Saturday, May 06, 2006

Larapinta Madness

I think I am slightly mad. Who else in their right mind would trek for 3 days and 3 nights .. out in the widerness .. by themselves .. and only seeing a handful of other people in the whole time. Lets just say I can handle my own company.

The Larapinta Trail is something I had never heard of until a couple of weeks ago. I was flicking through a newly purchased Lonely Planet to the Top End and was wondering how I was going to fill in a few spare days in Alice Springs before the weekly train came through. And then I saw the top ten best bushwalking section and Larapinta was at number one. Where the hell was this? I flicked to the page to check it out. It just so happens it is a serious 240km track that runs from the Old Telegraph Station in Alice Westward through the West MacDonnell Ranges, linking up some established tourist attrations like Standley Chasm and Simpsons Gap over 13 sections. My problem was solved I would do the first 3 sections in reverse order. (check out this page for more info).

So I jumped on a local tour bus as they were on their way out to Standley Chasm last Wednesday afternoon. We picked up people from the local resort and headed out. We all jumped out at the chasm and they wandered off to see the thing while I got prepared. I decided that instead of camping at the chasm I may as well put in a few hours of walk and get to a campsite along the track.

All the others on the bus thought I was slightly mad as I came up to the chasm for a gander. Here I was standing with my pack on and loaded up like a packhorse with what must have been over 20 kilos in weight, more than I am really used to, but that was due to carrying a ton of water and food for three days. They asked me where I was going and I told them, Alice Springs. They waddled back to the bus .. wishing me luck.

Larapinta 1

The first section it turned out was some of the toughest that I would be walking over. And it was also some of the roughest and rugged track I have ever crossed. This was serious. One slip and it could have been an early exit. A few hundred metres climb up and then down and then up and then I got a bit lost as the track disappeared and I had to backtrack to find it again. I was sweating like pre-pork. But it was brilliant. There was no one around and I had the whole track to myself.

I found my campsite, which turned out to be no more than a patch of flat dirt about 4 metres wide in amongst some scrub. This would have to be it. First thing was to collect some wood. Unlike some other neighbouring countries we can light open fires here. I was in my boy scout mode and loving it. And the best thing was that it was the easiest fire I have ever got going. This stuffed burned like no tomorrow. Some paper to start was laughed at. Just poof on the dry twigs and hey presto.

I was wondering if I should get out my tent fly that I had bought along as a shelter, but thought bugger it. The sky was brilliantly clear and there was no chance of rain out here. I unrolled my sleeping bag on a ground sheet and had the entire universe as my ceiling. And I got intimate with it. Watched the planets rise and cross the sky. Saw the stars circle through the night. Watched the satellites wizz over as well as the odd plane. It was unbelievable. I didn't get much sleep but I didn't mind I was enjoying myself knowing there was no one for miles and this view was mine.

Next day was the best bit of hiking I have ever done. I got going early and climbed up a ridge line for dawn. You could see in every direction and I was impressed and snapped quite a few photos off. Down the ridge and I met the first of only two other guided groups I would see on the entire 62km trek. I was impressed by these guys though, they were off to do the entire thing. Good luck to them.

Before lunch I had the chance to stop at a waterhole. I was not missing a chance to clean up and wash off the sweat and besides it was hot as well. I got all my gear off and got in .. I wasn't worried about seeing anyone else, they would have had to have been camping with the group and they said they were it. The sun dried me and it was lunch time. And then I was off again. I had over 10kms to knock off by the end of the day. Luckily and unluckily it was flat. Lucky cause it made it quick .. unluckily because it was quite boring and tedious.

Camped by myself again. No shelter again. Got more sleep, but I discovered something that I didn't encounter the previous night. Dew. I woke up before dawn with the outside of my bag wet. Bloody thing. So I took my time to get going as I dried off my bag in the early sun. Thankfully that didn't take long. It was going to be a long day as I had 24ks to complete and I was keen to go.

I clocked up the speed and got to Simpsons Gap at around lunchtime and then had a good break but was slightly freaked out by all the tourists and their campervans. I had not seen another soul for over 24 overs.

The afternoon was very hot and I had 10ks to make to get to my scheduled campsite. I was looking at the map and hoping some of the sights along the way would work out to cool me down. First up was Fairy Springs and I felt confident that this would be a good spot. But alas there was no spring and certainly no fairies. All I got was a dry hole and some wallaby carcases and this is after I wasted time and energy walking 400mtr off the track. Then next up was Scorpian Hole. With a bad name like that it had to be good. But same scenario as before but worse, with more bones scattered around the place, so it was off to the campsite.

Larapinta 3

I made it before sunset. But was bemused to find a troupe of Scouts hanging out camping and abseiling and the like. This was slightly overloading and I didn't want to seem rude to them but I really did not want to spend the night with these brats. I know what they are like I used to be one. The leaders had the idea before me though and kindly told me that I should go a little bit up the track where there was a good spot. So I did.

After camp was set up, with shelter this time, I set off back to get water which was a 5 minute walk away. Once completed I headed back in the twilight and surprised some dingos heading from the direction of my camp. I scared them off by making some noise but then hurried back to make sure a dingo hadn't stolen my campsite. All was fine though.

Best night sleep of the 3 and a very early start again saw me making tracks for 14kms back to Alice. Good views from a ridge line in the early light again and then I was closing the gap on the ups and down. The track this stage was well worn. Much more use than the first section I tackled. No chance to losing it like I did a few times up dry creek beds the previous days. Crossed the train line heading to Darwin and took photos of the tracks I will be going over in the next few days and then I saw the other guided group. They were off to Simpsons Gap but overnighting on the way.

Larapinta 6

Like all end to tracks I just wanted it to finish for the last few kilometres. I was counting them down. Finally at around noon with hot sweaty feet that had made my socks soaked through and slipping in my boots I made it into the Old Telegraph Station without fanfare. No one to greet me. I checked to see how far it was to town and was disheartened to find it a 4 km walk. I wimped out and called a cab. I had done enough walking. You can give me that can't you?

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