An Outback adventure you say?

During a year away from home in the UK working, living and travelling around Australia I was lucky enough to find myself working at Paddy Pallin in Brisbane. To some extent this for me was where the Larapinta adventure began. Up until then I had mostly worked in hospitality and if I had thought the constant tease of watching people enjoy themselves on the other side of the bar was bad, little did I know of the torture of listening to a hundred different adventures every day. One that seemed to nervously crop up on several occasions was the Larapinta trail. Those that were setting themselves up for it were not casual wanderers, they were serious hikers, and with a nervous fleck in their eyes.

Curiosity got the better of me and after considerable research into the 231km hike I had arranged all that was needed for my girlfriend, Georgie, and I to embark on this epic outback adventure. The Australian winter is Larapinta season & so it came that in May 2015 we found ourselves destined for the Red Centre. Georgie was the first to express her emotions as she stared nervously out over the endless sea of red desert as we flew into Alice Springs. The following day was spent arranging food drops at various locations along the hike, our pick-up from Redbank Gorge at the far end, topping up on 2 minute noodles and trying to work out who pinched our milk from the hostel fridge!


Every adventure has it’s challenges

Starting the trip was simple enough. After a bowl of dry cereals we grabbed a taxi for the 4km ride to the start. The trail takes a few days to get going, but even early on the views were stunning, and the trek challenging. The arid climate left skin dry and cracking which meant attention to feet was essential. Our packs were heavy, water could only be accessed at certain points and in such a climate carrying plenty of water was a must.

We had planned the hike short of one day and therefore had to condense what should have been 2 medium hikes into one, unfortunately this fell directly on the hottest day. With temperatures reaching 33 degrees we were keen to get going and began the hike at 5:30am. Once mid day rolled round we wriggled our way underneath some ghost gum trees and enjoyed the shade for a few hours before continuing along the way.

Whilst the Larapinta allows for camping almost everywhere along the trail the areas around the water tanks were a little better equipped. Having ‘water on tap’ quickly became a luxury, and we were more than happy to enjoy such opulence as a drop toilet and even a table. At some sites we even had the option of camping on a platform in a shelter, however the local wildlife was also happy to call said spot home. Half way through the night, sleeping beneath the stars on the platform, I quietly chuckled to myself as I listened to a mouse working its way into another hikers pack. The laughter, however, was short lived as I soon realised it was in fact chewing its way into the porridge in Georgie’s bag – she conveniently slept through whilst I endured a chilly midnight underwear based ordeal with the tiny rodent.

DCIM100GOPROG0203781.Gear pictured: Nemo Astro Air Lite mattresses, Sea to Summit Aeros UltraLight pillows & Western Mountaineering HighLite sleeping bags

We made sure to keep our kit wrapped up in a couple of 90 litre Sea to Summit pack liners from then on, which worked fantastically well at averting everything from mice to dingos. The first few days were a steep learning curve, but none more than our ‘easy’ hike into Standley Chasm. We wrestled with the rocky basin of a river bed for mile after mile, and with ankles twisting at every opportunity and drinking water swiftly running out we were all but finished with our outback experience. Once at Standley Chasm we watched as other hikers hitched their way back to Alice, tired of the trek already. We seriously contemplated our own options.

Being stubborn, and having spent $30 on the maps, I decided we should press on. We made headway joining forces with another couple as we delved into the 4 days listed as ‘very hard’ on the guide. With over 7kg of water each we prepared for a night with no tables or tanks on top of a mountain. Having questioned our determination at the last stop I wondered if I had asked too much of Georgie as we slowly trudged our way up to the summit of Brinkley Bluff. Fortunately the endless vistas over these 4 days were more than enough reward for the hard work. We all found our rhythm and seamlessly started knocking off day after day.


Snakes. A word I did not want to hear, but I did, more often than I would like to. Some people would explain that there was nothing to worry about whilst the snakes hibernated at this time of year, as others hiking the opposite way shared stories of near misses along the trail that, for us, was yet to come. We hadn’t packed gaiters, again, we read mixed opinions on whether they work or not during snake encounters, so we fashioned the lower half of our zip off trousers into a gaiter styled protection. Snakes, unfamiliar with clothing, would hopefully fall short of our legs whilst digging their teeth into the baggy fabric around them. Fortunately, we didn’t have to put them to the test, but they did work well at stopping the relentless spinifex plant from skewering us as we plodded along.

Dingos were the next issue, however, whilst we encountered our fair share, they had no interest in us. We made sure to seal everything up at night, any leather goods were securely wrapped up inside the tent and whilst footprints proved that they had come to check things out, none of our gear was touched (after the mice.)

The biggest issues we had were with thousands of gymnastic ants and flies. The ants, of which often turned the trail black with sheer numbers, had the ability to grasp a pair of boots even if you ran through them. Once out the other side it would be a case of picking off the cling-ons before they got over our socks and began digging their teeth into our flesh. The flies (which we named Phil) were quite simply irritating.


Did I mention the view?

After a slow start, Georgie and I found ourselves picking up pace as the hike went on. The couple we were with, however, were suffering from quite the opposite. Their feet, lined with tape, plasters and all things anti blister, meant they slowly fell behind as Georgie and I pulled further ahead, which to some extent, brings me to my next subject of which direction to hike in.

There is much a debate over which way to go. On one hand, getting a lift out of Alice Springs and trekking back to it means that once you’ve finished the hike, you’re back in civilisation and digging into that much craved meal. On the other hand, trekking out means that the hike simply gets better and better. The vistas take a few days to set in, and from then on they only improve. So as Georgie and I trekked on ahead we were presented with an option to continue through the allocated camp spot and up to the top of a mountain just a few days short of the end.


We nervously committed to the last minute, steep hike up, but the hills as more than generous with its rewards. As soon as we popped onto the ridge line summit we were presented with 360 degree views. Wind was a concern, so we slowly worked our way along the ridge, gradually descending into a surreal solo patch of small trees. We pitched up in the centre of the trees and watched the sun set behind Mount Sonder, our final target.

Our destination now crested the skyline, and this was a serious motivation booster. A few days short of the final destination we were able to top up on a few nice snacks from a kiosk at Ormiston Gorge and began hiking into yet another big day. Having spent some time with our feet up at Ellery Creek we had another day to catch up if we were going to fit the whole hike in. Georgie started out in a self-confessed lull and struggled to adapt to the day. On top of that we were left crossing vast open flats in-between the Finke River and Mount Sonder herself. The sun did a fantastic job of stifling our performance as we slowly melted into the dusty ground beneath us.

Jack-Larapinta-6Gear pictured: MSR Hubba Hubba NX & Nemo Galaxi 2p

The end of the day took us up and over a summit that provided us with flawless views of Mount Sonder, but these views were not welcome having hiked almost 20km already. Our water ran dry and the sun picked up pace. Georgie began communicating through a series of painful sounding mumbles as she peeled her boot off to reveal a second life form growing on the underside of her heal. We did what we could to tape up and seal this 5cm wide puss-filled monster before continuing our descent to the camp having finished an 8 hour day.

Whilst the end was but 2 days off, there were no celebrations on this evening. I plugged in solar panels to charge my GoPro, of which, thanks to my Powermonkey Extreme, never had to have its battery changed throughout the whole 18 days (much to Georgie’s disgust having invested in 3 spare ones!). We recharged ourselves too, rehydrating some Backcountry freeze dried meals which had turned into something of a treat and the subject of much of the days conversation, before crawling helplessly into our sleeping bags for the night.

Sadly we didn’t wake with a new force of life. The previous day had taken its toll and even the short  hike into Redbank felt like another long distance nightmare. Georgie’s blister tamed slightly over night, but I am still left in awe how someone can so happily hike on such a beast. I on the other hand whimpered along with tiny blisters on my heal.

DCIM100GOPROG0033606.Gear pictured: Osprey Ariel 55L pack & Icebreaker Tech T Lite

The water tanks are all a rather natural shade of green, but by the time you’ve spent 18 days aiming for these things, you soon learn how to spot them a mile away. Low and behold, peaking out between the gum trees, was said tank. We dragged ourselves into the final campsite of the trip as our feet and knees decided to call it a day. Erecting our Nemo Galaxi 2p tent had become something of a synchronised dance, but on this day, we did not rush to pitch it. Instead we watched in awe as the couple who had all but given up also crawled their way into camp just a few hours after us.

We watched jealously as they used their sat phone to arrange their helicopter pick up for the following day and readied themselves for an early morning hike of Mount Sonder. We passed time counting flies as we had long finished our books. Dingos kept us from sleeping throughout the night as they howled just a meter or two from the tent, but this didn’t effect our energy for the final day of the Larapinta Trail.

What? We made it!

A long but gradual slog worked its way up to the summit, and never did the views perform so well. The surreal shape of the range showed its self as it vanished into the distance leading all the way back to Alice Springs. Finally we could absorb exactly what we had achieved. We signed the guest book and began the joyful descent back to camp.

I would recommend the hike to anyone, ensure you do your research, and whilst not taking certain items will see you struggle at times, its important to remember the one thing that will make or break this long distance hike is the weight on your back. Fly nets would help to slow the insects, but would in themselves become irritating in their own way, most gaiters wont completely stop a snake, and they’re uncomfortable in the heat. They would, however, prevent the torturous spike plants from driving you insane. The truth is, whatever precautions you take, the Larapinta will push even the hardiest hikers to their limits.

The Larapinta Trail, to me, is the quintessential Australian hike, and it delivers. The views, challenges and wildlife are incomparable. From Phil the Fly and Daisy the Dingo to the harsh rocky terrain (that aged my relatively new boots significantly), the Larapinta has left a lasting impression and the Australian outback will always have a firm hold on our hearts, as well as our heals and knees.


About The Author

Jack Williams

Jack has thrived on travel for years, and is especially attracted to inhospitable locations. Jack has spent most of the last six years dotting around the world including expeditions to Iceland, Morocco & several Trips to Nepal. Mountaineering and hiking has always being the core of Jack’s travel, but its not unusual to find him skiing across ice caps or hiking through deserts.

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