Comments on walking the Larapinta Trail
The Larapinta Trail is a hard but rewarding and beautiful long-distance desert walk in Australia. I just completed most of it, and will use this thread to muse on the discussions and writings and thoughts I had, especially on the two books I read, Modern Man in Search of a Soul
by Carl Jung, and The Songlines
by Bruce Chatwin.
Stretching over 230 kilometres west from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory through the West MacDonnell Ranges, the Larapinta Trail is a well maintained hiking track. It passes over mountains, plateaus and plains, and through the iconic gaps and gorges and dry riverbeds that mark the ancient geology of this semi-arid region. Although sometimes described as timeless, the region is only too affected by the temporal impact of the modern world.
Much of the country was devastated by wildfires during the heatwave of February 2019. The fires were extremely hot and destroyed ancient trees in places that never usually burn. The extreme heat came from the combination of global warming delivering unprecedented temperatures and hot winds, and the spread of the pasture pest weed buffel grass, which burns much hotter than native grasses. Buffel grass is the invasive cane toad of the desert, and has spread into the magnificent natural cathedrals such as the creek bed of Standley Chasm, where it brought fire to kill massive ancient trees and cycads in regions that usually don’t burn. https://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/201 ... nd-sorrow/
I joined a group of five highly experienced hikers, and completed 200 km of the walk, missing one section of 40 km from Serpentine Gorge to Ormiston Gorge due to a bout of stomach upset. Two of us caught a lift with a tour group for that section. We could have waited and walked the section later, as some other walkers did who caught the same bug. In all honesty, the three days off were a relief. I expected the walk to be long, but not so hard and rough and steep, and I was nowhere near physically prepared enough for it.
The journey involves carrying a backpack weighing between 15 and 20 kg depending on how much water and food is required for each section, with three food drops over the course of the twenty days, with some high mountain camping grounds not having any water. The weight and distance place a severe test on the body, and for me it was my sore feet and overall exhaustion due to the length of the daily walks that were the hardest thing. While I have a high level of general fitness, it is twenty years since I did overnight hiking, and I had never done a walk anywhere near this long or hard. But it was absolutely great, and life changing, making me think hard about how to sustain my competence in all ways, while also providing clarity and opportunity to think and talk about some important questions.
On the first day, as we climbed the first mountain Euro Ridge, we were rewarded with spectacular views back to Alice Springs and forward into the Chewings Range. It was like we stood at a portal into eternity, between the comforts of society and a harsh unchanging natural region, entering a separate reality, reminding me of the book of that title by Carlos Castaneda with its theme that eternity surrounds you. These long high views from mountain summits are a main part of the walk, giving different perspectives on the region. The environmental and geological perspectives are as valuable as the spiritual angle of the rugged power of place and the personal resources of organisation and perseverance needed to walk through it.
Looking at the maps at our campsite that evening, it dawned on me that this first hill was tiny compared to some of those to come. My running and cycling and day walks and weightlifting and yoga were all too short and infrequent, nowhere near the preparation that someone in my condition should put in. Before hitting the Larapinta, I should have done several multi-day hikes up and down mountains and valleys this year, as the others in my group were doing in the Blue Mountains.
So the next day, walking into Simpson’s Gap, the sheer distance of walking ten or fifteen hard kilometres every day made me think about the physical and mental and spiritual competencies needed, wondering if my personal sense of resilience and mental toughness and determination would compensate for my lack of endurance training. Throughout the walk it was great to talk these issues through with the group leader Mel MacArthur, who is a multiple PhD in pilgrimage, with his latest doctorate on walking the Camino walk in Spain with Qoheleth as provocateur
, as well as an astounding range of endurance feats, such as cycling from Dublin to Jerusalem and from Sydney to Uluru, and regular marathon runner.
Section Three took us up Brinkley Bluff, a long, rough and steep climb that taxed my patience to the limit, trudging one foot after the other carrying five days food and two days water. In the book on the summit I wrote my favourite quote from Martin Heidegger, from his book An Introduction to Metaphysics
, asking what the “is” means in Goethe’s graffito in an alpine hut, ‘over all summits is peace’.