Larapinta Trail – Days 5-7: Section 9 – Ormiston Gorge to Serpentine Chalet Dam

Currently Reading: Nick Jaffe – The Years Thunder By | Sophie Green – The Inaugral Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club | James Clear Atomic Habits | Karen Joy Fowler – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We spent our rest day at Ormiston Gorge doing all those necessary things that long distance hikers only get the opportunity to do when there is power and hot water available: organising our resupply, showering, doing some washing, charging our devices, and eating freshly prepared food.

Day 5 – Rest Day – Ormiston Gorge

The resupply was an epic undertaking. We had originally planned on doing our own food drops, but because I didn’t end up driving to Alice, we enlisted the help of Outback Elite, the company that transferred us to the start of trail. They dropped empty pre-labelled boxes at our accommodation in Alice the day before our hike and then delivered them to our three designated resupply points:

The Resupply Plan:

  • Start Point – Redbank Gorge (4 nights)
  • Resupply 1 – Ormiston Gorge (5 nights)
  • Resupply 2 – Ellery Creek South (6 nights)
  • Resupply 3 – Standley Chasm (6 nights)
  • End Point – Alice Springs Telegraph Station

The Actuality:

  • Start Point – Redbank Gorge (3 nights)
  • Resupply 1 – Ormiston Gorge (6 nights)
  • Resupply 2 – Ellery Creek South (2 nights)
  • Resupply 3 – Standley Chasm (6 nights)
  • End Point – Alice Springs Telegraph Station

There are actually four potential resupply points, but Serpentine Gorge and Ellery Creek South are only one day apart and we opted to go with the three locations that spread the carrying load the most along the length of the trail. If we’d chosen Serpentine Gorge, we would have had a 7-8 day food carry, and by doing things the way we did, our longest food carry was 6 days.

By choosing Ellery Creek South instead of Serpentine Gorge as our second resupply point, we committed to walking the southern route to Ellery Creek Big Hole rather than the easier Ellery Creek North route. Ellery Creek South has road access, though, so we were able to arrange pick up (also from the good people at Outback Elite) when we decided to jump the section between Ellery Creek and Standley Chasm.

While packing our resupply the night before departure, we came to the realisation that we had way too much food for our three boxes. We also wanted to include spare first aid, changes of clothes, replacement books and journals etc for collection along the way. We were able to call the lovely people at Outback Elite and request two additional boxes that we packed enroute to the trail on the morning of departure. This company was so fantastic. There are may companies operating out of Alice that provide a similar service, but I cannot recommend the team we chose highly enough. We felt completely supported in our endeavour every step of the way. They were friendly, professional, provided expert advice, and responded to every query within the hour. Five stars. Two thumbs up!

Ormiston Gorge was pretty gorgeous – I can’t believe I didn’t swim here
I did see some people go in – there was lots of shrieking and splashing
Laura and I settled for taking our shoes off and putting our feet in the water
After a few days on trail it was a little surreal seeing busload after busload of tourists turning up to this idyllic spot – a beautiful place to visit
I spent a goodly long time in this outdoor seating area adjacent to the kiosk hanging out with the local bowerbird

I sat at this table and read my book while my phone, powerbank and watch recharged. A very relaxed change of pace. I was obsessed with the Ormiston Kiosk’s veggie foccacias. We had one on the day of arrival, one for brunch and one for afternoon tea on our rest day, and purchased a final one to take with us for breakfast the following day. They also made a lovely date scone!

The other good thing about the resupply boxes is the fact that you can unload anything you deem unnecessary for later collection. No matter how many times I set out on a long distance hike, I always start off with items that I very quickly realise I am not going to use for the duration of the hike. On this trip, for instance, I took my watercolour paints and paper, along with a pencil case FULL of pens and brushes and art supplies AND a watercolour journal. During the planning stages, I develop this romantic view that each day of the journey will be composed of a few hours of hiking in the morning, leaving my afternoons free for painting and journalling at leisure at camp. I set out on the Appalachian Trail with this romantic notion as well. Apparently I don’t learn haha! The reality is that you hike all day! Every day! With far too few exceptions to justify the weight of luxury items. I think if I’d set out at 7am each day I probably would have made it into camp by 1pm or 2pm some afternoons and been able to live out the dream, but apart from two early starts, we were lucky to get out of camp by 9:30am. C’est la vie.

Day 6 – Section 9 – Ormiston Gorge to Waterfall Gorge

Our next section of hiking required a 28.9km stretch without reliable water. There are reported sporadic (and often stagnant) pools at Waterfall Gorge, but the next guarantee of good drinking water was a two day hike away. We allowed for the possibility of even taking three days if the hiking proved too challenging. Our plan was to get up and over the Mt Giles lookout and into Waterfall Gorge, which is at about the 16km mark, so as to ensure a shorter second day into Serpentine Chalet Dam. This plan proved successful but required a 7litre water carry on top of our full food resupply. We didn’t have enough bladders and bottles for a full 7lt, so drank as much as our bellies could handle before setting out, and carried some powerade to supplement our 5-6 litres of water. I found the electrolytes and sugar a welcome source of energy and rehydration throughout the day, but then had to carry the cumbersome empty powerade bottles until our next resupply at Ellery Creek South.

Iconic Aussie loo with a view
Our departure from Ormiston was one of our early starts

We knew we had a big day ahead with a long climb and steep descent while carrying heavy loads. Despite offloading our multitudes of excess baggage at Ormiston Gorge (which Outback Elite would later retrieve and return to us at our Alice Springs accommodation following completion of the hike) our bags were still in excess of 20kg (the heaviest they’d been on the trail so far) due to the addition of our resupply and the need for all that extra water. The early morning sky was spectacular.

Orion was smiling down on us as we quietly packed up and departed camp
The light changes quickly in the desert
That gorgeous morning glow
The Larapinta shares the trail with the Ormiston Pound walk as you depart Ormiston Gorge heading east
More sandy riverbed walking
A slightly sketchy pano but it does give a sense of the scale
Our first 9kms followed the gentle contours of the foothills of the West MacDonnell Ranges
We stopped here for breakfast
Looking back the way we’d come – Ormiston Gorge on the right, with Sonder in the centre distance

It was a lovely initial 9km out of Ormiston, despite the weight each of us was carrying, through undulating fields and sidling gentle knolls. The meadow flowers were out in force and the cliffs rose about us on both sides.

Despite the heavy packs, this was a beautiful stretch
Interesting outcroppings
Steady progress
Laura in the background, ‘Sarah’ in the foreground (Sarah was the name I gave this hiker in the absence of an introduction – turned out Sarah was actually Christine, as I discovered several days later when we encountered her again coming out of Standley Chasm)
More Sonder views from the midpoint of the ascent
Grateful for the switchbacks

We ascended from Base of Hill around lunch time and had a bit of a scramble along the ridge to Hermit’s Hideaway and then Giles Lookout.

Looking down the line of ridge
Look at that pushed up earth and those rippled folds of mountain
The expansive view from Mt Giles Lookout
The descent to the creek bed below Waterfall Gorge took us about an hour

After the tricky descent from Mt Giles lookout, we’d asked a passing hiker for word of what we could expect for the upcoming section of trail from the riverbed to the campsite and had received that old standard hiker response: “Oh yes, you’re almost there! Just up around that next corner you’ll hear them laughing!” Who ‘they’ were, where the ‘laughter’ was coming from and which ‘corner’ was being referred to never did become clear in the half hour of challenging rock-hopping and the unexpected climb that was to follow! When a hiker tells you ‘you’re almost there,’ rest assured you still have a ways to go. Don’t be seduced by those upbeat hiker platitudes haha! Cynicism aside, it really is a wonderful form of encouragement when your legs are tired and your motivation is flagging.

We still had about a 45 minute scramble, followed by a climb, dip and further climb before we reached our destination
Passing by more unique rock formations along the way

When we hit the turn-off that would lead us up towards the waterfall, we began searching for campsites in earnest. There are a couple of single tent sites in and around Waterfall Gorge, but on the whole, places to camp are fairly thin on the ground in that area. One of us could have camped in the riverbed and another at the base of the waterfall, but we had to ascend to the saddle above the second tier of the waterfall before we found any sites where we could pitch side by side. We bypassed the main campsite due to its location in the mouth of the gorge, opting to seek out a site which might afford some respite from the wind gusts that would inevitably funnel up the gully through the night. We found the perfect site sheltered by low-lying bushes just before the turn into the next valley.

Home sweet home after our biggest day so far
The last campsite at Waterfall Gorge

We encountered no other hikers until after we’d set up our tents, and as it turned out we were lucky to have stopped where we did, as the next day we travelled several km down trail before encountering any more sites where two tents would have fit. We were tired beyond comprehension that evening, ate in our tents and were asleep before full dark after this rather long day. The waterhole at the base of the waterfall did have water in it, but we’d been advised back in Alice that a hiker had been spotted washing his shirt in the it, and the same hiker who gave us the ‘nearly there’ encouragement advised that he’d just pulled a dead raven out of the water as he was passing. Needless to say, we were glad we’d brought our own rations.

The view from our campsite back towards the top of Waterfall Gorge
Last light in the valley

Day 7 – Section 9 Continued – Waterfall Gorge to Serpentine Chalet Dam

I woke up with aching back but feeling pretty excited about the prospect of a shorter day and the mysteries of Inarlanga Pass to come. We had 9kms of exposed valley walking followed by a 4km stretch that would take us through the Pass and on into camp at Serpentine Chalet Dam.

Morning light hitting the red rocks of the gorge
All packed up and ready to hit the trail
Looking back down the valley the way we’d come with hints of Sonder in the distance
Looking forward towards the ridges and valleys yet to come

We rolled through km after km of gentle undulations, with the ridges of the mountain ranges rising up on either side of us.

Rest stop – no shade but surrounded by rugged beauty
Drying the socks after a midday change – classy!
Quartz seam
Close up
Some straggly scrubland near Pioneer Creek
Into the pass…
Rams head or sphinx? This rocky outcropping recalled memories of the Guardians of the First Gate in Neverending Story
You get a sense of the magic of this place from the moment the path turns towards it

Having done the hard yards the day before, this was a relatively straightforward 13km+ day. The first nine where through beautiful rolling valleys. There was no shade through this stretch, but we came to Inarlanga Pass around lunch time, so we stopped and lunched in the dappled shade of the creek bed and then took our time walking through the boulder field.

And what a time that was
Imposing cliffs
Rising seemingly out of nowhere

When we entered the pass proper we were absolutely awed by the sublime grandeur of the place, with its curved arches of red rock from the various geological periods that had preceded us, and the blue green of the primordial Cycad. Hushed tones and reverence for this sacred site used for male initiation rites by the First Nations people. The males would walk through this pass on their way to ceremony. Words are inadequate to the task of describing the feeling evoked by that ancient place.

River rock smoothed by the passage of water and time
This kind of landscape literally takes your breath away
Laura taking it all in…
There was a fair bit of open mouthed wowing going on through this whole section
And the path leads ever on…

Inarlanga was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Just magical. Cycads and red rock in ancient formations. So lucky to be able to pass this way. Ever grateful to the Custodians of the land for permitting passage through this sacred space.

I have never seen rock formations quite like this – absolutely blown away
Ah camp! And ah, water!
Our sweet little homes

We sadly bypassed the Ochre Pits on our way to camp, because we were pretty tired after our two big days out of Ormiston and getting low on supplies of water. We were amongst the last two into camp and were lucky to snaffle two campsites relatively out of the way of the shelter.

The path leading off towards Serpentine Chalet Dam

It was here that we had our first encounter with mice and therefore hung our food bags in a nearby tree for the night. From Serpentine Chalet Dam until the end of the hike, the mice were prevalent. That parachute cord gifted to us by Mel at Rocky Bar Gap proved indispensable.

Up next – Days 8-11: Sections 8 & 7 – Serpentine Chalet Dam to Ellery Creek South

Books Completed: Jennifer Egan – Welcome to the Candy House

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