Larapinta Trail 4 Days 15-19 2023

Larapinta Day 15. Hermits Hideaway to Ormiston Gorge.
I can’t believe it: this is kind of the business end of the trip; the last hoorah before the end that I don’t actually want to happen. From now on, feel free to read into my account a taint of early nostalgia, for already I was feeling the end and emotionally striving to push it backwards. I could just walk this track forever.

Dawn Hermits Hideaway

First stop in the end game: the famous Ormiston Gorge, famous for a very good reason, but to be enjoyed by us for a mere 24 hours. Next time I will schedule a rest day here to allow further exploring. The walk there was beautiful, but I was happy to arrive. The last bit on the sand was hard work, and, well, I was just ready to arrive.

Dawn. Sigh. (Panorama stitch)

My clothes were saturated with sweat as I entered the cafe to order my panini for lunch. (This is the second of two places where one can purchase real food along the 230km trail.) Real food again was most welcome. I downed two bottles of OJ without batting an eyelid. It seems I had missed that too. The guy at the cafe leant me a plug so I could use their electricity to charge phone and camera battery. Unfortunately it was very slow, so not too much charging got done.
The campsite itself was a huge disappointment, being a long way from a source of power so I couldn’t guard my equipment while I charged. It seemed too open, and quite crowded. I didn’t spend much time in its ghetto.

Lots of Silver Cassia, Senna artemisioides, which smells beautiful, around the campsite
Major Mitchell’s cockatoos flew by. I can’t believe I was quick enough to catch them.

As with Standley, I spent most of the arrival afternoon washing self, hair and clothes and trying to power things up and sort through my new food. I didn’t visit the gorge itself until after dark, when, as with Standley, I actually enjoyed having it all to myself. You can feel a place’s soul that way.

Day 16. Ormiston Gorge to Finke River
This was another short day, so we didn’t bother getting started until after lunch. But first, I had important photographic work to do. I set my alarm and got up in the dark, returning to the gorge to shoot the first light. My early shots were long exposures in total darkness.

Ormiston gorge

That done, I then took my breakfast, such as it was, to the top of the Ghost Gum walk for actual sunrise. We had added an extra day to our itinerary, and somehow I hadn’t catered for the extra day, so breakfast this day was only a muesli bar and an apple (from the food drop). I knew I could get coffee and scones from the cafe later to compensate, so this seemed a good day to skip my normal porridge that I am so dependent on.
Be scones as they may, when Kate and Dan arrived with real bread, avocado and green leaves for us, I dived in, shamefully, uncontrollably greedily. I realised I was absolutely starving for this kind of food and just couldn’t stop. I fear I have now earned a reputation as a glutton.

Ormiston gorge

We chatted to them, and also to some new friends made at the cafe whose conversation I really enjoyed, and then it was afternoon and time to move on to Finke River. In the cupboard at Ormiston, I had found another item I was really missing: a book. It was John Bryson’s Evil Angels, telling the horrific tale of a society and a legal system gone mad in the case of Lindy Chamberlain. His narrative style was excellent and I wanted to pursue his theme. I read a bit and popped the book in our box to be collected later. This is a truly frightening book about, amongst other things, the media’s power to completely damage another person’s life by its own prejudices. Even back when the trial was occurring, and I was only young, I had the distinct reaction that the media hated the Chamberlains because they hated their religion and not because they were actually guilty. The extent to which prejudice and unfairness governed that trial was truly alarming in its detailed account thanks to Bryson. I see he has won many awards for this work, all justified. That level of legal incompetence and prejudice needs to be exposed. To be innocent but pronounced guilty must be one of the most horrific things that can happen to someone.

Heading for Finke River

Book in box, unfinished of course, off I set for Finke River. This was another amazingly beautiful campsite. I had trouble selecting the perfect spot: I wanted a tree nearby to anchor my tent to, and wanted to be low enough to avoid mice but high enough to find said tree. I ended up parking near Tom and Hayden, with whom I later shared a fun conversation about conservation as gloaming turned into night. No mice came.

Finke River camping

Day 17. Finke River to Hilltop Lookout.
Despite wanting my normal early start, Finke River was so pleasant I hardly seemed to be in a rush for departure, and was only rescued by Alex and Nitya from being last to leave of the people travelling in our direction.
This was to be another short day, but, having left late, there were several other people on top when I arrived. Many of these, it turned out, were just going to have lunch up there and then amble on down to where there was water, at the next official camp spot. I searched for quite a while choosing the best spot, firstly for Alex and Nitya with their big tent, and then for myself, seeking a smaller room with a view. Happy with both choices, I then joined the others while they ate. As we chatted, I looked up and saw a crow flying by with a packet hanging from its mouth, which I immediately recognised was MY packet of gluten-free macadamia and white chocolate shortbreads, the next three days’ breakfast, in fact (apart from porridge and coffee). I yelled abuse, but he ignored me.

Hilltop camping

When I later found the packet that he’d dumped for me to carry out, I saw he had scoffed the lot. Greedy, selfish pig. I also found a now empty packet of freeze-dried strawberries, also mine. It seems that the crows had a good party that night.
It was a long wait for dusk, and there was little shade. I explored about the place, but was just marking time, waiting for the real point of the day. Apart from the promise of a view, Hilltop didn’t really do it for me, but maybe that was just the mood I was in. The social dynamic wasn’t working for me at present. The only photo of sunset I have saved is of my tent. Sunrise next day suited me better.

Day 18. Hilltop to Redbank Gorge, then up Mt Sonder for sunset
After another beautiful dawn, it was time to pack – our last real pack up. The next day we would merely be packing up to get in a car. It was with a heavy heart that I stuffed my gear yet again into my waiting pack and headed down for water. There was nothing to slow me down, so once I’d had a drink at the beautiful campsite on the bottom and refilled my bottles for the next stint, off I set for our final tent spot, Redbank Gorge.

Mt Sonder at dawn from Hilltop.

I must have pushed the pace a bit, as I arrived very hungry and thirsty, and was then feeling that post-prandial lethargy that sets in with satiation when Alex and Nitya arrived and said they wanted to climb Sonder for sunset rather than sunrise, as that would fit in with Adi’s needs better, and they felt they could do it. Fair enough.

Tent life on Hilltop

But. Sunset is at dinner time. I quickly stuffed my face with more food, knowing I would get hungry on top, but wanting a proper cooked meal whenever dinner actually occurred, which would be quite late. I wanted to do this last hoorah all together: to end as we had begun, so hurriedly prepared my daypack with warm clothes, water and camera for the top.

Makeshift dinner on the mountain, waiting for sunset.

Not long after departing, Adi wanted a yellow flower (his norm), so we stopped to get it for him. For some reason Alex and Nitya felt they were holding me up, which was not the case, but they said they’d be more comfortable if they didn’t feel bad each time Adi required a stop, so I agreed to meet them at the top. I was then a free bird with no rucksack weighing me down. Upwards I flew, released from my heavy cage and with no other matters to slow me down. I decided I might as well have a workout, so proceeded at a pace that was much faster than anything I had done in the last few weeks. I had had a message from my daughter that she had entered me in two orienteering races on the fast-approaching weekend. I wasn’t sure if a workout right now would be good preparation or the last straw to break this camel’s back. Who cares? I just felt like going at near lower threshold level, so did – not into puff, but hovering just below, singing as usual while I did so now that I was alone again.

Sunset on Sonder

We were all on top by the time the sun set. I ate my muesli bar while the others ate more savoury stuff, and we had all the obligatory photos. It was bitter sweet. I don’t like endings, but was very glad to be there on Sonder. Those who went for sunrise next day reported busloads of tourists and little space or quiet on top. I am so glad Alex and Nitya had us going for sunset.
The trip down, in the dark, was slower than the trip up, which is quite normal for me. It was quite pleasant doing it by moonlight. I only turned on my torch for the last bit.

Happy foursome on Sonder. It is finished. What an amazing effort from my friends.

Day 19. Zero. Get in the car and go.
Well, not quite zero. In early light I went and explored Redbank Gorge, which was very beautiful, and then packing took the remaining time before we were collected.

Redbank Gorge

What a fabulous trip. It will always fill me with joy when I look back on it, and I hope I have many photos I like to prompt the large number of happy memories in my bank. Don’t fret: there are far, far more photos than you have seen in this blog. And meanwhile, I just can’t wait to go back and do it all again.

Larapinta Trail 3 Days 11-14 2023

Day 11. Ellery Creek North to Serpentine Gorge.
I was already wildly in love with Ellery Creek North before ever sunrise materialised, but emergence from night to day sure cemented this place in my mind as a slice of heaven on earth. I find the contrast of glowing orange rock and white Ghost Gums or River Reds (both were here at Ellery) to be tinglingly superb. As usual, I woke early, breakfasted in the dark, and then photographed to my heat’s content as day broke. There seemed endless possibilities for pleasing compositions.

Ellery Creek North. Can you find our tents?

Packing up was a bit slower on this day, as it was just too wonderful to leave Ellery in a hurry, and the schedule we were on only had a short day for this one: we merely had to get to Serpentine Gorge. By now, as you might imagine, Alex’s pack had a huge number of wet nappies inside. I have no idea how he managed. He was starting to get blisters from the effort. They looked shocking to me, but he shrugged them off. They were part of the trip for him. My raw hip bones had healed up once I switched to merino nickers, and my feet showed no sign of blistering, so all was going well on that front for me. My shoulders had only hurt on the flat sections. My clothes were filthy, but so were everybody else’s. so that’s the way it was.

Ellery Creek North

On this morning I spoke to two new people in a tent nearby and happened to mention the fact that my water bladder had developed a slow leak, so I had to carry extra water to compensate for the loss that would occur while I walked. They said (i) I could borrow their 10 litre bladder, as this was their last day on the trail, and (ii) it just so happened that they live around the corner from my daughter, so getting it back to them would be easy. These were not the first South Hobart people we had met on the trail. Thanks Jane and Matt!!

Ellery Creek North. Alex and Nitya’s tent. Now the sun has risen.

The trip to Serpentine Gorge was as lovely as every other part of the trail, with nothing special beyond that to mention. I arrived before lunch, chatted to the couple there already and then watched on as people emerged from the bush in both directions. I’d better nab a spot before they were all gone! I happened to camp next to a lovely girl, a librarian, Cat, and we two later sat on rocks and chatted our way through dinner time, enjoying the peace of the bush together. The shelter had become too crowded for my tastes by then.

Serpentine Gorge

Somewhere in the afternoon I visited the actual gorge, and enjoyed being there. I loved the ones that were not crowded with busloads of tourists. I guess I am selfish, but I do enjoy having special places in solitude to soak in the atmosphere without jarring noise. I feel their mood much better that way; it becomes an experience of the soul.

Day 12. Serpentine Gorge to Counts Point.
Counts Point was one of the four places that I had really been looking forward to on this trip, and it did not disappoint. By now I was getting used to the ultra heavy pack that dry camps up a mountain necessitated, and took it in my stride, although, I did, of course, depart by 8.30 so as  not to have to walk in the big heat. Serpentine involved no dawn photography for me, so I allowed myself the luxury of breakfasting in the light. I’m sure the gorge looked wonderful at dawn, but sometimes it’s nice to just sit around like a normal person and have breaky looking at the scenery. Next time I can go there for dawn.

Mountain Hakea, or more properly, Hakea grammatophylla, graced us on every mountain top. Counts Point was no exception. As soon as one reached some critical height, there she was.

So, with my normal earlyish departure and fine enough pace I reached yet another campsite before lunch. I watched on with envy as one of those tour groups of packless walkers had a lunch of avocado and real salad. My stomach churned; my mouth salivated. I watched people throw away the excess into the bush, no doubt rationalising that act with the fact that it was biodegradable rubbish, but that act encourages mice, and we campers get to suffer. They were using the spot I wanted to pitch my tent in, so I waited for them to finish so I could move in. Some of them were very nice people, and we saw each other again at Ormiston and exchanged happy greetings.

Counts Point. My tent. Can you see how the trees are blowing? It gets windy up high.

Later Nitya, Alex and Adi arrived, and we became occupied with exploration, tent pitching, and early dinner so we could shoot the sunset afterwards with no remaining tasks. We were being very lucky with the weather, and had lovely light each time we needed it so far.

Day 13. Counts Point to Inarlanga Pass to Pioneer Creek
This was a record-breaking day. Alex and Nitya were ready to leave before the tardy Louise. I was obviously really enjoying Counts Point! The day was another short one, and I knew we would connect at some point in the future. The day was already hot by the time I shouldered my pack. Grr.

Counts Point

Down I climbed, until I found a beautiful shady spot next to a really interesting seam of rock. The spot was framed with magical mulga (Acacia aneura), which is not only beautiful, but smells divine. I hadn’t gone nearly 4 kms, nor had I been underway an hour, but stopped anyway as it was so lovely I felt like enjoying it a bit. I was both thirsty and hungry, so, despite the early hour, ate a snack. This was going to be a long day!

Counts Point. Happy photographers and family.

Further along, I met two people. It just so happens that I have had email contact with these people but had never met them. Will and Emma are, like Alex, Nitya and I, Abelists (climbers of all 158 Tasmanian Abels). There are fewer than 30 such people in the whole world, but here we all were by accident in a tiny section of the Larapinta Trail! It was lovely to meet them, so, of course, we stood for a while chatting. It was nice for me to learn that Emma was as keen on photographing and IDing the desert flowers as I was. It was fun to encounter a fellow enthusiast: not everybody on the planet goes gaga over plants.

Above Inarlangau Pass. Fun rock formations.

I never did catch the fast-moving Alex and Nitya this day, but I knew they were up ahead somewhere and that I would find them at our camp spot, so just relaxed and enjoyed the wonderful Inarlanga Pass, and the truly amazing land beyond. This day I had time, inclination and the right conditions to photograph flowers, so lazed along doing just that. The problem is, when your pack is super heavy, it is a big effort to crouch down low to be at ground level for the flowers. They had to be pretty perfect to justify the effort.

Eremophila christopheri Mountain fuchsia is another plant that gave us pleasure on almost every mountain top.

I made it before the gloaming but was pretty late – there was just enough time to choose a beautiful spot in the river bed and set up before dinner time arrived. It was a beautiful, peaceful spot, not normally used for camping. We purified the water, such as it was.

Solanum quadriloculatum; toxic, a member of the potato family despite its unhelpful common name.
Adi exploring signs near the tent

That night, one of the “night runners” came through at 3.30 am, and seemed to consider it important to shine his torch into my eyes several times and make a lot of noise. I later heard reports that he had woken up people further up the track. Odd habit, that. These days, the temperature overnight had warmed up somewhat, and the scenery was so beautiful that I didn’t close down my fly, sleeping instead with a perfect view out to the moonlit desert landscape. Such a pleasure when there’s no passing person to shine a torch at you.

Day 14. Pioneer Creek to Hermits Hideaway via Waterfall Gorge

Pioneer Creek. A lovely sight to wake up to.
The spirit of my Larapinta

On this day I made a tactical error. I really needed my normal 4 km rest for shoulders and water, but Waterfall Gorge was only another 2 kms on, and we were going to stop there for lunch. I was with Alex and Nitya, and they weren’t stopping, so I decided to press on with them, even though I needed the break. Surely a short postponement of water wouldn’t matter? I felt fine and didn’t feel any thirst. BUT. It did. When we finally stopped, I felt quite dizzy. Then I felt nauseous. I was very dehydrated. In such a short time!!! I thought I was about to pass out, so plomped down on the ground (after drinking 250 mls), so that if I fell, the distance of the fall would only be small. In about 5 mins I had picked up, but learned a big lesson: keep to my original plan and don’t put off dinking for any reason! I didn’t feel at all thirsty – just sick.

Dinner time

We had a nice long lunch. I was a bit scared of now climbing a mountain, and knew I needed to take it very slowly. I set out ahead of the others so I could do it at amble pace, but the water I had imbibed at lunch time had done the trick, and even though the day was still hot, I made it up Mt Giles Lookout in good time. There, a pretty stiff breeze welcomed me to the top and cooled me down nicely.

Sunset looking at Mt Giles

It was only a bit over a kilometre from there to Hermits Hideaway, our chosen spot for the night, so on I went to finish off the day. Here there were trees and a rock ledge for shelter, so, given the wind, it was a good choice. I might try Mt Giles Lookout next time, although I did love the Hideaway. There were plentiful spots, each set in amongst a group of trees – mostly bush fuchsia (Eremophila latrobei). Mauve fuchsias (Eremophila christopheri) were also in abundance on this and every hilltop. They are obviously a plant that likes a good view.
I sat on “my” piece of rock wall, enjoying the scenery out to Mt Giles during my early dinner, and, of course, enjoyed the sunset that followed.

Larapinta Trail 2 Days 5-10 2023

Day 5. Standley Chasm to Brinkley Bluff.
So. My moment of reckoning had arrived.  This was my first big test, and if I failed, I had no idea what I was supposed to then do. But, before falling into despair, I needed first to fail, so how about I set out and see what happens.

Brinkley Bluff sunset

Naturally, given my anxiety about the task ahead, I rose early, but already Deb and Amy had departed, with Casey fairly soon thereafter. I farewelled Nitya and Alex, and, just as I was setting out, Alyse joined me. (These new names are all people recently met on the track). I pointed out that I would be slow, and could go no faster than whatever the pace was about to be, and she said she was fine with that, so off we set together, chatting in pleasant harmony for the first hour (yet again, 4kms). I was thrilled to be feeling so good, and to be setting a fine pace on the mountain, but wanted to stick to my drink-rest schedule. Getting the pack off was very, very tricky, and I ended up sort of dumping it for the final 30 cms, so it paid me back by rolling further backwards into the spinifex. Alyse and I dived for it, not wanting to spear my water bladder with this grass’s fine sword. Later it developed a slow leak. Was it courtesy of this accident, adventitious damage, or caused by old age?

Brinkley Bluff. See the trees blowing in the wind

At Reveal Saddle, we came across Casey, who had made herself a cup of coffee and was enjoying the glorious view. I wasn’t yet scheduled for a stop, so went on while the other two chatted. We would reunite as a trio on the summit of Brinkley, which I reached by 11.30. So much for all that anxiety. I had no trouble with the load, the hill, or even the heat, as the day hadn’t yet reached its full potential in that regard. I really enjoyed chatting to those two, so joined them while they ate lunch and before they moved on. They weren’t doing a dry camp, so Brinkley was only a short stop for them. But, luckily for me, Alex is also a keen (and very beautiful) photographer, so had scheduled camping at every single high point we could manage (five of them).

Brinkley Bluff

At sunset we were joined by Remy, travelling in the opposite direction. Our little group of four (which includes Adi) and Remy enjoyed the wonderful spectacle of the world turning orange together, although Alex and I both dashed off here and there to get the angles we wanted.
After the others had gone to bed, Remy and I sat in the icy wind discussing the similarities between Goethe-Newton and the Bertrand Russell-Gödel conflict (which Remy told me about). It was so interesting, I sat there until I was almost a block of ice, but eventually I really had to retreat into my tent and try to warm up.

Brinkley dawn

Day 6. Brinkley Bluff to Razorback Ridge.
This was, in the greater scheme of things, a pretty short day, but we adults, being greedy, wanted to photograph and experience sunset and sunrise from both high points, and as we are talking about huge amounts of water carrying, the shortness of the day (and we are only speaking of relative rather than absolute shortness) was not going to distress us at all. Climbing another mountain became  a kind of rest day. And really, Spencer Gorge, which was part of this day, was sublime, and not to be rushed at all!!!

Spencer Gorge en route to Razorback

This leisurely agenda was a huge part of why I loved my Larapinta experience: it gave us time to maximally absorb lots of different venues. We were in no rush; there was no man with a “Go” gun to declare some race on. We had time to truly soak in each location, whether mountain top or magnificent river bed lined with white gums. The people we met were also connoisseurs of scenery, taking it slowly like we were. (Fast ones often rushed past us, sometimes in the night and sometimes too focussed to say ‘Hello;, even if we tried to greet them). We slow ones befriended each other and had time to sit and smell the flowers, marvel at the birds (and swear at the prickly spinifex). There are many different Larapinta experiences! I love trail running too, but Larapinta felt like a delicious meal I didn’t want to gulp down: I like to eat slowly if a chef has prepared a special repast, and Larapinta felt like a very special degustation menu. I’ll save my fancy times, such as they are these days now I am no longer absolutely fast, for actual races.

Razorback sunset

So, down we reluctantly went after possibly overstaying our welcome at Brinkley, and reached the 4/5 Junction shelter and water in time for a long lunch, in which we needed to gather energy (and water) for the long, hot climb up Razorback. Alex took a video of me trying to stand up once my water was loaded. I find it hilarious. It took a few attempts to eventually get up, and I then wobbled around like a drunk until I got my balance.
Spencer Gorge was shady and magnificent, although tricky to handle with such heavy packs, and rock scrambling of sorts involved. We managed, and sooner than I expected were on top of Razorback searching for a possible campsite. The wind was exceptionally strong, so most of the tiny sites that existed were just too exposed to its unrelenting blast, and others were too close to spinifex that would pierce the tent. I ended up almost on the summit up behind the track, and Alex and Nitya used a nice big site just off the track which had lots of wind at first, but at least offered space enough for their big tent. Sunset and sunrise were everything we could have wished for.

Day 7 Razorback to Hugh Gorge campsite.

Razorback dawn

Descending from Razorback (having experienced a dawn to dream of) was one of the highlights of the trip. I still had some battery left, and was about (I hoped) to be able to recharge it that evening. Nonetheless, I still had to carefully husband my remaining shots, but I could at least afford to take a few more. What a magic day!!

Razorback dawn

Hugh Gorge was rather disappointing, as it seemed crowded after our delightful solitude. The gorge itself was particularly peopled, and there were many tents, so we didn’t linger overly long, and soon we four were negotiating the last hour or so of the downstream strip, wondering what the famous “get wet in deep water” section would be like. None of us wanted to enter deep, cold water – Nitya and Alex because of the baby, and Louise because of camera gear and general distaste of being cold and wet.

Up the bluff we climb

And so we climbed a bluff off to the left, quite high, not really knowing whether it would work, but enjoying an adventure whatever might happen. It did work, so we stayed dry were all very happy.

And back down we come, nice and dry

Soon we started running into Alex and Nitya’s friends and family who had travelled out to meet us. Andrea and Bronte had cooked up a camp feast of massive proportions – Thai chicken curry and a vegan dish that was scrumptious. For dessert, Bronte cut bananas in half, filled them with chocolate and baked them in the fire. You have NO idea how good real food like this tastes after living on rehydrated dehydrated mush for a week. (To say nothing of having some variety: even though the names on the packets varied, the contents rarely did). The fire crackled out its warmth as we toasted ourselves. The wind roared and the temperature fell, but we were happy.

Along the gorge to the campground

For breakfast next day, Roger and Kate had brought me almond croissants and prepared real coffee. Andrea made a pumpkin damper. For lunch more friends arrived, bearing salads, How amazing to have to bite and chew fresh food. How delectable!!! And Alex got rid of a pile of wet, dirty nappies.

The next day, Day 8,  was a rest day so more time could be spent with these amazing friends. I was so excited to now have a battery I went back up the gorge and made up for lost time by photographing every wildflower I set eyes on, as well as more gorge scenes. It was a great day. I didn’t object one bit to the absence of my pack – or to the presence of real food.

Indigofera basedowii. At last I could photograph plants. It had hurt so much to pass them by.
One of many scenes I revisited on our rest day
I thought I’d include a bit of green from this day: it wasn’t ALL red.

Day 9. Hugh Gorge to Rocky Gully Campsite.
We knew this section was coming up, and here it was. For me it was a case of swallow it down to bring on the next phase. The land was flat and almost featureless. I found the going much harder than when there were things to climb. My shoulders started hurting, which they invariably do when it’s flat. In addition, much of the vegetation had been burned – for huge sections, so there was black scrub, red dust and more sun than I wanted. I collected water from Mulga camp, but was very glad not to have camped there.

Rocky Gully

Rocky Gully was much nicer than we anticipated: it’s always good to have low expectations. Here I met the wonderful Malcolm and Roberta, and spent a few hours chatting, waiting for others to arrive. When Mal first encountered me, I was sailing, horizontal, across the campsite, my spinnaker (tent) out the front, while I floated helpless behind, at the mercy of the wind. Mal brought me in for a landing, and then helped me tie my tent to a tree, and weigh it down with rocks.

Rocky Gully sunset

Day 10. Rocky Gully to Ellery Creek North.
This seemed another lean day, but that’s OK. The scenery was nothing much: we still had to exit this burned, flattish section, but as Ellery Creek got nearer, things picked up wonderfully. Ellery Creek North is a replica of paradise.
I sat under the spreading white-trunked gums and enjoyed a slow lunch while waiting to be joined by the others. At sundown, a flock of Major Mitchell cockatoos flew overhead. The sun was still high enough to shine straight through their wings, and illuminate their salmon-pink bellies, They looked like a flock of haloed angels. I was mesmerised. Sunset itself was predictably wonderful.

Ellery Creek North. My little tent. My happy place. More pics of Ellery Creek next post.

Before that, we found a small pool of water where Adi could have a splash. He loved that. He is greatly enjoying all the campsites, exploring at each one what nature has to offer, and finding a particular love of yellow flowers. His once white top and colourful pants are now dark brown. He doesn’t care less, of course. When books turn up in the food drops, he ignores them: nature is much more interesting.

Larapinta Trail 1 Days 1-4 2023

I’m not sure when the name Larapinta Trail came into my awareness, or when it changed from “thing other people did” to “track I want to do”. I do know that by the time Covid came along in 2020, I was already formulating plans, but, like every other travel plan made in 2020, this one got ditched in favour of local, smaller jaunts.

Rock Wallabies

This year things changed, however, as, not for the first time, an exciting email from my friends Alex and Nitya arrived in my inbox, this time telling me they were doing the Larapinta Trail in July, and inviting me to join them. Apparently I first responded with the intention to do a section or a week, but with the tiniest bit of research, I saw the light and announced I wanted to do the whole lot. I am so very glad I came to my senses. I saw companies that offered sections — but how on earth do you choose which one? To do what is considered the best is like having dessert with no main course – sickly sweet and unsatisfying. I wanted the whole deal.
And the last thing on earth I wanted was to do it some easy way, not carrying a pack, or not doing it what I consider “properly”. I know there are some people who just can’t do it this way, and who have to content themselves with an attenuated version, but I can do it properly, and thought anything less than the real deal would be cheating myself of a valuable and wonderful experience.

Euro Ridge

Meanwhile, I had very serious doubts about my ability to carry this through. I have completed masses of long distance trails – far longer than this mere 230 kms – but they have all been in Europe, where mountain huts are plentiful, real food (not carried) is in the huts, power points exist for recharging batteries, and objects run out of can be bought in a passing village. One’s pack is thus very light.
This time I would have to think really, REALLY carefully about food, electrical needs, and, on top of an already heavy pack, have the facility and capability of carrying at least 4 litres of water beyond my normal daily tally. We would have five dry camps on top of mountains, and therein lay my greatest challenge. I can report now that my pack on those mountain-climbing days weighed only just off half my body weight. That is huge, and absolutely not recommended anywhere. Could I pull it off? And if not, what on earth would I do? I’d cope with  solution when the failure occurred, but I was very nervous about the first day that would test me out.

Wallaby Gap

My other big area that took up a lot of time in the planning was to decide exactly what photographic gear I wanted to take. I am so grateful to photographer friends Grant Dixon and Marley Butler, both of whom spent a generous amount of time on the phone talking to me about my plans and giving me tips. Thanks to advice, I took on the challenge of carrying my good camera, three prime lenses (16, 35 and 50), one ND filter, and my tripod. I am glad I brought them all. They gave me flexibility. My 50 got the most use. My tripod had a great workout.
Believing that the USB ports at the drinking stops would be enough to charge batteries, I only took a small power bank. That was a big mistake: next time I will take a much bigger one. Next time, I will also take a 3-pronged power plug. I didn’t realise there would be a possibility to use these, and they were far faster than the solar-powered USB ports which were singularly unreliable. Luckily for me, Alex is a generous friend who was carrying a more substantial power bank than I was, so he rescued me a couple of times.

Wallaby Gap

Enough about practical hints; let us proceed to my experience of the trail, which kind of begins on the aeroplane, staring down with excitement at all that flat red land beneath. What was a mountain girl of lush green forest filled with moss and lichen doing here in red dust? The difference was invigorating.
And at last we were away, with a small send-off troop of Alex and Nitya’s friends, ringing cow bells as we departed. It gave our exit a huge sense of excitement. Well, I had managed to get my overloaded pack onto my back and take the necessary steps, so … so far so good. It was happening. What did the future hold?

Wallaby Gap sunset

The pace was fine: I was lucky, as my fit, fast friends were carrying little baby Adi, now aged 14 months, and so were necessarily slowed down somewhat. Alex’s pack was of huge Empire State dimensions, in order to accommodate Adi’s needs along with their own, and Nitya had the weight of a moving object (who pulled her hair) on her back. This was a perfect pace for the laden Louise.
All went well until some time after lunch when the day got very, very hot. Alex and Nitya needed to keep moving as Adi was now asleep. The heat was really getting to me, as was the weight of my pack, so I elected to have a short rest and meet them at camp which we were not far from at that stage. I had wilted and was about to melt.
After the break and drink, I was soon enough giving chase, and we all joined back again once we were at Wallaby Flats, chosen location for our first night. Some say this place is boring. This was the first night of our adventure. Although we had left pretty late, we were here in good time to explore around before it got dark, and for me to choose a sunset location for photography. After dinner, we all went to this spot and totally enjoyed our first sunset of many in this unique adventure. Even little Adi came to watch and appreciate.

Wallaby Gap dawn

Day 2. Wallaby Flats to Bond Gap Junction.
I did not take many photos this day, but can report that the visual highlight was definitely Simpsons Gap. For the rest, my memory is a blur. My greatest concern had become my camera: my battery was only half full after last night’s shoot. This was a disaster. There were no recharge possibilities until Hugh Gorge, a very long way away, and only that if Alex’s dad could locate the charger I left in “my” room at their house, and bring it to me when he came to visit. All of a sudden, I became very abstemious in the matter of what deserved photographic representation. I am not a fan of phone shots. I began to save my camera for dawn and dusk until further notice.

Simpsons Gap (real camera)

There is no camping at Bond Gap itself, and thus we did not camp there, but we did find a spot downstream where it was allowed, and this spot was very beautiful. I visited the gap in the gloaming and loved it as well. Mostly I remember really being filled with an enormous sense of tranquility and peace, pitching my little tent in the sand of a sometime creek, listening to the birds, enjoying the spectacle of white River Red Gum trunks against red rock and white sandy soil from Heavitree Quartzite. I could think of no place on earth that I would rather be. Little Adi played with wattle flowers and helped his dad pitch their tent by carrying pegs around the place and bashing them together.

Bond Gap

Again today I wilted from the heat around lunch time. Alas, I was going to have to start earlier on future days to get more distance covered before the day got too hot. I was not as capable of heat-walking as my friends were. They couldn’t start as early as I needed, as their day must necessarily accommodate itself to Adi’s particular needs, such as breast feeding, nappy changes and out-of-pack time. By now Alex was carrying two full days’ worth of wet, heavy nappies along with the normal supplies. These two are so very strong!!

Day 3. Bond Gap Junction to Jay Creek.
Jay Creek has a shelter with water, but to get the water, of course, you have to walk the day’s distance first. This time I set out early, so was there in time for a late lunch. This meant the sacrifice of sharing the journey with my friends, but had the advantage that I arrived in much better shape than the preceding days. We could still enjoy the afternoon and evenings together.

How I loved strolling along the dry river beds.

Arising early had been lovely. I breakfasted in the dark whilst the red to the east got lighter as I ate, shot the dawn, packed my gear and was away by maybe 8.30 – not as early as many manage, but I felt unhurried, and it was still early enough for me to get in at least two hour-long stints before the day got hot. I was on a schedule that had me stopping every four kms and drinking 250 mls water.  No doubt that is not enough for you, normal person, but it is enough for this little camel, and I felt fully hydrated on that schedule. I seemed to be walking at about 4 kms per hour. Knowing this was good, as I could plan my water needs for the day, and make sure I had enough to fund each stretch between water possibilities (which are on the map).

Jay Creek campsite

Jay Creek did not thrill me, but that is my fault. I should have camped in the river bed further along, but instead chose to be near the shelter, which suited Alex and Nitya with the baby. The wind was very, very strong that night, and many of us elected to not pitch at all, but rather sleep on the kind of benches that are there. This made an early departure the next day even easier to achieve. I was on a mission the next day. I was going to really zoom along so as to get to the cafe before it closed, allowing me to order hamburgers for everyone. (It was closing at 2pm that day).

Day 4. Jay Creek to Standley Chasm.
There were no photos at all this day – not even sunrise. I achieved my goal, and arrived at the cafe by 12.30, an hour earlier than we thought needed. I asked when I should order for my friends, and was told 1pm, so sat and enjoyed the truly delicious Chasm Burger whilst waiting for that time. Up I went and ordered:
“No madam. We’ve shut down the kitchen”.
“But you said to order by 1 and here I am”
“We’ve turned everything off.”
I was devastated. My poor friends. I was allowed to get them toasties, and luckily I had left nearly all my chips. A stack of sweating, exhausted people arrived in time for the 1.30 pm order we all expected, and all of them had to settle for a wretched ice cream. Everyone was pretty gutted.
Standley was not enjoyable at the time: there was huge noise pollution, lights were on all night, and the toilet block reeked of some sweet cleaning agent. In my chagrin, I failed then to appreciate the wonderful warm shower, the chance to get more food and throw away rubbish, to recharge my batteries and wash clothes, and the astonishing luxury of having grass to lay out my new food (from the food drop). Later I looked back on Standley with kindness.
Standley will also always feature strongly in my memory as this was our first experience of a food drop. We had made new friends on the track, and all of us now sat outside our tents, staring at mounds of food spread out before us. Not one person could see a way of getting all this new food into her already full pack. Nobody had finished the old food, yet all of us were too scared to throw food away in case we needed it later. I resolved to tie a whole lot of stuff to the outside of my pack, along with the water I was about to carry. Climbing Brinkley Bluff was about to be a farce.
I visited the actual chasm in the dark, being turned off by all the tourists earlier in the day, and being preoccupied with showering, washing and food sorting later. It was lovely in the dark: a special experience.
Maybe I need a photo of a hamburger here? That seemed to be the focus of the day.

Southern Ranges: on Risk taking

Written the night before I set out on my expedition…
In the days before I embarked on a solo attempt of the Southern Ranges, one of my Instagram followers posed the question: Why on earth would I (or anyone) do something dangerous, and solo? In order to bridge the gap between his/her understanding and mine, I need to clarify a few points, especially as I also had a comment from a huge beefy fellow near his physical prime who told me that what I was doing was not dangerous at all. For him, it was, indeed not, but I am not him.
(1) Danger is not an absolute, a one-size-fits-all garment. What is dangerous for one person might be totally innocuous for another. It is also not a constant: as we grow in strength, ability and experience, our concept of, and the reality of, what is dangerous for us changes.

Southern Ranges in snow

For me to attempt an aerial triple summersault with half twist, the daily fare of some top gymnasts, would be very dangerous. I have never had that ability. For preschooler, Abby, it would also be dangerous. However, for Abby maybe seven years from now, it might be a daily thrill.
The relativity of danger is dependent on our age, physical condition, technical expertise and general wisdom to name a few factors that immediately spring to mind. It is very, very hard for one person to label an activity either dangerous or easy for another. Even if one knows the other very well, one can still err. A judgement here is, at best, an educated assessment rather than an immutable dictate.

Southern Ranges Richea pandanifolia and Richea scoparia

Funnily, our emotional attachments also alter the amount of danger inherent in an activity. As Alex Honnold prepared for his free solo climb of El Capitan, his friends grew increasingly anxious. Fairly recently, Alex had fallen in love; all of a sudden, he had something to really live for, and they were worried about how this might affect his ability to do something so daring. Interestingly also, is that on his first attempt, he set out, but realised very early in the climb that his mood just wasn’t right. He withdrew from the attempt. The day he did do it, he arranged a few elements to be different. His mood influenced the degree of danger of exactly the same activity. The danger differed!

Cockscomb Southern Ranges

He is now married to that girlfriend, Sanni, and that gives him “more to lose on a rock than just his own existence” (Seth Wickersham, ESPN). Now he is married, his perspective on danger has changed. He also knows full well that if he becomes a father, it will change again. He insists he doesn’t want to die soloing, lest he join the legions of legends who “got too cocky, or too depressed, or too unlucky.” In other words, danger has to be constantly monitored; we shouldn’t take any danger as unalterable or given. We need to constantly reassess it in the light of who we are now and what we can do.

The Hippo, Pindars Peak Southern Ranges

Tommy Caldwell, another adept climber, explained in Alone on the Wall: “On one hand I am still a kid, full of wonder, chasing dreams of distant summits. But I’m also a father […] and this means I am no longer allowed to die.” If you refuse yourself permission to die, that alters your perception of danger. I have two daughters who have lost their beloved dad in the wilderness. I utterly refuse to have them or their children burdened with the impact of losing both parents in the same demesne.
I refuse? Of course staying alive is dependent on more than that; I am mortal. I refer back to what many regard as the greatest risk taker ever (an opinion he does not share) said above in criticising other people who carelessly die: too cocky. (There are other words, too, of course). My refusal means I pay attention to dangers and to where I stand in regard to any danger. I enter areas of risk to me, but my assessment is that the risk is somewhat big, so as to be a challenge and cause fear and respect, but not so great as to be foolhardy. It is attenuated, well-calculated risk. But my risk is not yours, and vice versa.

The Hippo Southern Ranges

(2) As Alex pointed out in an interview during the captivating movie Free Solo, danger has two elements:
(i) consequences, and
(ii) risk.
The consequence of my being hit by a 60kph car is probably death. The actual risk of that consequence happening, given that I look to each side and pay attention, is minimal. Sometimes when we use the word ‘danger’, we have consequences in mind; other times, risk.
Alex knew that the consequence of falling whilst climbing El Capitan would be a definite death. He felt, however, that his skills (honed through years of hard work) and natural abilities meant that, for him, the risk of that happening was minimal. Therefore, he was prepared to do it, and did not consider himself foolhardy. Because he believed he had accurately assessed all dangers and gone through all possibilities, he also regarded himself as neither cocky nor stupid. Had he over-assessed his abilities, he could be regarded as hubristic; the fact that he pulled off what no human has ever before achieved meant his assessment of himself was accurate. New achievements like his regard risk, but hopefully just the right amount and no more.

Snow patterns, The Hippo, Southern Ranges

Hopefully we each set ourselves goals and move to the next level of our own abilities. Each move may involve a little risk. That tests us. We only come a cropper if we have failed to adequately read the situation or our own ability to deal with it.
If we are content to just sit in one place and not increase our abilities in our field of interest / expertise / knowledge – to stop striving – then we are, ‘to speak with Goethe’, succumbing to the temptation of Mephistopheles. Mephisto, or the devil, bets with God that he can stop Faust’s Life Force, or striving, and tempt him to “Verweile doch” – to sit back and lie on his lazy bed (Faulbett) and stop pressing forward. He then makes essentially the same bet with Faust. And if Faust says to any moment: “Please stay, please stop moving forward”, then the devil has won, and may destroy him, Faust. I am a person who keeps striving for the next level in almost anything I do. It’s just the way I am. I guess I have a strong life force. A lazy bed is torture for me.

Southern Ranges Grass pattern The Hippo

Now, of course, the Southern Ranges are no El Capitan, but if I fail to read them or me correctly, the consequences could still be the same. If I blithely and ignorantly think I will be fine without taking all the adequate precautions, that hubris could kill me. I am very aware of my own potential to fail in this task as, whatever some beefy male may claim, with my diminutive frame, it is a big battle, and strong winds which occur there could easily pick me up and deposit me in a place of no return. I have heard of the winds there lifting large full-packed men into the air. What hope do I have? I have heard of groups which linked arms in order not to be swept away. I have no arms to link with. I have heard of tents being massacred and the inhabitants being exposed to rain and wind with no protection. They have been rescued by their mates whose tents still stood. I have no mates there. I find the male who told me that what I am doing is nothing to be ignorant. Sorry. I go fully aware of its potential to harm me, but I also hope at the same time, that I have what I need to cope. If the weather forecast changes, I will need to get out of there as quickly as I can. I will have mild fear for most of the route because of that. At my furthest point, I will be 45 kms and a great deal of thick bush away from safety. (The route is 90 kms out and back).

Snow on Coxcomb Southern Ranges

I have invoked Faust and his striving to move to the next goal. I will change tack and look at another figure from both history and literature: Joan of Arc, already immortalised yet even further brought to our attention by George Bernard Shaw’s play: St Joan. I love Joan. She is so very full of life and the love of life. All that she says and does seems full of this life force that embraces the gifts of this wonderful world.
In a scene that is key to me, she has just recanted her beautiful voices because of pressure from the church. She was told that if she did this, she would be given life, and would not burn at the stake. So she does, and is then told that she will be moved down to the dungeon. First, she turns on her accusers in what I call her ‘I-never-should-have-trusted-you’ speech. What she particularly attacks is their concept of life. Her same attack could be levelled at medicos and lawyers six hundred years later (we haven’t got far, have we): “You promised me life, but you lied. You think that life is nothing but not being stone dead.” For Joan, life is not just about breathing; it is about real living. She discusses some of the elements of real life: “to shut me from the light of the sky, and the sight of the fields and flowers [… to manacle me] so I can never ride with the soldiers nor climb the hills; […]”. I would forego many things “if only I could still hear the wind in the trees, the larks in the sunshine, the young lambs crying through the healthy frost, and the blessed, blessed church bells.”

Southern Ranges view to the sea

Ultimately, Joan tears up the form she signed, electing to burn at the stake rather than endure a “life” that is mere breathing, mere existence for existence’s sake. For Joan, life is about engagement with the world of nature and the opportunity to employ her life force. When Joan chooses death, she is actually, paradoxically, choosing life. She has far too much life in her to be satisfied with mere breathing. I love her. I want to go out and grab and grab all the beautiful moments of life until my very last moment has come. And that is what my darling husband managed. Sometimes that grabbing of life involves risk, but when we take that risk, we feel terribly alive.
When you make demands of yourself that reach to your own extremity, you are on fire. This trip feels to me, because of the tests it will put me through, like a World Championship or an exam. But I am ready to take it, and just as races and exams used to thrill me by putting me to the test and demanding that I gave them everything I had, so will this expedition. And that is why I will knowingly do something I know to be dangerous. It is an intelligently calculated risk, but hopefully not one that will take me over my limit. If I pass my test, I will have grown a bit more as a person. I will feel very, very alive at the end of it.

Southern Ranges in a good mood.