Get hiking fit for Larapinta

I’ve had my eye on the Larapinta Trail (230 km along the West MacDonald Ranges in Central Australia) since visiting the region with my family 10 years ago.  Finally, the time is right and I’m going July 2023 so now I need to get hiking fit for Larapinta.   So how do you prepare for an 14-18 day hike, with a heavy pack, while simultaneously working 3 jobs and raising a family?  That’s what this article is about.  Most believe the best way was to prepare for multi day hikes is to hike more.  My personal training expertise tells me there are many intelligent, time efficient and targeted ways to get fit for hiking, especially when you have big goals and a few niggles in the body.  Hiking fitness programs always include walking – to neglect this is to invite overuse issues in the ligaments and tendons from about week 2, as well as muscle soreness.  When I hike I want to thrive, be strong and capable and really enjoy the hike.  I don’t want to be a burden to others, and I certainly don’t want to have to quit.   So prepare I must, and here’s how:-

With 30 weeks to go how do you start to get fit for hiking the Larapinta Trail?

The goal of this initial hiking fitness stage is:-

to be able to hike 8 hours without muscle soreness (currently I’m sore by the 6 hour mark)

The best training for Larapinta starts with these fitness basics:-

  • build endurance,
  • strengthen my fussy hip,
  • work on dynamic balance,
  • build core and back strength by wearing a weighted pack – even on short walks

What specifically will I do to build hiking fitness for a 14-18 day hike on the Larapinta Trail:-

  • Additionally, I’ll do 1 x weekly Pilates reformer class, and something rehabilitative like yoga, foam rollering or swimming. 
  • In my gym I will complete 2 x whole body strengthening session 30-40 minutes each, focusing on dynamic balance and leg strength and endurance). 
  • Once every 4 weeks I’ll do a long day hike to check for muscle soreness (the aim is for this to disappear)  
  • Additionally, I’ll do 2 x weekend hikes minimum 3 days – similar underfoot to Larapinta (ie rocky).  The first one is booked for late December – Lake St Clair region around Shadow Lake there are several mountains to visit. 
  • Finally, I’ll complete a daily short walk – wearing a pack while simultaneously walking my dog.

So how did I go . . . . . reality set in . . . . 

Unfortunately, I hit a snag – COVID, which flattened me for a few weeks and required a step back from physical training. I had to cancel my 2 planned weekend overnight hikes and postpone my long day hikes.  Recovering from COVID was straight forward for me, except when it wasn’t.  Fatigue can come on quickly, so even when you feel well I’d recommend not going anywhere too remote.  I found electrolytic drinks invaluable.  They are often used to aid recovery when dehydrated.  Following my first post COVID hike my whole body was sore, and this is not only a sign of inadequate fitness but also that the virus is not totally cleared from the body.  I focused on a few more restorative activities such as aqua aerobics, foam rollering, swimming and massage. 

Stage 2 of getting fit for Larapinta Trail, with 20 weeks to go

Goal – to be able to hike 8 hours without muscle soreness, 2 days back to back – wearing a heavy pack 10 kg +

What – build endurance and strength, dynamic balance, build core and back strength by wearing a weighted pack – even on short walks

How – 2 x  multi-day hikes.  I’ll continue wearing a heavy pack on my Friday NIGHT beginners hiking session wearing a 6-18 kg pack and restorative practises such as foam rollering, aqua, massage and stretching.

This takes me through to mid April.

Here we are on Adamson’s Peak, South of Hobart (click image below for a video on this long day out).  I felt ready to tackle this long day hike.  This is a 17 km hike (average length of days to be tackled on Larapinta Trail) with 1km of up and down.  It took 9 hours and ticked all the boxes terrain wise – rocky, hard, and plenty of scree.  I was delighted that all the little fitness building activities I had done to restore my health had helped.  I wasn’t sore muscle wise, but my knees were sore for days.  So, moving forward my training must contain plenty of relentless incline and decline (oh joy).  I must be strong and balanced enough to not jar my knees on the hills. I’m also considering a lifetime subscription to panadol oesteo. 

3 hikers on top of Adamson's Peak

Stage 3 of getting fit for Larapinta Trail, with 10 weeks to go

To be honest, while I have reasonable fitness for hiking my greatest concern was the lack of long day walks with a heavy pack and total absense of multi-day hikes in the lead up to what will be my longest multi-day hike ever.  I knew I’d be starting this hike without optimal fitness.  But with 10 weeks to go there is still much that can be achieved and with a school holiday break freeing up some of my days I was able to boost not only my cardio fitness but doing some complete a 3 day multi-day hike.  The plan was to do the Freycinet Circuit on the East Coast of Tasmania but by this time the days were short and the weather wet and wild.   We opted for a hike to Bryon’s Beach, past Cook’s Beach, which although flat, it would give us a great deal of beach walking which is great preparation for Larapinta as the Finke River (actually this is the Larapinta River) and its tributories are dry and sandy for the most part.  Additionally I had bought a new tent – a single person Mont Moondance and I wanted to try it out.

What I discovered was:

  • My new tent is cosy and sturdy
  • My sleeping mat is not as comfortable as I’d like
  • I need a lot more food than I usual (not that we went hungry, but I was very hungry for 2 days after the hike)
  • Merino underwear takes forever to dry if you decide to go for a swim and did not pack bathers
  • My new shoes are indeed waterproof and comfortable

To meet my fitness goals which are to be fit enough to enjoy the hike and return without an overuse injury for the next 10 weeks I’ll be:

  • doing lower body exercises – squats, walking lunges, steps ups and calf raises twice a week
  • walking with a 15-20 kg pack when I walk the dog
  • hiking 2-6 hours once a week
  • crossing my fingers I remain well and injury free until I leave!
  • Incorporate hills into this training + pack

Advice I’d give anyone (including myself) embarking on a multiday adventure would be to have a few days flexibility in your schedule so you can rest, take it easy and have a full day off if needed.  I have 4 extra days up my sleeve if needed.  A reminder to stay hydrated and fuel your body with nutritious foods to support your fitness goals.

Final word!

I did remain injury free before the hike.  I was able to keep up with my fellow hikers.  We did indeed eat well, and I lost probably 5 kilo’s over the hike!  You just can’t eat enough when you are hiking and there aren’t shops (except for the occasional kiosk – Ormanston Gorge and Standley Chasm), so you eat what you take.  Food drops were essential.  Rest days would have been lovely, we opted for shorter days day 10-13, and this gave us the recovery we needed for the final push to the end.  I did return home with an overuse injury – to my right foot – and it is slowly coming right.  This started around day 14.  A proper rest day probably would have prevented this.  More on the Larapinta Trail in my next blog!

This image describes the Larapinta Tour offered by Jo Cordell-Cooper and World Expeditions

If you are interested in this tour to the Larapinta Trail hosted by Jo Cordell-Coper and in partnership with World Expeditions email Jo directly here  Download an itinerary here.  Dates are July 3-14 2024.