Thursday, 22 July 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
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....

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