I thought I knew what the night sky looked like. Those twinkling, glowing things in the cosmos that you sometimes see when you look up. But it wasn’t until I was camping out in the full moon of the Australian Outback that I saw what the night sky actually looks like. For the first time in my life, I saw how insanely bright the stars and moon can be. Being far from civilization, and urban light pollution has its benefits.
I’m part way through my five-day fundraising adventure on the iconic Larapinta Trail with Inspired Adventures. This is one of Australia’s most renowned hiking trails. A sprawling collection of striking red monuments and watering holes stretching over 230kms from Alice Springs along the West MacDonnell Ranges. It’s been sweaty work so far, but it’s all been worth it to raise funds for Ronald McDonald House. Tomorrow we’ll be tackling the highlight of the trip: summiting Mount Sonder.
While this isn’t my first trekking holiday – previous adventures had taken me around Australia and as far as China and Peru – I was drawn to the Larapinta Trail by the opportunity to see the Outback for the first time.
At first, I’d expected Alice Springs to be a small town, but was pleasantly surprised to find a bustling town centre, with visitors from around the world. We were greeted by a local Arrente Elder named Craig and our adventure started with a moving Acknowledgement of Country, with the Elder sharing ancient Dreamtime stories, and the personal impact of growing up as an outsider in his own country. Hearing these stories, I felt a connection to this ancient land that stayed with me throughout the journey.
After that, we set off on the Larapinta Trail. I was amazed by just how varied the terrain was on each of our trekking days – from rocky desert terrain complete with bright red dirt, to large mountains with views stretching towards the horizon, and even desolate, bushfire-impacted mountainous ranges. Every day was different, meaning we were both treated to and challenged by such a variety of terrain.
Our trekking guide, Imogen, was an incredible source of knowledge, telling us Dreamtime stories each day about the land we were exploring. The feeling of walking in these sacred areas, while hearing stories specific to the Arrente people, which have been passed down for tens of thousands of years, was one of my favourite experiences.
It also helps that our team of hikers all shared a common purpose, with each of us personally connected to Ronald McDonald House House in some way, which helped us all gel together from the beginning. It was great to meet the charity’s board member, Tony Pearse, and get to know him too. At night, we’d all talk till late, then unroll our swags and sleep out under the stars together.
My alarm went off at 1:30am and – after stumbling to get ready in the cold darkness and then eating a small breakfast – we were on the trail by 3:00am. We followed the light of our head torches for four challenging hours but eventually, we arrived at the summit in time to see daybreak. There’s nothing like the feeling of making it to the top and celebrating while witnessing a breathtaking sunrise.
Despite the adrenaline rush of reaching the summit, the day was not yet over. We then descended the mountain in the hot sun, which was such a contrast to the freezing cold that the day had begun with. We made it back to camp around 10:00am. We were exhausted but filled with a sense of pride that only a real challenge can bring.
Looking back on the challenge, it was physically difficult but not outside the ability of someone who has done some training to prepare for it (and bought the right type of hiking shoes!) Another aspect was the mental challenge of pushing through a new hike each day and then having no phone reception or internet. You’re completely cut off from the world, but that just helps you bond with your team more closely.
If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that I can’t wait to return. After showering and putting my feet up after a big day, I picked up my phone and texted my partner back home: ‘We have to come back here.’