Women of the Larapinta
‘You’re doing it alone?!’, is the usual response. As a female, I am used to getting a shocked, or maybe concerned, look when I tell people I’m going out into the wilderness on my own. This time though, I was far from the only one.
The Larapinta Trail is a 223 km long-distance hike, heading west from Telegraph Station in Alice Springs along the West MacDonnell Ranges and finishing at the peak of Mt Sonder. It’s a remote, rugged and tough trail, notoriously known for chewing through even the best hiking boots and wearing people down by making you climb every rock and ridgeline in sight.
To most people, it was not a place for a woman, especially not a solo one. The rough environment of the outback isn’t very kind, you obviously have to carry a heavy pack, and of course, there are no showers. Oh, and there’s no phone reception. But that’s kind of the attraction.
I left at 9 am on a Wednesday morning from Telegraph Station and had a 13.5 km day ahead of me to my first campsite. It was going to be a scorching winter’s day in Alice Springs with a top of 28⁰C and a total climb of 280 m up to Euro Ridge.
After only one hour into the day, I started to think that my 18 kg pack was actually pretty heavy. I had never carried a full pack over such a long distance before. The trail was heavily exposed, and I was under the heat of the sun as it started to ascend the rocky ridgeline. I scrambled to find a little bit of shade where I could stop and make up some rehydrating solution to replace the electrolytes pouring out of my body.
I clipped a rock with my toe – which would not have usually thrown me off balance – but with the force of 18kg on my back working against me I was propelled forward. As I put my hand out, to stop myself from falling on my face, my knee grazed a rock. I had blood trickling down my right leg and I thought to myself, ‘what am I doing out here?’.
Yet it was just these types of challenges that helped me push on. I knew other hikers would probably see my grazed knee and think that if I couldn’t even make it past the first day what hope did I have? I’m not one to give up though, I like challenges. I didn’t give myself any alternative – I was going all the way to Mt Sonder no matter what.
I had plenty more bumps along the way. I battled gale force winds camping on top of a lookout called Brinkley’s Bluff. My right foot started aching and I burst my extra water bladder on day six. My left boot started splitting on day eight – the halfway mark – and I relied on the generosity of others to provide all sorts of different tapes to keep it together for the rest of the trip.
But at the same time, I was getting physically stronger every day. Six days in I even thought I’d left half my pack contents behind that morning because it felt so much lighter. It was just my body adapting, an effect that contributes to the addictive nature of these kinds of adventures. It’s the ultimate sense of freedom, independence, and strength. As a woman, I value these feelings the most.
There are now more women completing the Larapinta Trail solo than men – I know, I was surprised too. In the previous few years, the number of female hikers on the trail has increased dramatically. I met females from as young as 13 years of age and well into their 60s, completing it independently either in small groups or alone.
I was expecting to meet few other female solo hikers, if any. I usually like doing something that not many others do; it gives you an added sense of achievement. But I loved the fact that I wasn’t the only solo female on the trail. It was refreshing. I was not the only crazy one.
A male guide I met asked me why I thought there were more women on the trail, contrary to what most people expect. ‘Why?’, is a big question. Everyone has their own reason for doing the Larapinta. My reason was because I was looking for my next challenge. I’d done multi day hikes before but nothing of this length and toughness, and never with a full pack. But everyone was different.
It means though, that more women are saying, ‘I can do that’. The male guide followed his question up with, “But why not do another hike, a shorter one, or one not as rough?”. Where is the fun in that though? The remoteness, the vastness of the landscape, the physical and mental challenge, that’s what we want.
Whenever I passed a fellow female hiker on the track we’d always stop, chat, and share stories from the trail. There was a real sense of belonging, a shared experience; we understood each other.
Standing on top of Mt Sonder, at the end of 15 days on the trail, I felt as strong as ever.