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March 21, 2020
Welcome to the small quaint town of Alice Springs, or ‘Mparntwe,’ in the local Arrernte language. The Arrernte people are the traditional inhabitants of the town and surrounding region. The Arrernte passed down their knowledge of creation and travel through visual and verbal storytelling, known as the Dreamtime for over 40,000 years. The Dreamtime describes how their ancestors created the landscape. It was the caterpillar beings of Ayepearenye, Ntyarlke, and Utnerrengatye that formed the MacDonnell Ranges. The MacDonnell Ranges are a name given to a series of long ridges and mountain chains consisting of the Chewings, Heavitree and Pacoota Ranges.
The Larapinta Trail is the heart of Australia’s Red Centre that spans 231km across the MacDonnell Ranges. The trail alternates between rocky ridges, vast plains, creek beds, and gorges and unforgiving rocky gullies. The trail offers an arid and remote vastness with 360∞ scenic views all around. This trail is now becoming a mecca for walkers from around the globe.
Some of the oldest rocks in this area, known as granitic gneiss, were formed around 2000 million years ago below the surface when magma cooled to form this granite. Heat and pressure then modified this rock into granitic gneiss. About 1650 million years ago, masses of material deposited inland over the gneiss base, which was later compacted into sandstone and then metamorphosed by heat and pressure again to form a hard resistant rock known as the Chewings Range Quartzite.
900 million years ago, through fault-lines, the intrusion of molten magma, the stretching of the Earth’s crust, and erosion created by streams, narrow gorges and ancient dykes were formed. A combination of Heavitree Quartzite, limestone, dolomite, and Pacoota Sandstone, can all be seen along the Larapinta. The Finke River, Ellery Creek, and Hugh River along the trail are all believed to be the world’s oldest rivers that have followed the same course for 350 million years.
The original inhabitants have lived in the MacDonnell Ranges for thousands of years. They were hunter-gatherers that depended on water holes dispersed throughout the arid lands. They would move camp often and had an in-depth understanding and knowledge of the plants and animals around them and how to use them. Their knowledge would be passed down through Dreamtime stories, which are oral accounts that explain the origin of the landscape, the laws they follow, and the stories of creation and travel.
The first Europeans to pass through the red center were led by John Stuart in the 1840s. He joined Sturt in 1844 to search for a believed inland sea. Though they failed, Stuart explored and mapped much of South Australia for the next 14 years. In 1858 he began exploring further north and found Stuart’s Pass through the MacDonnell Ranges. He completed the pass 2 more times and completed the first crossing of Australia from south to north and back.
The next two explorers were 2 surveyors, William Mills and John Ross who marked the location for the Overland Telegraph Line in 1871. This line ran from Adelaide to Darwin and then it was connected to an undersea cable from Darwin to Asia, and then onwards to Europe. This was one of the primary links between Australia and the rest of the world. From 1872 to 1929, Afghans rode camels alongside it and supplied it.
The first European lands claims were made by Edward Bagot who claimed dibs on the lands around Simpson’s Gap (1872), Joseph Gilbert claimed Standley Chasm (1873), and Glen Helen Station was established in 1877. Once the pastoralists realized the unreliability of rainfall in the region, tension arose between the Europeans and the Aboriginal communities, both of which were depending on the waterholes. This ensued into a guerrilla war that lasted for many years. The town of Stuart grew south of the main telegraph station and the railway line was connected between Adelaide and Stuart in 1929. In 1933 the town was renamed as Alice Springs.
Today’s Larapinta Trail took 12 years to build! In 1989 the ‘West MacDonnells Park Strategy’ recommended an extension of an ‘overland’ walking track to be built to run the length of the park from Alice Springs Telegraph Station to just past Mt Razorback. The first section from Telegraph Station to Simpsons Gap was opened in May 1990, and then 13 sections were planned for building.
The initial idea was to connect popular visitor areas such as Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, and Ellery Creek. These are all roughly one to two days apart and have vehicle access. To connect this stretch into an epic walk was an exciting prospect. The 12 sections of the trail have been opened progressively since 1989. It wasn’t until 2002 that the entire track was officially opened.
But what you’re actually walking on has been in the making for 1.6 billion years. The track covers the Chewings Range and Heavitree Range. According to Christine Edgoose, a senior geologist with the NT Department of Primary Industries, Fisheries, and Mines, the Chewings Range is on the southern margin of an old and complex geological region known as Arunta. Chewings quartzite has origins during the Arunta’s last period of sedimentation of about 1.6 billion years ago. On the other side, the Heavitree Range is formed of Heavitree quartzite, which marks the northern margin of a vast inland sea known as the Amadeus Basin that began to form about 900 million years ago. The sediment has metamorphosed into quartzite; the grains are tightly welded together and the rocks are very resistant to weathering. Though the process is much the same, both quartzite types have metamorphosed at different times, but a difference can be noticed.
There is another geological variety in this area, ranging from complex metamorphic gneiss and schist to sediments including limestone and conglomerates. It is demanding and certainly unforgiving terrain. Considering the trail follows a lot of ridge tops, you’ll mostly see quartzite.
The trail weaves through unwritten stories of Arrernte culture. Many traditional stories will not be learned or shared but they exist and there are books that share those stories. This track has gathered worldwide reputation through word of mouth, and its popularity is growing. You are still likely to experience this journey without seeing another person for a long time. It’s a journey that allows you to enjoy silence, solitude, and peace. If you are someone who benefits from solitude, this track will not disappoint. At night, you are never alone. There is a whole galaxy that lights up above you. It’s an incredibly mesmerizing and soothing feeling to be blanketed by millions of stars above you. The track inspires pure joy.
The Northern Territory has 2 distinct climate zones: The tropical Top End (which has 2 seasons) & semi-arid Central Australia (this has 4 seasons). The tropical Top End refers to Darwin and the Arnhem Land regions has the ‘Wet’ and the ‘Dry’.
More relevant to the Larapinta Trail is the Alice Springs and Central Australia region and the four typical seasons: summer, autumn, winter & spring. Australia’s Red Centre is prone to extreme weather, including hot summers and cold winters, with sub-zero temperatures recorded.
Average temperatures range between 20∞C and 35∞C. January is the wettest month, accumulating a mere 40mm of rainfall. Besides that, the climate is still considered dry and arid for most of the year.
This is considered one of the best times to visit the Red Centre, boasting warm days and cool nights. Temperatures range from 12∞C to 27∞C.
Temperatures range from 3∞C to 20∞C. Temperatures can drop below O∞C overnight. You can wake up to thick crunchy frost on the ground!
Defrosting begins and things warm up again. Temperatures range from 13.8∞C to 30.6∞C. Thunderstorms and cool evenings are common.
Firstly, the Larapinta Trail is open all year round. Naturally, there will be better times of the year to walk the trail from E2E (end to end). See the seasons above for the best time.
Here’s what the local LTTS (Larapinta Trail Trek Support) have to say:
Best times to walk the Larapinta Trail: May to August
Worst time to walk the Larapinta Trail: October to January
Ideal time to walk the Larapinta Trail: June to July
I think most of us can agree that hiking is best done when you feel that fresh breeze cools your skin, and at night, you can breathe easily with crisp air that satiates your lungs and refreshingly oxygenates your mind. As the season warms up, the endless fly-swatting battle takes charge and heat stress and heat stroke become major hazards.
Something I had to be aware of as I was slowly walking into the summer season was the low humidity and high UV radiation exposure. On the Larapinta Trail, the surface temperature is significantly higher (5-8∞C hotter than air temperature) due to the heat captured and generated by the rocky mountain ranges. On my walk, my average daytime temperatures were between 31-37∞C.
I walked during the only time I possibly could – I snuck this walk into my school holidays from 26 September to 5 October 2019. From word of mouth, I knew the best time was to complete the walk by the end of September, at the latest. For me, starting my walk in the last week of September made me feel like I was still making the mark, ha!
Virgin Flight: $830 round-trip to Alice Springs
Travel Insurance with Virgin: $13.95
Trailhead Transfer with LTTS: $400
Pre-Trip YHA Hostel: $89
Post Walk Hilton Hotel: $120
Trail Maps: $51 with postage
The topic of nutrition always deserves a little preamble. When you go about reading my supplementation and nutritional intake, I want to acknowledge first and foremost that everyone has very specific dietary requirements, needs, and styles. It’s therefore imperative to understand that we all will have different nutrition goals and unique ways of fueling our activities.
For me, when I take on a serious undertaking, I’m finding that I don’t require or crave too much solid food. My nutrition usually takes on the form of powders and liquids versus solid foods, as I am able to keep going longer.
I’m still learning heaps in the realm of lightweight trekking. I haven’t totally honed in on my nutrition, but I get one step closer to nailing and understanding what my body needs one trek at a time. I tend to get the bulk of my physical and mental work done on an empty stomach because that works best for me. I do not count calories. I keep things simple and light. As my body kicks into Ketosis very well, I have enough body fat to burn as well.
2 scoops ATP Science Infrared (Carbohydrate Powder), 1.5 tbsp. Beef Collagen for Muscle (14g protein), 1 tbsp. Beef Collagen for Joints (4g protein)
1 tbsp. Slipper Elm powder, 1 tsp. Sri Lankan cinnamon, 4 capsules of turmeric + pepper (emptied into the mix) from Organifi, 1.5 tbsp. Beef Collagen for Muscle (14g protein), 1 tbsp. Beef Collagen for Joints (4g protein), ½ tbsp. MCT Keto Powder
2 leftover Prüvit Ketone sachets
5 serves of NUUN hydration tablets (2-3 tablets used per serve dependent on conditions, heat, total exertion, etc.)
Judging by how little I ate, and how much food I traveled back with I think I could guesstimate I had enough meals to last me a few months! This is the one aspect of trekking that is a big work-in-progress.
This being the second multi-day trek that I’ve completed thus far, I am finally figuring out what works for me.
1x homemade Italian Sausage or ‘snag’ as the Aussie’s say. I devoured this like an animal at Serpentine Gorge. What an amazing treat!
I packed 16 portions of freeze-dried dinners from Campers Pantry. I measured out approximately 150g worth of protein in each pack, and just added a small portion of potatoes, mushroom, and cauliflower to each pack. My two meals consisted of a beef topside base, and then a chicken breast base, both with the same vegetable mix. 3 of the meals were beef in black bean sauce mix to add a little variety to my 2 alternating meals.
I ended up consuming 5 legit solid meals in total in 10 days. And I ate nowhere near the amount I packed into each package. I ate anywhere from ¼ to ½ of my weighted servings in those 5 meals. Absolutely crazy – I KNOW!
Definitely under packed on this one as it’s a must-have camping essential!
I got 2 packages of ice cream: 1 was mango coconut, and the other was chocolate. I took one bar from each flavor only, and wow do I greatly regret this. They were absolutely delicious.
I also had an epic vanilla pudding, called Vermicelli Pudding, on the Camper’s Pantry website. This was a lifesaver on day 5 when I was resting at Ellery Creek. After a cooling swim at the gorge, I got quite hungry. It was actually nice to feel hunger for once too!
This was my go-to snack food for the whole trek. It was by far the best item that sustained me, provided me with the right amount of glycogen to sustain my energy and demands, and I wish I had more of these snacks. When my lack of appetite hit, these snacks saved me. When I had the early onset of heatstroke, again these snacks really came to the rescue.
I had freeze-dried apples from Campers Pantry and freeze-dried bananas from The Forager Fruit Co. I rationed these into pre-packed zip-locks, but I definitely under packed on this. I only had enough for about 14 days, but my portions were tiny. I came out short as I ate some extra rations on some of my harder days. The sugar content must have been just right for optimal absorption because I always got a solid boost without a crash. The sugar content would be somewhere from 4-8%, which is ideal for absorption. Anything above that doesn’t actually get absorbed.
Lesson learned: pack freeze-dried fruit for optimal sugar content, lightweight nutritious food, and food that takes you a long way during hot & arid summer treks for easy digestion.
Throughout my blog, I will be frequently referring to LTTS (Larapinta Trail Trek Support). This is a local trail transfer and support service company for the Larapinta Trail. LTTS has a strong team of professional trail trek support staff that have ex-military and Special Forces backgrounds.
Their mission is to support all trekkers, with an additional special focus on solo female trekkers, empowering them with skills, knowledge, and confidence to complete the Larapinta Trail.
With their solid background, expertise, and knowledge, I draw a lot of what I will share with you, from LTTS. You can feel confident that the information provided is simple yet informative.
I highly recommend doing all your own personal research and taking the time to thoroughly study the website https://www.larapintatrail.com.au. You will step away from your computer screen with the proper information to guide your decisions as you plan your Larapinta Trail expedition.
LTTS provided me with a transfer from the YHA hostel in Alice Springs to the start of my Larapinta Trail at Redbank Gorge, roughly 157km west of town. I completed this trek unsupported, meaning, I was completely self-sufficient and did not organize food drops, gear drops, or utilize any support services along my journey.
Zak, from LTTS, was responsible for driving me to my trail start, and further provided me with words of wisdom and empowerment. I will forever be grateful for this. As a solo woman, taking on something that was still very new to me, I was able to set out on my walk with every intention to challenge many of my fears.
Whatever your question is for LTTS, give yourself some time to sort it out via email with them. There is no contact number online for them. Once you email them, they will get back to you, and you then have access to their contact number.
I flew into Alice Springs around 14:30, picked up my big pack from the luggage carousel and stepped out into one massive warm hug. I was eager to leave the chilly Gold Coast behind, and finally experience that hot dry air of Australia’s red center. It’s safe to say that I’ve acclimatized to the weather on the Southern Hemisphere! This was a new level of HOT for me.
I parked myself outside under the airport shuttle sign, waited for about 5 minutes before I realized I probably needed to have actually booked one considering I was in a small regional town. I looked around to see if anyone else would make their way to join me at the stop before I crossed the road and joined the taxi line. 15-20 minutes in, a van taxi showed up for a small party of 3. Realizing we could all fit into that one taxi, I took charge and organized that we all hop in, pay a flat rate of $15 each, and get individually dropped off. Everyone was keen and so we were off. For comparison, we matched the other local transfer companies with our $15 contributions. For future reference, don’t be surprised to see van taxi’s rock up to 1-person transfers, its totally normal in this town!
I have to share this story with you because it’s quite amusing, looking back. Once I got dropped off at my hostel, I was contacted by LTTS to discuss my pre-trip logistics. Firstly, they had informed me that they dropped off my food drop boxes and in those were the 2 gas canisters I ordered. I reminded them that I was not going to require food drops and that I was prepared to do the trek unsupported.
A short pause later, Zak asked me “What do you mean”. Truth be told, that caught me off guard. Naturally, I questioned myself and responded with uncertainty and said, “Well hold on, it is possible, isn’t it? …I do have enough food for 16 days, despite intending to finish the walk in 12-14 days…” Thankfully, I was reassured that I can do what my original intention was. I was further reassured that all water tanks were full and regularly monitored by rangers all year round. I could most definitely do the trail unsupported, so it was safe to say that I was relieved.
I want to further share one more experience with you that I had from reaching out on a social media forum regarding this trail. Everyone will have a different experience, but my experience showed me a lack of support that women can have towards other women. A rather uninformed individual on a social media group warned me that the trail officially closes at the end of September and the rangers do not monitor or refill the rainwater tanks so I should reconsider my plans. I clarified all of this with Zak on the phone the night before, and they reassured me that that was not true. If you are anything like me, and naturally have a higher tendency to experience fear, reservations, and self-doubt, certain comments like the above can be that one deterring factor in not going after a goal. The take away here is to always reach out to reliable sources that can provide you with real and relevant information.
Lone Dingo is a local sports store in Todd Mall, which is the main shopping strip in town. I met a most lovely Czech gentleman who gave me some great trail tips and camping suggestions, thank you Lukáš! I originally went in to inquire whether or not I would need gaiters to protect my ankles against the Spinifex (sharp grass blade bushes) along the track. They weren’t really necessary so I opted out of unnecessary costs.
Lone Dingo is a great sports store, in general, to check out. It’s got everything you would need to support your camping adventure or if you’ve forgotten something essential. Instead of flying in with all your food, you could easily purchase Camper’s Pantry freeze-dried food here, electrolyte tablets, Clif bars, and blocks, etc. If you’re after something quite specific, give the store a call beforehand. For instance, Lone Dingo does not hire out PLB’s but LTTS does. You can purchase gas canisters and camping food from both companies. Despite Alice Springs being small and remote, it is still a central hub for the Red Centre. It surprisingly has more than you would expect.
The LTTS Company also has a storeroom that stocks top quality gear in case you’ve had a last-minute malfunction. LTTS has had many customers realize how poorly their pack is fitting them, last minute, so they are used to helping in these situations if they can and have a sufficient inventory stock.
If there is one thing this trail has taught me, it is to improve the strength and resilience of my feet. The importance of proper shoes is equally important. I lacked in both of these aspects and it reflected in my performance.
See more on training tips on my previous blog about Tasmania’s Overland Track and some good training prep to get you feeling your best.
I highly recommend avoiding stiff bulky heavy boots. Wide foot trail runners with some cushioning would be ideal for the terrain, keeping the foot working, but offering enough flexibility to rock hop and be agile.
Some great brands to look into:
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