The most iconic sight in Australia, Uluru or Ayers Rock sits in the heart of the red centre. “I wonder if you can climb it?” I said jokingly to Brian as we drove through the dusty Outback roads from Alice Springs. I quickly flicked to the section on Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in the guidebook and saw that you could, in fact, climb Uluru if the route was open. We didn’t expect to be able to climb Uluru as I’d seen plenty of pictures of the huge monolith itself, but never any from the top. “Wow, that would be pretty cool!”, we thought.
Anyone who follows Wandering On or knows us would be aware that we love to get high (in the altitude sense of course!). Our love of all things hike-able came after we trekked to Everest Base Camp independently in 2012. Since then we’ve climbed Japan’s Mount Fuji, summited North Africa’s highest peak in Morocco, and hiked our own country, Ireland’s highest mountain a few times, as well as a host of other hiking adventures in Indonesia, Korea and Vietnam and other countries around the world.
View From the Top
Seeing things from a high vantage point is always amazing and we thought the opportunity to see the vast expanse of Australia’s red centre from the top of Ayers Rock would be epic! It was not going to be an easy climb as it was up a sheer rock face and often the climb is closed due to strong winds but these were not the reasons that swayed our decision not to climb Uluru.
“That’s a really important, sacred thing that you are climbing, you shouldn’t climb, it’s not the proper thing.”
“We don’t climb”
The simple phrases from the local Anangu people imploring tourists not to climb.
This is a sign right next to the beginning of the trail up the rock.
High points are sacred in many cultures, Mount Fuji is sacred to the Japanese, Everest or “Chomolungma” Tibetan for “Mother of the World” is sacred to the Sherpa people, Mount Cook or “Aoraki” meaning “cloud piercer” is sacred to New Zealand’s Maori people. When climbing these peaks people have upheld the cultural traditions and beliefs of the local people.
Uluru is a sacred place to all aboriginals as it forms a central role in their creation story. The climbing route follows a sacred ceremonial path traditionally used by the Mala men, and it is against the wishes of the local indigenous people for tourists to undertake the climb. Having tourists walk all over it must not be a very pleasant experience for them.
Would you visit a Buddhist temple and head in with your shoes on? Would you visit a mosque and not cover your head despite being asked to do so? Or like one ranger suggested “it’s like climbing on top of a church”, nobody would stand for it, so why is it ok to disrespect local customs and beliefs here?
The Anangu people also feel responsible for anything that happens to people on their land so people having accidents while climbing upsets them further. Parts of the rock are not permitted to be photographed such is their spiritual importance to the local’s beliefs.
What Can You Do Instead?
The vibes around the whole national park are amazing! Uluru is also believed to be one of the major ley lines of the world and you can really feel a special energy here. There are so many other things to keep you entertained in the national park for three days without climbing Uluru.
- Visit Kata Tjuta and do the Valley of the Winds walk
- See both Kata Tjuta and Uluru by both sunrise and sunset
- Walk around the base of Uluru
- Visit the cultural centre
Why is it Still Open to Climb?
Part of the deal in the local indigenous people re-attaining land rights over the national park was that the climb would be kept open. The government fears that “the climb” is one of the only reasons tourists come to Uluru and that if they closed it completely no one would visit. Well, we didn’t even know climbing Uluru was an option until we were on the way to visit this amazing place.
There is a counter on the way up the rock and until the number of tourists who visit the park compared to the number who choose to climb falls below 20% the climb will remain open.
In fact, the climb was actually open on our last day in the national park as the weather conditions were perfect. Hordes of people (mostly Australians) were actually venturing to the top much to our dismay. It seems that some people still want that perfect Instagram photo of the back of their head at the top, or the typical arms outstretched picture or even the “I climbed Ayers Rock” t-shirt, even if it goes against the wishes and beliefs of local indigenous people.
When we were chatting to a park ranger in the cultural centre and asking why the climb was still open, he said to us “If you do choose to climb and it ever comes up at a party, will you even tell anyone you did it or show anyone your picture? Probably not because everyone will think you’re a d**k!” Typical Aussie bluntness, but he’s right!
We chose to respect the wishes of the local people and hoped that we would help that number fall below the threshold.
“Climb the mountain, not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world.”
By choosing not to climb Uluru you can make a difference to the beliefs and wishes of the local people.
Update – November 2017
It was released on the 1st November 2017 that the climb is going to be closed permanently on the 26th October 2019, a date which is of huge significance to the Anangu people as it will mark 34 years since Uluru was handed back to its traditional owners.
The number of visitors choosing to climb Uluru has dropped to 16% in recent years, making the closure possible. It feels so good to have made a difference in our choice not to climb Uluru!
Would you climb Uluru? Have you? Please let us know in the comments below.
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