Uluru-Ayers Rock • Australia • www.surgent.net
Uluru-Ayers Rock • Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
• Northern Territory, Australia

Classic sunset view

Aerial shot from a Cessna

On top, 1985

And again, 1987

Main Page

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 mountain located about 200 miles southwest of Alice Springs, Northern Territory, pretty much dead center of the Australian land mass. 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. Both Ayers Rock and the Olga Mountain are called inselbergs, or "rock islands". They form the centerpiece of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. I have been here twice.

In 1985, age 18, I was on a month-long bus tour of Australia. The tour included a stop in Alice Springs and also to both Ayers Rock and the Olgas. A few people in our group wanted to climb Ayers Rock, 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 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 fifty 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 handful of 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 top to the summit, on which a stone obelisk sits with a 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 repeatedly before arriving to the summit. The one-way hike is short (less than a mile, or a little over a kilometer) and requires about a thousand feet of gain. 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 sunset, we convened to watch the rock change color, as it is famous for doing. The next day we visited 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 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 terrible jerks. 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 walking by came up to sit 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 not understand what they were saying. One spent the whole time spitting off to the side. Another started to feel up one of the guys, at which time the two guys bolted into the main hostel building, leaving me alone with the two ladies. I didn't know what to say. I've never been very good talking to girls. Momentarily, the two guys came back out and rescued me. We walked into town with a couple other Brits to a bar in downtown.

At the bar, we 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 and the tourists, like us, at the tables. There was this big drunk white guy who was bear-hugging a smaller skinnier aboriginal guy. The white guy seemed to be in good spirits, but the skinny aboriginal guy wasn't too happy about it. 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.

The next day, Amos and I took a bus to the Ayers Rock "tourist" area, and climbed the rock along with a couple of nice-looking Swedish girls from the hostel. The day was cool and overcast. It was neat to be back less than two years after being here the first time. 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). Camels are huge animals up close. They're ugly too. Strings of mucus dangle from their nostrils, lips, cheeks and wherever. If they get annoyed, they can blow snot at you.

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

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All climbing of Uluru ceased as of October 26, 2019. The announcement was made in 2017 with a two-year window before actually closing the rock to climbing. As the date drew near, people were hustling out there to climb Uluru. Photos showed at times hundreds of people forming a line up and down the rock.

The climbing proscription is a result of the Native Australian band that owns and manages the area asking tourists to honor its desires to not trod upon ground (or rock) sacred to them. The whole area is still open for business. Just climbing the rock will not be allowed any more.

I suspect that the sheer number of people who climb it, and the usual problems that result, such as injuries, trash and stupidity, also played a role in this new policy. When I climbed it in 1985 and 1987, I don't think there were more than 20 people on the route at any one time. But when you see images of hundreds of people on it at once, I can understand why the locals just want to close the climb down entirely.

I am a little sad to read that climbing is closed from now on. The Native Australian band can do as they please. If they deem the rock sacred, then I suppose it is. However, I have no regrets whatsoever climbing the rock (twice).

(c) 2016, 2019 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.