The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to East

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The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to East

Postby MatrimRivers » Mon 30 Jul, 2018 8:43 pm

What: The Larapinta Trail
Distance: 231km
Time: 10 Days (23.1km/day)
Where: The West MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory.
- Eastern terminus is the Old Telegraph Station in Alice Springs
- Western terminus is Redbank Gorge in the middle of nowhere
Route: I hiked eastbound from Redbank Gorge to Alice Springs
Group size: I hiked solo
When: May 2018

After months of planning, years of dreaming and countless paid hours researching, I finally completed my first thru hike in May this year. The Larapinta Trail traverses The West MacDonnell Ranges in Australia’s Northern Territory for 231km across dramatic mountains, desert valleys and ancient gorges. With the eastern terminus situated in the town of Alice Springs, the Larapinta Trail is easy to access while still venturing into remote Australian outback.

In the flat expanse of the Australian red centre, you wouldn’t expect to be able to hike up mountains and receive sweeping 360 degree views of the landscape around you. Yet for 10 days, I followed the trail up and down mountain ridges, rewarded at each peak with scenes unique to this part of the world.

Highlights of the Larapinta Trail included hiking under a blanket of stars for sunrise on Mt Sonder (the highest point of the trail), Counts Point lookout, Hugh Gorge, Razorback Ridge and the many waterhole oases flourishing with plant and animal life.

Winter is the only practical and safe time to hike the trail, with July being the busiest month. When I hiked in May, temperatures ranged between about 25℃ during the day, to close to 0℃ at night. The ferocious wind on top of the mountain ridges brought that temperature much lower at times.

There are three resupply points along the trail where hikers can place food into a hiker specific lock up room. Additionally, there are water tanks maintained by the National Park at every official campsite. These are located an average of 14.4km apart, with the longest stretch between tanks being 28.6km. These two factors made planning logistics much easier and meant that at most I only had to carry 3 days worth of food and 1 day worth of water. I had a water carrying capacity of 5.6L and only filled it once for the long section between tanks, yet I arrived at the next tank with 2L of water still.

My base weight was 5.2kg and was pretty much perfect. My only wish was that I had a full length sleeping mat and that I threw in my down puffy for a little extra warmth. Two times I was extremely cold, waiting for the sun to rise on Mt Sonder and watching the sun set on Brinkley Bluff. Both times I had all my clothes on plus my rain jacket to break the wind. On Mt Sonder I even wrapped my quilt around me and was still frozen. The wind on the Larapinta is brutal.

Gear Specifics
What worked
There are three big heroes of my gear for this trip. My Superior Wilderness Designs cuben 35L frameless pack, my Gossamer Gear ‘The One’ and my Patagonia R1 grid fleece hoodie.

My SWD cuben 35L frameless pack is my dream pack. At only 356 grams, it has more than enough volume, is extremely comfortable and is customised exactly how I want it. Putting this thing on everyday was like putting on your favourite pair of well worn boots.

I was anxious going into the trail with the Gossamer Gear ‘The One’. The ground on the Larapinta is notoriously hard, with sharp angular rocks. I was worried that not being freestanding, I wouldn’t be able to set it up and that if I did, the rocks would cut holes in the bathtub floor. I ended up taking a tyvek groundsheet and made good use of deadman anchors on multiple nights where the ground was too hard, or too soft in the sand of a dry riverbed. In addition, I had some brutally windy nights but the slightly outward tilt of the hiking poles gives the tent great structural rigidity.

I thought the hype around micro-grid fleeces was completely overblown,bBut then I bought the Patagonia R1 and it quickly became my favourite piece of clothing. It keeps you warm when it’s cold but still breathes well so you can wear it while hiking without overheating. It has thumb holes and a snug hood. Great piece of gear.

What didn’t work
NeoAir Xlite small. I bought the small for weekend hikes where I want to keep my base weight around 3-4kg. And for a one or two night trip in summer, it works perfectly. However the torso length mat didn’t give me nearly enough insulation in these colder conditions or enough comfort over 10 nights. Having my legs hang lower than my body put a lot of discomfort into my hips. Additionally, I am not a fan of the horizontal baffles of the NeoAir. I find that when you shift your weight, the air moves to the other side of the baffle and almost rolls you off the mat. I much prefer the vertical baffles of the Exped mats which virtually cradle you.

Conclusion/ TL;DR
The Larapinta Trail is a challenging and thoroughly rewarding hike through some of the most unique, dramatic and spectacular Australian terrain. If you live in Australia, you should definitely make the Larapinta Trail a top priority. Even if you don’t live in Australia, add it to your list. I'll also be happy to help answer any questions you may have in planning your own Larapinta adventure.

For photos and more info on the day to day details of the trail or for a more indepth look at planning the logistics of the trail, please feel free to check out my posts at Amongst the Trees.
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby ribuck » Tue 31 Jul, 2018 5:16 am

What a great writeup! I enjoyed reading your gear specifics and your blog posts too.

I'm impressed by your packing list. I have to get my base weight down. Mine was 11kg. My backpack alone was 2.2kg :(
My packing list: https://lighterpack.com/r/a58owe

I was heading east to west, and passed you on 14 May between Finke River and Ormiston Gorge. With your small pack, I assumed you were doing a day trip. I also spoke to Nadine and Theo (who recognised me from a photo I had posted on this forum), and I shared Ormiston Gorge campsite with the group with the guitar.

I'd be interested to hear about how you managed with "cold soak" and what you ate.
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby MatrimRivers » Tue 31 Jul, 2018 7:33 am

Hi ribuck,

Thank you for the kind words.

I read a few of your posts before I started and Nadine and Theo mentioned passing you, but at the time I didn't recognise you. Was it just as you were going up and I was going down that high point between Finke and Ormiston?

Haha A lot of people assume I am day hiking with my pack. What solar charger did you use and did you like it? I'm hiking the Bibbulmun in September and thinking of taking one to charge my powerbank between towns.

Cold soak was fine for me. I know it's certainly not for everyone but I really don't mind it. I cook a beef chilli and dehydrate it, as well and rice cooked in a beef stock (for a few extra calories) and dehydrate that too. Rice needs to start cold soaking a few hours before meal time and then chilli goes in about 30-60 minutes before eating. The chilli powder makes the meal feel hot, which is good enough for me. I ate this 6 nights on the Larapinta I think, which is fairly boring I know, but I haven't gone insane yet eating the same thing everyday haha.
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby ofuros » Tue 31 Jul, 2018 7:58 am

Enjoyed your blog post & pre/post trip details...thanks for sharing, MatrimRivers.
Mountains view are good for my soul...& getting to them is good for my waistline !
https://ofuros.exposure.co/
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby MatrimRivers » Tue 31 Jul, 2018 8:25 am

ofuros wrote:Enjoyed your blog post & pre/post trip details...thanks for sharing, MatrimRivers.


Hey, no problem ofuros. I'm glad you enjoyed them and thanks for reading!
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby ribuck » Tue 31 Jul, 2018 8:05 pm

MatrimRivers wrote:Was it just as you were going up and I was going down that high point between Finke and Ormiston?

Yep that's the spot. Nadine and Theo were half an hour behind you.

MatrimRivers wrote:What solar charger did you use and did you like it?

I used this 5 Watt solar charger:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01D9MCBQQ/

It was perfect for the Larapinta, where my powerbank was always charged up by lunchtime. I also used it for the Great North Walk in March, and when I encountered four consecutive days without sun it didn't generate enough power to get everything back to 100%, so I turned off track logging on my phone until the sun came out again. If I was doing the Bibbulmun, I would take the same charger.

The solar charger provides a weight saving compared to taking a 10000 mAh powerbank and a charger (308g). My solar charger weighs 162g (plus a 20g protective bag), but with daily charging I only need a small powerbank (3350mAh at 78 grams) for a total of 260g.

You could also consider the foldable 10 Watt version:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01DZN5Z9E/
which claims to be 181 grams despite being double the size because it's on a really thin substrate. I passed a guy with one of these at Rocky Bar Gap.

MatrimRivers wrote:Rice needs to start cold soaking a few hours before meal time...

That's OK, because you can rehydrate at camp. Some cold soakers carry the wet food all day, which defeats the purpose because it adds as much weight as a stove and fuel. And I wouldn't want to use something like the Gossamer Gear "crotch pot" :)
https://www.gossamergear.com/products/the-crotch-pot
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby MatrimRivers » Wed 01 Aug, 2018 8:50 am

I used this 5 Watt solar charger:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01D9MCBQQ/

Ah nice, this is the sort of thing I was looking at the other day. That one doesn't ship to Australia but I found some similar ones om Aliexpress that did. I will definitely get one and give it a try. Not too worried about the bibb as the longest section between towns is only about a week, so my powerbank should suffice, but I'll hopefully be hiking the Australian Alps Walking Track later this year and that could be weeks between power outlets so it'd be good to have a reliable solar option.

How did you like the Great North Walk? My brother and I are section hiking it now. Just 88km to Newcastle left. So far there have been some amazing sections and some... less amazing sections haha. I worry that the bibb will be mostly covered like the GNW and therefore the solar will only trickle charge throughout the day, unlike the Larapinta where you are 24/7 exposed.

That's OK, because you can rehydrate at camp. Some cold soakers carry the wet food all day, which defeats the purpose because it adds as much weight as a stove and fuel.

Definitely does. I would typically start re-hydrating the rice at the last water tank before where I intended to camp. This means I'm not carrying that water weight earlier in the day/days prior. But also means it will be ready to eat by the time I get camp set up.

And I wouldn't want to use something like the Gossamer Gear "crotch pot" :)

hahaha definitely not. I would love to see what their sales are like for those. When I first saw it, I thought for sure it was a joke, Now I'm not too sure.
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby ribuck » Thu 02 Aug, 2018 6:56 pm

MatrimRivers wrote:
How did you like the Great North Walk? ... Just 88km to Newcastle left. So far there have been some amazing sections and some... less amazing sections

I'd been intending to walk the GNW ever since it came into existence. I'm glad I've now done it, and I enjoyed most of it (although leeches were a big problem). But I don't think I'll do it again. Hardly anyone ever does, whereas lots of people who walk the Larapinta come back and do it again.

Regarding our earlier discussion about solar panels, there is a post in the Larapinta Facebook group by someone who's on the trail now, stating that most of the shelters have been outfitted with solar panels, with USB outlets in the storage cabinets. Fantastic news if true, though I don't suggest anyone leaves their solar panel or battery pack at home until another person confirms it.
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby MatrimRivers » Fri 03 Aug, 2018 8:26 am

I think there are sections of the GNW I would do again but otherwise, I agree. It's a one time type thing.

someone who's on the trail now, stating that most of the shelters have been outfitted with solar panels, with USB outlets in the storage cabinets.

Well that's very interesting, I wonder if that's new since we were there or if we just didn't notice? Admittedly, I never stayed in a shelter and didn't look in the cabinets, so I really have no idea haha
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby ChrisJHC » Fri 03 Aug, 2018 6:19 pm

Quick question:

I’m planning to do this hike in June next year, but I’m keen on using a hammock rather than a tent.

The main requirement is two trees around 5 to 8 metres apart with clear space in between. The ground can be rocky, sloping, etc

I know there will be some sites (eg Brinkley Bluff) that probably won’t have trees, but what about the rest?

I can handle the odd night lying on the ground with the rocks, spiders, ants etc :) but would rather have a great night’s sleep the rest of the time.
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby ribuck » Sat 04 Aug, 2018 2:28 am

ChrisJHC wrote:I’m planning to do this hike in June next year, but I’m keen on using a hammock rather than a tent.

There are certainly people who do the trail successfully using a hammock, but your choice of campsites will be limited. Most riverbeds should have suitable ghost gums, but much of the vegetation elsewhere is small trees with thin trunks (or just bushes). If you start looking for a suitable campsite WELL in advance, I think you will be fine.
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby ChrisJHC » Sat 04 Aug, 2018 8:41 am

Thanks!
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Re: The Larapinta Trail trip report -10 days, solo, West to

Postby MatrimRivers » Sat 04 Aug, 2018 8:44 am

I’m planning to do this hike in June next year, but I’m keen on using a hammock rather than a tent.


I think it will be pretty hard. You may end up having more nights on the ground/in a shelter than in your hammock. Most trees are just weak shrubs and where you do find the occasional gum, there might not be another gum nearby.

Good luck!
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