Larapinta Trail Walk 2004

Walk Journal

Friday 3 September to Saturday 18 September 2004

  1. Stuart Highway to Simpsons Gap
  2. Simpson Gap to Jay Creek
  3. Jay Creek to Standley Chasm
  4. Standley Chasm to Birthday Waterhole
  5. Birthday Waterhole to Hugh Gorge
  6. Hugh Gorge to Rocky Gully
  7. Rocky Gully to Ellery Creek
  8. Ellery Creek to Serpentine Gorge
  9. Serpentine Gorge to the Ochre Pits
  10. Ormiston Gorge Circuit Walk and Desert Festival
  11. Ormiston Gorge to Glen Helen
  12. Glen Helen to Redbank Gorge
  13. Redbank Gorge to Mt Sonder and back
  14. Tylers Pass and Gosse Bluff
  15. Palm Valley Circuit Walks
  16. Return to Town

Day 1, Friday 3 September 2004

Section 1: Stuart Highway to Simpsons Gap
Day: 19km; Total: 19km

The walk officially starts at the Old Alice Springs Telegraph Station about 1.5km north of town. However, in order to ease into the whole exercise a bit better, we commenced about 5km into the official walk at Geoff Moss Bridge, where the trail crosses the Stuart Highway about 3km north of Alice.

0623 Penny dropped off eight of us: Steve, Bob, Jan, Mary&Ron, Karen, and Gernot&Trudy. Everyone is equipped with light day packs containing essentials like water and camera and luxuries like morning tea and lunch. While we start our walk, Penny drives back to Alice to meet up with Anne for shopping and packing of all the camping and cooking gear.

0627 0625 The track takes us at 90° away from the highway, up some hills over typical semi-arid soil with plenty of scrub thanks to some recent winter rain.

0629 Soon, we are crossing the last obvious sign of human civilisation — our latest engineering feast and completion of a century-old project: the Alice Springs to Darwin railway.

Ron/S1_Blackfooted_rockwallaby We are treated to a surprising amount of wild life: at least four kangaroo sightings in the first hour of walking!

0626 Jan/1008 Jan/1014 Occasionally we climb a hilltop or ridge affording us a view back to Alice, getting smaller and smaller each time...

0646 0639 Jan/1013 The last such view is from Euro Ridge (which has nothing to do with the European currency — euro is a common name for the wallaroo).

Jan/1009 0642 Jan/1012 Jan/1011

Soon after we have an early lunch stop (before 11am, we only walked about 8.5km which took us less than two hours) at Wallaby Gap. This has a water tank and even a composting toilet, and is the place to camp for those doing the section in two days.

Marie/0152 Jan/1018 The track in this part is very easy, generally cleared of rocks and plants, and we make good progress (over 5km/h) before lunch. The locals don't normally walk this section, calling it “boring like bat shit”. We reckon this is unfair, as there is plenty of nice scenery (but, of course, it's Alice Springs scenery).

After lunch it gets warmer (although the official maximum for the day is less than 19° but the sky is clear and the sun is strong and reflects off the rocks) and we slow down to about 4km/h.

On the last kilometer (which goes slightly downhill) Gernot develops his old knee problem, which really worries him, given that the day's walk was really easy. However, he did forget to take his walking sticks along (they are in the big backpack sitting on the roof of the car, where they are really useful!) so he can't unload his knee as he usually does on downhill bits. He should know better.

0648 Jan/1029 Marie/0150 Jan/1025 Jan/1034 We reach Simpsons Gap between 2pm and 3pm, where Penny, Anne and the car await us. Road access is from the South, via Larapinta Drive. It is obviously a popular site, which is not surprising given its proximity to Alice. It is a very beautify river bed with a waterhole in the gap and known to be a good place to see Rock Wallabies (although we don't see any).

0662 By sunset the day tourists are gone and we have the place to ourselves, for our first camp.

Day 2, Saturday 4 September 2004

Section 2: Simpson Gap to Jay Creek
Day: 25.5km; Total: 44.5km

We wake up a bit chilled, it has been a cold night (2.1° is the official minimum, observed at Alice Springs Airport, ASP). Today Steve is staying with Penny and the car, with the other 8 walking.

0664 0667 After an 8:40 start we walk in the plain alongside the ridge, through landscape that isn't as exciting as the previous day's, but there are some creek beds with beautiful river gums.

Trudy is developing into the senior kangaroo spotter (could have something to do with her walking at the front most of the morning).

Jan/2002 Jan/2003 We have lunch at Mulga Camp, which is again a half-way camping point with a water tank for those doing the section in two days. Trudy isn't only good at spotting roos, at lunch she notices a beautiful kingfisher in a nearby tree.

0668 We cover a lot of distance today (second-longest day distance-wise) but the track is still easy and walking is pleasant. However, during the afternoon Trudy develops a serious problem with her right knee, something highly unusual for her. She has problems walking up or down even the slightest slopes. Gernot, whose knee is holding up surprisingly well, trades his walking sticks for Trudy's backpack from Spring Gap.

The official end of the section is Jay Creek camp site. There are a couple of other Larapinta Trail walkers staying there, but so far we haven't actually met anyone else on the track. The camp site is not accessible by car, so we meet Penny and Steve about 700m away at the gate which marks the National Park boundary. This time the access is from the North, via Tanami Road, so the car had to go back via Alice.

0677 0678 Marie/0161 We camp in what's essentially a cow paddock. Consequently the flies are out in force, and there is cow shit everywhere. Other than that it's actually a nice camp ground (and the fly problem is unlikely to be different at the official camp site). We have a camp fire after a delicious meal cooked by Penny.

Day 3, Sunday 5 September 2004

Section 3: Jay Creek to Standley Chasm
Day: 15km; Total: 59.5km

Marie/0165 Marie/0169 Marie/0167 We get up after a milder night to a mostly cloudy day, but with some early morning sun. Today, Trudy pauses in order to rest her knee, particularly as this is the first day with a serious ascent and descent. Marie is also taking the day off walking once she hears that in the context of the Alice Springs Desert Festival it's the day of the annual Desert Mob art exhibition and sale, so the three girls go to town.

0700 0703 Ron/S3_Fish-Hole The walking here is much more strenuous; from Jay Creek via Fish Hole to Tangentyere Junction we are mostly walking in river beds, which means very uneven ground and frequent scrambling over larger boulders.

Jan/2011 Jan/2010 0707 Jan/2022 At the junction we split up, with Bob and Ron taking the low route up the valley, and the other five taking the route over the top of the ridge. The ascent is quite pleasant, relatively steep but steady, and at the top we are rewarded with great 360° views!

0737 0743 The descent from the top is steep, but Gernot's knee is holding up surprisingly well, thanks to extensive use of the walking sticks. Karen thinks it's funny to see Gernot moving down the hill on four “legs” in a way reminiscent of a spider. Near Miller's flat the seven of us meet up again and have lunch together.

After lunch there is more scrambling through creek beds, and at the end even some mild climbing. Fortunately the signposting leaves no doubt which way to go!

0755 Jan/2017 0757 Jan/2023 Jan/2025 Ron/S3_Stanley_Chasm Past Angkale Junction there is yet another creek bed, this time downhill, although there is a big detour leading a fair bit up the side of the valley to get around some high piles of rock in the creek.

0760 A final scramble over some big rocks, and we have reached the bottom of the valley at Standley Chasm, where we are greeted by day tourists walking in from the car park. There is a kiosk with ice cream, the perfect treat at the end of a strenuous and warm day (the hardest and warmest so far, even if the official temperature is a balmy 20°)! The car arrives within minutes of us (this time from the South again, so they went via Alice once more).

0766 Soon after sunset a number of wallabies come out looking for edibles: they clearly expect that where there are campers there is food. Obviously, not all campers are very disciplined with respecting the do-not-feed-wildlife rule.

Day 4, Monday 6 September 2004

Section 4: Standley Chasm to Birthday Waterhole
Day: 18km; Total: 77.5km

We wake up to a mild morning with overcast sky. It will remain overcast most of the day, which is somewhat unusual for the Centre this time of the year. This time Bob joins Penny with the car, and the other 8 start walking soon after 8am.

0774 0773 Marie/0206 Ron/S4_Reveal_Saddle2 The walk starts with a gentle slope, initially in an (easy) creek bed, then along the side of the valley to Bridle Path Lookout, where we have the first stop. On to Reveal Saddle, and then over slate along the ridge to Brinkley Bluff Summit, which is 1200m high (camp was at 750m). There is a helicopter landing pad on the top, and it is marked in the maps for camping, but there is no water.

Jan/2027 Ron/S4_marie Jan/2028 Jan/2029 Jan/2031

Jan/3004 Jan/2035 Jan/2032 Jan/3011 Jan/3007 Jan/3006 The climb down is rather savage, a tough test for the knees, but everything holds up. At Rocky Cleft there is an empty water barrel. A further steep descent follows to Stuart's Pass (700m altitude).

Jan/3027 Jan/3028 Jan/3029 Jan/3030

0776 It is quite warm by now (26.7° at ASP), the warmest day on the track. However, as the sun is mostly behind clouds it isn't too bad. And from Stuart's Pass (which isn't a pass at all, but really a flat big river bed, see picture at the right) the walk is very easy and flat, along the sandy river bed, until we reach Birthday Waterhole, which we reach just after 4pm.

We take a quick dip in the cold waterhole, which isn't overly inviting as it is full of algae. At 5pm the car is still not here, and Trudy and Steve go looking for it. About 20 minutes later we hear the typical noise of a 4WD grinding its way through sand — Penny and Bob did have some slight problems in finding the right access road, but everything is fine in the end. Nevertheless, this is a bit ironic, as on this last planned trip to Alice Penny has picked up a couple of satellite phones, which we were going to use exactly in cases like this. Once we had them, we never needed them!

The night is interesting. It's very warm (low of 15°), and a strong wind starts blowing, and by about 11pm develops into an outright gale (peaking at 77km/h, that's 8 Beaufort at 3am, according to official records for ASP). Bob, Ron and Marie who are sleeping in swags in the sand move to a more protected spot under trees and put up a fly. Steve and Penny lose the fly of their tent, and Gernot and Trudy get up after midnight to tie storm guys to their tent and put additional pegs in. The pegs cannot be trusted much in the sandy soil. However, and much to some people's surprise, all tents stay up (although most people do not get all that much sleep). There is actually some rain which, with the strong wind, feels like a lot, but is actually only just enough to moisten the top of the sand (ASP records 0.4mm).

The wind calms down before sunrise, and we have no problems enjoying a halfway normal breakfast. However, the place looks a bit like a battlefield, with pots and utensils scattered around. Fortunately, the only breakage is our gas lamp.

Day 5, Tuesday 7 September 2004

Section 5: Birthday Waterhole to Hugh Gorge
Day: 16km; Total: 93.5km

After the excitement of the night (and the following cleanup operations) we have a slow start, hitting the track just before 9am. It is still overcast, but the sky clears completely within the first 15 minutes of walking, and it remains almost cloudless for the rest of the day.

After an easy walk over a small saddle we get into beautiful Spencer Gorge. This is strenuous walking, including a lot of scrambling over boulders. It takes us 2h to get through the 1.5km (still fast compared to the signs at the track head which allow 5.5h for this part).

0779 Windy Saddle isn't all that windy, but provides a very nice view — perfect for lunch. From here we walk a rocky path along Razorback Ridge, until a steep (but easy and zig-zagging) descent down to a creek bed full of shady river gums. This is a natural spot for camping if one does the section in two days, although there is no water.

0781 Back up again into Linear Valley, which has more switchbacks before reaching Rocky Saddle. This has a few gum trees right on the top of the ridge, which runs at right angle to the valley. Against the blue sky they look quite spectacular coming from below.

Linear Valley continues downhill the other side of the saddle, and flattens out at Hugh Gorge Junction, another camp site without water. From there the track is all pretty flat through Pocket Valley and into Hugh Gorge.

Hugh Gorge has a fair bit of water, and at the top this poses some challenge, particular as the signposting is much less dense here. This would normally not be a problem, but now that we are used to having signs very regularly, and in particular whenever there is any doubt about where to go, their absence is a bit discomforting. Mostly so when we hit the first big (and deep!) waterhole and aren't quite sure whether it is best passed on the right or the left. We finally find a good route, including a beam serving as a ladder (so this is obviously where we are meant to pass) but a little sign would have helped and avoided looking around for half an hour.

0790 Ron/S5_fire2 We finally reach camp about 4:15pm, later than expected and just short of the 4:30 time we had agreed to call each other on the satellite phones to avoid the parties worrying. The camp is very nice, sandy but firm ground and lots of bushes and trees.

Day 6, Wednesday 8 September 2004

Section 6 Part 1: Hugh Gorge to Rocky Gully
Day: 16.5km; Total: 110km

Ron/S5_hugh_gorge After a quiet, cool night (with heavy condensation in the tent) we repack for an overnight walk. The packs are relatively heavy, as we also carry plenty of water, since we aren't certain about the availability of water at the planned camp at Rocky Gully. This time everybody but Penny walks, she'll spend a day and a half in town with friends. First, however, she needs company to manoeuvre her way back out to the road, which is a fair bit away (the access is almost all the way back to Birthday Waterhole). So Ron and Marie go with her, and get dropped off at Ellery Creek, the other end of this section, from where they walk towards Rocky Gully.

We get off just before 9am. The area was heavily burnt in November 2002, so there is lots of dead scrub and the area appears less green. It's a very clear day, with excellent views of the Chewings Range we are leaving. This section crosses over to the Heavitree Range, traversing fairly flat territory. Consequently, the walking is mostly easy and flat.

0793 After just over an hour we come across the 100km mark! Feels great (even though we look rather silly in that picture)...

After Ghost Gum Flat there is a bit of a climb (about 100m vertical), but the track is easy and the slope moderate. We have lunch on top of the hill. Here we meet, for the first time, another walker. He works in the outdoor shop in Alice Springs and is doing this as a two-day walk: from Hugh Gorge to near the Saddle close to Ellery Creek, and back the next day (where we meet him).

The rest of the day's walk is quite uneventful. The last bit to Rocky Gully is a short, steep descent. At about 2:30pm we reach the camp, which has plenty of water in the tanks. All in all, it was an easy day, except for the weight. Ron and Marie have it harder, as they don't get to start until about 11am, and walk mostly during the hottest part of the day. Marie is quite exhausted when she arrives.

Dinner is somewhat on the simple side that night, as there is no car with all the luxuries, and no chef...

Day 7, Thursday 9 September 2004

Section 6 Part 2: Rocky Gully to Ellery Creek
Day: 16km; Total: 126km

We manage a relatively early start, hitting the trail at around 7:30. We have beautify early-morning light, which makes the ranges ahead look truly stunning.

Marie/0222 0806 0808 The first stretch out from camp is a bit rocky, but generally the track continues to be flat and easy to walk. The ascent to the Saddle is the main challenge, but that isn't particularly bad. Nevertheless, Gernot is experiencing slight knee problems early in the morning. It was probably a mistake to start moving ahead very slowly while the others get ready. Seems best to move at a good pace and use the sticks as much as possible. Fortunately, the knee improves during the day and is fine again the next.

0807 From the saddle the view of the ranges is, once more, magnificent. From there the last 3km, while relatively flat and mostly downhill, feel quite long, as we walk over fairly reflective rocks in the middle of the day, so we feel rather hot, even though the day's maximum is not much above 20°.

0813 Ellery Creek waterhole is huge, probably about 100m across, and very beautiful. It is also very cold, probably below 10°. So cold that we stay in there only for seconds, in spite feeling very hot after the day's walk. The ducks swimming in it will appreciate it...

0817 The campground is big and equipped with several toilets, and water taps. This is the busiest camp so far, with 5 or 6 other parties camping, including two women with a noisy kid, and a pair of grey nomads who can talk endlessly about camper vans.

Day 8, Friday 10 September 2004

Section 7: Ellery Creek to Serpentine Gorge
Day: 15km; Total: 141km

0821 The morning is cool (night temperature was 3.5°) and somewhat windy, but glorious. Before rising over the hill we came down the previous afternoon, the sun illuminates the vegetation along the top, creating an aura of light around it.

0822 Marie/0238 We leave around 8:30. The track goes uphill and then along a low mini-ridge parallel to the main ridge. The walking there is a bit strenuous, as the ground is very uneven with the rock unevenly eroded, often producing outcrops that look like mushrooms.

Marie/0241 0823 We have a break at about half way, at a top with a big marker for trigonometry. We see a bunch of wild horses down in the valley about halfway towards Namatjira Drive to the south of us. After the climb down from the trig point, the walking becomes easier as it goes along the kind of terrain we have got used to.

Marie/0242 Jan/3034 At about 12:15 we arrive at Serpentine Gorge, which has a beautiful waterhole, popular with little finchen. We have lunch, and Trudy and Gernot take a refreshing swim, as it has got quite warm again (temperature is above 26° again).

After walking the last km to the car park we see signs at the trail head telling us not to swim in the waterhole (which has great cultural significance to the Aborigines). We feel a bit guilty, but from where we came there was really no sign or other indication that swimming was not ok.

They also closed the camp ground (which in the distant past must have been a major site, it has a big rainwater tank, a pump and remnants of power outlets for camper vans!). Again, no sign about no camping at the old camp ground itself; had we just come along the track and stopped there we would have had no idea that we weren't supposed to camp. In fact, we suspect that they really don't want any car camping there, and probably don't mind unsupported Larapinta walkers (who really don't have much of an alternative anyway).

Being good citizens we do as recommended and drive to Serpentine Gorge Bush Camp, which is euphemistically advertised as being “special” for having no facilities ;-) “No facilities” is definitely an accurate description. On top of this, the camp also has very hard soil, but makes up for it by having bindii in excess. They are everywhere, and a real pain in the butt (quite literally ;-). We decide to rename the place “Camp Bindi”. A must for all masochists!

Day 9, Saturday 11 September 2004

Section 8: Serpentine Gorge to the Ochre Pits
Day: 21km; Total: 162km

Jan/4001 0832 We wake up to a warm (8°) and overcast morning. It looks like it might rain, so we put the tarpaulin over our luggage on the roof before driving back to Serpentine Gorge. We get going at 9am; it now feels cold with no sun and plenty of wind.

Marie/0248 Marie/0251 There is a somewhat steep but nice and steady climb (~300m) up from the gorge to the top of the ridge. From there the tack continues at an easy slope along the top of the ridge to Counts Point.

Ron/S8_from_counts_pt Jan/4012 Ron/S8_from_counts_pt3 Marie/0259 Albert Namatjira created some famous paintings here, and the view is indeed great, including Mt Sonder and Mt Ziel.

Jan/4008 Jan/4004 Marie/0265 Jan/4014 Jan/4015 We return the 500m to the turnoff (where we had dumped our packs) and do the steep descent to a saddle, where we have lunch.

0833 By this time the sky has cleared up except for a few remaining clouds. It remains windy, however. From the lunch spot there is more (but much easier) downhill, until we reach the plain again. The remainder is easy walking through slightly undulating country. The Ochre Pits must be getting close: we see several places with brightly-coloured ochre.

0835 Serpentine Chalet Dam is a pretty spot that seems attractive for camping. It has water and is (according to the map) also only a 1km walk from the car park above Camp Bindi (no, we didn't think of taking the shortcut, we would have missed the great view of Counts Point!) A couple kilometres on is Inarlanga Pass, the turnoff to Section 9 (which we are going to skip).

Marie/0270 Marie/0271 Marie/0269 0837 Jan/4017 The last 4km are easy walking, mostly downhill, but they stretch on. And while it is a cool day (19°) we feel quite warm and are happy to reach the end, where we are met by the car party at the truly impressive Ochre Pits. It's been a long day after all, we arrive at around 4pm.

We have long before decided to chicken out and skip Section 9, which is far longer than any of the previous sections (30km) and contains a lot of up- and downhill. It also isn't easy to do overnight, as there is, apparently, no water anywhere along that section.

So, we pack up and drive towards Ormiston Gorge, the end of Section 9. But since this is really close to Glen Helen Pub, we might as well go there for a drink, right? There we are faced with the tough choice between a basic camp at Ormiston Gorge with many others (it's a popular spot and it's the week-end) or stay where we are, put up the tents outside the pub, have a few more cold beers and a shower. To everybody's surprise we decide to tough it out at the pub...

Day 10, Sunday 12 September 2004

Ormiston Gorge Circuit Walk
Day: 8km; Total: 170km

We wake up to a cloudless but windy morning, feels colder than it is. The wimps (Marie, Trudy and Gernot) have a massive cooked breakfast at the pub. Fortunately they have no real coffee, the decadence would have been hard to bear.

Marie/0278 Jan/4020 Jan/4023 Jan/4021 Ron/S9_ormiston_gorge1 0839 We drive to Ormiston Gorge and do the Pound Walk, which goes over a rather low range, through the “pound”, a large area almost completely enclosed by mountains and therefore ideal to keep stock, and back through the gorge.

Jan/5001 Jan/5002 We see lots of birds and a wallaby at the gorge. This is the coolest day of the trip (max 18°) in spite of the cloudless sky.

0842 0846 Marie/0308 0852 0843 In the evening we all drive back to Alice. As part of the Desert Festival they have an Aboriginal concert. It starts off with the Hermannsburg Women's Choir singing Christian hymns in their native language. This is followed by one of the better known Aboriginal bands, Archie Roach and his wife Ruby Hunter. The music is ok-ish, but the atmosphere of the crowd sitting around fires in the Todd River is charming. It's like a big family reunion. 0853

Day 11, Monday 13 September 2004

Section 10: Ormiston Gorge to Glen Helen
Day: 13.5km; Total: 183.5km

From our camp at Glen Helen we drive back to Ormiston gorge to hit the Larapinta Trail again, starting off at about 8:50. All are walking but Penny, who drives the car back to Glen Helen. It's still quite windy and cool but virtually cloudless.

Jan/5006 0859 This is a beautiful and easy walk. From Hilltop, which we reach after about an hour, we have another grand view of the ranges and Mt Sonder. Around there we meet two walkers, who are doing the track unsupported in W-E direction. This is only the second time that we meet others on the track.

Jan/5008 Jan/5010 0863 Later we walk along a beautiful creek bed with many waterholes and birds. Among others we see a flock of pelicans (around 20), and an eagle. Ron picks up a big lizard tail, which is later going to get him into trouble with Marie. On the last few kilometres we see a total of four wild bulls, one of them doesn't seem to like us much, so we give him a wide berth.

0866 Jan/5015 The junction with Section 11 is at the place where the Ormiston Creek joins the Davenport Creek to form the Finke River. It's a wide river bed, which further down has several big (but shallow) waterholes. At the east bank of one of them (which is outside the national park) there are a few car campers at one of the water holes. The track stays to the west of the river, inside the park. It actually goes through a natural tunnel in the rocks.

0869 We reach Glen Helen just after lunch, a perfect time for another cold beer. In the afternoon we inspect Glen Helen gorge, which is just a couple hundred metres from the pub. We cannot get very far, as there is lots of water cutting off the path through the gap. Steve and Ron climb up the rocks and Ron erects a monument on the top.

Day 12, Tuesday 14 September 2004

Section 11: Glen Helen to Redbank Gorge
Day: 29km; Total: 212.5km

0873 On a cold morning (overnight temperature was just above freezing) and against a backdrop of the most spectacular view, we pack up our camp in front of the Glen Helen Pub, where we have spent the last three nights.

Jan/5023 0874 This will be our longest day's walk, and has a significant climb too. The group walking enthusiastically towards Mt Sonder has shrunk to five (Steve, Jan, Karen, Trudy and Gernot).

0878 We backtrack along the Finke to the junction of the Davenport and Ormiston Creeks and initially stay to the left of the Davenport. About 2km later we cross the Davenport, which at this place is actually full of water, so we take our boots off to ford it. Jan finds a way around, but the others reckon it's more fun this way.

0883 It's easy walking otherwise, until two hours into the walk when we hit the hill. The climb, while reasonably steep, is actually good walking too. At the top we are rewarded with an excellent view back to Glen Helen, which we enjoy over lunch.

0888 0889 On the way down, only a few hundred metres from the top, we pass the 200km mark! (Gernot looks again a bit silly in these pictures for no obvious reason...)

Back in the plain the walk continues over easy territory. At Rocky Bar Gap, which is a nice camping area just over half-way, there are tanks with very little water left. From there on we are walking along the foot of Mt Sonder, Redbank Gorge is almost to its far end (viewed from Glen Helen).

The walking is easy, but seems to stretch endlessly, not helped by a relatively monotonous landscape. It's getting warm (although the maximum of the day is below 23°). For the last hour everybody seems to walk in auto-pilot with mind disengaged. We finally arrive at the car park feeling totally buggered.

The others are waiting there and drive us to Woodland Camping Area. This is an unspectacular spot, with one of the highest concentration of flies we had on the whole walk. There are a few other parties camping there, but they are out of sight and mostly out of earshot. (Except for two bored youths who think it fun throwing stones on a metal road sign, until Steve tells them off.)

Day 13, Wednesday 15 September 2004

Section 12: Redbank Gorge to Mt Sonder and back
Day: 19km; Total: 231.5km

For the final section of the Larapinta Trail we drive the 2km back to the car park where we finished the previous day. Karen decides that she's deserved a day's peaceful reading after the previous day, so she stays back with Penny.

Marie/0357 0891 We first backtrack about 0.5km to the junction of Section 12. From there it is a steep but otherwise easy 2km to the Saddle. Gernot's right foot (which always hurts the day after a strenuous walk, but usually is ok after a few minutes) hurts a lot for quite a while. Only after about half an hour does it feel halfway normal. Fortunately, this is the last bit, so any problem won't spoil the main event.

Soon after the Saddle the well-prepared track ends and from then on there is only a faint track created by walkers following the sporadic sign posts. However, it is mostly less steep and reasonably easy walking. On the way up we meet a Melbourne-based Pom, who is just starting the walk in the opposite direction, on his own and with only two food drops! He's got plenty of experience, so we trust he knows what he's doing, but none of us would do this walk on their own.

Marie/0366 Marie/0373 Marie/0380 Jan/6007 Jan/6001 We reach the top after about 2.5h, where we are rewarded with arguably the best views we've seen in Australia!

0909 Jan/6006 This is the end of the Larapinta track (although it's hard to do it without backtracking this day's walk ;-)

0910 Just a stone throw away is the sign giving the total distance from the start in Alice, 223km (this does not count several access tracks we had to walk, but, of course, it does count Section 9, which we omitted).

The way down is uneventful, it takes us about 90 minutes (and Gernot's foot behaves, thanks to the walking sticks). We get down well over an hour ahead of the agreed pick-up time, so Gernot, Trudy, Steve and Anne walk on about 1.5km to Redbank Gorge. 0915 Most of this is a sandy river bed, with a bit of scrambling over rocks at the end. We get rewarded with spotting a rock wallaby and then reaching a beautiful water hole (including the mandatory duck). The swim in the cold water is the perfect conclusion to a warm day (25°).

When we get back to the car park we have really reached the end of the Larapinta. And what a great experience it has been!

Day 14, Thursday 16 September 2004

Tylers Pass and Gosse Bluff
Day: 2.5km; Total: 234km

0916 Marie/0388 0917 Next morning we pack up for our last move of camp. We drive further east along Larapinta Drive to Tylers Pass, yet another place with a great view.

Jan/6019 From there we continue to Gosse Bluff, a remnant of a meteorite crater that once was about 20km in diameter. It is a sacred site to local Aborigines, which is hardly surprising, given the unique character of the formation. We do a small circuit walk and have lunch, before continuing to Hermannsburg. This is one of the best-known missions in Central Australia, founded in the 1860s by German Lutherans.

Marie/0419 Marie/0418 We then continue to Palm Valley National Park, which we reach over a dirt road that is seriously 4W-only. 0928 0958 The main camp ground is beautiful, grassy patches between trees next to a large (but shallow) waterhole in the Finke River (the one whose birthplace we traversed a few days earlier). And it has warm showers (thanks to a big rainwater tank and solar heating)!

Jan/7001 And to top it all off, we are treated at our campsite to a magnificent sunset with the most remarkable backdrop!

Day 15, Friday 17 September 2004

Palm Valley Circuit Walks
Day: 14km; Total: 248km

0960 Next morning Trudy and Gernot get up early to climb the cliffs on the other side of the river and observe the sun rise over the valley, painting everything in beautiful colours and making the camp ground look even more picturesque.

Ron/S2_cycad 0977 Marie/0443 0974 We start our exploration of the Valley mid morning when we head off for the first of a couple of circuit walks: it takes us up a valley with interesting rock formations and vegetation and across some nice views. The walk isn't very long (maybe 5–6km) so we can take it leisurely. Jan/6020 Jan/6021 Jan/6022 Jan/6024

After lunch we drive about 4km of very 4WD rough road to the beginning of the track into Palm Valley proper. Marie/0467 Marie/0463 Jan/7008 0980 There is another circuit walk of about 5–6km, which first goes along the top of the ridge overlooking the valley, and then back along the river, through crops of magnificent palms unique to this area.

Ron/palmvalley4 Ron/palmvalley3 Ron/palmvalley2 And here, Ron captures the magic for us all to take home!

At the end of the circuit walk Trudy and Gernot, who walked ahead of the rest, decide that sitting around waiting for half an hour just to ride back in the back of a car swaying forth and back across the rocks isn't really all that exciting. So they walk back to camp, where they arrive about 15 mins before the car. However, it is an exhausting walk, as the day is rather hot (about 30°, far hotter than any of the days on the Larapinta).

0986 At night we have a bottle of Campari and a cake (organised by Penny and Anne) to celebrate Trudy's birthday. Seems like a nice conclusion to an excellent holiday!

Day 16, Saturday 18 September 2004

Returning to Town

0987 0989 Next morning, under close supervision, we sadly pack up the car for the last time. Like on the drive here two days earlier, not only the personal gear, but all the cooking gear, water tanks and etc. need to go up on the roof to leave space inside for all of us. Placement is also important, as some are getting off before others and need to be able to access their packs.

After a last group photo we start making our way back to Alice.

For almost two hours we drive along the ranges we just walked, giving us an alternate impression of the distance covered by foot over the last two weeks.

Once in Alice we first drop off Anne, who isn't well, at her son's place, before the party disperses: some being dropped off in the centre of town before Trudy and Gernot are taken to the airport for their flight back to Sydney. The rest of the mob later celebrates the end of a beautiful trip over dinner.

Trudy & Gernot

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