Larapinta 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.

Orienteering Women’s training weekend

I had read that there was an orienteering women’s training weekend happening at St Helens, but entries had closed when I went to join in. On the Friday, however, I got the bright idea of seeing if there’d been any cancellations. Weee. I was in.

Bush scenery from my weekend

First session was in 3 hours, but I had made dough and needed to bake the bread or my efforts would be wasted; I had to pack, of course, and drive 90 minutes to the venue in the Fingal valley. Hm. Rush rush. I threw gear into a bag (without a great deal of thought) while the bread was cooking, threw food with equal haste down my gullet, and set out for the location, Rajah Rocks.

Dawn Bay of Fires. I decided I didn’t want inside accomodation.

Here we practised a Middle distance course in a fabulously rocky area. I had already been training that morning, not realising I would be accepted into the camp, so was pretty tired as I drew near to the finish. As I headed further east to the coast, I witnessed the most wonderful sunset, but needed to keep driving, so hoped there would be more over the next two days. After a fun activity after dinner where we had to build a tower made out of spaghetti and string (and perch a marshmallow on top), I left the 32 or so others to their warm, comfortable accomodation and went to the coast to pitch my tent in the dark.

My tent, my happy place

I wanted to camp, and near the coast, as I love the sound of waves lapping against the shore while I lie in my sleeping bag. It’s a pity I packed my old 1980s bag in my haste: it wasn’t very warm, but I survived, and the beauty  of dawn next morning drove away any thoughts about relocating to standard-type accomodation.

Orienteering day 2. Waiting for things to get underway.

The Saturday contained lots of training sessions and even more camaraderie than that. Our fabulous coach, Francesca, had to design courses for total beginners through to former international representatives, from people who struggled to run to people who were very fit, and with ages from 14 to over 80, and she pleased the lot of us.  Perhaps her biggest problem was to get us to stop chatting and laughing, and get the next session started.  We did relocation in pairs,  compass only (HELP – I decided I was actually a shocking orienteer in this session), and contour only courses, where I was allowed to slightly revise my opinion of myself.

Bay of Fires. Dawn day 2.

On the final day we did a longish course practising long legs. I was stunned that I still had legs left to do this, but once I’d got going, somehow all was fine. It was very lonely out the far end of the long course; I think most took the shorter option for this session.

Tiny Orienteer

I was too busy orienteering (or chatting or eating) to photograph orienteering in action, but I did want to share the beauty side of our weekend, so here it is. As it is a post about orienteering,  I will finish with a shot of one of my very favourite orienteers taken recently rather than this weekend. She’s not quite a woman yet, but I’m sure she’ll join in such a camp one day.

Markham Heights Ben Lomond

We didn’t choose Markham Heights on Ben Lomond for our Wednesday walk specifically because it was the shortest day of the year, and we also didn’t quite choose it because it was possibly the coldest day of the year so far (it was minus 8 as we passed through Blessington), but because the minus 5 we were expecting on top would be a lot nicer and safer with 30 cms snow on the rocks than where we had been going, which would probably just be a dangerous expanse of ice rime.

Blessington Valley
Blessington Valley

Meanwhile, I was, at the time of the decision, disappointed, as I had been looking forward to the original destination. Through the dark I drove, heading for the Ben Lomond National Park. My spirits picked up considerably as the sun began to rise and I saw the scenes of some of the photos here. I also nearly skittled a deer which ran across directly in front of me, and also nearly had a collision with a black shadow on the road which turned out to be a cow. Needless to say, with temperatures so low, the road was very icy and I was not familiar with its dangerous points, so drove pretty slowly after those two scares.

Off we set. Markham Heights leering down at us
Climbing higher
And higher
Ben Lomond patterns in the snow

I have always wanted to camp under Ben Lomond to photograph the rocks at sunrise. Even though the sun had already risen, the rocks were still delightfully red on my arrival, so while the others did practical things like putting on boots and more coats and beanies, I dashed out and photographed rock. Hey; who needs to go to Central Australia for red rock? We have it a-plenty right here in Tasmania if we get up early enough (or hang around in rocks until sunset). Dolerite, the predominant rock in most of the state, colours up beautifully at the extreme ends of the day.

Snowy scene
Unnamed knob. Dave arrives.
Sue climbs

The rest of the day was a visual treat, seeing magnificent scenes of snow on bushes or rocks or windswept mini ridges.  We had morning tea on an unnamed knob, and lunch on Markham Heights, and assorted snacks here and there to spin out the day. My coils came off and another friend lost one of his mini spikes, so three of us got extra exercise retracing our steps, which also added nicely to the exercise value of the day, and the time spent moving in the white wonderland. I didn’t enjoy the stationary snack times as much as, well, minus 5 is minus 5, and even with 5 layers of warm clothing on, that is still cold.  When I’m moving, I’m fine. Here is a small collection of scenes from the day. I hope you enjoy them.

Dolerite from Markham Heights

Eaglehawk Neck and more

Eaglehawk Neck is not a place that thrills me, in that it has no high mountains and no lush rainforest, but I do like beaches and cliffs, so, as my camera club had a weekend there last weekend, I decided to join in.

Sunset Tessellated Pavement

It would be fun to see the Tessellated Pavement under different lighting conditions, and spend some time at the beach. I have always found the paths to be too tame and manicured for my particular tastes, but the tourists like them, and they need some spots, so this one does the trick.

Aurora, Tessellated Pavement

As it turned out, I hardly saw my club members at all, but I made some lovely friends instead, and they gave the trip a pleasant flavour. In particular, I had fun with Daniel and Sarah from Sydney while we waited in the cold for the moon to set so it would be dark enough for aurora spotting. I had delicious coffee on the hill with them next morning, but had to do the 1 a.m. shift alone, as nobody else seemed to want to get out of bed at that hour. I received a small aurora as a reward.

Happy dog

Tessa, my dog, mostly lived in the car, as my accommodation was a “pets not allowed” place, but Tessie is fine with that, as she knows I keep popping in to visit her, and that she gets several runs and walks each day. She feels secure in the car, and does not suffer from the normal separation anxiety that has been her lot since Bruce’s death. We both adored the Neck beach, where dogs are allowed to romp and play. She dashed in and out of the surf with joy. It’s so great to find a beach that lets dogs have some fun.

Happy dog

On the day I left, I popped into the Springs on kunanyi, and made friends with Sharon; we had fun walking trails together and talking heaps.
The next few days were spent admiring the wonderful Gussy and Abby, and watching gymnastics, waterpolo, chess club and the regional Primary School Athletics Championships –  photographing Abby’s gym and Gussy’s Aths races.
Shown here are some highlights from the trip..

Start of the bell lap, 800ms