Uluru-Ayers Rock • Uluru-Katatjuta National Park
• Northern Territory, Australia

Classic sunset view

Aerial shot from a Cessna

On top, 1985

And again, 1987

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Unrelated story
about my train ride
across the Nullarbor


Date: (1) July 1985; (2) May 1987 • Elevation: 2,848 feet • Prominence: about 1,100 feet • Distance: 2 miles • Time: 2 hours • Gain: 1,150 feet • Conditions: Nice both times • Teammates: Lots of people whose names I have forgotten in 1985, Amos and two cute Swedish girls in 1987

Ayers Rock is an iconic Australian landmark located about 200 miles southwest of Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Its Aboriginal name is Uluru, and since 2002, its official name is Uluru-Ayers Rock. Together with nearby Olga Mountain (Kata Tjuta), the two behemoths rise abruptly above the flat desert of Central Australia. Both are composed of sandstone, borne of a common strata that was uplifted, then eroded, over eons. Technically, both Ayers Rock and the Olga Mountain are inselbergs, or "rock islands". They form the centerpiece of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

In 1985, aged 18, I was on a month-long bus tour of Australia. I had seen Ayers Rock in photographs and the place fascinated me. The tour included a stop in Alice Springs and also to both Ayers Rock and the Olgas. For Ayers Rock, a few people in our group wanted to climb it, and I joined the throng, numbering about a dozen. The hike starts up a steep slope of bare sandstone, with good friction so that walking it is fairly simple. Up ahead are chains to act as a self-belay. However, from the base of the rock to the start of the chain section is about a hundred vertical feet of the bare open slope. One slip would mean a tumble with no way to arrest the fall. Not surprisingly, there have been a few dozen deaths from people doing exactly that.

Above the chains, the route enters into a notch, and then we followed a series of painted blazes a few hundred more yards (I mean meters) across the weathered top to the summit, on which a stone obelisk sits with a sign-in log book. The top is not flat, but weathered into a series of parallel gullies, requiring one to drop in and ascend out of many of these in a row before arriving to the summit. Still, the one-way hike is short (less than a mile) and requires about a thousand feet of gain, as best as I can remember. Coming down was easy until I had to manage the section below the chains. I sat on my butt and slowly inched downward, terrified I'd slip and fall. Others did the same.

Afterwards, our tour group drove around the base of the rock. A ranger showed us cool things like close-up features of the rock. In the afternoon, a couple of us (including me) paid a few dollars to fly in a Cessna for aerial shots, those you see here. At dusk, we convened to see the rock change color, as it is famous for doing. Overall, the day was quite fascinating. The next day we drove to the Olga Mountains. These are more like rounded marbles, and climbing it was beyond all of our skill-sets. Instead, we hiked into hanging canyons, which were quite pretty with trees and brush growing out of cracks.

I returned to Australia in 1987, spending a year at the Australian National University in Canberra. During a term break in May, two of us "Yanks" flew to Alice Springs for a few days of cultural enhancements. My travel-mate was Amos, and we had a fascinating time in Alice. We stayed in the youth hostel which was run by two of the worst assholes I have ever run across. They'd fly into rages for the littlest things and throw people out for nothing. It was insane. But it was cheap.

One night, we and a third guy from Britain secured a case of beer (Quartermain XXXX) and set about emptying each can into our tummies, sitting in the front yard of the hostel. A couple of aboriginal ladies saw us and sat with us. Keep in mind the hostel was on the outskirts of town. On one side, the town, on the other side, the outback. We could barely understand what they were saying. One kept on spitting, and one started to get chummy-feely with one of the other guys, at which time they bolted inside, leaving me with the two ladies. So I sat there like a dope, wondering what to say. I've never been very good speaking with girls. In moments, Amos and the Brit came and rescued me, and we walked into town with a couple other Brits to a bar in downtown.

At the bar, we all sat at a table off to the side. It was a mix of locals and tourists. Not a bad-looking place. The locals tended to drink at the bar itself and the tourists, like us, at the tables. They paid us no mind. There was this big white guy who was hammered, and he was bear-hugging a smaller aboriginal guy, having fun, but the aboriginal guy wasn't too happy. Then a bigger aboriginal guy, about 6-foot-8 tall (or about 2 meters) came in to intervene. He "escorted" the white guy outside, and we heard two or three meaty "pops". Then the big abo guy came back in like nothing happened. The white guy never came back in. It was quite a night. I learned that by drinking a lot of beer, fun things happen.

Ayers Rock, of course. Amos and I bought two tickets and took a bus to the Ayers Rock "tourist" area, and climbed the rock along with a couple of nice-looking Swedish girls (and the usual batch of others). The day was cool and overcast, but the climb was short, quick and fun. It was neat to be back less than two years after being here the first time. Other than the climb, we drank a lot of beer. Oh yes, we also stopped off at a camel farm and got to ride a camel for a few yards (I mean meters. Sorry, I keep forgetting that they don't have feet or yards in Australia). They are huge animals up close. They're ugly too. Strings of mucus dangle from its nostrils, lips, cheeks and wherever. If they get testy, they can blow snot at you.

It was a fun weekend of climbing, watching real-life fights, getting yelled at by insane hostel owners, looking at cute Swedish girls, and drinking ungodly amounts of beer.

(c) 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.