A solo hike is a notion that often scares people or excites people. The solitude, the space, the reflection, the silence. For many, that much time with yourself would be hell on earth. For others, it is Utopia.
I first met Ben Trewren at Snowy’s Outdoors, through kitting out the Big Heart equipment lists and holding our gear information nights for our members. Ben had mentioned early in 2017 that he was going to do the Larapinta Trail in 2017 with friends, but as the group’s ability to commit dwindled, Ben found himself happily facing the Larapinta Trail solo.
I interviewed Ben with 1 week before he set off for the NT. His plan is to hike the Larapinta Trail (223km) in 2 weeks and support one of his favourite causes Operation Flinders Foundation along the way.
On average Ben will be facing 16km a day and he is hoping to take a day off to enjoy Ormiston Pound, get the pack off and soak in the environment without feeling the pace push to complete the 12 sections.
So Ben why the Larapinta Trail?
Having worked in the Red Centre, I just loved it and it’s something I’d never had the chance to do. So it’s been on my list, especially after attempting to make it happen 2 years ago and that didn’t work out. Initially 4 of my mates were joining me but due to changes in job opportunities and things, it’s worked out that I will be doing this on my own.
Have you ever trekked solo before?
I’ve never done more than 3 days on my own so this is going to test my sanity!
Seems like a popular walk to do at the moment?
Yeah National Geographic rated it recently as one of the top 10 walking trails in the world. For me it epitomises Australia as a country, crossing a very diverse landscape from plains, gorges in the heart of Australia. A typical outback experience that oozes what the trail is. There’s a huge amount of adventure involved, 223km, the option of taking numerous side trips, like Ormiston Gorge and more. You’ve got waterholes along the way to take a dip in and at this stage projections of 30 degree days have been mentioned.
Any idea how much your pack is going to weigh? What gear are you taking?
Water is going to be the big determination of weight, with 30 degree days, I would be carrying 6 litres of water. The pack is about 23 kg. I’m using a bivvy the whole way through so I can recreate the swag type experience which I love. I will only have a tent dropped off at the last campsite so I can climb Mt Sonder and stash my gear.
Have you got water at camp or food drops organised?
I have got 2 nights where I must carry water through to the next day at different stages. There is no 48 hour period that I should not be able to access water. I have been training with my pack weighing at around 26-27kg mark. I have been in touch with a company in Alice Springs who provide trail support so they provide airport transfers and food drops in secured shelters along the way. This is not a Bear Gryll’s 2.0 exercise but I’ve still packed his book just in case (laughs).
What food are you packing?
I’m bit lazy on this and I am going with dehydrated meals that are pre-packaged. Working for an outdoor retailer, I have taken advantage of this and purchased meal packs as I don’t have a dehydrator nor the time to devote to meal preparation. For me this experience is not about the food, it’s just about getting by. This trip is more about spending time immersing myself in the landscape than creating a gourmet meal.
Have you got your boots sorted?
I’d read a lot about people walking Larapinta with their worn in boots maybe 2 years old, and fitting their feet like gloves, and hitting the terrain, their boots just collapsed after wear and tear on the trail. So I’ve kind of gone and bought boots specific for this trip, worn them in, but kept them as new as possible. Just have to see how we go.
Have you got any emergency communication devices?
Walking on your own you become quite vulnerable in that sense. The situation I have had to be really aware of is falling on rocks and losing consciousness and snake bites. The greatest concern is not being able to verbalise the need for help. I am carrying a combination of things as I have never owned a device before. So I have borrowed a Spot device, satellite phone and PLB. To be honest I probably don’t need all of them but have been offered all three. I’m fascinated by the Spot so keen to use this along the way to track my movements. I’ll be using my phone as my camera. I hope to ring home if I am up on a high point with phone coverage too, just to check in.
Is there an absolute must have item that you will not leave home without for this trip?
In a practical sense, my head torch, it’s one of the most underrated pieces of gear. Considering I spend half of the day in the dark to have a light is something so important. I’m planning to walk up Brinkleys’s Bluff and Mt Sonder for sunrise, I will need good light for this.
Being a bit of a “geardo” I’ve also purchased a Garmin watch.
This will need charging along the way too, I can imagine lots of cords doing the trail with you Ben?
I’ve just got a new solar panel charger to help with the charging of devices. It’s amazing to think how much technology hikes with us compared to 15 years ago.
So the “being connected” concept (to technology)? What does it mean to you?
I don’t think there’s a need to remove yourself from technology so to speak. I think technology can play a really cool role in this instance, recording videos for later and capturing moments. I plan on listening to a few podcasts and not necessarily be connected to social media. Our phones have so many functions that we can still use them but choose to disconnect from some functions.
But then there is being connected to routine – our jobs, our families, our friends and day to day and so the beauty of hiking is to be physically removed from situations in time and space. Being in those places (ie Larapinta) changes the routine.
Hiking changes your understanding and perception of exhaustion. At the end of a day hiking you might be physically exhausted but quite mentally fresh. So I might take a book hiking because while I might be physically tired but not mentally tired. Whereas at home, you are mentally tired and need to zone out so you are less likely to read. So to find time to listen to a podcast on this hike is how technology might come to play as I wouldn’t have time for it normally.
I remember reading a blog years ago, I cannot remember who wrote it but it basically talked about a young man who struggled with a range of depression and anxiety issues. He turned to the outdoors for a solution or way of soothing what he was going through in life. Basically, what he found was going into the outdoors heightened the sense of anxiety but he found ways to manage it and refreshed his view on life. He found a real beauty in life. He found ways to manage it and make the most of it. For the case of most people, a lot of us are faced with challenges in life, whatever that may be. That challenge is there to always to be faced, whether it is dormant or active. For a lot of people with mental health issues, these can be active or dormant and to admit that it is an issue for them, to speak out about it is a challenge.
So we are hearing more about many people seeking a therapy of sorts through nature particularly in social media which is a huge benefit for those experiencing mental health challenges….
Without going too much in to the philosophy of it all but people describe going into the outdoors sometimes as a conquering thing. Or overcoming a challenge, or achievement. No-one can really define that experience except for the person feeling it. Every person will experience it differently.
This leads me to talking about Operation Flinders with you Ben as you have experience leading young people on these exercises, tell me more about this.
The beauty of the outdoors is it creates an environment, that is naturally made (excuse the pun). You take people out for a walk, that mountain is there, you can’t put it there to make them climb it, nature has shaped it. I think because I have experienced the sense of healing that the outdoors can give someone, I think a lot of young people in this day and age have not experienced being in the outdoors alone like that. You remove those luxuries, circumstances, that sense of place and throw them into a situation that appears remote, unsafe, uncontrolled environment and that is the beauty of what Operation Flinders does. For these young people driven 650km north into the Flinders Ranges, dropped off on a dirt track and faced with 8 days ahead tasked with the simple objective of surviving, the effect is quite drastic. Leading these groups is allowing nature to take its course. Let kids cook a meal for themselves, take on the next climb, sleep rough. Some will respond in a way that says “it’s all too hard and I can’t cope” or “I see opportunity to enjoy this and do something different”. Life is all about decisions. There is never a right or wrong decision just good or bad decisions. Op Flinders allows young people to practise making good and bad decisions but more so living out the consequences or rewards of those decisions and not backing out of those decisions once made. Life lessons we can all learn from.
From a personal point of view – people always have the sense of underlying achievement. For me 2 things, the first one was once I realised I was going solo, how can I add to the challenge to it, so I will be raising funds for Operation Flinders Foundation – to put one young person through the OFF program it costs $1650 so I am fundraising. Secondly Central Australia is a landscape with huge amounts of cultural and natural beauty, for me it’s a fascination and a privilege to have worked there. Walking the Larapinta is an extension of that. Let’s see what the adventure brings!
Will you be disappointed if you don’t finish the trail in 14 days?
The goal is to walk the entire trail, there will be a sense of disappointment if I don’t finish. I think if I can’t achieve it, it would be due to a drastic drama along the way. I have confidence I will do it. So many people disregard opportunities for the fear it brings with it. Just getting up to Alice Springs really is an achievement and I’d be kidding myself if I said there wasn’t fear.
But I have always had a will to keep going.
To follow Ben’s adventure, head to social media @bentrewren on Instagram and Facebook. He will be walking August 24th til September 6th 2017.
You can donate to his fundraising efforts here: https://www.mycause.com.au/page/153157/larapinta-2017