Hiking the Larapinta Trail – Trek Diary – Part 3 of 4
This is our Trek Diary from the Larapinta Trail and is part of a 4 part blog series we have put together. For the other Parts checkout the links below…
- Part 1 – Introduction
- Part 2 – Planning the trek
- Part 3 – Trek Diary (This Part!)
- Part 4 – Gear List
I have included a highlights video below covering our journey from start to finish.
I have put together a short day by day diary of our experience on the Larapinta Trail. Also included are two attachments showing our height profile from each of the days taken from Sarah’s Garmin watch. You can download these below..
Day 1 – Mt. Sonder
Larapinta Trail Trek Support picked us up from our accommodation and then transferred us to Red Bank Gorge ready to start from the West heading East (Checkout Part 2 planning the trip for more information on this). After arriving we walked straight to the camping area and setup our tent and put some gear in our small Sea to Summit Day Sacks ready for the hike up Mt. Sonder. This was a nice hike up to the summit taking 2.5 hours and then 1.5 hours down. We certainly recommend making a start as early as possible before it gets too hot. Back at the campsite we started to see people arriving who had been walking east to west and were on there last night on the trail! The campsite is quite nice but reasonably busy with around 5 other tents there. What you have to watch out for is all the groups that arrive in the dark very early in the morning and don’t make any effort to remain quiet when walking through the campsite on there way to reach summit of Mt. Sonder for the sunrise.
Day 2 – Red Bank Gorge to Hilltop Lookout
We didn’t set off really early today and waited for some light before packing up, this would change significantly as we pushed on through later stages. Section 12 was an easy hike to Rocky Gap where we had lunch and filled all the water containers. The plan was to push onwards to Hilltop Lookout and camp up there rather than Rocky Gap. I really struggled today heading up to Hilltop Lookout due to the afternoon heat so it took a long time to make it up to the camp. It’s interesting how everyone seems to have an off day at some point and it’s not necessarily on what would be classed as a harder section, there are so many factors to consider. This was my day for struggling and then all the other days I was fine, Sarah still had her challenging day to come. We arrived at Hilltop Lookout and passed nobody and had the top all to ourselves, where we setup camp in a little cleared area. We had great views at sunset and sunrise so was worth the climb although due to the heat it would have been better to stay at rocky gap and climb early in the morning, this was a lesson learned on Day 2.
Day 3 – Hilltop Lookout to Glen Helen Homestead
We were up for sunrise to catch some awesome views and then headed downhill to the junction for Glen Helen Homestead. We had planned already to do this side trip to Glen Helen and stay for the night in the bunk rooms. If you fancy doing this then booking well in advance for accommodation and dinner is a must. We arrived at Glen Helen for lunch and an afternoon walk to the Gorge, followed by a hot shower. The bunk rooms are basic but the Homestead is lovely and the food in the restaurant is top quality.
Day 4 – Glen Helen Homestead to Ormiston Gorge
We set off from Glen Helen and passed Finke River campsite which looked quite nice with a shelter and tent pads. It was then an easy walk onto Ormisten Gorge. We Arrived at lunch so setup camp and then I had lasagne in kiosk and Sarah had a steak sandwich. On the trail everyone was talking about how good the kiosk food was and it didn’t disappoint. This was our first box drop so we sorted out our food box before setting off to do the ghost gum walk to the lookout above this spectacular gorge , dropping down to the river and walking back through the gorge. We sorted out leaving some excess gear and food in the box, which is a great service from Larapinta Trail Trek Support . We had a nice bottle of wine for dinner with Sarah’s apricot chicken and then off to bed for an early start to section 9. We knew section 9 was going to be a tough one as we had to carry a lot of water with us with no re-supply available.
Day 5 – Ormiston Gorge to Waterfall Gorge
We were up at 05:00 and set off at 06:20 by headtorch making it up onto the ridge before it got too hot. Today was the day we would see the Larapinta Trail Runners and at the top of the ridge there was an emergency point setup for the 4 day trail run. Along the ridge the runners started passing, 35 in total. After that we saw nobody for the rest of the day and setup camp in waterfall gorge. Today was Sarah challenging day. She was in agony with a huge blister, with overstep causing excruciating pain, she took the decision to put on her trail sandals for the scent and ridge walk. Her absolute low point was when she stood on a ants nest and had about 40 biting her feet. The boots had to go back on for the steep descent into Waterfall Gorge, where we drained the blisters off and patched them up to see how they would go the next day. The Camp was in a very small section of cleared riverbed, with beautiful bright red mulberry birds. It wasn’t the best of campsites although it was shady in the afternoon. If we had known we would have climbed out the gorge to some much better cleared areas that we passed at the start of Day 6.
Day 6 – Waterfall Gorge to Serpentine Chalet Dam
After a big day, we were a bit later setting off today at 07:20, climbing out the gorge and then starting the hike along the valley. Its an amazing valley with the hike stretching on and on over false summits. On finally reaching the end of the valley the scramble through Inarlanga pass was amazing. Hard going with big packs on getting through the pass but great fun. Then it was onwards to serpentine chalet dam for lunch, a good wash of ourselves and some clothes. We went through the routine of preparing all the water for the next day using our UV Filter. Today we met up with Mark again who had been off track exploring and was now back to join the main trail.
Day 7 – Serpentine Chalet Dam to Serpentine Gorge
Getting up at 05:30 seems to be our time now to get off for first light. Section 7 today to serpentine gorge over the heavitree range, along the ridge and back down again. This was a much better track today so made good time and arrived at serpentine gorge to a nice shelter and camping facilities. Mark had arrived already and we had lunch together. This is one of the places it’s a good idea to arrive early and spend the afternoon exploring. Too many people seem to be pushing on to complete the whole trail rather than spending time to explore and enjoy the spectacular gorges.
In the afternoon we walked up to the gorge lookout and then spent some time down in the gorge sitting by the small pool in the shade. Mice attacked our rucksacks in the night so we locked them in the shelter cupboard, its certainly a good idea to hang your supplies or lock them where there are cupboard provided in the shelters. We did come across one shelter where the mice had found a way into the cupboard so hung our supplies and we had no issues.
Day 8 -Serpentine Gorge to Ellery Creek
A hilly day today but only small hills and a pretty good track. We passed the trig point and the stile and then down into Ellery Creek. We setup base at a sheltered picnic table to ride out the afternoon sun. This was a food box location so we sorted through all the food and dropped off some things in the box to go back to Alice Springs. We keep lightning our load at each box drop but then filling up on food again. A bit more weight this time as the food has to last 5 days before the next box drop. As this was a box drop we could enjoy a great ‘heavy’ dinner (a good reason to stay for a night at box drop locations) and packed away all the rubbish in the food box to be taken out by Larapinta Trail Trek Support.
Camping was down in the river bed although in the morning we spotted a better site we could have used with a platform. Ellery Creek is not the best of spots for hikers as loads of coach trips and groups come through as well as being a drive in camping area. Water is from two tanks outside the toilet and everyone was using this to wash their hands in, not very pleasant as that was our only drinking water. It would have been much better if there was an area set aside for trail walkers with a separate tank. We spent the afternoon with Mark who is on the same itinerary as us until Stanley chasm so we are now trail buddies. It’s amazing who you meet along the way with most completing the end to end with very different itineraries and timings (Check out my part two for our guide to planning this hike).
Day 9 – Ellery Creek to Rocky Gully
Up at 05:30 and since we were at Ellery Creek popped the BBQ on ready for tinned spam bacon (actually very tasty!), a nice treat . Nice walk out of Ellery Creek up to the saddle and down onto the north side of the range. Today was reasonably flat with a few small hills thrown in, but on the north side it was hot much earlier and we were suffering in the heat. We made it to Rocky Gully, the halfway point on section 6 where there is a water tank set away from the track and a toilet with nothing else around. It’s hot and not much shade so we made use of the tarp to ride out the afternoon sun. The girls we met at serpentine gorge had done section 6 in one go which took them 10 hours. I’m not sure how they managed it as by lunchtime it was pretty hot for pushing on with only one other possible campsite before Hugh gorge and no water.
Day 10 – Rocky Gully to Hugh Gorge
Up at 5:20 and ready to leave for 6:40. A really nice walk as the sun was rising with some superb views. Fairly flat today with a few little hills to pop over. Ghost gum flat was a nice little campsite with two cork trees shading a platform, no water though. We finished the morning walk at Hugh Gorge campsite which has a nice new shelter. We setup camp and spent the afternoon there. We could have pushed onto hugh gorge junction but there is no water there and would mean 2 nights of no water supply. This as it turned out was a good decision to enjoy the early morning colours within Hugh Gorge.
Day 11 – Hugh Gorge to Fringe Lily Creek
This is such a difficult section to write up as I have too many amazing photographs I would like to include. As mentioned previously it is certainly worth waiting at Hugh Gorge campsite to walk the gorge as the sun is rising, the colours are inspiring. Time should be taken on the way up to Hugh Gorge Junction to make the most of the time there, this was one of my highlights of the 18 days.
Care needs to be taken to work out where Hugh Gorge Junction is. Following the notes and reading the map it is obvious but this is the point to drop the packs and explore further up the gorge. Many people don’t seem to do this but if you have the time it’s definitely worth it to spend an hour or so exploring.
Then up the valley to the saddle. Down the other side to Fringe Lilly creek to camp. We met a German girl from Canberra, Bianca who camped with us and Mark that night. We had some fun spending some time making some stone camp furniture which became an afternoon ritual.
Day 12 – Fringe Lily Creek to Section 4/5 Junction
The usual routine of getting up in the dark and off for first light to hike straight up onto razorback ridge (no warmup today!). This was a steep climb up but a nice path zig zagging up neatly cut into the hillside. Climbing up further is a bit more of a scramble to reach the top before the descent starts. The ridge walk is quite spectacular with steep drop offs on either side. Quite steep downhill and then arrived at the section 4/5 junction before lunch.
We met Madde who was the girl from Brisbane who had to miss a day to return to Alice to get some new shoes (she was the talk of the trail!). Madde joined us on an afternoon stroll down to Birthday waterhole, well worth a wander down to spend some time by this waterhole. Mark was not convinced there would be any water however we arrived to some water in the hole and a nice breeze with shade, so we spent a bit of time there, watching the birds.
After heading back to the shelter Tom arrived to join us for the night. For dinner that night we had two strive food curries to test out (read the review here).
Day 13 – Section 4/5 Junction to Brinkley Bluff
Today was quite a deliberate short section climbing from Section 4/5 Junction up to Stuart’s Pass and then pushing onto summit Brinkley Bluff (1209m). The climb is not too bad with a good path to the top and we arrived in time for morning tea. Many people had mentioned camping on Brinkley Bluff was one of the major highlights of this trail so we planned this in to spend a good length of time on top.
Setting up camp was at a very relaxed pace and there are many camping areas to choose from where little walls have been built up to keep the wind off.
The afternoon was hot so we were pleased to have the S2S Tarp with us combined with a bush for shade. We set about making some stone furniture and explored the top of Brinkley Bluff.
The views from the top are spectacular and being able to stay all night to watch the sunset and then up early for sunrise was cetainly a highlight of the trek. Many people we met did not plan this in due to lack of time so if you can it’s certainly worth it rather than pushing on. As the sun vanished over the horizon the temperature dropped significantly and the wind started to get stronger. Out came the down jackets and hats!
The tent stood up well to the wind however we were in a reasonably sheltered spot on the lee side of the hill with Mark taking the full force of the wind up on the ridge (thanks for the nice spot Mark!).
Day 14 – Brinkley Bluff to Standley Chasm
An early start on Brinkley Bluff to get some packing completed before sunrise. It was still pretty windy in the morning so felt quite cold until the sun started to rise. It was amazing watching the sunrise with ony Sarah, Mark and I camping that night, so we had it to ourselves.
The walk from the top of Brinkley Bluff across the ridge is spectacular early on in the morning. It wasn’t until we started the descent properly that we started to see some people climbing up, although they were not planning on camping on the top.
We made a quick descent and a brisk walk along the dry river bed into Standley Chasm making it in good time for morning tea with home baked scones. Mark set the pace…I think he was motivated by those homemade scones.
The camping area at Standley Chasm is not great as esentially you are in the car park with a bit of green grass next to the toilet block. That being said we did enjoy our stay and we booked the Camper Pamper Package. This included camping fees, scones on arrival, a 3 course dinner and cooked breakfast, certainly well worth it. Access into Standley Chasm is also included as part of your camp fees so we explored here in the afternoon and then did the box sorting as this was our last food drop location. There are also hot showers and a washing machine here, which we made good use of.
Day 15 – Standley Chasm to Jay Creek
With a cooked breakfast in our package, we didn’t set off as early as we would have liked today. We were all packed up and waiting for service to start at 7am, but they were running late. If we were doing it again, we would make our own breakfast as it was a long day. However we really enjoyed our last morning with our trail buddy Mark.
It’s quite a steep climb out of Standley Chasm and today Mark joined us for the first part of the climb before we said goodbye as he was heading back home today. The terrain was reasonably tough going with large heavy packs, especially scrambling down the gully to reach the bottom of the valley before reaching Tangentyere Junction.
This was the point we needed to make the decision to take the alternative high route or stick with the low route. We stopped for a while to make a decision with Sarah more on the low route and me more on the high route. We decided on the high route and it certainly was quite a climb especially leaving later than we would normally from Standley Chasm. The views were spectacular, although very much what we had got used to over the last 15 days. It took a long time to get around the high route and once we made it back to the low route we were both wishing we had just taken the low path as we still had a good hike ahead.
The rest of the walk to Jay Creek was along a sandy dry river bed where the heat was quite intense. It was a welcome sight to arrive at Jay Creek for the night.
Day 16 – Jay Creek to Simpsons Gap
It was the start of Section 2 today and the plan was to complete this in one day. It was too short a walk to the Mulga Camp so we pushed through to do the 27KM. A nice walk and pretty easy going so able to get a good pace up bringing us into Simpsons Gap.
Simpsons Gap is a nice place to stay apart from it being accessible from the road with a car park. The campsite is set away from the car park in a nice spot with a good view as well as a modern shelter. We caught up with Chris here who we met at Standley Chasm discussing if we should complete section one as a one day or split it into two.
Sarah then caught up with her Strive Food review which you can check out here.
Day 17 – Simpson Gap to Wallaby Gap
We took an early visit into Simpson Gap to enjoy the morning glow on the rocks before starting section 1. This was a fairly short day so we had plenty of time en-route to check out the Fairy Springs and stop for a relaxed lunch. It’s a pretty easy walk with only a little height to climb before arriving into Wallaby Gap.
We had decided to stick to our original plan and camp at Wallaby Gap so we could enjoy Euro Ridge at first light as well as have enough time to extend the hike into the centre of town from the Telegraph Station, Chris had decided to do the same thing.
We spent the afternoon exploring Wallaby Gap and catching up on a few of our product review videos. We reviewed our Sea to Summit Sleeping Solution as well as the Goal Zero Solar Panel and Battery system.
Day 18 – Wallaby Gap to Alice Springs
So now for the last day. We were up nice and early to gain the height onto Euro Ridge with the sun rising. A number of people has said to blast through section 1 and 2 as one day hikes and I can see if you were starting from Alice heading west this may make sense. However walking from west to east gives the great opportunity to really enjoy Euro Ridge early in the morning. The view is spectacular and it also means there is no rush to get into Alice Springs so a coffee at the Telegraph Station is well worth a stop.
Euro Ridge did not dissapoint and I have to say it was in my list of trail highlights at that time in the morning.
After Euro Ridge the trail gets a bit less distinct as there are several other local trails and for the first time we managed to take the wrong one but soon realised and back tracked to pick up the Larapinta. It’s a pleasant walk into the Telegraph Station and a great feeling signing the log book for the last time.
There is a cycle/walking path leading back to Alice Springs Township and for some this may not appeal after reaching the end of such a long trail however if you have the time it’s a good way to arrive into Alice on foot. We headed straight for one of the local pubs ready for a glass of sparking and lunch.
So that’s the end…. I didn’t quite think part 3 would turn out to be this long but 18 days is a long time on the trail! So a year of travelling and I can honestly say the Larapinta Trail was one of my top 10 highlights over the year. Would I do it again? Yes, its such an awesome trail with a real remoteness and stunning terrain. 18 days suited us well and yes we could have shortned this but would not have had the same experience and flexibility we built in. We have met some amazing people on the trail and also had days where we saw nobody. If you’re looking for a challenge then this could be your adventure too with so many ways to undertake this as we have discussed in Part 2. A special mention goes to Mark. Thank you for being an awesome trail buddy. We loved meeting you and your wife in Perth after hearing so many stories about her and we are looking forward to one day having some more hiking adventures with you.
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