The growing popularity of the Larapinta Trail lulls people into a sense of false security—gee, if Felicity from publicity is doing it, it can’t be that hard. Trust me, capturing global attention doesn’t mean the trail is getting any easier! The relentless rocks are still there, the gradients are unchanged, the physical and emotional hardships will challenge you.
But it’s worth it.
Because it was the only trip available at relatively short notice, my friend Kate and I signed up for the epic-graded Super 6 Larapinta Trail adventure. This isn’t your standard Larapinta tour. It was the six hardest sections of the track scheduled back- to-back with no rest days. All sections were graded either hard or very hard.
I knew all of this before going and did months of consistent training but it was screamingly clear on the first hour of the first day that I had massively underestimated just how tough this adventure was going to be.
Most days we walked from 8 to 12 hours with a break for lunch and a morning tea and afternoon snack. We were in bed early. One night, shattered, I unrolled my swag and was in bed at 6.30pm. No melatonin needed—I was exhausted to the bone.
In a group of eight people ranging from 30 to 60 years, I was the least fit. One brother and sister were doing the Larapinta Trail as a warm up training exercise for a much longer, more demanding hike through the US in July. Wow! Great perspective for me, because this seemed my pinnacle, my Hawaiian Ironman event.
Here’s how it panned out, day by day:
I fell over 4 times. Not just little trips but full-on stacks. After one spill I was like a turtle on my back with legs and arms in the air, unable to get up. I fell back from the group on a long mountain ridge ascent and I was seriously wondering whether I was going to make it through the first day, let alone six.
My mind wanted to keep going but I questioned if my body was up to the task. I was absolutely shocked by how hard it was. My big fear before leaving was being told to travel in the car for a day because I was too slow, and on this first day it felt like a real possibility. I was terrified.
The 19km hike over section 3 of the trail took us almost 10 hours. I could hardly sleep that night, thinking, ‘WTF, can I do this?’ Throw in adjusting to a communal composting toilet—you don’t want to be last to go, trust me—and sleeping in a swag (I usually like to take my own king size mattress camping) and I was in a whole new world.
Section 4 of the Larapinta Trail saw us climb up to Brinkley Bluff, a ridge 1200m up on one of the ranges. It was a 22km, 9 hour challenging day with lots of tough inclines for me but no spills for me—yay! I worked out that my polarised sunglasses were a liability because they caused visual distortions, and that I was overbalancing through not being used to carrying a backpack. Lessons learned.
I was again blown away by some of the gnarly ridges I was clambering over. I never would have dreamed in a million years that I’d do just once anything like I was asked to do multiple times a day on the trial. Again, I felt waaaaay outside my comfort zone and fretted about the days still to come.
Hiking up to Counts Point on section 8 of the Larapinta Trail delivered spectacular views over the ranges and a shorter day—yep, only 17km over 8 hours. By this time the tops and bottoms of my feet were hosting impressive big balloon blisters, even though I was doing all the right things and retaping them every morning and using hikers’ wool.
There was nothing I could do about them, and while everyone knows the discomfort of walking with just one blister—the curse of summer when you put on sandals after months of socks—this was on a new level. But something odd was happening. A third of the way in, I was really conscious that I was doing something I never thought I’d be capable of. It was building my confidence and already making me feel I’d achieved something big.
After two demanding days, I was able to keep up with the group. Given their high level of fitness I was pleased that my body was quickly adjusting to demands placed on it.
The relentlessness of the rock kept shocking me. Because you spend so much time focusing on where to place your foot with each step, I had to consciously stop to look at the view during the walk. I got to recognise the distinct walk of every group member. I learned the quality of their rock selection and their stride distance which helped me with my own rock choice.
It’s hard to describe but the rock is endless so often the path is hard to see. It’s a choose your own adventure as you work out the path through the rock which will work best to your rock scrambling strengths—little sharp rocks and short strides or bigger rocks and steps.
One of my biggest smiles came at Counts Point, high up on the ridge, where a bench seat has been installed. The only seat I saw on the trail. It was so welcome as normally we had to choose a hard rock to sit on. My bum appreciated it—it’s the little things.
The landscape changed to Mulga forest and back at camp at the side of an empty creek bed we had a lot of bush mice. They did my head in less than the empty creek beds filled with endless loose rocks. Super hard on the blistered feet after an hour of walking. Consolation prize: I found my glutes for the first time ever.
We woke at 4am to hike the 32km section 9, which the trail’s official website calls ‘difficult’. Man, this was a tough day. It felt endless. The first few hours hiking in the dark were wonderful, and we stopped for a fabulous science lesson by other members of the group. It felt like we were in a planetarium, so vivid were the planets and stars. The very rare alignment of Venus, Jupiter, Neptune and Mars was amazing to see.
We trekked to Inarlanga Pass, one of my top three highlights of the Larapinta experience. Thanks to deep red rock towering over on both sides, it had a very spiritual feel. A little further on we did a one hour incline as a group, and it marked my breaking through of the mental barrier around ‘I suck at walking up inclines’. I kept up with the very fit group, a personal achievement I kept up for the rest of the rail.
But then I started to tire. I got the cranks. I walked by myself for long stretches and contemplated my life decisions. I resolved lots of stuff and felt really comfortable with my decisions I made out there on this ever so long walk—12 hours all up. I reckon after hiking for 12 hours I can do anything. Another mental block busted.
Because we couldn’t get access to section 5, there was a late change to section 11A. It was perhaps the most likely to be our ‘rest’ day if you call sleeping in until 6am and hiking 20kms a rest! Highlights: awesome views of Mt Sonder, an awesome picnic lunch on a sandy bank of a water hole (wraps, dips, cheese) and crossing a waterhole by carefully balancing on a floating log.
This is where you could see we were a tight team. We encouraged each member as they made their attempt with one of the group members helping each person make their initial step onto the log. It was unexpected fun and made me think again that I can deal with anything that comes up.
We were woken at 1.30am to hike 8kms up Mt Sonder in the dark, for section 12 of the Larapinta Trail. More pesky inclines and a slow, steady pace over 4 hours. Walking the 1400m up the NT’s third highest peak as a group made me feel incredibly supported. The view from the top over the Western MacDonnell Ranges was an incredible reward for the six days it took to get there and having a private front row seat to a Central Australian sunrise felt life affirming.
It lit up what I feel is my next chapter after a 2021 where behind the scenes I dealt with devastating life blows—the end of a 27-year relationship, the suicide of a family member, the mental health problems of a child—and discovered I’d come out stronger.
The Larapinta Trail was a total reset for me. An emotional, mental and physical uplevelling of my personal life so I can now uplevel with my business, health and relationships. Finishing it gave me enormous pride and self-respect. I know that will flow on to what I have to offer to the world and how I show up.