9 July 2022
An unsuccessful attempt at walking one of the hardest trails in Australia. After many weeks of dopamine-inducing planning, I finally made the trip to Alice Springs to start hiking the Larapinta Trail. With my food drops dispatched, accommodation and flights booked, I was excited, nervous and unbeknownst to me, completely unprepared.
Less than 24 hours later, I was back in my accommodation wondering what went wrong and what I could do better next time. Devastating. So much time and money lost, not to mention the experience of the adventure. The cause was crippling pain in my Achilles, running up the length of my leg that forced me to turn back. A pain that got so bad, I could hardly walk - not good, especially if you plan on walking hundreds of kilometers. And that was without the weight of a heavy pack on my back. It was gutting to make the decision to return to Alice Springs, but the risk of the injury getting worse and potentially getting stuck further down the trail was not a risk I could take.
Hardly starting a trip you had planned for months sucks. Really sucks. And there’s lots of things I did wrong in the leadup to the trip. Maybe, you’ll find value in my mistakes, so you won’t make them yourself.
The biggest mistake was not physically preparing myself for the trip. In the months prior to the trip, I was consistently walking and running, but completely overlooked exercising with your pack on, slowly building up to the weight you’d be carrying. An absolute rookie mistake. The Larapinta requires hikers to carry their water for the day, upwards of 6 litres in some sections. So you’d be looking at a minimum 14kg pack on your pack, including 3 days’ worth of food until the first food drop (Standley Chasm if starting in Alice, Ormiston Gorge if starting at Redbank). Of course, I realized as soon as I started walking that this was the heaviest pack I’d ever carried, and instantly wished I’d conditioned myself to carrying such a weight.
The Achilles bares a load of up to 2 times your body weight, and when accompanied by a heavy pack, rocky terrain, and new boots, I understand why I ran into trouble early on.
Another area of concern was starting too late on the trail. The desert is cold at night, and coldest at early morning – but this is when you need to be up and walking to avoid the hot and dry sun. There is no shade on the trail, and you get hot and sweaty very quickly.
Starting at Telegraph Station at 10:30, I passed hikers walking to Alice Springs anywhere from 10:30-12pm. They all had early starts at camp, probably between 6:30 – 8am. And I’d recommend that – you don’t want to be walking in the late afternoon sun if you can avoid it.
That sounds weird doesn’t it. Solo hiking invokes a feeling of solitude, you walk at your own pace, enjoy the scenery, and are encased in your own thoughts. But if something goes wrong, the walking gets tough, the relentless dehydration invoking sun, or you experience pain in your body, the feeling of solitude slowly turns into a negative state of isolation and loneliness. Where are the people on the trail? Oh that’s right, you passed all of them in the morning. Now it is just you, a bad foot, in an unforgivable and hostile environment. Even if the scenery is beautiful. I now realise that embarking on such a trip alone might not be the best option. With a hiking partner, you are motivated by walking together, can keep each other company, and talk things through.
A big mistake made was purchasing poor quality gear (looking at you, Lanshan 1 Pro). A lack of good quality gear led me to suffering immensely during the first (and only) night on the trail. Waking up to the walls of the tent covered in condensation, opening the tent side door to have all of that turn to ice. It was cold, seriously cold. -7 degrees Celsius in fact. And its bloody miserable when its that cold, especially in a tiny tent, with a tiny sleeping mat, freezing your balls off. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why do I do this?” All tents get condensation but avoid single walled tents if you know conditions will be below freezing. Investing in the right gear, a wide sleeping pad, proper sleeping bag, would have led to a much better sleep on the trail. Sleep is vital, so have the gear that will bring the most comfort.
Eat food on the trail that you’d eat at home and like. How I managed to bring food I'd never had AND didn't like remains a mystery.
All areas I’ve touched upon seem like common sense, especially training with your pack and having good quality sleeping gear. But after you’ve done a few multiday hikes, in familiar environments, you develop a sense of overconfidence. Nothing has humbled me more than quitting the trail in less than 24 hours. And the embarrassment of explaining to people who ask you why you’re back so early is not good either. Even though the main cause was injury, if I had to bet, I’d probably have quit halfway to due to poor food and an inadequate sleeping system.
What I have realised from the warmth of home, is that I am grateful for the discomfort and problems on the trail. It made me realise there is room for improvement for next time. Looking back on the few photos I took, the scenery is just stunning. And was worth the effort even if I only spent one night on the trail. I hope that by writing this article, you may see what went wrong, and how to avoid making the same mistakes.
1) To the left, the trail follows along Euro Ridge before ducking down into Wallaby Gap. What a beautiful yet desolate landscape.
2) To the left; Alice Springs, and the 'gap', the large break in the hills that separates the town from the vast central desert of Australia.
Right click and open the panoramas in a new tab for the best image quality.