ice-cream. Yeh okay I lashed out, give me a break, this was real "fresh" food and I always crave fresh dairy on a bushwalk. The walk along to the actual Standley Chasm is a real tourist trap complete with electrically pumped flowing stream, but it looks nice and the masses would just think it's a pretty place. Just before the chasm along looms the Larapinta marker pointing straight up the rocky hillside to what I could only relate to as the "stairway to doom". After all that junk food in the kiosk it was a hard slog up and down those first few ridges that’s for sure. It is scenic though and so is the whole walk to Jay Creek. It took me 3:20 to Jay Creek but I was stuffed when I arrived.

One thing I will note is the difficulty grading on this section. It's only down as a "hard" and IMO it should be "very hard". Compared to the other very hard sections I couldn't see why this was graded less and there are some quite trickly little scrambles down dry waterfalls etc. Oh and there is no shortage of dry rocky creek walking and sparse trail marking. By the time I arrived at Jay Creek I was over it and glad to arrive (I took the "low" route too). Today sure had been tougher than expected and mostly due to the later section between Standley and Jay Creek. At the hard shelter I finally caught up with Bellie (The guy who's boot lost the sole at Finke River) He had managed to get back into town, get new boots and return to the trail at Ellery Creek the next day. He missed about 75km of the trail but good on him as it was a massive effort to return so quickly. Bellie did have some epic blisters though from his replacement boots, I will not post pictures but they were measured in inches so not good. I'd slowly caught him over the past 3 days. It was nice to spend the evening in camp sharing stories with a "known" person for once other that being alone.

Day 9

PostPosted: Mon 19 Aug, 2013 7:06 pm
by forest
Day 9 - 34.8 km

Best night sleep yet in the hard shelter, I was told the wind kicked up a storm around 2am (as usual) but I haven't heard a thing. Slept solid from 7:30pm to 6:30am. That's something this new father hasn't done in oh, I guess 10 months now...... I left Jay Creek at 7:15am and the walk to Mulga camp (arrived 9am) was okay but I knew all the bigger elevated mountain scenic stuff was behind me so that's fine. Quickly filled up on H2O and I continued on to Simpsons Gap arriving right on 12 midday. I had a nice relaxing lunch there for about an hour, chatted to some nice travellers interested in what this dirty, smelly backpack carrying person might be up to. I also spotted the most outrageous pair of shoes on a Japanese tourist, I just have to get me some. You should have seen these things, I swear next walk I have to wear some, I'd be so much faster. They had WINGS on them, no joke. I'll attach a picture, quite a sight to see in the middle of Australia.

My plan was to spend the night here at Simpsons Gap but I was feeling fine and it was only early. So again I continued onto Wallaby Gap for the night, arriving at 3pm. I chatted to Katrina most of the way into Wallaby Gap on the phone, Nice to have decent phone service and the time for a decent run down on home life while I've been away. I'm really starting to look forward to surprising my girls on Wednesday with my day earlier arrival. Today has been easy walking all day, well easy compared to the last 8 days. It's looking like rain again tonight and I just put my ground sheet down under the little roofed sitting shelter there. Three nice VIC teachers wandered into camp around 4pm and this was night 1 for their walk in the opposite direction. I think they thought me mad for walking this track in the speed I have but I can live with that. I'm telling them I think it will rain but they assure me whilst setting up under the stars it's not forecast to rain for another 2 days.

Day 10

PostPosted: Mon 19 Aug, 2013 7:09 pm
by forest
Day 10 - 13.5 km

Well it did rain last night around 1am, so the VIC teachers shuffled under the small roofed sitting area keeping me awake for about half an hour, I hope they didn't get too much wet gear on night 1 of their walk. They surprisingly stayed up playing some type of game until about 10:30pm (That's late for Larapinta walkers), I can't say they would have been impressed with me getting up at 6am and waking them all up whilst I packed up. Oh well, no hard feelings guys but I did suggest it could rain.

I walked out of camp under headlight straight up to Euro Ridge above Wallaby Gap for my last sunrise. It was fantastic with scattered clouds and all the lights could be clearly seen in Alice Springs. It was nice and fresh though in the early morning and breeze. Plenty more pictures and then it was just the walk straight into town right......wrong. For some reason (probably fair) the walk kind of loops around Alice Springs and finishes at the Telegraph Station. No big deal but there were plenty of little hills and it's frustrating to be so close to town and not the end of the walk. But then end did arrive soon enough. At 10:00am on my 10th day walking I wandered into the last trailhead at the Telegraph station. All done, all finished, all completed.

Would / will I do it again, you betcha. This time in the opposite direction, probably from Standley Chasm to Mt Sonder.

Until my next adventure.

Kind Regards


P.S - If anyone has specific questions on the trail or gear used I'm more than happy to pass infomation on. There seems to be plenty of info out there for 14-20 day Larapinta walks but little about the faster paced people if your that way inclined. I hope some others might find this information useful.

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Mon 19 Aug, 2013 7:22 pm
Awesome mate!,
Love you style, and LOVE your gear - Z-Packs, and your quilt etc.
I can't wait to do this hike.
More photos! - Pleeeeeease.
What a great read and you took really good photos, well done made, nice one to tick of the list!.
Next: Thru hike AAWT!

Re: Day 10

PostPosted: Mon 19 Aug, 2013 9:18 pm
by dplanet
forest wrote:Day 10 - 13.5 km

Would / will I do it again, you betcha. This time in the opposite direction, probably from Standley Chasm to Mt Sonder.

Until my next adventure.

Kind Regards


P.S - If anyone has specific questions on the trail or gear used I'm more than happy to pass infomation on. There seems to be plenty of info out there for 14-20 day Larapinta walks but little about the faster paced people if your that way inclined. I hope some others might find this information useful.

Some great photos there. Will read when having a chance. Here is mine viewtopic.php?f=40&t=13716

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 20 Aug, 2013 7:33 am
by photohiker
Really good report, forest!

I think you've just managed to push the Larapinta up my list :)

Were you using a sleeping pad in your cowboy camp??


I agree, more photos please.

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 20 Aug, 2013 7:39 am
by forest
photohiker wrote:Were you using a sleeping pad in your cowboy camp??

Thanks photohiker, Yes I was using a exped UL downmat XS. Just straight onto the 1.0oz/yd cuben fibre bath tube groundsheet from my Hexamid.
I have to honestly say I expected holes in the cuben from all the sharp rocks and twisting / sitting straight on the material. Nothing, not even a pin prick. From what I'm discovering cuben (1.0 and up) is a lot more durable that some would lead you to believe.

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 20 Aug, 2013 7:41 am
by ULWalkingPhil
Excellent trip report forest.

Love the images. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 20 Aug, 2013 9:14 am
by neilmny
Great report and pictures Nathan, thanks for posting.

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 20 Aug, 2013 10:34 am
by Nuts
Yeah, good report, i've only read in parts but well done.
We're trying to do something about copied image links which should make sorting out the posts a bit less messy. Stay Tuned.
I like the cowboy camping, you must be a hard man- too many serpents active in winter for me :)

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 20 Aug, 2013 11:06 am
by GPSGuided
Nice and interesting report! I really felt sorry for Bellie and wondered how he managed to walk out without one sole?

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 20 Aug, 2013 4:33 pm
by Lizzy
Congrats & thanks for the report :)

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 15 Oct, 2013 12:07 pm
by Onestepmore
Great report Forest.
Thanks for making the effort to keep such good notes and the photos add a lot to the atmosphere. The gorges with water pools look very inviting.

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 15 Oct, 2013 6:10 pm
by icefest
That shirt is making me cringe :S

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 15 Oct, 2013 6:42 pm
by forest
icefest wrote:That shirt is making me cringe :S

Hey I "washed" it the day before, I thought it was super clean :roll:
I passed people that I smelt I'm certain before they smelt me :oops:
What's the point in a glorified trip report without the true images to match. At least my pack straps covered the main stains.
Seriously I soon realised that the wool blend is a golden item out there.

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 15 Oct, 2013 7:09 pm
by icefest
No judgement, I'm sure I'd look the same.

I cringe at my own face when I have not shaved for 5 days let a lone 2 weeks.

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Tue 15 Oct, 2013 9:22 pm
by eggs
That's not a sweaty shirt - mine gets caked in a white layer.

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Sun 03 Nov, 2013 1:51 pm
by north-north-west
I hate to be pedantic about this, but the Serpentine Chalet Dam - Ormiston section is not waterless, as there is always water at Inarlanga. Not always a lot, but it's there and drinkable.
icefest wrote:That shirt is making me cringe :S

You should have seen (or smelled) my socks. The whole of the Larapinta (plus sidetrips and backtracking, total distance approx 450km) on one pair of Injinji socks.

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Sun 03 Nov, 2013 2:17 pm
by forest
Fair call NNW. It's a very pretty spot in there. Your trip sounds great. Would love to have that kind of time out there.
Go the injini socks. Its what I roll in too.

Re: Larapinta Trail 2013 Report, 10 Days, UL Style.

PostPosted: Sun 03 Nov, 2013 3:06 pm
by north-north-west
Would / will I do it again, you betcha. This time in the opposite direction, probably from Standley Chasm to Mt Sonder.

I'd love to do it again the way the Chapmen did - starting with a return trip to Zeil.

I walked out from Redbank to Glen Helen as I figured it'd be easier to get a ride there. Second car I saw stopped, took me to the Ormiston turnoff, and the bus driver just coming out gave me a free ride all the rest of the way. Seems as though things haven't changed much in that respect - most people will stop for a single hitcher out that way. So there's not that much of a transport issue in going east to west except for the food drops.
Even with all the sidetrips and a couple of short days due to wanting to camp in particular spots, it was only 11 1/2 days walking to Rwetyepme, and I wasn't trying to go fast. A genuine ULer could easily do it in a week. I'd have liked to have had more time at Standley, but it was full of people. By then my 'personal' space had expanded to about as far as I could see . . .