Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mt Sonder to Ormiston Gorge, Larapinta Trail - April 2006

I'd always loved walking in the desert so it was only a matter of time until I had a go at the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory, any keen walker will be saying "hang on the Larapinta runs all the way to Alice Springs", and indeed it does but I wasn't going to make it on this trip. After arranging somewhere in Alice Springs to safely leave my car I got a lift out to the trail head at the Redbank Gorge Carpark.
The view down towards Glen Helen Gorge from Mt Sonder.
Day 1. 18.4 kilometres
After saying goodbye to my lift I was alone in the desert, as the 4wd drive rumbled of into the distance the silence was complete. The plan for today was a day walk up Mt Sonder and then a walk out to Redbank Gorge for a swim. So after setting up my tent in the dusty camping spot on the banks of the bone dry Redbank Creek I set of for Mt Sonder with my day pack. The climb to the top of Mt Sonder was fairly easy although it did involve over 700 metres of climbing. Once on the main ridge that runs to the top there is only an intermittent track but there are plenty of track markers and all you have to do is basically follow the ridge. By the time I reached the top (the true high point is actually a few hundred metres to the north east across a very deep saddle) the temperature was heating up, I wasn't expecting temperatures in the mid 30's at this time of the year and was already a bit concerned about the prospect of finishing the trail.
The author, on Mt Sonder.
The 'true' summit of Mt Sonder.

Descending from Mt Sonder in the afternoon I grabbed my pack towel and trudged up the soft sandy creek bed to Redbank Gorge. Now I've heard that you can swim and scramble right through the gorge but the freezing water prevented me from attempting that. After a quick swim I sat on the rocks and basked while the sun dried me off. Returning to my dusty camp in the late afternoon I sat in the shade in a cloud of bush flies while I waited for the heat to go out of the day, retiring to my tent just after dark I lay back and gazed at a million stars through the mesh of my tent.
Redbank Gorge, the water is freezing!
Day 2. 22.2 kilometres
Packing up camp in the morning nice and early I was on the track before the day heated up too much. The track ran alongside the ridge that I'd climbed yesterday but generally was pretty easy, undulating slightly as it crossed the beds of dry creeks. Arriving at the water tanks at Rocky Bar Gap I decided on an extended break in the gap under the shade of a ghost gum. There was no water in the creek but the sand made a comfortable place to wait out the hottest part of the day.
On the track over to Rocky Bar Gap, the ridge in the distance is the route up Mt Sonder.
Waiting out the heat in Rocky Bar Gap.
Eventually I decided to head on, the next objective was Rocky Bar Lookout. The track twists and turns a bit as it makes its way to the top and by the time I'd got there I was pretty well done for the day. Looking at the map I decided to head down to Davenport Creek to camp for the night, the descent proved as taxing as the climb for my tired legs. Arriving in the late afternoon at Davenport Creek I crossed the dry sandy bed and set up my camp on the south bank near some beautiful ghost gums, once again spending the rest of the daylight hours sitting in the shade with my mates the bush flies. That night I once again was able to lay in the tent and check out the milky way above my head. I awoke a couple of times during the night to find cattle grazing very close to the tent but after jumping out of the tent naked with my head lamp on it seemed to scare them away, maybe that's the reason I seem to do a lot of solo walking?
Mt Sonder from the track up to Rocky Bar Lookout.
Rocky Bar Lookout in the middle distance.
The tree line in the middle distance is Davenport Creek, the gap in the range is Glen Helen.

Day 3. 17 kilometres
Waking up a bit stiff I was soon packed up and on my way, the walking started off easy again. The track crossing the ancient Finke River and its tributary Ormiston Creek. From Ormiston Creek the track climbed into some low hills before topping out at Ormiston Lookout. I took a bit of a break here, using the signpost to hang up my sweat soaked shirt, all to soon however it was time to leave my shady spot make my way over to Ormiston Gorge. The good news was that the kiosk was open at Ormiston so I was able to get a cold drink and a hamburger for lunch, the bad news was that from here I would have to carry water for two days.
Morning at my camp on Davenport Creek.
Mt Sonder glowing in the early morning light, through the trees lining Davenport Creek.

So, after waiting out the worst of the heat I loaded up with ten litres of water and trudged out of the camp ground. The track initially follows the soft sandy bed of Ormiston Creek, it was baking hot but I consoled myself that I'd soon leave the creek and climb into the hills, it had to be better right, wrong! As soon as I climbed out of the creek and started to climb into the rocky country it felt like I was baking in an oven, I was rooted. A retreat was the safest option and I spent the next couple of hours swimming in the waterhole at Ormiston Gorge. The walk was over in my mind now, I didn't feel I could enjoy it and complete it safely, so after washing the sweat off I managed to get a lift back to Alice Spring with three English girls back packing around Australia. That was the end of the Larapinta Trial version 1.0.
Ormiston Lookout.
The waterhole in Ormiston Gorge.
The Dirt.
The Larapinta Trail is awesome, one of the best walks in Australia in my opinion. It is not an easy walk however, the ground is rough and there is a lot more climbing than you may be anticipating. On this trip I made the mistake of walking too early in the year and the mid 30 C temps meant that I was lugging too much weight in water, I also didn't do food drops which meant that as well as the water I was carrying twelve days food, all in all it was to much effort and it would have turned into a bit of a death march. Without going into too much detail I rectified these things and had an awesome walk there a couple of years later which I'll get around to writing up one day.

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