Thursday, July 22, 2010

Larapinta Trail or All the streams are usually dry

The Larapinta Trail is a 230 km walk in Outback Australia and was one of the reasons for me to fly to Alice Springs. You can check it out at http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/parks/walks/larapinta/index.html
Buck 30 had just finished it a month before and was full of praise for it - and so I was really looking forward to it.

Me before the rain
The problem already started when I flew into Alice Springs. I got out of the plane and - it rained. I cycled to my warm showers host and - it rained. It was just drizzling, but still: This is not what you expect in Outback Australia. I left the next day to hitch to the Western end of the trail and big surprise - no rain!

I had hoped to hitch the 150 km in half a day and started at 9 am in the morning. A lady quickly stopped to pick me up and she went to exactly to where I wanted to go, but she warned me that she would stop at all the sights on the way. That could not take too long (I thought) and happily I got in. She really stopped at every single sight and took her time. A guided tour at one sight, a cup of coffee at the other and then we had to wait for the right angle of sunshine at another. And then we had to take a lunch break. And then we had to drop another hiker off who had asked her for a ride as well. The clock was ticking and I got more and more nervous. I was just itching to hike!!! After 7 hours we had eventually made the 150 km and I arrived at the trail terminus at 5 pm. Way too late for hiking and so I just pitched my tent.
Flooded road on the way to terminus

And now you have to picture the terminus: The car park, picnic/campsite area and water tank are on one side of a river, but to start the trail you have to cross that river. Like my guidebook said: All the streams are usually dry and that one was only ankle deep. Easy crossing! I pitched my tent at the official hiker campsite which was pretty shitty and looked like it would easily flood. But there was hardly a cloud in the sky and so I pitched my tent and went to sleep.

I woke up at 11 pm with howling winds. 2 minutes later it started to rain. 3 minutes later it started to pour down. 4 minutes later the campsite was completely flooded and my thermarest was swimming in a pool of water inside my tent. Luckily I had learnt in the rainy season in Japan how quickly things can go bad and had already stowed away  my sleeping bag. And I remembered the picnic shelter 300 meters away! I packed all my stuff and run up to it. Rain had stopped, but luckily I pitched my tent now inside the shelter... To cut a long story short, I poured down the whole night. Really the whole night. Under the shelter's metal roof it felt like the world would go under. But at least I did not get flooded again. I don't know how I could have survived that night in my tarptent alone.

Water level at the time of my crossing
When the rain stopped eventually at 6 am it dawned on me that I might have a problem at the river crossing. I packed my stuff and went to down to assess the situation. The ankle deep stream had become a raging current. When I stuck my trekking pole in to assess the water depths I could not even reach the ground. I realised that I had a serious problem. The current was so strong that even swimming was out of question! I had to wait.

I came back every hour and every hour the water level had dropped by 10 cm. By 1 pm I realised that another hiker was trying to come over from the other side. He did everything wrong: He waded barefoot, just had a wooden stick instead of trekking poles and did not open the hip belt of his backpack. It took him 1,5 hours to make it to the other side and I was thoroughly surprised that he did not drown in the process. Of course, he wanted me to take several pictures of him after the deed! I tried to cross the same way he did, but it seemed way too dangerous. The current was just too strong. I tried several passages and after 1 hour I was on the other side - totally drenched and shaking, but alive! This had been one of the most dangerous river crossings I had ever done. But things could only get better now! As my guide book said: All the streams are usually dry!!!

One of the flooded gorges
The next day should be an easy 30 km walk. In the end I did only 20 km and was totally exhausted. Every little stream (that is usually dry!) was either a raging current or very deep. It took my forever to find safe passages. The most interesting was Davenport Creek. Hardly any current, but when I walked in I realised that it was getting deeper and deeper and deeper. In the end I was swimming! It would have been easy just to swim over, but what should I do with my backpack? I was considering to build a little raft or float it on my thermarest, when eventually I found a passage where the water was only chin-deep. Yes, you are reading correctly. The water was so deep that just my head was sticking out of the water! I stripped down completely and carried my backpack on my head over. I wish I had a picture of that!

The days continued like that: Water everywhere! I had wet feet every day and felt like back in Florida (and not like in the outback). At least I did not have any drinking water problem either.

But unfortunately my plight was not over yet. On day 5 I had so gotten used to all that river crossings that I forgot that I had my cell phone/camera in my pant pocket when crossing another one of the usually dry sand filled creek beds. I only realised that when I heard some desperate beeps - the last sounds of life of my cell phone when I waded through thigh-deep water. I tried to dry the phone - but it is dead! And I am without phone, camera and MP3-player. I have not figured out how to solve that problem yet....

No comments: