Nothing prepares you for the beautiful experience of the MacDonald Ranges, the appreciation of arid nature, and the intense connection you have with it.
I organised the trip for women, those that identify as female, and non-binary folk, under the banner of She Devil Trekkers (see https://shedeviltrekkers.wordpress.com/). The group promotes female empowerment and diversity.
The planning of the trip began last year in a discussion of the next She Devil Trekkers trip after completing the Overland track in Tasmania 2017, a 90km hike through the winter period thick with snow, storms, and crowded huts. I was the only She Devil from that experience who would continue onto the next adventure. There were four people in the new group including myself.
Yushu applied through ANUMC trip. Yushu and I had hiked before on a snow shoe trip and even on two of my first lead trips in Namadgi National Park.
Next were Trish and Simone, mothers based in Melbourne who had applied through my trip promotion on the She Devil Trekker’s Facebook page. We did not meet until Melbourne airport when we realised we were on the same plane to Alice, briefly catching up like old friends over coffee together before flying out.
The Larapinta Trail is an 18-day extended walking track in the Northern Territory, Australia. Its total length covers 200km – 300km+ from east to west with the eastern end at Alice Springs and the western end at Mount Sonder, one of the territory’s highest mountains. It follows the West MacDonnell Ranges, sometimes along the ridge line, other times on the plain below, in the West MacDonnell National Park.
The trip will test a hiker’s skills on multiple fronts:
- It is medium to challenging difficulty, where the hikers must carry their shelter, sleep and cook systems, with 4-5 days’ worth of food which can weigh between 15 to 20kg.
- Rock scrambling climbs through the mountain ranges which are not only steep, but as many guides and trip reports advise, the shale rocks wear down hiking shoes very quickly. Newly worn-in shoes are recommended for this trip.
- The arid climate additionally presents multiple challenges including the requirement to manage water (up to 5 litres), the food between three scheduled food drops along the route to replenish supplies, and to conserve participants energy based on the time of day.
No matter how much you research and try to prepare you can only do so much without adding to your pack weight with unnecessary equipment. I was the lead hiker and organiser for the She Devil Trekkers Larapinta Trail 2018, so I needed to make sure that I carried a PLB, GPS, physical maps, first aid kit, and that everyone else carried the necessary items to be fully self-sufficient. Sometimes, things don’t go the way you planned, and you just have to accept and adapt, more on this later.
Day one set the pace with seeing a dingo in the first 10km hunting a euro (cousin to a kangaroo/wallaby). A week later, as we camped on a river bank. We encountered a black bearded dragon that emerged out of the sand in front of us while we were having dinner. Like typical tourist we surrounded it in seconds to taking pictures and recording its movement in the wild. Later, we encountered wild bulls that had escaped from the many cattle farms in the area. There are even rumours of brumbies this far north, we found a horse skull near one of the water gorges.
We spent each night either cowboy camping (without tents) watching shooting stars under the moonlight or enjoying the luxury of the three walled shelters. We had breakfast at sunrise, and dinner at sunset. We would grow stronger and faster carrying our homes for 18 days on our backs. Ascending and descending hills with the best views of the red desert. You grow to appreciate the minimalist life only using essentials but when the opportunity arises you do really enjoy a properly cooked meal (or five) after surviving on dehydrated (cold soaked kangaroo Bolognese) meals day in and day out on the trail.
It took us 10 days to build up callouses around our feet, for our bodies to adjust, and to strengthen from hiking with pack weight. Our bodies were not used to crossing such distances, especially in the weather we were not acclimatised too. Our hiking distances were between 18 – 25km per day, in dry heat through rocky ascents, dusty red desert, rocking hopping dry rivers or rock climbing/scrambling with weight of our packs. At the beginning we hiked as a group, later paired up and hiked at our natural paces.
We were humbled by beautiful vistas on mountain ranges, marveled at the water gorges, occasionally taking an ice-cold dip in some. We took photos of lizards, birds, and vibrantly coloured flowers that were a stark contrast to the red, sandy desert and sparse woodland environment.
The best bonds you form are those you form during the struggles together. You become accustomed to being isolated in the wild. We knew when we were alone and when we weren’t. The hikers we met shared the same sentiments and appreciation of the land. For those 18 days our lives comprised of hike, eat, eat, eat, drink, sleep, and repeat. It was a simple life. More time to think, to appreciate your surroundings and to sit down and get to know your hiking pals.
There were times where things still went awry, even after all my planning. My booking for Standley Chasm for a cultural tour for the group fell through. Turns out their online booking system doesn’t work and even though I booked and paid I still had to pay again in cash. The first lesson learnt was to bring receipts for everything, because I couldn’t just go online to prove my purchase as the Wi-Fi they had specifically doesn’t work for iPhones. We were all iPhone users…
The second time things went awry was on the last day, when the transport company we were expecting to pick us up never arrived. Thankfully my Garmin InReach GPS had texting capabilities and I was able to get my partner, Eddy, to follow up with the transport company. Turns out they had the dates wrong (pick up the following day would have caused issue with our flights home), here we were at the end of the trail expecting an 11am pick up. Eddy was able to save the day by getting the company to arrange a later pick-up on the same day! Lesson two: check you have the correct dates and double check the transport company has those dates plus a copy of the itinerary from the company to make sure that it listed the with right dates.
After the trip was done and dusted, would I do it again? Yes, I would change very little of the trip, as for the most part it went well. I was in good company, there wasn’t a day where I wasn’t laughing with the women I was hiking with. You had to laugh at the difficult parts and reminisce about the highlights.
The experience from this trip has me eager to plan another longer distance trip. What do I have planned in the future? Bikepacking, the Hunt 1000 (ACT to VIC in 11 days through Alpine ranges) and 6 weeks on the Bibbulmun track (1000km hiking) in Western Australia.
You can see the rest of the trip photos on Instagram, just follow: #OAUSLarapinta2018
Written by Jay Sims
Edited by Alex Hay firstname.lastname@example.org