As I had a limited amount of time, and the trail goes for 223 kms, I opted to just do the first section: Simpson’s Gap to Alice Springs Telegraph Station. One of our tour vehicles was heading out in the late afternoon to do some transfers in that general direction and the driver was a friend I had gone through accreditation with so she was happy to drop me off on the side of the road.
There was an eight km walk from the highway to the actual trail pickup but I was lucky enough to have a Ranger stop about 5kms in and give me a lift the rest of the way. The trail guide recommends walking 10kms to the allocated camp site (water and a barbecue) but it was already after 4.30 pm and it was obvious I wouldn’t make it that far by nightfall. Ranger Dale told me he was quite ok with people stopping on the side of the trail and camping wherever, as long as they didn’t light fires and carried all their discard out so I decided to do that. I have to confess that I was happy at the thought of not having to sleep the night with people; I’d come out to get away from humanity and I just didn’t want to be social.
(Incidentally, I’ve found that the NT is very realistic in grading their walk times, unlike WA. Normally, I walk fairly fast, even with a pack, and five kms an hour is a realistic goal. Not on these rocky, up and down slopes. I am also slow because these days I really seem to savour the opportunity to stop and look at things. I seem to enjoy my slow pace so much more. I touch and feel plants; I stop to photograph interesting (to me) things; I admire the view and I talk to birds and animals.)
So it came to be that, only an hour and a half after I officially hit the start of the trail, I was looking for a great spot to camp. Actually, it turned out that I was just looking for a flat spot to camp: the trail is virtually carved out of the side of the ridges and just as wide as one person wearing a heavy pack and there really wasn’t much level real estate.
Eventually, just as the sun had dipped below the hills, I saw a possible area just off the trail. I was halfway up a ridge and this one spot had room for my mat, a flat level for indulgent comfortable sleeping and a dead tree to rest my pack against/hang things on. So, I set up camp.
I carried two sleeping bags, one inside the other (it gets cold out there), a ground tarp, a small beer can stove and fuel, a dried meal, a small plastic bottle of wine and a torch. More than enough to be comfortable for the night.
This was my sunset view and sunrise was even better. I woke up a few times in the night and counted the shooting stars – eight was the total. I even had internet so I skyped my lovely husband and my mother – both appeared to be pleased to hear from me, although the husband was concerned about me being eaten by a dingo.
Never happened. My sleep wasn’t really disturbed until about 4 am when there was some heavy thudding coming past. I knew dingos were stealthy beasts and kangaroos are sporadic thumpers, so I decided that whatever was heavy breathing past on the trail was probably a feral camel or two. Alarming but not usually aggressive or life threatening, unless in season.
When I eventually got up, packing away the dew sodden sleeping bags and tarp, the sun was just rising. The first hour of the new walk was magical; all fairy dew sprinkled and glistening in the early morning soft light. The opalescent gleam gave a fantasy element to all the plants and even to the scattered, abhorrent, spider webs.
A while further down the track, I was alarmed to hear more heavy breathing and trail thumping behind me. Not wanting to be run down by camels, I stepped off the trail only to find that my pursuers were actually human: members of the Alice Springs Triathlete Club, who liked nothing better than to run 23 kms of rocky steep trail, much of it in the dark, on Sunday mornings. I was a bit disappointed that they weren’t camels and I definitely felt extremely inferior, given that I was slowly staggering along with a pack and they were showing me up with their fitness.
Eventually, the day ended up with me walking back into town via the Stuart Highway (I had previously walked from AS to the highway so felt I didn’t have to repeat that last 5 kms) to get my car at work. When I got to a bit of town I had previously walked out to before, I felt that I could legitimately phone my roomie and ask her to get me, which she did. Altogether, around 25 kms walked in less than 25 hours.
It was worth it but man, oh, man, these days the pack walking up and down hills really hurts!