Ok, I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty sure I broke myself walking the Larapinta. For those of you who are avidly following my journey (…and why would you not be?), you will recall that in pursuit of my ‘Life is Too Short’ Lust List of a yearly adventure and challenge, this year I chose to hike the Larapinta trail in central Australia.
The trail is deservedly gaining an international reputation as being truly spectacular and decidedly hard core, and with a walking season of around only 5 months it can book out years in advance. In fact, at the time of first looking to book my trek (Boxing Day 2021) the entire 2022 season was sold out. However, with an almost alarming degree of synchronicity, 3 days later as I googled the trek again, two spots suddenly appeared for May 2022 to walk the ‘Super Six’, a trek rated as ‘Epic’.
Call me naive. Please do. But I jumped.
It has been a week since I returned from the Epic trek and without question the experience was 10,000 times harder than I imagined it could be – physically, emotionally and mentally – I’m pitching it as a cross between Survivor meets SAS meets The Hunger Games.
In retrospect, perhaps I could have paid closer attention to the details as advertised on the trek website. Certainly as I double check the website today, it absolutely and very clearly contains sentences such as:
The Super 6 Day Larapinta Trail trek offers walkers the chance to really challenge themselves tackling the six hardest (and most spectacular) sections of the Larapinta Trail…
This is not a trek for the faint hearted…
Or this little chestnut:
The trek involves challenging to very challenging walking between 7 to 12 hours each day, across very rocky terrain and ridge lines, with steep ascents and descents.
But here’s the thing. Just like being pregnant and considering my brain before childbirth (hopeful, naive), during childbirth (WTAF?) and after childbirth (well, there you go, that wasn’t so bad after all, and look what I have now and I’m so full of happy hormones and drugs that I can’t think straight but that was bloody awesome…) – the more time that passes since the hike, the more value I seem to be gaining from the experience.
I am calling this ’latent enjoyment’.
Day One – Section 3 Jay Creek to Standley Chasm
The flight to Alice Springs is only half full and there are two distinct categories of passenger – Bear Grylls type folk with big beards, bandanas, and well-worn day packs: and us. I push my brand new, very clean designer day pack under the seat in front of me and try to blend in with the crowd.
We are up bright and early to be collected from our Alice Springs hotel at 6.30am by our 2 guides and immediately introduced to our 6 fellow hikers. Everyone is extremely lovely, friendly, and look super fit and I am just hoping like hell that I don’t get voted off the island first.
The Larapinta trail is rocky. Very rocky. Pretty much 85% of what you walk on, look at, sit on, scramble up, trip over and fall on is….rock. The rocks are spectacular and amongst the oldest on earth at old 2000 million years old.
Being completely awesome, innocent, and full of day one energy, we elect as a group to walk the ‘High route’ as opposed to the ‘Low route’, which involves a steep rocky climb to a panoramic lookout that sees us scaling boulders like rock monkeys and, ummm, shouldn’t we maybe have like ropes and stuff for this?
Of course about 30 minutes in I manage one pretty graceless fall (seriously, why am I the first to fall because now I can see a big target on my back at the voting ceremony tonight), but then luckily my hiking buddy falls over too and as I feel that we come as a package deal I am pretty sure they can’t vote us both off the island at the same time.
14km done and dusted. Picture lots of steep ups and lots of steep downs. Plus, did I mention the rocks?
The day ends in triumph at our first camp site. We eat like kings (so it’s not The Hunger Games after all) and there is no voting ceremony (perhaps that comes on day two?) and we drag our swags and camp beds out to sleep under the stars like the frickin hard core SAS adventurers we are.
There is nothing at all like star gazing in central Australia under the Milky Way. Nothing. The night is clear, there are at least 1 billions stars up there (one for every rock down here, maybe?) and I lie and muse over how exceptionally awesome we are and fall to sleep at about 8pm completely exhausted.
*Rookie error. Do not let the top of the swag dangle over the camp bed onto the ground as it provides a nifty little super highway for the mice to run up onto the city girl sleeping snugly in her swag…and then run across her face.
Day Two – Section 4 Standley Chasm to Birthday Junction
I am up at 5.00am to the dulcet tones of the guides’ amazingly realistic dingo howls and after a magnificent breakfast (the more cynical amongst us might realise they are fattening us up for a reason…), by 6.30am we are trekking through an open valley that sits between giant orange quartzite peaks.
The walking is extremely pleasant until I realise that at some point on this 18km day we will be scaling those giant orange quartzite peaks. Oh dear.
The sun is not quite up and so the temperature is around 5 degrees celsius. We are, of course, in a desert and day time temperatures at this time of year can get up to the high 30’s with night time temperatures around 3-7 degrees.
The terrain and temperature are so strikingly different from Section 3 that we could be in another region altogether.
The climb up the quartzite peaks is about 650m with narrow, zig zagging paths that cut across saddles and traverse some incredibly narrow ridges and crazy razor back passes where our guide cheerily advises us to ‘hug the wall’ to the left (as opposed, I am guessing, to flinging yourself off the cliff to the right).
This is not for the faint hearted or chicks who are worried about falling over again. Or for people hoping not to trip and die.
The view from our peak – Brinkley Bluff – is astonishing. This land is vast. We are the only ones here and I feel very insignificant, small and exceptionally privileged to be experiencing this. The temperature drops quickly at the top and the wind picks up, so we cover our sweaty under layers and rug up for the descent with frozen hands. It’s amazing that you can be both hot and cold at the same time.
We survive another day and camp on a sandy dry riverbed. I erect a tent for the first time in my life – a task which I am pretty sure was not in the brochure – but I’m happy as I still haven’t been voted off the island.
The sun sets and the sky is on fire. Day two, done and dusted. And dusty.
Hiking hygiene for rookies
Now might be a good time to share some rookie tips as life on the land has delivered up a few lessons to this city chick:
- You need to drink lots of water. I drank up to 5 litres a day. All of that water needs to come out somehow and there are three very distinct ways this occurs: as sweat; as wee; as snot. We all are dripping like taps out here.
- Blokes have a distinct advantage when it comes to having a wee in the bush. For us girls it’s a matter of squatting and jiggling a little to reduce the drips that wind up in the undies. TMI you might gasp – but I’m trying to do you a favour here.
- As a gal, when you cop a squat you must at all costs avoid the spinifex. The Larapinta trail is riddled with these spiky buggers and if, like me, you screwer your bum cheek it is not a pleasant or a comfortable experience.
- Forget toilets. The best you will get is a drop toilet at the start of a trail. And whilst I poo poo’d these corrugated iron thunder boxes on the first few days, they literally became our favourite hang outs after about day three.
- If the worst case scenario occurs and you need to poo during the day then you need to bury your waste under the rocks so that the dingoes don’t dig it up. I am grateful to this day that I did not have to build any rock features on my journey.
- To point number 5, it’s amazing how quickly your body adapts to pooing on command. Desperate to avoid scenario #5, the portaloo (essentially a bucket with a clever little toilet seat on top) at the camp site was a highly sought out destination for the group. Camp toilet etiquette involved only pooing in the toilet – no wee allowed – which let me tell you is no mean feat to pull that off; followed by covering your waste with a cup or two of saw dust; and then trying to exit the toilet tent with some dignity still in tact as the guides call out to see if you had any success.
Stay tuned for my next article: Days 3-6.
Written by Kate Christie.
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