Progressive Walk 2016
Written by Andrea Celofiga
Saturday 6th April marked the beginning of the scheduled Friends progressive walk with Stage 1. With the Centralian sun refusing to acknowledge Autumn this year, 8 of us set of at 7am from the gate of the Telegraph Station to walk stage 1 to Simpson’s Gap with an overnight camp at Wallaby Gap. Searing 35 degrees pending and little shade on the track had us carrying 4-5 litres of water each, just to get us through to Wallaby Gap. The cool of the morning quickly gave way to the heat and whilst spectacular views were abound, especially from the top of Euro Ridge, it became imperative to get to camp in the early part of the afternoon and have some reprieve from the relentless heat. The Wallaby Gap camp site has a large shelter and shade which was utilised all afternoon by the group whilst resting and rehydrating. As the day cooled, a short stroll to the actual Gap helped stretch the legs, followed by dinner and a sharing of travel stories over freeze dried meals including Cheryl’s gourmet freeze dried hokey pokey ice cream desert. Funny how some things taste great when the circumstances are right.
Day two, was still hot and all water bottles were refilled and at the ready as we set off again for the final leg into Simpson’s Gap. The forest like area on the eastern side of Hat Hill Saddle gave some shade during the uphill section to the saddle, and the views from the Saddle were worth the effort. With a sense of achievement the group arrived at Simpson’s Gap right on time at 12.30pm, relieved to have safely finished what is usually considered an easy section, under difficult circumstances.
**Hiking in the heat requires a lot of attention to fluid consumption, and the depletion of the body’s salt and mineral levels. It is not recommended to hike in hot conditions and the group only did so under the expert guidance of several very experienced and knowledgeable fellow hikers. Only one group member had not spent the entire summer in the Alice acclimatising to the heat, and everyone carried extra water. Hiking was done in the mornings only to avoid exertion in the main heat of each day and an extraordinary amount of sunscreen was used.
Still warm conditions prevailed in Central Australia as 11 of us set off on April 16th from Simpsons Gap for Section 2 of the Larapinta Trail Progressive walk, although not quite as hot as we had endured for Section 1. Section 2 has some surprises and a charm of its own that unfolds as you head west. Settling into an easy pace early in the morning, with dingoes howling in the distance, the meandering trail took us further away from civilisation. An extended break at Bond Gap gave everyone the opportunity to stroll down to the water and take in the beauty of the Gap, with azure skies above, ochre glowing rocks in the morning sun and the white trunked ghost gums topped with green leaves and the occasional high rise apartment of a resident bird or two. A stunning place only accessible to hikers, and its here that you really start to feel just how special the trail is.
Pushing on, at times the walk seemed a little dull in scenery, but as the kilometres passed, section 2 started to reveal some of its beauty. Turn a corner and look up at Arenge, which the trail skirts around offering views of it from three sides before leading across a dry riverbed, up a hill and into Mulga Camp for the night. With some new hikers in the group, the afternoon and evening were quickly consumed by conversations surrounding hiking equipment and freeze dried meals, punctuated by Cheryl’s gourmet hors d’oeuvres. Refreshed from a cool night under a billion stars, even the youngest of our group, 10 year old Jacoba, were ready to set off in the morning to Jay Creek. Not expecting much after a lot of hiking the day before with only intermittent wow moments, the latter part of Section 2 was a surprise. Its here that you start to see the magnificence of Brinkley’s Bluff, and the back of the MacDonnell ranges, and a sense of anticipation for the next stages wells up inside. The sun is starting to relinquish its power over the land and winter is on its way to Central Australia, as we were treated to an array of jet streams punctuating the unbelievably blue sky, marking the cooling of the air above. Arriving into Jay Creek shelter, we had a little makeshift party with the assistance of our vehicle drivers bringing us some cold refreshments to the shelter – very decadent indeed.
In the week leading up to our scheduled Section 3 day hike from Jay Creek to Standley Chasm, the forecast weather became concerning. Weather sites were touting up to a 100mm of rain for the region on the weekend with originally, the brunt of it, some 40-80mm, to fall on Saturday 7th May, the day we had selected to hike. True Centralians know that often what is predicted and what the region receives can be very different, so we held firm with our plans and hoped for the best. By Friday the forecast was for 10-20mm on the Saturday, and whilst some have labeled us crazy, we went hiking. Leaving Jay Creek in light rain, the moist rocks showed amazing colours and our nostrils were treated to an array of freshly washed bush smells. The Old Cameleer trail led us to Fish Hole, before we headed west and eventually up the high route. Whilst the usual views were clouded, it was up here that we were treated to a spectacle of misty clouds rising up through the valleys, reminiscent of volcanoes without the sulphur smell. This is the Outback like few have witnessed or would believe to be a photo of our region. In the mist and rain, we could only imagine what the views would be like on a clear sunny day.
It was also up here that the weather set in making it impossible to stop for long. Wet and windy conditions sent us forward across the range seeking the descent, which proved difficult and slippery but did eventually offer us a place to shelter and have a bite to eat. Once of the high route and heading across Miller’s Flat, the conditions eased and afforded the group a luxurious cuppa break nestled in a valley, and amongst ancient cycad palms.
Refreshed and starting to dry out, we headed off again towards Angkale Junction. After a rock scale at the end of the gully, the hiking becomes easier for a while. The group spread out across the hills with each at their own pace, some talking, some entranced in their own solitude. The front and the rear of the group have contact by two way, and a call came from the rear. “Stop up there by those rocks”. Now given that we were surrounded by rocks, it surprising that the front lead knew exactly what the rear meant and made the stop at the correct rocks. It was here that Sue delivered the good and bad news. The good news was that we were nearly at Angkale Junction and not far from Standley Chasm, the bad news is that to get to Standley Chasm, the track goes up over the steep mountain range. One last hard slog and we made it into Standley Chasm and our transport home was waiting. Cold, wet and tired, another section was done. In a nutshell, Section 3 is hard, they aren’t kidding, but its very spectacular in any weather and well worth it. When the sun comes out, I’m doing it again!
8 Walkers gathered at Standley Chasm on Saturday 21st May, to don heavy packs and set out to conquer the seemingly notorious haul up Brinkley Bluff. Having no access to additional water between trailheads on this section, and intending to camp on the top of Brinkley’s means extra water has to be carried and additional weight for all overnight campers to endure. Leaving the Chasm car park and turning off into the ankle twisting rocky creek bed in the cool of the morning, a warm day beckoned with clear blue skies and the sun catching the red ochre rocks above us. The ambling pace in the creek bed belied what was to come, and with a simple right turn, the track changed into the long ascent to Reveal Saddle. Here, the full weight of the pack translates to your knees as most steps take you higher but before long, the rewards are great. Bridle Path lookout provided a very welcome rest break and a chance to take in the spectacle surrounding us. The rain from two weeks ago had transformed the Red Centre into the green centre and even the occasional wildflower greeted us. From Bridle Path lookout, the track becomes harder. Etching our way around the side of the hill and on up to Reveal Saddle for another break. Then onwards, where the views of the mountain ranges unfold into an astonishing array of lumps and bumps that, at one point, off to the right lies an enormous earthen crocodile complete with an open eye watching you walk up the mountain. No, we weren’t dehydrated at this point, it really does look like a crocodile and you’ll just have to go and look for yourself! As the tracks traverses higher and higher, the loose slate path becomes harder and every step must be made with caution. Its not just the ascent or the pack weight on this section, but the trail itself has a technical degree that challenges your mind and body, so the summit is a place of celebration and exhilaration. We were treated to a full moon rising just before the sunset in the west, and the cameras were out in force playing paparazzi to Mother Nature in every direction. Words fail me to adequately describe to those who have not done Section 4, just how breathtaking the magnificent ranges look from up on top of Brinkley Bluff, particularly at sunset and sunrise. Sue commented, “If a dinosaur suddenly appeared, it would not be out of place amongst the Jurassic landscape” and we had to agree. I dubbed my selected tent pad, the Brinkley Hilton and a fine piece of real estate it was. It comes with a natural amphitheatre which was suggested to be the beer garden, although there seemed to be a substantial lack of hops and yeast, and the Hilton wait staff, well sadly they just didn’t turn up. A fine night was had by all before turning in for some well deserved sleep.
The wind whipped up in the night, although not really cold, it was annoying enough to break our slumber. A number of us rose before sunrise to await the new day and see the first rays of a lazy winter sun ignite the mountain peaks to the west. A hot coffee, a spot of breakfast and pack up time. Then came a toe squishing, knee crunching technical descent of some 3 kilometres, made only possible by our now much lighter packs and a snail like pace. The track builders are currently working feverishly in this area and there is much to be done. Where we encountered their craftsmanship, the track was instantly easier and a greatly appreciated reprieve from the at times constant threat of slips and falls. Finally onto the last decline and a quick glimpse behind us, showed the enormity of where we had come from and what we had achieved. With a spring in everyone’s step, the last few kilometres slipped by easily and all too soon we were at the very new trailhead facility. Section 4 was done, and a third of the trail completed. One last trudge through river sand to the waterhole and our awaiting vehicles. The cold waterhole gave welcome relief to hot tired feet, as did the coldies brought by our drivers, much to the envy of the Extreme Trail hikers on their Charity event.
Section 4 is very hard but with the right gear and preparation, oh so worth it. If you own a set of poles, use them on this section, if you don’t own poles, buy some, they’re cheaper than buying new knees one day.
With midweek rains prevailing over Central Australia, preparations for our Section 5 walk were featuring wet weather gear. Even on Friday, the clouds loomed low around Alice Springs, refusing to give way to the sun, but the forecast was for fine weather for the weekend. Saturday 4th June, 9 of us took to our vehicles for an incredibly scenic drive out the West MacDonnell Ranges to Birthday Waterhole and continue our hike. The morning fog lifted just to the top of the mountains like frosting on a cake, more dessert like than desert. Picking up where we left off, again with heavy packs, the trail quickly entered a rocky gully. The amble westward slowly became an upward rock scramble past ancient cycads, and tiny rock pools all the while rock hopping, hurdling and limbo-ing around, over and under trees, and branches. It was slow going, picking every step, hauling the pack weight up with you or contorting to prevent the pack from being damaged. Finally we made Windy Saddle and took a well earned break. The vistas from this point on are incredible and beyond words like panoramic, stunning, astounding and amazing. This is not the imagined flat desert people think of in the heart of our country, this is the once Himalaya sized mountains eroded by 3 million years of outback harshness, leaving behind the survival of the fittest plants, the ruggedness of rock and the tender touch of mother nature to confuse us mere humans. It is here you tread a very special land that only those on foot will ever know. Here, you are privileged, the elite, and only you can give you this experience.
A rare opportunity to stride out, follows the saddle for a short time, and then suddenly you are hugging the side of the mountain, on a single file trail, edging around rocks with one side of the trail dropping away whilst the other side juts out, all the while balancing your pack. Then comes the descent into Fringe Lily Creek. It’s not for the faint hearted, and if it wasn’t for having to coerce a fellow hiker through the descent, I would have been nervous myself. The irony was that my colleague wouldn’t trust her poles on the incline, and I was trusting my poles more than my own legs by this stage. We all made it down safely and made camp for the night in the sandy creek bed. The clouds had all disappeared and a cold night ensued. Time around camp to discuss the upcoming Beanie Festival in Alice Springs, reflect on what we had achieved already and what was to come.
Rising before dawn, the creek bed lies within a gorge of high sided rocks, so sunrise eluded us. The day’s trek westward and up out of the gorge area offered the much sought after warmth of the sun. A short stint on creek bed rubble gave way to a defined trail again and a stroll though the magical designer garden slopes dotted with glistening perfect globes of green seemingly fluffy plants. Jamie Durie would be inspired, although the now green Spinifex balls still pack a punch if you touch them. The rains have turned these usually brown nasty spiky survivors into deceiving decadent green balls of deception.
The mornings trek, with now lighter packs, was fairly easy and fast paced compared to the day before. We stopped at Hugh Junction and dropped our packs for a side trip into Hugh Gorge. A 40 minute stroll down the riverbed found a lovely morning tea stop flanked by uber ochre rock faces in the morning light. Only two ventured further into the gorge but all agreed, it would be worth coming back to further explore this gorge. Regrouping with our packs, we began the final trek through the southern part of the gorge towards the trailhead. Two hours of ankle rolling rocks, combined with skirting stunning waterholes to stay dry and sliding down rock ledges. When we got to the trailhead, everyone was disappointed that it was another stage done and the section was over.
If there is one thing I have learned about the Larapinta Trail, it’s that the grading “hard” also means spectacular views. Section 5 is in a league of its own compared to Section 4, in both the difficulty degree and the rewards. If you are fit, an experienced hiker and don’t mind a bit of rock climbing with near an added 25% of your body weight strapped to your back (no water guaranteed between trail heads) then go for it. I encourage people to take the time to truly appreciate the area and not do it as a day walk. This section is special, don’t rush it.
8 little ducks went out one day, over the hills and far away, Mother Duck called ‘quack, quack, quack’, but only 6 little ducks came back’
This was the story of Section 6 for the Progressive walk. What was touted as the most boring section became our most eventful hike yet. 8 starters on Saturday morning left behind breaking news of Brexit and a week of post hail storm clean up around Alice Springs, to pick up the trail at Hugh Gorge. Section 6 is long, but seems to be talked about as nothing special. The Rangers had asked if we would do some track maintenance between Hugh Gorge and Rocky Gully camp site, which we had agreed to. Armed with pruning tools, a drill, bits, new track marker plates and stickers, we set off in earnest for what was supposed to be an easy 6 hour 15.9km commute to Rocky Gully. The start was innocuous enough, with little of the trail needing pruning and the markers seemed in good repair. The track was easy going and it was nice to be able to walk a little more carefree. Admiring the views didn’t require stopping to look and we were making good time. Morning tea was taken at the beautiful Ghost Gum Flat beneath the massive Corkwoods and the day was running to schedule. Shortly after leaving Ghost Gum Flat, much to everyone’s delight, we finally found a track marker that needed replacement – the first of quite a few. It was not long after, that Mark stumbled and his knee let go. When we stopped to strap his leg, we were just over half way between Hugh Gorge and Rocky Gully campsite. With knowledge that the Ranger would be coming out to Rocky Gully the next day to collect our track maintenance gear, and that it was a shorter distance to Rocky Gully than to turn back, we pressed on. Whilst Mark wanted to continue, it quickly became clear that he was in substantial pain and we had a problem. More strapping, some pain relief, and the heavier items from his pack re-distributed amongst our group, we pressed on. Even still, we could see Mark was struggling. Carrying two way radios, these became a vital link as the group split. The forward party would travel 2 kilometres ahead, then stop, with the strongest leaving a pack there and walking back to Mark and his companions to take his pack, and take the weight off his leg. Re-uniting the group at the 12 kilometre marker, Sue pulled out the Sat Phone. Despite checking its working order the night before, she couldn’t get it working. Disappointed, we discussed setting off the Epirb but the situation was not life threatening and did not validate this course of action. A bit more of a fiddle with the phone and it sprung to life. With relief, the call was made and arrangements in place for Mark to be taken out by the Ranger from Rocky Gully in the morning. We just had to get to Rocky Gully.
Two more stints of splitting the group to enable Mark’s pack to be taken from him, and we got into camp before dark. Dramas over, not quite! Someone forgot to pack their share of the tent – we had the poles, and the waterproof cover, just nothing to go under it barring a couple of garbage bags. These bits were erected into what ended up as a storage area for packs, whilst Sue bunked in with Meghan and gave up her tent to the homeless.
Happy hour rolled into dinner, rolled into Toblerone and Gluhwein (heats a treat in a jet boil) and finally bed. The clouds opened up several times through out the night and it was a wet soggy pack up in the morning for some of us. Mark was indulging in a sleep in, knowing he didn’t have to walk out at 8am, and we then became aware that one of our group was severely distressed. A long night of bad dreams and overriding emotional issues left her unable to contemplate walking half the day in misty drizzle. When Mark the Ranger arrived, we left him with two passengers and high tailed it out of the Gully. We were late leaving and didn’t want to keep our pickups waiting too long at Ellery Creek. The remaining 6 of us put the hammer down to make up time. The weather cleared a little and around 5.5kms we took a short break for a quick drink and bite to eat. The views through the valley both ahead of us and behind, despite the cloud, were quite stunning. We were constantly amazed at the variety of wild flowers blooming and even treated to budgerigars chirping happily in a gum tree. The track undulates over the entire 30 plus kilometres, all the while edging closer towards the back of Ellery Creek. On the last rise before the crossing of the valley and up to Saddle, we took a lunch break before the rain arrived. Perched on the side of a hill, looking westward, through the mist, the ancient rugged landscape was still feeding our primordial need to be close to nature.
The Saddle itself is quite a steep incline with a few quite challenging step ups. Here the grasses, flowering native bushes and gum trees give way to red jagged rocks and various different varieties of Spinifex. Finally, Ellery creek came into view and we had made it – almost. A final undulating descent punctuated by spectacular vistas, fascinating rocks and Spinifex cities, followed by a couple of very steep steps, then across the creek bed and onto bitumen. We made it, and on time. A little damp, very relieved and suddenly incredibly exhausted. The physical and mental stresses of the day before kicked in. The team effort involved every one of us and there were smiles all round. Section 6 for us, highlighted the need for hikers to be able to help themselves and others if required, both physically and mentally. Know your equipment, know your capabilities and never underestimate the Larapinta Trail for what it can or will throw at you!
Saturday July 9th was time for Section 7. Grouping up at Ellery Waterhole we did our Beanie Photo Shoot that everyone had forgotten about for Section 6. Beanie shots taken, we set off for our day walk. Joined by Jane and Megan who had both done Section 2 with us, and 74 year old Joy who almost made it up Mt Sonder last year. This section is rated as ‘Hard’ but it’s nowhere near the difficulty of Sections 4 and 5. There are some sections that are quite rocky but mostly its a meandering trail, over hills and up and down dale, and designed to capture the amazing geological features of the area. We were treated to flowering natives, stunning vistas, and a myriad of rock formations and natural sculptures. It’s worth having some time up your sleeve on this section to admire what nature has created. We had lunch at Trig Point, spread out on the rocks, and had many passers by. Traffic on the trail was definitely increasing with the cooler conditions in Central Australia. In the mid afternoon, we wandered into Serpentine Gorge. This was Stefanie from Belgium’s last section of the trail before continuing on her travels of Australia, and at the end of the walk, she treated us all to Belgium waffles with berries and whipped cream in the carpark. Our face stuffing episode was interrupted by a fellow traveller asking if anyone had some bug spray that he could buy. His small group were having problems with mosquitoes at night and feeling very uncomfortable as nightfall wasn’t many hours away. Finding an almost empty can of ‘Bushmans’ was all we could offer, and parted with it for free, but it did serve as a reminder to carry some sort of bug repellent when hiking the trail, even in the winter months. Tummies full, we said our farewells to Stefanie, and headed home to Alice, still picturing rocks in our heads. My best tip for this section – go with a mate who knows about geology and can explain some of what has caused the rock formations, it would be fascinating.
Sunday 24th July, 8 of us met to walk Section 8 from Serpentine Gorge to Serpentine Chalet. Mark’s knee was still out of action so he assisted with the vehicle shuffle and met us at Serpentine bush chalet carpark. Megan and Jacoba re- joined us whilst Sue had work commitments taking her to Darwin. With the ebb and flow of the group becoming the norm, we also welcomed along Neil for this section. We had a cool, slightly cloudy day, which was nice as the trail heading west quickly throws up a steep ascent, accompanied by the stunning mountain views we always enjoy. A bit over half way up the main ascent, we took a short break and to look at where we had come from. Continuing on and upwards, the ascent gives way to a kinder incline that meanders along the top, edging towards the Counts Point Junction. The Junction itself has some large trees and serves as a pack rest if desired, whilst the Counts Point trail is undertaken. Being a day walk for us, we headed up to Counts Point to have our lunch. It’s here that Mt Sonder comes into view along with Tnorala, the meteorite crater also known as Gosse Bluff. The views also extend out to the Chewings Ranges to the North and the Heavitree range to the South. With almost two thirds of the trail done, and Mt Sonder the finishing point now staring at us, we spoke of the coming hikes and the notion that all too soon, the Progressive Walk would soon be over. We encountered a lot of traffic on this section, particularly large groups from interstate schools heading West to East, and whilst it may be easier logistics to walk the trail that way, we often find the best views are looking West, as was the case on Section 6. Leaving Counts Point, it is a short slightly downhill walk back to the Junction. We then peeled off to the South and down the side of the Range. Towards the lower slopes, the trail starts to meander again through many different types of terrain, including native type forest and sparse rocky moonscapes. The hiking is much easier down here and after a while we suddenly appeared into the trailhead. We chose to go and have a look at the Serpentine Chalet dam wall before heading out to the carpark. The dam wall was built in attempt to secure permanent water to the ‘bush camp’ lodge created by Alice local Len Tuit in conjunction with Ansett airlines. The tourist Lodge closed in the 1950s when water just couldn’t be guaranteed. On the drive out from the carpark to the road, there are still some remnants of the buildings, mostly the concrete slabs. From the trailhead it was a kilometre out to the carpark and we celebrated Megan’s birthday before heading home.
Saturday 6th August, we grouped up again at the Serpentine Chalet trailhead. 7 of us headed off, on the chilly, sunny morning for what was suggested to be a coolish day by Centralian standards, around 19oC. As there is no guaranteed water available along this section, our packs were once again heavy with all supplies for the two days. A short leisurely stroll quickly brought us to Inarlanga Pass. From here the trail heads off to the Ochre pits and Larapinta Drive, or turns right to head through the pass. We encountered a lot of oncoming traffic through here, with many people taking a break from hiking to admire the scenery and soak up some warming winter rays of sun. The pass itself is comprised of large boulders, a rocky dry water course and spectacular ancient cycads flanked by red cliffs. With full packs, parts are a little tricky, but the pass levels out towards the end and we took a morning coffee break before heading off west behind the range. Here, the track winds it way up into a very long valley. It looks easy enough at the beginning but the area is very open and it gets hot. Even on a cool day, sunburn is an issue, so carry the sunscreen and don’t forget to apply it every now and then. We stopped for lunch just before the end of the valley and contemplated how far it was to the Rocky Gully campsite.
It wasn’t long before we got to Waterfall Gorge. Earlier that day, we had all agreed to postpone our decision on where to camp, until we reached Waterfall Gorge. It was mid afternoon, and the campsite is very exposed. Ahead, was a narrow rocky dry water course that leads past the waterfall (dry) and along the base of the mountain before the track suddenly turns right and a serious ascent confronts you, especially after already hiking 14kms. The reward is to camp on top of the ridge and enjoy the incredible sunset and sunrise views from up there. With Sarah confessing that she had been having nightmares about this climb, and she had not been with us for sections 4 or 5, it really came down to her choice. When Sarah said ‘lets do it now’, it was game on. It is a hard ascent that unfolds mountain range views after mountain range views, the higher you go. Steep, slippery shale in parts, many switch backs, but oh so worth it. We made it into camp in time to get set up and then enjoy a sunset drink, not realising at the time that the March flies were enjoying a nice feast on any skin we had left exposed. Two weeks later, I am still annoyed with myself for not using the ‘bushmans’ I had in the pack.
The night was not as cold as we had anticipated and whilst the previous days ascent had left us stiff and a little sore, the way ahead was nowhere near as taxing, albeit quite warm in the end. The first rays of light hitting the tips of Mt Sonder were worth braving the chill. We headed off west, down off the ridge, noting that along the way, every twist and turn of the trail seems to naturally frame Mt Sonder, like a deliberate photo shoot had been planned. I couldn’t help but tell Mt Sonder that we are coming and we will conquer it soon. The trail tracks back along the southern side of the mountain range, winding along until you come down into the dry riverbed and trek along the base of the cliffs with the riverbed between you and the road into Ormiston Gorge. Ormiston Gorge is a buzz of civilisation, with toilets, showers, a cafe, lots of picnic shelters and many tourists. It was ice creams and icy poles all round before heading home knowing that we were three quarters done.
Sunday 21st August, Section 10 from Ormiston to Glen Helen. 9.1kms to the junction, plus 4.3kms into Glen Helen. 11 of us headed out, driving through the side of a thunderstorm and very heavy rain almost at hail stage. Rain was predicted but the storm was a little daunting and we hoped we wouldn’t get caught in it at any stage. Section 10 is the easiest and shortest section of the trail. The path is very well defined, and there is a beautifully crafted stone bridge not far out of Ormiston Gorge, the sort that should come with a troll living under it. After the unusual winter rains this year, we were again treated to many different wildflowers blooming along the side of the trail. Not like Western Australia but still very pretty and it is amazing how these plants have adapted and flourish with so little moisture or nutrients. There is really only one main hill to ascend on this walk and whilst there is a lookout at the top, it was so windy when we arrived that it was unpleasant and the idea of morning coffee had to wait. The dark clouds forming in the northwest made us vigilant as we moved on, down the hill and across the valley towards the Finke River. At the first riverbed, we finally took a break and made a coffee, shared with chocolate coated Teddy Bear biscuits and Emil’s ever present supply of Scotch Finger biscuits. Not far from where we took a break is the main Finke River crossing which in parts was soggy and muddy. Hikers have laid down some stones and dead tree branches so it is possible to cross without getting your feet muddy.
On the other side is the trail junction, and the path towards Glen Helen. The path is worth walking as it has some amazing natural rock formations and good views of the 2 Mile camping area, and of course Mt Sonder, which looms even closer. We spent quite a bit of time at the arch before passing through it and heading for the 2 Mile lookout area. The Arch makes for some great photos and everyone wanted their turn of course. Not being a local, Yoshi wanted to take some photos from the top of the two mile lookout, so she ducked off up there. It really is a very short distance off the trail, but as we waited at the bottom of the hill, we were reminded of the storm brewing in the west. The Thunder was beginning to rumble and it was time to go. Just before we reached the helicopter pad on the way into Glen Helen, light rain started falling. Quickening our pace, we made it into Glen Helen easily without getting wet. The bar was open and we grabbed some beers and took up residence outside to watch the storm, but not for long. The heavens opened up, settled the dust and washed the earth clean. 10 minutes later, the sun was out again. Just Mother Nature flexing her drama muscles and re-iterating how quickly the weather can change, even out here. We enjoyed our lunch then headed back to Alice. I find each time we drive back to Alice Springs, I cannot believe how far we have walked. Each return journey brings a sense of accomplishment, and a renewed determination to complete the entire trail.