by Martin Lutterjohann
(Phnom Penh, Cambodia)
On top of the chain trail
Ever since I translated a story about an illegal climb of Uluru via Ngaltawata in 1976 - I think - for a mountaineering stories anthology, I wanted to climb the rock. Being an enthusiastic and ambitious mountaineer, climbing Uluru appeared a most natural thing to do for me.
When I booked one of the Uluru One Day Tours ex Alice Springs, my first priority was to select an agent that offers the climbing option. But I was warned by them beforehand that more often than not the climb would be closed. Well, I had only that one day (05 May 2009) and that one chance.
I have a sincere respect for aboriginal culture and traditions and would have had no problems accepting a "no" due to ceremonies that prevented people from climbing, but I reckoned that the weather conditions might be favourable on that day. So when our bus entered the Uluru-Kata/Tjuta NP and I saw that the rock was open (which our guides of the excellent Emu Run Tours grudgingly acknowledged), my heart jumped.
I was only worried that our guides would run the schedule in such a way and with so tight timing that the climb might not be possible or closed by the time we arrived at the base. In May days are shorter, but the one day program still follows the year round schedule of things to do. Of utmost importance is the sunset BBQ with bubbly where our guides have the ambition to be the first on site.
So, they managed to let 5 aspirants in our group loose at the start of the climb with a mere 1hr 45min to go. I hurried up the chained and steepest part of the trail and then followed the white marks to the summit. I really enjoyed the views downhill, the clean rock with not a single loose stone, the few pools of water, occasional vegetation, strange rock formations,the short friction climbs up and down the waves of rock at the plateau, I enjoyed the views to Kata Tjuta where we had done the Walpa Gorge Walk 2 hours earlier, Mount Connor and the wide country around the rock.
As I wished to also do a bit of the base walk, I was back at the start after under 90min (as the climb just was being closed ahead of schedule) and walked the base until I saw Ngaltawata, the beginning of my dream, close up. I am grateful to the traditional owners of Uluru and the land around it that they allow us to climb the mountains as they have done from time immemorial.
The chains are great, the marks are clear. The first part is easy but physically tough, fitness and concentration are required, but it is a rewarding trip. Upon reaching the upper part one tends to think the summit is near, but I knew that 2/3 of the climb still lay ahead.
Coming down the chain trail is comparatively comfortable, but that is when accidents can easily happen! So take your time and watch you every step.