Tag Archives: Trek

Larapinta Trail

“So where are you going on holiday this year?” my Australian colleague asked.

“For a trek in the outback.”

“Shit, be careful man, it’s serious out there. Watch out for snakes, they have big brown snakes, King Browns they’re called. They’ll grow to three metres and it’s game over if they bite.”

With that encouragement still ringing in my ears, my brother and I went walkabout in the outback, clad in shorts and trail runners.

The amazing Redbank Gorge

Redbank Gorge – morning of day 1

The Larapinta Trail justifiably lays claim to being one of the best arid-zone walking tracks in the world. Running for approximately 225km from the foot of Mount Sonder back to the town of Alice Springs, it traverses the rugged and remote West MacDonnell range. Trekking is only possible during the cooler off-season and even then you’ll get fried under the midday sun. The scenery is jaw-droppingly spectacular.

It was going to be a sporting challenge to cover the whole route in eight days. We knew we had to be on our game. But that’s why we were here, why we came. To push ourselves, get a little outside our comfort zones and feel alive again.

Dropped at the trailhead early, we stood shivering in the unexpected coolness of the morning. Almost immediately we were drawn away from the main trail to explore Redbank Gorge. Not sure what to expect, we stood in awe of the towering red walls and boy’s-own-adventure-feel of the place. We were the only ones present – a theme that was to become common throughout our trip – and the silence, the stillness of this majestic place was palpable. We spoke in hushed tones, feeling out of place. We’d only just begun our trek and hadn’t yet adjusted from the civilized world, with all its noise, commotion and distractions.

Trekking through the West MacDonnell Range, Central Australia

The track was well marked and rocky or sandy underfoot, passing through areas of scrubland and low trees. Spinifex was everywhere, continually scratching our lower legs. Whoever walked first was tormented by the flies, whilst second in line was attacked by angry disturbed ants, pouring out of innumerable nests. When walking through the stretches of long grasses near the edges of creeks, the words of my Australian colleague echoed around my head: “watch out for snakes….”

Naive to the strength of the sun still, we began the trek in shorts, t-shirts and only baseball caps to protect us, a mistake we wouldn’t make again. After both suffering an excess of the sun’s rays, we improvised legionnaire style caps by draping our short sleeve t-shirts under our baseball caps to cover our necks.

A dingo print and a footprint in the Australian Outback

A dingo print next to one of our own

Although we never saw the maker of this print, we did receive a visit from a dingo at our camp on night 5 (Fringe Lily camp). He calmly meandered through our camp, about an hour after sundown, coming to within 30 metres of the tent. The beams of our head torches reflected back his beady green eyes. Man and beast stood transfixed momentarily, before he cantered off. Later that night we heard him howling, a sound we won’t forget in a hurry.

Mt Giles and the Alice Valley, Australia

Mt Giles and the Alice Valley

Days 2 and 3 were spent walking along the spine of Heavitree Range, a sub-range of the West MacDonnells. Day 4 involved a crossing of the expansive Alice Valley, a full day’s walk – the hottest on our trek – with scant shade from the sun. On the opposite side of the valley was the Chewings Range, which would feature prominently in the second half of our trek.

Spectacular wild camp in Waterfall Gorge, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Spectacular wild camp in Waterfall Gorge – night 2

One quickly adjusts to camp life. Routines fall into place and roles are established. Each day we’d try to beat our previous time for setting up and striking camp, discussing how we’d improve and what we’d do differently on the next adventure. Fast, light and far became our mantra. Camp life was simple precisely because we hadn’t brought a great deal of belongings with us.

Cooking on the camp stove, Larapinta Trail, Australia

One of the most eagerly anticipated moments of the day – dinner time

Flora on the Larapinta Trail, Australia

Early mornings were my favourite time of day. The solitude and silence was difficult to beat. Anticipating the day ahead; watching the sun slowly but surely turn the dull, brown mountains a rich orange; feeling fresh and well rested, enthusiastic to get miles under our belt. Discussing the plan of action for the day, the likely highlights and difficulties, chatting about anything else on our minds. Living in the moment. It was good to spend this time with my brother. We enjoy too few days like this together.

Trekking along the Larapinta Trail, Australia

Trekking – morning of day 3

Trekking through the Inarlanga Pass, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Trekking through the incredible Inarlanga Pass – day 3

Big sky country, Australian Outback

Big sky country

Spectacular views back west along the Heavitree Range from Counts Point lookout, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Spectacular views back west along the Heavitree Range from Counts Point lookout

Camping in the Outback, Australia

Home from home, camped at Rocky Gully – night 4

Trekking through Hugh Gorge, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Trekking through Hugh Gorge – day 5

“Bro, I’m going to rest on that rock over there.”

“No worries, I’ll keep going slowly.”

Moments later I came across the unmistakable track of a snake in the sandy creek bed. A very large snake, crossing the creek bed perpendicular to the direction I was walking.

“Whoa, Pete, look at these tracks, these are some BIG snake tracks.”

My eyes followed the tracks to my left. Towards the side of the creek, towards the rocks on the side of the creek, the rocks on the side of the creek that my brother decided to lean against.

Just as my eyes reached the rocks, my brother looked down at his feet. We both saw the snake at the same time. My brother jumped. Great bounding jumps into the middle of the creek, curses flying once he’d got over the initial shock. The snake, all two and a bit metres of him, was lying right where my brother had been standing, less than 30 centimetres from my brother’s feet.

We were both a little shaken. Neither of us knew whether the snake was venomous but we were just supremely thankful he hadn’t bitten my brother either way. We kept an even more vigilant watch out from this point forth.

(Subsequent research has led me to believe the snake was a Diamond Python, reassuringly non-venomous.)

Diamond Python, Outback, Australia

The two metre snake that Pete nearly stood on in Hugh Gorge – day 5

Some of the most spectacular trekking terrain was encountered in the numerous gorges we passed through. All involved a degree of scrambling; clambering up, down and sideways over boulders above pools of water. I kept expecting Professor Challenger to jump out from behind a rock and start barking orders at us.

Trekking through Hugh Gorge, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Trekking through Hugh Gorge – day 5

Blister treatment, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Keep ’em happy and they’ll carry you far: pre-emptive blister treatment

Moonrise at Fringe Lily Creek camp, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Moonrise at Fringe Lily Creek camp

Bird at Fringe Lily Creek camp, Larapinta Trail, Australia

A feathered friend drops in for dinner, Fringe Lily Creek camp – night 5

Fringe Lily Creek camp, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Fringe Lily Creek camp – night 5

The ridges of the Chewings Range were followed on days 5, 6 and 7 – my favourite section of the Larapinta trail. They form a line of jagged, folded rocks, all orange and red, with spectacular views of the surrounding plains. Several rough gorges, steeply wedged between the cliffs, full of water holes and exotic cycads provided exciting interludes between the ups and downs of the mountains.

Staring into the abyss, Rocky Cleft, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Staring into the abyss – Rocky Cleft, day 6

Summit of Brinkley Bluff, looking east to the Chewings Range, Australia

Summit of Brinkley Bluff, looking east to the Chewings Range – day 6

Signing the summit register on Brinkley Bluff, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Signing the summit register on Brinkley Bluff

Lizard, Outback, Australia

A Central Netted Dragon lizard, one of the few lizards we saw. Thanks to a reader for informing of the name!

Traversing through the Chewings Range, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Traversing through the Chewings Range – day 6

We camped at the Standley Chasm campground on night 6. After a sweltering afternoon with little water, we arrived tired and dehydrated and were pleasantly suprised to find a kiosk selling ice cold drinks and ice creams. After several nights wild camping alone, the small group of fellow walkers provided welcome company.

Approaching Standley Chasm camp, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Following a dry river bed approaching Standley Chasm camp – day 6

Standley Chasm was the standout geographical feature of the route, even though it was not in the least bit wild or remote, having been set up as a tourist attraction. Nevertheless, it was a spectacular place and we once again had it to ourselves. (Note: these photos can be seen here, part two of the Larapinta Trail Story.) The pull up from the valley floor was steep and tough going. All day we climbed, descended and climbed some more. Over mountain tops, through densely vegetated gorges with one sublime vista giving way to the next. Days 6 and 7 were as spectacular as it gets; some of the best walking I’ve had in a long time.

Climbing steeply out of Standley Chasm, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Climbing steeply – day 7

Reflection in a water holeMulga Camp was a pleasantly sociable end to our trek. Several other parties were established when we arrived and we shared a convivial atmosphere over dinner. Round after round of tea – we had gas and tea bags left over – comparing stories from other destinations and adventures.

Moonlit Mulga Campsite, Larapinta Trail, West MacDonnell National Park, Australia

Moonlit Mulga Campsite, our final camp – night 7

Euro Ridge, West McDonnell range, Australia

The final along climb along Euro Ridge, looking back west over the West McDonnell range – day 8

The end was now in sight. We could see the town of Alice Springs from the high point of Euro Ridge, although we still had another 10km to walk. Thoughts turned, as they oft do at this stage of a journey in the wilds, to what needs would be first satisfied once we re-entered society (shower, clean clothes) and, more importantly, what that celebratory beer would taste like and what the next adventure would be.

Footsore, and with weary limbs, we walked into Alice Springs after a 41km day that began at 5.45am when we stole away from camp in the pre-dawn light. Mercifully, the day had been overcast and cool.

Trailhead, Larapinta Trail, Australia

Trail’s end, bittersweet feeling – day 8

I was stoked to finish the trek – the successful completion of any goal is bound to bring happiness – but at the same time, a little sad on the inside. Sad to be leaving behind the simple life we’d come to appreciate. Sad that this year’s adventure with my brother had come to an end.

The Larapinta trail had wildly exceeded expectations. We’d enjoyed a splendid adventure together, seen a spectacular part of the world and pushed ourselves enough to feel deeply satisfied.

(Thanks to my brother for his company and some of his excellent photos.)

Ancient Citadels of the Northwest Highlands

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” – John Muir

Wise words, and more so than ever before in this day and age. I was, or rather more accurately, am, one of those tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people and a return to the natural environment was the only likely cure to a cabin fever as bad as I’d felt in a long time. Since summer last year, I’d spent perhaps 6 or 7 days running or walking in the real outdoors (runs along the Thames in central London don’t count). Last year’s hard won experience had faded and the skills picked up during those journeys long since forgotten. It’s been a highly productive year in other aspects, but hardly a vintage outdoor year.

Day 1: Driving into the wilds. Fumbling around in the glove pocket, tuning the radio, tying bootlaces, looking at the map, then suddenly looking up and out. Boom. The mountains yonder. It’s the magnitude – the bulk – of these hills when seen from the roadside that causes a sharp intake of breath (ok, so this photo doesn’t quite convey this!). You notice the beauty second, as you exhale. This first glimpse of the mountains always sends my spirits soaring. Excitement builds as the adventures planned – Ed – can you plan an adventure? – for the following days are shortly to begin. Accompanied by my long time walking partner, Alistair, we planned to base ourselves at Shenavall bothy and spend a few days walking and scrambling in Scotland’s Great Wilderness.

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Roughly 6km after leaving the car, we crossed the shoulder of An Teallach and gazed down upon Loch na Sealga and the Great Wilderness. Before us lay a mountainous stronghold, peak after peak thrusting upwards; dark terrible citadels of the North West Highlands. Steep cliffs, striking ridges and crenellated summits promise much to the adventurous walker.

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Shenavall Bothy, a remote and basic cottage in Wester Ross, with the corbett of Cul Beag Mhor behind. It’s a popular spot and justifiably so, occupying a splendid position in the heart of the Great Wilderness, right at the foot of iconic An Teallach (one of, if not the finest mountain on mainland Scotland).

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We dropped the camp gear at the bothy and had a late lunch of cheese and salami wraps. Leaving the bothy at 2.30pm for An Teallach wouldn’t normally be advisable but we had the month of June fighting our corner. He guaranteed us light until 11pm so we took heart and set off – to do what we mountaineers do best. Puff and sweat our way uphill, questioning exactly why we keep subjecting ourselves to such ordeals. Why we come back year after year. Of course, we all know why. The answer lies just a little higher, perhaps just along the ridge, cresting it and looking down into a new world. A world promising more beauty, wonderment and adventure. The photo shows Alistair heading upwards over the interminable boulder fields of Sail Liath, 954m, the first top on the ridge of An Teallach.

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The splendid main ridge of An Teallach, from the summit of Sail Liath. The two munros are the prominent peaks to the left and right of the lowest point of the ridge in the centre of the picture. They are Sgurr Fiona, 1060m, and Bidein a’ Glas Thuill, 1062m. Between us and them lay a scramblers paradise, a rough, serrated ridge of impeccable sandstone.

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Tempestuous weather filling in as we look to the west, towards the corbetts of Beinn Dearg Mor, 910m on the left, and Beinn Dearg Beag, 820m on the right. Clouds scudded in the from the south west, ending our hopes of scrambling along the ridge in late afternoon sun. The light was quite splendid where the beams of light pierced through the dirty quilt above our heads.

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Now the fun begins. Alistair climbing the superb layback crack as we ascend one of the numerous pinnacles along the ridge. The climbing was easy enough, but exposed. The sandstone was rough and holds were plentiful, inspiring confidence and allowing the enjoyment of movement over rock to suppress those jangly nerves.

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Further along the ridge, more exposure, more hands on experience. Elevated heart rate, blood pumping round the body, mind focussed entirely on the metre of rock above and below, only vaguely conscious of the wider surroundings. It was a thrilling mountain ridge – a noble opponent that didn’t yield without a good scrap.

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Looking ahead to yet more sandstone outcrops on the ridge, minutes before the cloud descended further and engulfed us. The infamous Scottish murk had finally settled in and held us in its grasp for the remainder of the evening.

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The summit trig point of Bidein a’ Glas Thuill, 1062m, the highest point of An Teallach. We reached the summit at 7.30pm in a good ole’ blow and thick, wet cloud.

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Stopping to layer up in the worsening weather before the descent down to camp. It was past 8pm by now and 10.30pm by the time we reached our tents (pitched outside the bothy). Being so far North in the middle of June meant we had daylight until past 10 and it didn’t get properly dark until 11 so we could afford to have long days.

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Day 2: The next morning, camp outside the bothy.

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River crossing. Crocs borrowed off Alistair as I hadn’t really thought through my plan for the river crossings.

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Wonderful views across to Beinn Dearg Mor and Loch na Sealga:

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On the summit of Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh:

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Celebrating with a dram of whisky on the summit of Sgurr Ban, Alistair’s 200th munro.

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Alistair near the summit of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair, looking back down the valley to Beinn Mor Dearg and our base near the head of Loch na Sealga:

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We enjoyed a beautiful evening walk back down the valley, our weary legs carrying us home to camp:

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Looking back at the reflection of Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair in the evening light:

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Day 3: Home, sweet home. A Golite Shangri-La 1 tent and inner, pitched with trekking poles. Inside a Rab Neutrino 200 sleeping bag, Karrimor roll mat, Platypus 3L water carrier, Golite Pinnacle rucsac, MSR pocket rocket stove, titanium billy and Asolo boots. Lastly of course, and most important of all, a cup of tea.

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Scrambler’s eye view:

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Views westwards to the sea from the summit of Beinn Dearg Bheag. Spectacular situation.

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Wild flowers – some kind of orchid I think:

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Loch Toll an Lochain and An Teallach’s western spur in the background. It felt unusual to be walking along a beach, half way up a Scottish mountain. But we were not the first – deer prints ran all the way along the beach, though we never saw the creator.

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Whisky this way. On we press, a quickening of pace, grumbling stomachs hurrying us back to camp. A tricky descent down the outflow of the loch, down climbing a gorge over clumps of heather kept the senses sharp and the fatigue at bay.

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Another crossing of our old friend the Abhainn Strath na Sealga river, with the first munro of yesterday, Beinn a’Chlaidheimh, in the background.

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Cooking up a well deserved dinner in Shenavall bothy after a superb day:

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Racing the evening light to get back to the car:

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Day 4: The misty ramparts of Slioch, hill of Spear, 981m, rising above Loch Maree.

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Near the summit and in the cloud:

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Victory – on top of Slioch, not much of a view:

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Alistair walking along the ridge line of Slioch, showing the scale of these vast Scottish mountains:

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The weather improved dramatically over the course of our day and we enjoyed a sunny afternoon as we descended back to the car:

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Trees reflected:

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Day 5: Slioch, seen across Loch Maree. A brief parting in the clouds teased us. Blue sky peeped out between the torn, ragged edges of the white duvet. Slioch revealed much to us. Flanks stretching all the way from the loch shore to the fore-summit, but still the top itself remained elusive. Moments were passed in wonder, gazing at this behemoth, remembering to put the camera to one side to soak up the view whilst I still could.

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Soon after the photo was taken, dark, ominous clouds rushed in and clobbered away the blue sky. The remainder of the day was spent in a monochrome world of varying shades of grey. A cold wind blew up. Rain slanted sideways, and increased in intensity as we wended our way up the corbett of Meall a’ Ghiuthais, 887m. Energy levels were depleted after the long days earlier in the trip. Each step required a conscious mental effort; it was a case of the destination being important, not the journey. Determined to “bag” one final hill, we slogged upwards and eventually won out. The summit may have been ours, but the enjoyment belonged mostly to the weather gods.

The final image from the trip was of this lone pine, standing tall above the mountainside, impervious to the weather. Directly across from Slioch, a sentry from yesteryear, knowing not the whys, the hows, the reasons, the excuses of us walkers, passing by in a fleeting moment. Through hail, rain or shine, the lone pine just stands, watching the four seasons play themselves out on Slioch’s stage. Just standing. Existing.

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Across Spain on foot – an introduction

Spain 10

Between 9 May 2010 and 7 August 2010, I walked 1,789 kilometres (1,115 miles) from the western most point of the Spanish mainland to the eastern most point of the Spanish mainland. I attempted to document the landscapes that I walked through with a series of landscape photographs.

The full set of photos can be seen here on my flickr stream. As time permits, I’ll upload more stories and photos to this website.

I spent 74 days walking through farmland, along coastlines and over mountains. I swam in the sea, slept on beaches, crossed raging mountain rivers, slid down snow slopes and stood on summits with far reaching vistas. Throughout I made a documentary record of the landscapes I walked through and the wonderful scenery I saw along the way.

Map of my route across Spain

Map of my route across Spain

Spain consists of seventeen autonomous communities. I passed through seven of these that ran coast-to-coast across Northern Spain: Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Basque Country, Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia. I also passed through Andorra.

I planned this project in March and April of 2010, unsure how successful the combination of a long wilderness trek and landscape photography would be. It certainly required a degree of compromise in each discipline. I couldn’t carry as much photographic equipment as I’d have liked and yet the weight of what I did carry certainly impacted on my walk. At times the photography felt like a burden, one that I wish I could dispense with, so that I might travel lighter and faster and just enjoy the purity of the journey. At other times, it would have been wonderful to stop in one place for several days, exploring and taking photos at will.

I present this collection of photographs as a documentary project that spans the width of Spain, rather than as individual landscape photographs. Once the walk was underway, I did no specific planning for individual shots, other than choosing what I thought might be interesting viewpoints to finish at each day. However, constraints of weather, food supplies and fitness often dictated where I would stop for the night, so sunset and sunrise shoots did not always happen.

I became highly proficient at spotting photographic opportunities over the course of the trek; which were the ones worth stopping for and using a tripod and filters, if necessary. Inevitably, the better photographs were those that were more considered; when I had stopped and taken the time to compose and capture a scene. That said, a number of photos in this book were taken as handheld shots.

Walking is a slow way to travel but, in my opinion, if one has the time it is surely one of the best ways to travel. A hugely enjoyable aspect of the trek was meeting the local people and other walkers, to ask for directions or to share in the wonders of the surroundings. Throughout my time on the Camino del Norte route, I frequently became lost and quickly became adept at asking for directions in Spanish. This usually led to a conversation about the area, my walk, the weather and the World Cup. On more than once occasion it resulted in an offer of a drink, and, once, even leading to an offer of a lawn to camp on, a beer to drink, half a watermelon to eat, a table and chair to sit on, and the gift of a walking stick!

The trek was everything I had hoped for and more. It was challenging, rewarding, suprising and mundane at times. At times, I felt tired, footsore, hungry, thirsty, sleepy, scared or nervous but these feelings would pass and the wonder at my situation would return. Sometimes on the trail, for no particular reason at all, I would feel incredibly happy and break out into an inane grin. Other times I struggled to shake off the feeling of pressure that the photographic element of this project bestowed upon me.

If there was one wish for an outcome from this adventure, then I hope it inspires you to go forth, out your front door, walking boots laced up and camera in hand. There’s a wonderful world of adventure and natural beauty out there awaiting you. I hope you enjoy the photos and the journey!