'This Female-Led Retreat Made Me Feel Stronger and More Empowered' - Women's Health

‘This Female-Led Retreat Made Me Feel Stronger and More Empowered’

On a female-led retreat in the heart of Australia, one trekking and camping novice discovers more about life than she ever imagined.

By Jacqui Mooney

There are some experiences that are so quietly profound, they change you forever.
And standing at the top of an epic ridge after hours of trekking – looking out over the vastness of the Northern Territory landscape, feeling the breeze on my sweat-soaked skin and hearing nothing but silence – was one of those moments. 

The famous Larapinta Trail has long been on my bucket list. But it wasn’t until an invitation with the subject line “Women’s Business” landed in my inbox that I seriously contemplated my first multi-day hike and camping escape. But my six days on Arrernte country – some of the most ancient and beautiful landscape on Earth – were much more than just a hike. Created by adventure-loving runners Samantha Gash and Bec Wilcock, the first Her Trails retreat brought together an intimate group of eight women. Some were trekking veterans; others, like myself, were not. But our mission was the same: to unplug from the everyday, embrace the power of female community and discover what’s possible when we connect to nature, country and ourselves.

Her Trails retreat

Starting at the stunningly remote Ooraminna Station – complete with cabins, red-dirt cliffs and good old-fashioned hospitality – the retreat was an immersive experience, shaped by the women who joined it. Sure, there was hiking (a tidy 62km over three days, with more than 2,000 metres of elevation for good measure) once we hit Larapinta. But it was all the in-between moments, when we let our guards down by the fire or on the side of a mountain, that the real magic happened.

The other magic? The privilege of being led along the trail for three days and nights by the people who know it best: two wise, humble and knowledgeable guides, Jungala and Perrulle, from Indigenous owned and operated trekking company Larapinta Culture. The camping and hiking experience was amazing, but it was the stories they shared from the oldest living culture in the world that will stay with me.

On our final day, we tackled Section 4 from Standley Chasm to Birthday Waterhole. A cheeky 17km, it seemed tough but manageable (I’ve run the Outback Marathon in 35 degree heat, this will be fine, right?). But as I started putting one hiking boot in front of the other, it became apparent that today’s section was less “nature walking” and more “rock scrambling” – or “mountain climbing” for the height-averse. The higher I walked, the more panic set in and, before I knew it, tears started to flow. 

But rather than trying to hold them back, I stopped, took a few deep breaths and drank in the silent support. One of my extremely wise trek-mates (a fierce female leader and life coach) turned as I collected myself and quietly dropped a truth bomb: “Jacqui, this is what growth feels like.” The struggle, the discomfort, the things we run from can lead to some of the most exciting breakthroughs of all.

Reflecting on the week, another of our trek crew summed it up: “Pushing our limits and living an adventurous life often requires us to embrace our vulnerability and, in doing so, call on our courage. It’s not always easy,
but it’s always worth it.”

I came home stronger and more empowered and, a few weeks later, made a decision to leap into the unknown and explore brand new career adventures. As the warning sign I luckily didn’t see on the way into Standley Chasm says: “Yes, you can do hard things!”

We stayed

At Ooraminna Station, with its epic views. Then, we camped on country: think comfy swags and meals cooked in an outdoor kitchen. Post-Larapinta, we hit the Double Tree by Hilton in Alice Springs; hotel sheets and hot showers never felt so good.

We connected

In the care of Larapinta Culture, the only Indigenous-owned company offering cultural awareness trekking in the NT. In Alice, we also squeezed in a helicopter ride, star gazing and sunrise hot air ballooning.

We hiked

With Her Trails, a small group of adventurous women. The retreats happen four times a year, catering for all fitness levels.

Get more details on the next one, in early 2022, at hertrails.com

By Jacqui Mooney

Jacqui is the former editor of Women's Health Australia and a keen supporter of women in sports.

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