Hiking Larapinta Part 2: On the Trail

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In Part 1 of this series, I covered how to plan the length of your trek, what time of the year to visit, organising accommodation in Alice Springs, how to organise food and gear drops, as well as what gear to bring and packing trips.

In Part 2, we take on what to expect when you’re actually on the trail so that you can plan your hike accordingly.

Water sources along Larapinta

I consumed water from all the ranger maintained tanks without treating or filtering it and had no physical issues as a result. While I had plans in place to filter water, after speaking with LTTS and realising there had been no rain for nearly 6 months, it was clear that all the water had been trucked into the tanks. While I could have done a Bear Grylls and sourced water naturally from the waterholes, there just wasn’t a need to mess with the ecosystem.

I had planned my itinerary very much based on access to water. I only spent two nights without access to a tank, both on top of ridgelines in section 9 and section 11. In fact, I was really impressed with the system in place for water tank management by NT Parks and Wildlife. Every tank is monitored by satellite and when levels get low, an alert goes out that a refill is needed.

Each trailhead also has a huge capacity to hold water with many of them appearing to have 2x 10,000+ litre tanks. Through the long sections of 1, 2, 6 and 11, there was often a single tank at the halfway camp (Section 9 is long but doesn’t have a tank as it’s impossible to gain vehicle access).

Water tanks on the Larapinta Trail

One of the types of water tanks on the trail with the satellite tracking system on the left. Photo: Ben Trewren

How much water should you drink per day?

Beyond my usual 3L allocation of water to keep hydrated, I carried an additional 6L of water in section 9 to get me through the night and 12km the next day through to Ormiston Gorge. In section 11, I carried an additional 4L as I only needed to hike 4km the following morning to get through to the halfway camp at Rocky Bar Gap where there was a water tank.

I can’t stress enough how invaluable it is to get into a hydration routine right from the start. No matter what was happening, drinking a minimum of 6L for the first 3 days for me was critical. I also set myself the routine of consuming a litre of fluid before I began each morning, a litre if I reached a water tank during the day and then a litre within half an hour of reaching camp. While it often felt like I was forcing fluid into the body, it was critical in such hot and dry conditions.

The ultimate goal was to try and drink a litre for every hour I hiked, which I managed to do. The good news is that not once did I feel dehydrated – so I avoided headaches and nausea for the entire 14 days.

Shelters at most trailheads

Shelters found at most trailheads have sleeping pads, water tanks and a toilet nearby. Photo: Ben Trewren

Facilities along the trail

Because of my plan, I spent every night, except for two, at section trailheads which meant I was lucky to have access to the trail facilities available. I still can’t believe that there is no trail fee to hike Larapinta, and you only need to pay to camp at 3 campsites.

All trailhead campsites had well-stocked water tanks and a hybrid toilet available with plenty of cleared areas for tents, some even had low table tops you could set up on. Trailheads except for Serpentine Chalet Dam, Redbank Gorge and the 3 x paid sites are also set up with a large sheltered area, 2 x sleeping pads big enough to each squeeze 4 people on and a bag storage cupboard to hide your gear from intruding animals.

The other two nights, I spent on top of the ridgeline just west of Waterfall Gorge in section 9 and at the Mt Sonder Lookout east of Rocky Bar Gap Camp in Section 11. While I needed to carry additional water for these two nights, it’s evident right along the trail that there are many ‘unofficial’ camps where hikers have cleared rocks and these two camps were no different.

It was a bit windy being up so high and exposed, but the sunset and sunrise views made it absolutely worth it. I’d encourage you to spend a couple of nights away from facilities. It’s a different and memorable way to spend a night(s) on the Larapinta, especially if up high on a ridge.

Toilet along the trail

Always nice to arrive at a toilet, even if just to rest the legs… Photo: Ben Trewren

Halfway camps

Halfway camps varied, some having shelter, water tanks and toilets, others having nothing but cleared tent areas – so it’s worth double checking with NT Parks and Wildlife before departure to get up-to-date information on the facilities available.

While I didn’t experience any rain, I can imagine there would be challenges if you got caught in a downpour. It wouldn’t take much for the landscape to become quite muddy and the camping experience would no doubt be much different.

Paid Campsites available

  • Standley Chasm is situated on Aboriginal Land and it’ll set you back $18.50* (cash or card) per person. This includes access to see Standley Chasm as well as a patch of green grass to camp on, with facilities including a well-stocked kiosk open from 9 am – 5 pm full of homemade food, as well as a flushing toilet and steady flowing shower.
  • Ellery Creek is $5* per person (correct change required). You currently need to share the campground with the general public but there are flushing toilets available.
  • Ormiston Gorge is $10* per person. Correct cash can be put in an envelope and dropped into a box (honour system), or you can pay card at the kiosk. Ormiston is a fantastic spot to spend some time separated from the general public campground. It has flowing hot showers, flushing toilets and a delicious kiosk that is open between 10 am – 4 pm.
  • You only need to pay at Redbank Gorge ($5* cash) if you choose to stay in the public campground. If you choose to camp in the creek, next to the Larapinta Water Tank and 150m from the toilet, it’s free!

* Pricing at the time of writing this article.

Sunset one night in section 9

Stunning sunset on top of the ridgeline in Section 9. Photo: Ben Trewren

Hazards of Larapinta

While the Larapinta is a beautiful trail, it can also be a brutal one. If the sun from above isn’t getting you, the rocks beneath you are and just when you think you’re on top of things, the plants from the side start coming at you as well.

1. The hot and dry air

Don’t forget to factor in how dry the air is which adds to the overall feel and temperature of the heat during the day. The dryness accelerates dehydration and without a breeze, it has an uncomfortable effect. Use it as motivation to climb up onto ridgelines and summits as you’ll usually find a breeze there.

Over 14 days, I didn’t get a day with any cloud cover so ensure you’re vigilantly sun-smart. Bring a broad brim hat (I used a highly unfashionable legionnaires hat which worked a treat with a pack), polarised sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, collar and long sleeves. These are all critical for protecting yourself from sunburn and dehydration.

2. Rocks along the trail

I know it sounds stupid for many to make this point, but the Larapinta Trail is full of rocks. Big ones, small ones, different coloured ones, sharp ones and loose ones. You need to be prepared and ready to walk on uneven terrain for pretty much the entire trail. Ensure you have the strength, not just your ankles, but in your body to handle this kind of demand.

Not only that, but you need to consider this when predicting your pace. You can’t watch your steps and the landscape at the same time.

Razorback Ridge on the Larapinta Trail

Looking west along Razorback Ridge. Rocks, rocks and more rocks… Photo: Ben Trewren

3. Mice, Crows, Snakes and Dingoes

I didn’t see or hear a single snake or dingo (but did see tracks). However, beware of the mice and crows. Jay Creek is presently a mice haven. You need to take steps to ensure your gear and food is kept from the pesky suckers. I chose to sleep away from the shelter, bury my food in the middle of my pack and leave nothing out overnight. Don’t get complacent elsewhere… Jay Creek was bad, but I spotted mice at many other camps also.

You also need to keep an eye on the crows – while they didn’t bother me like their supporters do back in Adelaide (lol), many others shared stories of how crows got into their packs and knocked off some of their gear. Ruthless birds! I was lucky to get through my trek in the end without being defeated by any animal.

4. Flies and insects

Surprisingly, those famous Central Australian Bush Flies were never an issue to get me worked up over. Sure, there were a few days where they were buzzing about, but no more than 10 at a time. It was never in a way that flattened my spirits and certainly not enough to think anything of it in the scheme of the adventure.

But again… I know I got super lucky so I understand that they do wreak demoralisation on other people.

Unforgiving Vegetation along the Larapinta

There isn’t a lot of shade along Larapinta due to the small leaves of the trees. Photo: Ben Trewren

5. The vegetation

The vegetation is pretty unforgiving. Between the needles of the spinifex, the prickles of the seeds and the lack of shade due to small leaves… it can often feel like nature is out to get you. It can, however, be managed. Be patient, prepare, seek shade in spots like creeks, show resilience, and take the time to clear ground before sitting down or rolling out your air mattress.

Safety with other hikers

Overall, I felt incredibly safe and everyone I met on the trail and at the campsites were very friendly. While anyone can access each trailhead by vehicle (some require a 4WD), I only encountered ‘non-hikers’ at Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek, Ormiston Gorge and Redbank Gorge. Obviously, it’s always important not to leave things out, which can potentially be an invitation for someone to flog it.

Counts Point in Section 8 along the Larapinta Trail

The view along the vistas from Counts Point in Section 8. Photo: Ben Trewren

Following the trail

The trail is in fantastic condition and really easy to follow, especially if heading East to West. I met some people heading West to East who shared concerns with following the trail. It’s often misleading because of trail offshoots and with the gradients of the ascents and descents. It’s definitely much more gradual climbing with steeper descents overall if heading East to West (which I loved).

Bottom line – if you think it looks a bit dangerous then go back 20 metres and check for an alternative path because you’ve probably ended up off the Larapinta Trail.

Phone reception and power access

It’s possible to get Telstra coverage at certain high points – but I can’t be certain about other providers. I got reception at Brinkley Bluff, Razorback Ridge, Section 8 Ridgeline, Counts Point, Ridgeline above Waterfall Gorge, Mt Sonder Lookout and Mt Sonder. I also had coverage for most of Section 1 and at Simpson’s Gap.

In terms of power access, there are powerpoints available for use at Standley Chasm and Ormiston Gorge.

3G Sign along the Larapinta Trail

 You can get coverage in some areas along the trail. Photo: Ben Trewren

Tips for leaving no trace

‘Leave No Trace’ is critical on any adventure. But it’s especially important when in a remote, sensitive and pristine environment like the Larapinta Trail. Here are a few measures I took to ensure I only left footprints and took only memories.

  • Carry a sturdy rubbish bag to carry out waste, that’s animal-proof and will keep odours in.
  • Take maps to ensure you stay on the prescribed trails and don’t create any unnecessary offshoots.
  • Use biodegradable soaps and wipes for hygiene. Also make sure you don’t bury your wipes, instead carry them out with you as they still take time to decompose.
  • Have a foldable washing bucket to prevent wasting precious water.
  • Carry fuel for cooking so you don’t burn wood from the landscape which effects the ecosystem (campfires are prohibited on the Larapinta Trail).
  • Carry a sturdy trowel with 1 ply toilet paper. That way you can dig holes big enough to not attract wildlife or pollute waterways once your business is done.
  • Use a bag like a Scrubba to wash your clothes.
  • Also, bring a clothesline so you don’t damage fragile trees when you hang up your washing.

Gear that leaves no trace, only footprints

Key pieces of gear to help me ‘Leave No Trace’. Photo: Ben Trewren

Track Report Summary:

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So there you have it, a summary of my trip trekking the Larapinta trail. What’s the next adventure you want to tackle?

About the writer...

Ben Trewren

Currently a resident gear-expert here at Snowys, the outdoors has always been Ben’s second home. His adventures have taken him to almost every continent in the world. He’s hiked in the United States, mountain biked in Cambodia, 4WD through South Africa, kayaked in Laos, skydived at Uluru, white water rafted in New Zealand and much more. However, nothing beats home where he’s guided groups across Australia through the Red Centre, along the Great Ocean Rd and onto Kangaroo Island for many years before joining Snowys. Ben continues to involve himself in the outdoors through volunteering with Operation Flinders and Scouts Australia. While many say Ben has a poorly developed sense of fear and no idea of the odds against him, he puts his adventures down to the planning and preparation of his gear that he’s bought from Snowys.

Joined back in November, 2016

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