SECTION 1 – Redbank Gorge to Ormiston Gorge

Day 0 – Transport of Redbank Gorge

Transport from Alice Springs to Redbank Gorge took 3 hours including dropping off our three food drop boxes.

We shared the transport with a couple that had just finished the hike and were being dropped off at Ormiston Gorge to collect their car. They shared stories of their hike and urged us to consider climbing at least part of Mt Sonder – the only part of the hike we decided not to complete. We pondered changing our schedule to fit in the full climb and possibly merging two other days, but decided to add only a partial climb onto our first day’s hike.

We arrived at Redbank Gorge, pitched the tent and walked 20 minutes to the gorge’s main waterhole. We were alone, so we stripped down and tried the water. Icy! I was barely waist deep before getting the eye shivers, so promptly got out. We hung out for a while on the sand and rocks before dressing and heading back to our campsite.

We moved the tent into the sandy riverbed nearby and built a fire, deciding we were far enough from any vegetation. We cooked our first camp meal and relaxed in the warmth of the fire mentally preparing for our first big day tomorrow.

Day 1 – Redbank Gorge to Rocky Bar Gap

We were awakened in the night by a tour group going past on a day trip up Mt Sonder. We guessed they aimed to be at the summit for daybreak.

We went back to sleep and awoke a couple of hours later to get ourselves ready. It took 90 minutes after cooking and eating breakfast, preparing feet, packing, dressing and breaking camp. It seems leisurely but the time just slips past.

Half and hour into the climb the terrain turned steep. To speed our progress, we left our packs at a spot we’d be returning past and climbed on without them. It’s amazing how much faster you can climb without that extra 20kg weighing you down.

We were aiming to be at the first saddle on the slopes of Mt Sonder for sunrise and arrived just minutes before. In the early light the panoramas were amazing. We sat together and watched the sun come up on our first day.

We descended back towards Redbank Gorge, collecting our packs on the way, and then turned off towards our next campsite – Rocky Bar Gap. The walk was fairly straightforward, with the path changing from sandy to rocky to scree as we went.

We arrived after 3 hour and 20 minutes, shorter than the 4 hours suggested for the leg of the trip and a habit we would continue with for the majority of the trek. Our journey included a break every 4-5km for a snack and to remove our boots – something we consider very important for foot care while walking in the heat and with so much walking ahead of us.

We were alone in the camp. It was hot and we pitched the tent in a shady spot then went to explore the surroundings hoping to find a creek with water to cool off in. No such luck, just a dry riverbed. While exploring, we spied a lone Dingo watching us from a distance. We watched him for a while before he slunk away.

We returned to the campsite and relaxed in the shade, having lunch, snoozing and stretching before heading to bed early in preparation for another early start tomorrow.

Day 2 – Rocky Gully to Finke River Trailhead

We headed out along the dry riverbed in the dark to where we’d seen the dingo last night. There was a hard climb today and we aimed to do it at daybreak to use the benefit of the early light but before the sun itself crested the ridge to shine in our eyes.

We were on time and the climb was indeed difficult – we lost the track in the rocks several times. We stopped just before the summit to watch the sun slowly turn the rocky slopes of Mt Sonder red. The summit had amazing vistas in all directions, these views were the reason we were doing this hike and they certainly exceeded our expectations.

The climb down was difficult and slow going and we were both glad we’d brought walking poles. We met our first other walkers at the bottom as temperatures rose to 31 degrees Celsius – a dry heat.

The rest of the walk was fairly easy with the sun being the only real obstacle. We arrived at Finke River Trailhead. We met an Austrian man who had walked the trail alone. We chatted to him for a while about his adventures before finding a site and pitching our tent in the dry sandy riverbed.

After setting up camp we walked to the Window of the Rock and then on to Glen Helen resort (another 4km each way) at the mouth of the Finke River Gorge, a beautiful place where the river was flowing and tourists wandered around. We ordered lunch and a beer – my only one on this trip. We napped in the shade, swam in the river and dried off in the wind and sun.

On our return we discovered camel prints near the tent but no sign of the camel itself. We settled down for the evening and prepared for an easier day’s hike tomorrow.

Day 3 – Finke River Trailhead to Ormiston Gorge

While suggested as a 4-hour walk, the days hike took us only 2 and a half hours, 30 minutes of which was a break mid walk. The landscapes were just as impressive with Mt Sonder standing tall in the distance as we slowly got further from it.

We crossed a wide sandy riverbed with large white trees along its centre. River debris hung more than 2 meters above ground suggesting that when the river ran through here it ran high.

The red trail continued until we arrived at Ormiston Gorge, a tourist hotspot with a large camping area open to the public.  This was the site of our first food drop

Since we were told it was going to be an easy walk, we’d slept in and left after daybreak. Not satisfied with the short walk we decided to do the Ormiston Gorge Pound walk  – 7 more km and 3 more hours over rocky terrain. Before we left a dingo watched us from the trail.

We’d decided to leave for the pound walk after midday, a foolish decision as temperatures soured and the sun beat down on us with all ferocity. With our water and energy levels running low we were finally rewarded with a cold dip in the swimming hole at the end.

Back at the campsite we chatted to several retirees. They were embarking on a 5-day hike but for all their experience had brought far too much food.

We fell asleep late having prepared for a very hard day tomorrow – a full load of food and an extra 8 litres of water…

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