I left Telegraph Station at 9am on July 4th and a few kilometres later I was thinking, ‘bloody hell this pack weighs a bit’, and then, ‘it’s pretty bloody hot’, and then, ‘shit I think I’ve gone off the trail’, and then, I kicked a rock, tripped and fell and blood was dripping down my right knee. What the hell am I doing out here?
So my first day wasn’t necessarily a great start. The 13.5 km took my 5 hours and I lost the trail for a 100m and yes, I did trip and graze my knee. It was 28 degrees, I was sipping on hydralite as I was trudging up Euro Ridge and by the time I saw the shelter at Wallaby Gap I was pretty glad that day one was over.
Day two was a new day though and I smashed the 10.8km in 2.5 hours, made it to Simpsons Gap by lunch and sat in the shelter for nearly three hours chatting with thru hikers doing the trail in the opposite direction. But this trail is one of highs and lows.
The third day was the longest of the trek and let me tell you, it felt like the longest of my life. 27kms in 7 hours 40 mins, it wasn’t necessarily hard but the entire last 5km my brain was saying, ‘where is the campsite?’, ‘where is this bloody campsite?’, ‘where the f**k is this f**king campsite?’. You get the picture. Frustration had taken over. It had been a long day. My feet were screaming at me to stop and I almost limped into camp just because they were so tired. A few heads looked up and said, “You made good time!”. Definitely didn’t feel like it. I ripped my boots off and thongs on and sat on the platform and thought, ‘I’m not moving’ and I literally didn’t, I even slept right there on the platform, no energy to put my tent up.
I lay there listening to the others who had come the other way talking about how hard my next day was going to be. Lots of rocks, hill climbs and oh, a 5m rock wall that you have to somehow get over. An older guy turned to me and said, ‘You realise you have to pull yourself up over rocks, right?’. Yes and your point? ‘Well, I’m just sayin’ that’s probably going to be pretty hard for you.’ Luckily I don’t doubt myself even when other people do.
In fact, the next day was probably one of the most memorable of the trip. The scenery was spectacular and the rocks were actually fun. There was quite a bit of scrambling through a river bed and then eventually, as I got closer to Standley Chasm, there was a lot of boulders and climbing to be done. It was tough but I enjoyed the challenge and I only had to take my pack off once to push it up over the 5m vertical rock wall everyone had been talking about and then I climbed up after it.
The trail climbed up the chasm walls steeply and then over the top. A tourist from the caravan park was climbing up for a view and I think he got a bit of a shock when he looked up to see this girl climbing down with a pack on. He was so amazed that I was doing the whole Larapinta that he walked with me back down and to the caravan park asking me all sorts of questions.
I happened to see Zak from the Larapinta Trail Trek Support dropping off food boxes and he came over to see how I was going. “Well you’re still smiling so that’s a good thing. If you have just done that section then it’s not going to get much harder than that and once you hit Hugh Gorge you’ll be cruisin’ through after that.” It doesn’t sound like much but those words hung around in my head in the hope that he was right and he was 100%. But Hugh Gorge was still a couple of days away so I wasn’t going to be cruisin’ for a while.
The Standley Chasm kiosk was a nice treat and I had a much needed fresh cooked meal for $20. There was also a shower but with no soap or shampoo it was just a rinse under hot water but better than nothing.
Day five was always going to be a killer, with an ascent of 560m and an average pace time of 2km per hour, the climb up to Brinkley Bluff was no joke. Then add in a pack full of food after my first food drop at Standley Chasm and extra water as I was planning on camping at the top of the Bluff and needed to have enough for that night and next day and you have one hell of a hike. After nearly 4 hours of stunning scenery, strong winds, rough, rocky ground and some hairy sections where I had to use my hands as well as my feet, I made it up to the top of Brinkley Bluff with 360deg view of the landscape around me.
A Trek Larapinta guided end-to-end walk had left Alice Springs the same day that I had and I got to know the group of eight hikers and their two guides pretty well. They had left early that morning and were sitting up there having lunch in the perfect tent site. It’s a popular place for camping, even for just overnight hikers, and getting a good spot sheltered from the wind was priority. There was no one up there (yet) and so as soon as the group moved on to hike down the other side I jumped right in and grabbed the spot.
It may have been one of the most protected spots but that wasn’t going to matter anyway. At around 11.30pm I woke up to gale force winds battling against my little tent. The roar of the wind as it came up the side of the mountain was so loud and I just had to brace myself as it came over the top and straight into my tent. I had been semi-prepared and pegged my tent down well and even put rocks on top of the pegs but I was convinced my tent was going to be ripped out of the ground with me inside. Low and behold after getting next to no sleep, I crawled out of my tent in the blistering cold at 6.30am to watch the sun rise and my tent and all the pegs were still in place. What a miracle.
I set off down the other side of the Bluff and the guidebook said ‘this section is perhaps the hardest of the entire trail…’. Oh good, just what I need. However, the trail has seen some improvements over the last couple of years particularly on some of the steep sections and they had quite skilfully switchbacked the trail all the way down so it was much easier on your legs and your balance. I arrived down at the trailhead campsite for section 4/5 but my day was only half done. I refilled my water bladder and extra containers for a second night at a dry camp and continued on.
I had to get through Spencer Gorge and Razorback Ridge. Now Spencer Gorge definitely sounded nicer than Razorback Ridge, but it wasn’t. I met a father and son coming through the other way and the father stopped and said, shaking his head, “That section was the hardest we’ve done so far on the whole trail. Good luck”.
The trail followed a riverbed for a while until the sandy pebbles turned into larger stones that turned into bigger rocks until I was basically climbing over large boulders up through a gorge. It was tough and tiring. I literally stopped and sat on top of one rock to gobble down some more food and electrolytes to keep me going. There was no actual trail and basically it was up to me to pick my way through and over the rocks as best as I could, which meant it wasn’t only physically challenging but mentally tiring too.
I could see a little opening ahead and thought, “Light at the end of the tunnel.” But really it was only getting started. I came out the top of Spencer Gorge and looked back down triumphantly until I turned to look up ahead at the trail winding up another mountain and then down Razorback Ridge.
Razorback Ridge was aptly named, because it was literally a skinny ridgeline made out of razor sharp rocks. So of course the trail climbed it’s way up to the top and then made you clamber down along the ridgeline over rocks that were literally starting to chew away at my boots.
So the scenery may have been incredible but by the time I was walking down from the ridge and towards my camp site at Fringe Lily Creek, I was wrecked. Over seven hours after leaving Brinkley Bluff, I picked a spot off the edge of the trail, pitched my tent, threw my bag inside, crawled in after it and slept for 11 hours. I’m not even joking.
So after my tough day and 11 hour sleep, I had to do it all again. The next day was another 20+km day, but according to my itinerary it would be my last so I just needed to get it done. Not only that, I would pass through Hugh Gorge and that was when Zak from LTTS had said I’d be cruisin’ through after. Thank God he was right, because I mentally depended on his words to get me there.
The morning started off with a hill climb to Rocky Saddle and then down into Hugh Gorge. The morning sun was only just beginning to hit the rock walls and it lit it up a brilliant orange colour. There was more sandy and stoney riverbed walking for kilometres all the way through the Gorge. I came out to the trailhead campsite to fill my water and then pushed on to my campsite at Rocky Gully.
I lay in my tent that night and my eyes were feeling heavy by 7.30pm. My right foot had been aching now for two days and it throbbed but I went to sleep knowing that I would be halfway tomorrow!
Day eight was an easier 15km to Ellery Creek, my next food drop location. I walked into the car park at 12.30pm and had the rest of the day to relax. I even did a little bit of washing, I’d worn the same t-shirt since Alice Springs and it was in desperate need of a clean. A tour guide came over to the Larapinta camp and said, “My tour is finishing up today and I’ve got a heap of food left, would you guys want any of it?”. Like ravenous dogs we all lept up and ran over and then casually said, “Sure we could probably take it off your hands”. He had three loaves of bread, hamburgers, salad, three packets of salami, a block of cheese, milk and roast beef. It was like Christmas.