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If anyone ever tells you that you need good boots for the Larapinta Trail – believe them and then also remember that sometimes in extreme situations, any shoes will do. Even a pair of Skechers.

Our preparation for the Larapinta Trail was a bit rough.  In fact, I had not trained on hills at all in the 5 weeks prior to departure (though I had done some long days with a heavy pack on coastal trails instead) and my 65 year old fit and active mum had probably only done a couple of short bushwalks at best – nothing that resembled rough loose rocky ground or hills really.

Our arrival into Alice Springs was late due to a delayed plane and so we were a bit rushed getting to the briefing (on foot) in sandals – it was much warmer than in Adelaide and without realising it, the 2km or so was blister walking.  Face palm.  Mum had a hotspot on each of her feet.  We were off to a good start.

We were completing a 6 day Classic Larapinta in Comfort with World Expeditions. Camping in eco-style tents and swags and walking some handpicked sections of the Larapinta Trail that offered us the highlights and a taste of this iconic outback trail.

We met our other group members, some from SA, WA and Qld. As the rest of the country was locked out (and locked down) we very nearly didn’t travel ourselves due to the newest challenge in travel – COVID19. We were so grateful to be sitting in the shade listening to our guides give a briefing about the next day.

It was going to be warm – 4 litres of water would be needed to cope with the exposed sections of sun and 32 degree heat.

We returned to our hotel and got packed and ready before heading for an early dinner – the alarm was set for 5.30am.

Telegraph Station to Wallaby Gap 14km

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Our World Expeditions truck collected the walkers from different hotels before we drove out to the Telegraph Station where snacks were distributed (fruit, muesli bars and trail mix – have to say the mix had loads of variety in it and gave me a few ideas on how to jazz up my usual trail snacks! Insert m and m’s here).

The day was cool to start with but warmed up quickly. The Larapinta Trail was fairly undulating to start with and full of Buffel grass (a known weedy pest that can only to be pulled out to eradicate it). Friends of Larapinta do a lot of work keeping this trail weeded but it is a huge job (hint hint support this group if you can!).

We reapplied sunscreen, continued to drink water as much as possible but Mum had a few issues going on with her feet and the heat. She was not a happy camper.

Our lunch break was trail side before the toughest part of the day (an uphill section and ridge climb) and it was a gorgeous little picnic with bread rolls, meat and salad fillings and all sorts of little surprises carried by our guides Gus and Tren.

While the food revived us, the energy from our legs moved to our tummies to digest and it was a slow push up Euro Ridge. Many of our group were feeling the effects of sun exposure and heat stress. Where possible we stopped in any tiny amount of shade to sip water and take a breather.

Mum felt nauseated and drained. We wet a buff with the help of one our new walking friends, Gill and popped it around her neck to cool her down. I must admit it was a struggle and I felt challenged to keep my heart rate in a comfortable place especially on the uphill sections. I took Mums backpack too and popped it in front. Just had to keep my eyes on the trail.

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Completing-the-Larapinta-Trail-hiker-on-ridgeline

The views despite all the challenge and heat stress were amazing. The ridge was an absolute highlight introducing us to the expanse and beauty of the Toritja – West Macdonnell Ranges. Edgy at times there were alternative paths to keep anyone with a fear of heights into a mentally safer place.

This first day of walking like most times when I leave home/work/life our minds struggle to find presence in where we are. I had sent a quick text that morning to advise my phone would be switched off for the next 6 days. It was frightening and liberating at the same time. If I wanted to connect with these beautiful ancient landscapes and the 13 people who I was walking with, I would need to disconnect from the digital world.

I walked solo ahead of Mum as she wanted some space and I certainly needed it too, I was not feeling my extroverted self and needed a bit of time in the mind. To unpack arriving and starting this adventure.

We made our way carefully downhill to a waiting bowl of chilled watermelon and our third guide Kevin who had driven the truck to the pick up spot at Wallaby Gap. Within minutes many of us returned to our human selves – the recovery would mean electrolytes and good rest tonight!

Our short drive to camp (20 mins) was a nice bumpy one. We toured Nick’s Camp (named after the architect who designed it), chose a tent and unpacked. Mum and I opted for a cuppa and rested before we grabbed our bags, linen for the swags and made our beds for the night. Each tent had a stretcher and swag with mattress and pillow.

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We learned how to use the donkey (a gas heating water tank for our showers using buckets and a device to create flow above our heads for a 2.5 minute scrub – amazing how good it feels to use just one bucket of water (or less) to feel clean and refreshed.

Our day was not over yet though, Rayleen Brown a local Aboriginal woman came and shared her bush tucker business journey Kungkas Can Cook spanning the last 20 years, allowing us to learn more about the bush tucker industry and trying new foods like bush tomatoes and wattleseed feta on damper and more.  Delish! Her talk was inspiring, moving and brought to light the exploitation of sourcing seeds from Aboriginal communities by some and the issues now with water licenses being sold off threatening the water sources of Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory. Her continued work in advocacy and education was something we all wanted to see supported.

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She offered hope for the native food industry by creating a council to oversee and protect the communities.  She shared stories of how the women who harvest the seeds sing songs to help continue the story of that seed.  Such a beautiful window into culture that we would never have had the opportunity to learn about otherwise.  I felt nervous having a chat with her after her talk but she was just so nice and happy to spend time with us.   She was also on Masterchef Season 2021. So there was a lot star struck fans in the group.

Our dinner was ready as we waved goodbye to Rayleen and it was a delicious offering of lamb shanks or vegie stew, mashed potato and broccolini plus apple crumble in the camp oven for dessert with custard.  We gathered around the campfire as the first of the stars and a full moon appeared for our briefing for the next days walk.   A quick highlights reel of the day allowed us all to reflect on the challenge of the day but what a great group we had, all looking out for each other.

Nicks Camp to Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm 8km

The first night sleeping was going to be tough – the mice were active here and all food had to be popped on the bus.  It was also a choice to sleep outside on a camp stretcher and swag or in the tent.   As I was a bit late getting set up, I opted to stay in the tent and soon had mice making friends with me (and on me).  With a full moon, it was really bright outside and I was really unsettled having to get up a few times to go to the loo or adjust the tent when a huge wind and dust storm blew in around 3am.  Any chance of sleep after this was futile but somehow I did doze off as the tent shook and my bed vibrated with the floor lifting in the huge gusts of wind.  At one point I thought we would all land somewhere outside of the campsite.  It was a dusty and wild start to our next day.

Waking with sand in the teeth, our moods probably matched it.  Our “ticket to breakfast” would be bags packed and placed near the trailer and a swept tent with a zipped and folded swag.  We were all a bit zombie-ish as we ate breakfast (toast, chia pudding and tea/coffee).  I needed 2 cups of coffee to find myself.

We walked straight out of camp and saw snake tracks (most likely a python), loads of budgies (yay) and more birds.  The temperature had dropped significantly after a warm night and it was way more comfortable walking weather.  It was a chance to mingle with other members of our group as we were all distanced by the heat yesterday.  We identified corkwood trees, death finish trees and resurrection ferns.

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Mums’ feet were poorly again and this time she had packed her emergency shoes – Skechers to change into. Her boots were 9 years old and while they had only done a couple of trips, they were letting her down. She also had hotspots and she said her feet and toes were burning. So she felt a lot better after changing to her Sketchers.

The walk was really pleasant into Simpsons Gap with beautiful views on the way to and at Hat Hill Saddle before descending into the ancient creek bed and soft sand underfoot after the rocky trail.

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At Simpsons Gap some black footed rock wallabies were spotted but I missed them they were so camouflaged amongst the rocks and shadows. We then drove an hour to Standley Chasm and jumped straight onto a tour with Kevin, a Luritja man whose gentle voice and calm demeanour took us on a bush food walk to the Chasm itself and identifying plants such as the bush banana, bush coconut, apple bush, bush tomato, lemongrass, river red gums, coral batwing trees and more along the way. He also presented an incredible timeline of events around the history of Aboriginal culture including the Stolen Generation of which he was one and also acknowledging that science has proven Aboriginal people are the oldest living culture on earth.

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Completing-the-Larapinta-Trail-narrow-gorge-walk

Thankfully I had ordered a coffee for myself and mum as our lunch was really late and light and we were all starving. Once we finished our time with Kevin it was a mad scramble to buy drinks, snacks (or visit the gift shop) and get back on the bus as the café was packed with end to end walkers who had just arrived.

We didn’t realise it was going to be another hours drive to Charlies Camp, our home for the next 2 nights. As we took the off road trails, our truck heaved and bounced with speed. Suddenly we heard a much bigger noise in the back seat behind us and then a dragging sound. The truck stopped suddenly at the gate. I watched the shadow of the trailer behind us continue to move forward once we were stationary through the window – it sounded like it was no longer attached.

Our guides realised we could not continue with the trailer snapped off the truck so our bags were piled into the truck with us and we were driven to the campsite so we could shower and get organised/settled and they would return for the food and other supplies. Dinner was a lovely spread of barramundi and veggies and salad we skipped dessert and ate chocolate passed around the fire instead due to the lost prep time with the trailer accident.

With just the one shower, it was dark by the time I got through and I have to confess it was not my favourite day and I just wanted sleep. I dragged my stretcher bed out of the tent and slept deeply under the stars. Bliss.

Serpentine Gorge to Charlies Gap 16km-18km

Lots to like about today – in fact I loved everything. I had a good nights sleep for a start and after a big breakfast of bircher muesli and toast, we piled into the truck and drove to Serpentine Gorge. On our way into the Gorge I also bumped into a very familiar face heading out with her group – it was Bea, one of our Big Heart Leaders – with no time to really talk much as she had to return to her group, we had a frenzied chat, 6 hugs and then we parted.

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I rejoined our group and as we entered the Gorge we were asked not to touch the sacred waters and leave all weapons (or would be weapons eg walking poles, scissors) at the sign before we entered for a reflective session sitting on the rocks, watching the finches and budgies fly in and drink water. This was a beautiful and special start to our day reminding me of doing “Sit spot” at home. This was my kind of daily nature connection!

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And there was a big walk ahead of us. We took a moderately steep uphill section for an hour or so before hitting the ridge for about 4km. The views were sensational – almost surreal in places. I had made myself a couple of gluten free wraps for lunch that morning and while sitting with our group reflected on the beautiful chats with our gorgeous fellow walkers.

Completing-the-Larapinta-Trail-fossil-rocks

After lunch we went up to Counts Point for what was just an amazing 180 degree view of both ranges either side of us and the “half pipe” connecting the ranges and Mt Sonder in the distance. A caterpillar dreaming story plus a slightly sad Arrente dreaming story about the meteorite that shaped Gosses Bluff.

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Completing-the-Larapinta-Trail-valley-blue-skies

In the lowering afternoon sun we headed to camp, walking downhill for a good hour or so.  The walking poles were very handy.  Our surroundings though changed from being technical rocky terrain to woodland and fields of mulla mulla.

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It was still undulating in places and with some very weary feet many of our group were relieved to see the Welcome Home rocks placed just outside camp just as the sun began setting.

It was a shower in the dark again but worth it. It was a chilly evening and the warm water was welcome. A delicious spread of damper, dukkah and olive oil appeared and it was a nice recovery snack before dinner. After much talk of cake and baking with our group while walking today it was great to see a banana chocolate cake made in the camp oven for dessert with custard (yum) after a tasty curry with rice and yoghurt for dinner. I may have eaten 2 dinners. Campfire reflection was back tonight and I loved everything about today. The challenge of the Larapinta Trail, the views and the nature connective start at Serpentine Gorge. Mum survived the day thanks again to her Skechers. I fell asleep under the stars and waning moonlight feeling very content.

Charlies Camp to Ochre Pits 8km

Another hugely restful night, I fell asleep almost instantly and barely moved. I was so cosy in my swag I felt like the meat in a sausage roll, layered by so many pieces of clothing, my liner, sleeping bag and canvas swag acting as the pastry. I was still groggy from such a deep sleep that even coffee couldn’t penetrate. I decided to take it slow today and eased myself out of camp with our group as we headed back on the Larapinta Trail. Sunrise was epic.

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We had a few small hills and a really fun rock and boulder scramble as we ventured up to the Serpentine Chalet Dam and again at Inarlanga Pass where we stopped for morning tea. Lots of budgies and finches again as they swooped in for drinks while we sat at the dam.

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We returned to the Larapinta Trail and walked through more mulla mulla plus we identified curry plants and wildflowers. Again Mum switched between her boots and Skechers as we attended to a few padding adjustments along the way. We arrived at the Ochre Pits which is still an active ceremonial site and observed the various colours in the rock while we learned this was a mens place only and not to be touched. So beautiful.

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Lunch was waiting for us at the end of our walk, and we then drove to Glen Helen for a swim and in what is part of the oldest river in the world – the Finke River. I was brave enough for all of 1 whole minute (maybe less) as I eased myself into the freezing cold waters. It was very refreshing but it went straight to my bones and I painfully got out. I couldn’t believe the guides and one of our fellow walkers were able to stay in SO LONG and swim to the other side of the waterhole. I must be a reptile.

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We dried off, grabbed a quick coffee from the recently re-opened kiosk and returned to the truck for a drive to our new camp – Fearless. This camp was named after Sue Fear, the first Australian born woman who climbed Mt Everest from the Tibetan side in 2003 and who had sadly died in 2006 when she fell into a crevasse while descending from Manaslu in Nepal. She sounded like a remarkable woman and one I wanted to learn more about.

We got set up and the mice were VERY active here – so active in fact that one jumped out of my backpack and hit my chest before bouncing off the tent as I tried to organise my swag outside.

Our dinner was served a bit earlier and was huge. Chicken kebabs and salad plus asparagus on the BBQ and mini pavs for dessert. We needed an early night as tonight we would be getting up before 2am for our sunrise hike up Mt Sonder.

Somehow I managed to get into bed and fall asleep just after 8.30pm with the camp still alive with people around the campfire.

Mt Sonder 16km

Somehow I felt OK with the alarm going off at 1.50am to rise ready for our 2.20am departure to the Redbank Gorge carpark for our big climb. I am not sure how I would wake being known for needing sleep and a lot of it in order to function daily plus coffee. Today I surprised myself.

We started our climb with headtorches some of us feeling motion sickness with the movement of lights and finding our feet. The moon was still fairly fullish so truth be told we could have almost gone without the headtorches. In fact we bumped into people who did just that.

It was not as cold as I thought it might be (I was prepared for subzero temps – I packed every layer except my pj’s and so I was wearing a short sleeve merino top, hoodie, puffy and goretex jacket). I started to delayer as we climbed the initial uphill section. Given that this was all in the dark, there was not a lot to see and in a way it was a good thing, sometimes seeing how far you have to climb ahead makes it harder.

Our group mostly stayed together for the 3 hours or so it took to get to the top except for when the foot issues hit for Mum – the Skechers came out and all was well with the world again. We had two solidish breaks on the way up and ate our breakfast – I had layered up a Nutella croissant (as in would you like some croissant with your Nutella?) and a boiled egg. I saved the egg for up top.

With 2km to go the sky lightened, turning a brilliant red – it was just so beautiful. But we had to keep moving as time was running out to beat the sun. Just as we approached the summit a little yellow orb popped up on the horizon. We made it!

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Completing-the-Larapinta-Trail-sunrise-mount-sonder

Our guides opened the thermos’s and we all enjoyed tea and coffee in mild conditions – it was not as freezing as we had been warned and not too windy either. And we made the most of this having a nice long break, chatting to other hikers and groups also enjoying a sunrise hike. An exhilarating way to start the day and incredible 360 degree views. Even the shadow of Mt Sonder was impressive behind us.

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Mum and I knew the descent would be long and possibly a bit slow and painful on feet and knees so we stuck together and chatted away in the morning sun to take our minds off the sore bits. It was a relief to be down at the carpark in one piece after enjoying a cruisy downhill hike and taking in what was missed in the dark on the way up. So proud of Mum – one tough cookie!

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We returned to the campsite for a huge delicious brunch: scrambled eggs, haloumi, toast, mushrooms, tofu scramble – YUM. Most people crashed for a sleep/rest after a big meal and it was lunchtime so while I could have tried to have a day sleep, I don’t really do napping and came across a book about Sue Fear, the woman who our campsite was named after (Fearless) and I got lost in her life story for a good couple of hours.

About 4pm we were offered a swim at Finke River and I decided to go as the water would not be as cold we were told as the Glen Helen the day before. But after a bumpy ride out of the campsite and a drive to the river, it looked a bit murky and not as inviting as I thought – I managed to ease myself in up to my hips in the hope this would aid recovery for my legs and glutes that had worked hard earlier that day. We did see whistling kites, grebes and cormorants which was nice too.

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The hot shower I had back at camp was the warmest and most unrushed – so nice to get into my PJ’s and get ready for dinner. Roast was on the menu and we tucked into camp oven roasted vegies and honey soy tofu for the veggos.

Our campfire reflection was a beautiful way to round off a big day and a pretty big trip with an awesome group. Lots of high vibing before retiring for our final night under the stars. And they were bright tonight before the moon arrived.

Ormiston Pound 8km

I woke so heavy from the deepest slumber that I don’t think I moved at all. My body was unwilling today and to be honest my mind was on slow mo too. Took a long time to get going even with coffee. Our final breakfast was a bit posh – smoked salmon bagels with cream cheese, gherkins and dill. I couldn’t eat as much as I had hoped but I gave it a good crack.

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Completing-the-Larapinta-Trail-Lisa-and-mum

Driving out of camp it really felt like we were going home but we had one more adventure to enjoy – Ormiston Pound. This walk is a fantastic day walk with a bit of everything – gentle climbs, views, rock falls, creeks and a gorge with steep red walls.

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Completing-the-Larapinta-Trail-shaded-red-gorge

We rock hopped past boulders through a creek crossing requiring us to take our boots off for a knee deepish walk through super chilly water. There was a close call for one our friends who nearly slipped over but a miraculous self save (caught on camera) made it a memorable moment for our group watching.

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Completing-the-Larapinta-Trail-creek-crossing-boots-off

The creek crossing was a fun and refreshing way to end our walk and also our trip. It felt like the final ritual to connect with the elements of this incredible landscape. I zipped off my pants into shorts and my calves saw sun for the half hour walk til the end up to a lookout and back to the carpark.

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Icecreams and coffee were a given with lunch at the café and we started to turn phones back on and reconnect.  I decided to wait til I was back in Alice Springs so I could savour looking out the window at this incredible landscape with my mind still present in this ancient place.

Our drive back to Alice Springs took a couple of hours and we all said farewell to an incredible bunch of trekkers as we were dropped off at our hotels.  We enjoyed long hot showers, hair washing and tweezer usage after discovering new eyebrows we didn’t know we had.

Such a fab group to share the experience with and Mum totally rocked it – in Skechers.   Her boots went in the bin when we got back to the hotel and a podiatrist appointment was booked for her feet for the return home.

Would recommend while here to add extra days and take a trip to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon while in the Red Centre.

Here’s a few more tips and hints for the doing this trek as a day walker:

  • Do some hilly walking and if you can find trails with large rocks or unstable terrain to practise balance and using walking poles
  • Best time of year in terms of avoiding heat to do the Larapinta Trail is June-August but hot days can spring up anytime
  • Warm sleeping bag a must – rated to below zero plus a liner
  • Thermals for sleeping
  • Warm layers for around camp and Mt Sonder summit hike and include a wind breaker or puffy jacket
  • Throw in the gloves and beanie especially for Mt Sonder
  • Bring enough water capacity for 4 or more litres for those unexpected hot days
  • Breathable clothing that dries fast ie merino handy for both the colder days and warmer ones for sun protection
  • Make sure your boots are sturdy enough to cope with rocky and loose terrain – many walkers get caught out with the increased friction the terrain causes on feet resulting in blisters. Consider sock liners or an extra pair of socks to reduce the friction.
  • If purchasing new boots ensure they are worn in and you have lots of blister pads or compeeds
  • See a podiatrist to ensure your feet are in top condition before you go, test out orthotics in training and keep your nails trimmed for the trek
  • Pack a spare pair of walking shoes other than boots for emergencies

Lisa Murphy is Chief Adventurer at Big Heart Adventures and occasionally braves an adventure with her Mum for fun.   You can read more about adventures they have shared such as the Kokoda Track and the Inca Trail.

Big Heart Adventures offers an annual Larapinta Trail Adventure trip welcoming men and women and includes a pre-trek training program and training walks in Adelaide and in some other cities depending on group location.

Additional Reading

Big Heart Adventures is a commercial tour operator (CTO) and lead walking adventures along the Larapinta Trail and throughout Australia and overseas.  We offer fully guided walking tours and self guided walking adventures.

You can see our Larapinta Trail Adventure Tour details here

You can see our Women’s Larapinta Trail Trip details here

Read more about ‘Big Heart Adventures’ and our wellness walks

Get information on our women’s walking group ‘Wise Women Walking’