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Saturday 30 Aug 2003
Alice Springs, Australia

To climb or NOT to climb Uluru...

...that is the question. Indeed when deciding whether or not to climb Uluru I was confounded with factors relating to the cultural signifigance, and also factors such as my time here and that I may not make it back here ever again. The Anangu ("People of the western deseert") aboriginal people, who claim ownership to the rock and view it as a sacred monument dislike the fact that people walk up it... a ceremony traditionally reserved for certain Anangu men. On the other hand, though, if the Anangu felt so strongly about it, why dont they just close the gate to the walking path altogether?? The "clmb" also seems to be an "accepted" part of the visit to the rock since they even advertise if the climb is "Open" or "Closed" (due to strong winds mostly) at the gate of the national park. Per day I would estimate that about 500 people climb the rock.

It is based on those latter facts that I decided I would go ahead and climb the rock. I have full respect for the traditions of Aboriginal people and did not take photographs of sacred sites (where photography is forbidden, but there is nothing stopping you from taking a shot). In a way, though, I believed that I would appreciate the majesty or spirituality of the rock moreso by actually "feeling" it. Rather like the stronger effect a "hands on" museum exhibit has on you, as opposed to looking at it from across a red-rope.

And yes, it IS a majestic achievement to climb that rock. It certainly aint an easy task! Its roughly a 55 degree climb for about 45 minutes (thats the pace I was going... they recommend you take 2 hours) in the heat of the sun and with sheer sides on either side of the chain placed along the rock. Its pretty easy to fall off (there are several plaques pinned into the base of the rock reminding you of the people who have died, slipping off). I was very surprised that the majority of the people climbing the rock, though, were "geris"... i.e. people in their late 60s upwards. I was fairly out of breath as I was heading up into the thinner air, but they must have been exhausted...

Eventually I got to the end of the chain, only to discover that I was only half way up the climb. At least the hard part was over, since the rest of the climb was on more horizontally-undulating ground.

Soon I was at the top and the feeling (plus the view) was amazing! Truly a spiritual experience!

From the top I got a spectacular view of the outback, the Olgas, several mesa (flat-top) mountains. The diversity of colours through the outback was quite fantastic and certainly a lot more changeable than the red-brown colours I was used to seeing alongside the road.

Something else about the top of the rock, it was almost like the United Nations with so many diverse nationalities. Predictably I met an Irish lad up there, Noel! Yeesh cant go anywhere in this country without bumping into fellow Irishmen and poms.

Actually prior to doing the climb, I walked the 9km "base walk" so this was an even greater achievement on my part! The base walk was equally mesmerising, since there are so many little hidden caves and cave paintings around the base of Uluru that I musty have taken around 100 photos.

Talking of photos.. I STUPIDLY accidentally deleted a fantastic photo of the Milla Milla falls from the Atherton Tablelands. I was so p***ed off at myself that I was almost on the verge of driving all the way back to get that shot again... grrrr. But, then that would be crazy wouldnt it?...errr...

So, then, the climb of Uluru was two days ago (28th Aug). Yesterday I gt up early again to get a few BETTER morning shots of Uluru as the sun rose. The rest of the day I was just sitting around.. waiting for the sunset since I wanted to take some shots of the Olgas at that time. In the meantime I visited the Cultural Centre at Uluru which has several fantastic displays and information about the fascinating culture of the Anangu people. They have a dance with chanting that sounds very reminiscent of the American-Indians rain-dance.

Eventually the sun departed and there I was, at the Olgas, camera ready. Indeed the sunset at the Olgas was nothing less than spectacular: far more impressive than the Uluru one with the bright orange colour coming alive for one minute just AFTER the sun had gone down. Got it all on my camera thankfully... unless I go and delete them by accident again! *hits myself*

Today I go back north.. tis a loooong drive to Darwin (about 2-thirds of the country) so Im going to take my time. My next destination is Kings Canyon National Park today... and probably tommorrow. Then back to Alice Springs.. Ill update you when I get back there.

Just one last note: On the night of the 27th Mars was at its closest to the Earth. The centre of the outback is fantastic AS IS for stargazing, so you can guess the sort of view I had for Mars-gazing too. The planet was so close and vivid that I could see the red dot rising above the sillhouette of Ayers Rock. Now THAT was a memory....

I saw that after I had sprinted 300 metres up a sanddune from my car to catch the most spectacular sunset shot of the Olgas (from a distance mind.. not like yesterday). Im really getting into this photography lark, putting myself under extreme stress to get that "perfect" shot. Great fun! Ill certainly be looking to buy a "proper" SLR camera once I get some more funds...

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