With tummys still full from the remnants of last night’s monster buffet, we made it to a free camp 416 km from Yulara. We were all suffering from the ‘high temperatures equals early starts’ syndrome from the last few days. The morning we left was no exception. We were up before dawn to view the sunrise and see if Uluru was open to climb.
The dawn was a clouded out washout, and our disappointment was reflected with the tired grumbles from the hundreds of others who were there too – tourists can be so hard to please! The sun finally broke through the clouds well after dawn, casting magnificent dawn soaked colours across the face of Uluru. By this time the tourist buses had left us in peace.
The boys had convinced themselves that they wanted to climb The Rock with me so back we were at 7am at the base – it was shut, as it had been every day we had been here. The reason given was forceast afternoon rain (40% chance of 1 to 5 mm) even though it would have shut at 8am due to temps exceeding 36 C anyway.
This was getting to be beyond a joke. A condition of the handover by Sir Ninian Stephen to the Traditional Owners 30 years ago was that the rock remain open to visitors to climb. It is now closed seemingly at every opportunity. The unfortunate reality is that it is dangerous, and 39 people have died, which is understandably upsetting to the TO’s, who feel it is happening ‘under their watch on their rock’. Still, it is a world heritage site open to all, and it should be either open, with appropriate safety considerations, or shut. The TO’s do request that people not climb because it is a place of cultural significance, but no further explanation is offered. We have encountered these restrictions several times now, and I suspect the very original reasons have been safety related – i.e. to stop young indigenous men from dying, make said site sacred to keep people away. This makes perfect sense in an ancient context, but I feel is no longer relevant given advances in equipment, weather forecasting and safety.
After leaving Yulara we stopped in to check out the views of the Mt Connor mesa, very impressive even though we were 30 or so kilometres away.
Once we hit the Stuart Highway, we kept an eye out for ‘solar challengers’, the annual solar race from Darwin to Adelaide. We spoke to officials at one check point to see what was going on, and saw one unfortunate entrant from Thailand with his solar contraption ingloriously strapped to a truck. His broke down 12 km out of Darwin and had been on the truck even since. By chance the odometer showed exactly 220,000 kilometres as we arrived at our free camp which was a pleasant enough car park a few hundred metres off the road. We watched a perfect sunset as a few final road trains rumbled past.