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Which Way Larapinta Trail? Part 1

Updated: Jan 21

East to West (E2E) or West to East (W2E)? Which way is the best way to go? This is one of the most common questions we get asked at LTTS. Here is our best advice based on what we have observed and listened to with more than 4000 hikers over the years, plus our own perspectives from walking both directions many times. Just remember, whichever way you decide to, the trek is going to be epic!

Solo independent hiker walking down Brinkley Bluff on Section 4 Larapinta Trail
Solo independent hiker on the Larapinta Trail

Part 1: Hiking East to West (E2W)

Walking the Larapinta Trail East to West is the most enjoyable way to experience the Larapinta Trail. This is based on thousands of conversations, surveys and feedback from hikers since 2004 plus our own experience of walking the trail end to end almost each year and in both directions many times. Here are some of the reasons why.

1. Trek Practicalities

A great practical reason for going E2W is that you allow yourself 3-4 days to 'calibrate' yourself on the trail as you complete the first few sections from Telegraph Station to Standley Chasm. Calibration is a term we adopted and use frequently with our customers. By calibrating yourself with the trail, we mean getting your body, mind and equipment used to, and levelled toward, the conditions of the Larapinta Trail and Central Australia. Your calibration process basically begins the moment you get off the plane or arrive in Central Australia.

How your calibration goes in the first two days of your trek will very likely determine how your calibration remains for the rest of the hike. For example, if you allow yourself to drop your hydration levels to 70%, you will remain at that level or lower for the rest of the trek no matter what your best efforts are to correct it. The first two days could well and truly dictate how the rest of your trek goes!

During the calibration process on Section 1-3 you have the opportunity, very early in your trek, to acclimatise and regulate your body. The first two sections are relatively easy (though long) in comparison to the other sections you will be undertaking. Therefore you can ease into your trek and give yourself ample time to shake off the domestic cobwebs and get your mindset back on bush frequency and trek focus and start warming up the muscle memory. Remember, if you need to split Section 1 in order to have an easy first couple of days, don't stress about doing that. You can always make up the time later in your trek.

By the time you get to Standley Chasm, you should well and truly have a reasonably good idea how you're performing. Your body would have had 3 or so days to get used to the conditions and you would have had ample time to sort out any boot, feet, pack or gear issues that normally bug us all in the early days of treks. The right mindset for your trek only really starts to warm up a couple of days on the trail, so if you're psychologically still a bit edgy and anxious, don't stress, it's perfectly normal. (Generally it takes about 48 hours or two days and two nights to shake off the pull of home and comfort zone).

For 90% of us we come out from our cement boxes in the cities and plunge into the wilderness, so we're occasionally going to forget that blisters will start happening because of blah, blah reasons ( there are many) or you forget the matches or you didn't test your brand new gas stove ( or even forgot it entirely). [ LTTS Note: We have a top 20 list of things that go commonly wrong in the first 3 days of an E2E Trek, so were quite savvy with the issues and have the back up plans for it].

The great thing about all that? Well Standley Chasm, your first food drop. It's a good place to sort out any complications or issues you've found in the first three or four days of your trek. It's a great place to re-calibrate or pick yourself up or sort your sh*t out because it's a nice comfort zone with grass, shade, showers, fireplaces, kiosk, lattes, ice-creams, cooked breakfasts and great customer service. It's also 'down the road' from town about 30-40 min from Alice Springs, which means we can get to you easily if you need assistance or need bits and pieces for your med kit, gear or whatever else. It would be a different story if you were walking West to East (W2E) and needed help from Ormiston Gorge.

With three days of hiking behind you, a good rest or re-calibration at Standley Chasm and gorging on great food in the kiosk and plundering your food drop container, you should now be ready to start getting into some of the best and most exciting parts of the Larapinta Trail - but you will be rested, tweaked and synched.

From Section 6 onwards ( starting at Hugh Gorge Trailhead), most E2W hikers get their mojo and cruise to the finish line from that point.

2. Finishing the Trek at Mount Sonder for Sunrise

This is a big drawcard for many people opting to complete the Larapinta Trail E2W. From Section 8 onwards, Mount Sonder begins to appear in the distance acting as the beacon of hope, achievement and accomplishment. Gradually, each day, you get closer and closer to Mount Sonder. It's an incredibly powerful icon and presence as well as a magnificent looking mountain. So its no surprise that many hikers enjoy spending their last six to seven days having Mount Sonder grace their panoramic views throughout the day.

Moreover, after aiming for the mountain for more than a week, they get to spend their final day on the Larapinta Trail with an epic sunrise on top of Mount Sonder - the visual, emotional and spiritual final epic event signifying the end of one of the most amazing experiences people will ever have in their lives. When you are walking W2E, you have your back to this magnificent mountain from Rock Bar Gap in Section 11 ( generally Day Two) onwards.

For those completing the trail W2E they get to finish their last day walking Section 1, which they often rush to get it out of the way ( because it's not the most exciting section) and have an anti-climatic experience of walking into civilisation via an unglamorous bough shelter, bitumen car park and, of course tourists, and then eventually straight into throngs of people back in town shortly thereafter. It's anti-climatic event (we get a lot of that feedback and have experienced it ourselves) given you just completed an epic trek and achievement. Your visual reward is a humble bough shelter and large car park. For most W2E hikers, their epic Larapinta Trail experience truly ends after they leave Standley Chasm because by far, many hikers power though Section 3, 2 and 1 because they know Section 2 and 1 aren't as exciting as the others , so they just want to finish asap. Arguably, with this mindset, they kind of rip themselves off the final 3 or 4 days of hiking the Larapinta Trail.

3. Transitioning Back to Town from Mount Sonder after E2W Trek

Driving back to Alice Springs from Redbank Gorge ( Mount Sonder) over a few hours allows hikers to begin the process of transitioning their minds and thoughts slowly back to civilisation and post trek their lives. They have just finished an epic trek and had one of the most incredible experiences of their lives. The final goodbye was the sunset on Mount Sonder which by far many say is the absolute optimum way of finishing such a magnificent trek.

Is that it? Well no. Everyone is on a high when they get picked up. They load up on the LTTS bus then spend the next hour or so in comfort raving about their hikes, talking about their war wounds, their highs and lows, funny moments and amazing experiences. Everyone is HAPPY! The drive back to town is a process that also allows everyone to gradually 'decompress' from the incredible physical, mental and psychological effort over the past fortnight and begin winding down, so that by the time they get to town, the adrenaline has worn off, they're chilled, sleepy, dreamy and ready for a shower, a big feed and celebratory drinks.

4. Sun in Your Face going E2W?

There is a common assumption with some people that one of the disadvantages of walking E2W is having the sun in your face or being blasted by the sun full frontal in the afternoon. For summer hiking, warm/hot days and perhaps treks in early April or late September, yes, this can be a factor. In winter between June-August when the days are cold and windy (and sunny throughout) this makes little or no difference. Much the same can be said for treks in May as well.

Firstly the temperatures are cold and windy between June, July and up to mid August, so most people have no complaints having the warm sun anywhere they can get it on their bodies. With the exception of mid to late afternoon and on some sections only ( such as Section 9 and 11), the sun is rarely directly facing you in the afternoon and is rarely hot. In the afternoon it is often to your right hand side (when walking E2W), and feels like it's at the north west angle.

So physically its not a big deal especially if you are wearing a hat and sunglasses - which you should wear even in winter where the UV is extreme and dangerous out here. If you are hiking out here in summer October-March, having the sun in your face or the front of body is hell ( especially in Jan-Feb), we can personally attest to that. But in winter, there aren't really any issues with the sun in your face in the afternoon. So unless its 45 degrees C, it's probably not something to stress about.

Keep in mind that there is no real escape from the sun exposure throughout the whole day while on the Larapinta Trail. It is an exposed area and whichever way you trek the trail, the sun is going to lavish you with its attention and fierce UV radiation even on the coldest of days. It is always super bright too. The high reflection rate off the rocks means brightness, UV and radiation is blasted in your eyes and across all parts of your body throughout the day.

If you have to walk on a particular warm day, which is common in April and late September, start early ( on the trail by 6am), rest up in the shade between 11am-3pm and walk from 3pm to 7 or 8pm. The hottest part of the day is always between 2-3pm.

5. Meeting your Transfer Pick Up Time

88% of all our customers meet their pick up date and time as originally booked, while most of the remainder 12% adjusted their original pick up dates for an earlier date, generally a day earlier. So for a vast portion of people, walking E2W poses no problem for their pick up or transfer. At worst, hikers may get in a day early and will need to chill out at Redbank Gorge waterhole for the day. At best LTTS will be able to arrange an earlier pick up.

While on the trail LTTS Customers can request an earlier or later pick up date and in most instances we can do it if we are heading out to Redbank Gorge that day, which we normally are, and if we have seats available. When it's busy in June, July and August, it can be a bit complicated with availability though, and we can't help with changes as much as we would want to. Just remember, we are not obligated or required to pick you up earlier.

Either way LTTS customers need to get in touch with us at least 3-4 days prior to the booked pick up date. Most do so from on top of the range along Section 9 where there is good Telstra reception or at Ormiston Gorge (Optus only). Sometimes we can confirm the change straight away, other times we need a couple of days to confirm whether we can change it or not. If that's the case, then hikers can check their messages at Hilltop Lookout on Section 11 where Telstra reception is good as well.

Next Article: Part 2: Hiking West to East ( W2E)- Coming Soon

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