In part one of my Larapinta Trail journey, I caught my first glimpse of Mt Sonder, took in breathtaking views from Counts Point and submerged myself in the icy waters of Ormiston Gorge. Each of us were finding our own pace within the group and slowly, the dust and stresses of our city lives began falling off us as the red dirt and sand of the MacDonnell Ranges National Park sunk deeper into our pores.
Day 3 – Serpentine Chalet Dam – Inarlanga Pass – Saddle – Ochre Pits
For a city chick like me, there’s a lot to be surprised by on the Larapinta Trail. One of the biggest surprises for me was the wildflowers. Now I’m a sucker for a wildflower anywhere, but because the terrain is so red and apparently dry, I just wasn’t expecting the variety and the amount of vibrant blooms that we saw. It was like walking into a glass house in a botanic garden and everywhere I looked were flowers that I hadn’t seen before. Blues, purples, reds, oranges and yellow and my favourite, pink in the Mulla-mullas.
Our guide, the fabulous Anne, had told us that Inarlanga Pass was one of her favourite places. Whenever you hear such a statement from someone who goes to these places all the time, you know it must be pretty special… and it was. On our entrance to the pass, we spent some time looking at an old aboriginal tool making site, learning about how tools were made and wandering around finding countless numbers of discarded ones. Then it was on and into (I want to say inside) the embrace of the pass.
The two ochre sides reaching out and drawing us in with their twisted and tortured formations, evidence of millions of years of a creeping landscape. Continuing further required some rock scrambling and hopping amongst the boulders and slides, to bring us to a quiet place for morning tea. The cooler temperatures inside bringing a respite from the climbing sun outside.
This is one of those places that ‘feel’ special. I could easily have stayed there for hours, looking up at the walls, watching the shadow crawl across the ground towards sunset. Instead, I opted to continue out the other side of the pass and into such a broad, open landscape and saddle, that felt as though the pass had purged us out the other side.
The call to return to the pass and onto the Ochre Pits (one of the sites accessible by car for day trippers) was unfortunately too soon, however as we were due for a crazy 1.30am wakeup call the next morning, we gladly obliged and headed for camp, not before a stop off for a swim and cold beer (yay!) at the Glen Helen Homestead.
Dinner was a perfectly cooked salmon fillet (you know, the way it should be) with Vietnamese noodle salad and dessert of apple crumble cooked in the camp oven. Oh and if that wasn’t enough, we started with entree nibbles of grilled haloumi, chorizo, dip and olives. The food for this trip was truly incredible, made all the tastier by not having to cook it!
Day 4 – Mt Sonder
For many in the group, it was the first time they’d got up at this time of night for the sole purpose of walking, let alone climbing a 680m ascent under head torch. It was as though Sonder had been calling us for the last few days, the recalcitrant pregnant woman lying as a lesson for generations of stories. A salient reminder to any young person in local tribes who felt the pull of love outside of their assigned skin and story. We had had her form pointed out to us from miles away, her leg, knee, belly button, pregnant belly and ample bosoms. One guide used the memorised anatomy lesson as waypoints along our upward journey, each of which being a visual picture to hold in our minds as we ascended. The last few days of walks were leading up to this morning’s 16kms, allowing those of us who needed it, time to adjust to the pace and our packs.
Even though this was the last trip of the season, before the heat of Spring and Summer burnt harshly upon the land, the cold fingers of winter and the chilly desert blasts buoyed us as we pushed ever upward.
After 8kms and 750m ascent, we arrived just after first light and were able to enjoy a welcome cuppa and tasty treats whilst the coloured bands of dawn were drawn back across the night sky.
Not usually being one for out-and-back hikes, I was pleasantly surprised (as was everyone else) to prove correct the guides promise of a completely different experience on the return journey. Of course, it was in daylight, but the early hour with mild temperatures and magic hour light surrounding us, lured us back down the hill.
For the early returners, we were given the option of popping out to see Redbank Gorge at the base of the climb and return to the carpark at a specific time. This was one example of how the guides accommodated varied levels of experience and fitness. As an experienced independent hiker or if you’re like “fast-Len” (as one Kiwi on the trip become known), they gently allow you extra challenges or side trips so not to get bored or feel stuck in a caterpillar crawl.
Q: Do you have a story of a ‘special’ place that you’ve been to in the wilderness? A place that feels different and other-worldly?