This planet is covered with some spectacular mountain ranges and some very high peaks. I want to be clear, when I say I am not a mountain climber, rock climber or ladder climber. In fact, my fear of heights has kept me from putting Christmas lights on my eavestrough, pruning anything higher than two metres on trees and standing on a chair to change a light bulb (thank goodness for long-lasting energy saving bulbs). It may therefore come as a surprise to you, when I tell you I have scaled some of the world’s highest peaks… sort of.
Obviously, as the years progress, I search out easier, less strenuous summits, but I want to share one, which I consider to be, one of the most spectacular vistas that I have visited.
Definitely, the most stressful climb was Uluru or Ayers Rock, in Australia’s Northern Territory. A six-hour flight from Cairns to Alice Springs, and a five-hour bus ride, brought me to the base of the famous monolith, located deep in the Outback.
I arrived at 4 AM, just before sunrise and was greeted by my guide. The rock surface is quite smooth and I was delighted when I saw a low, chain-link fence leading up the slippery slope. I began my climb and after 15 minutes, I realized the fence ended. This part is called chicken hill and was for those adventurers who wanted to tell the world they climbed the rock, but never made it to the top. That was certainly not me.
I continued about another hour and finally made it to the top where the rock flattened. The winds are extremely strong, and nearly 40 people have died trying to scale this megalith. Of course, as I panted in an effort to catch my breath, I was passed by two elderly ladies with walking poles, marching at full speed.
Not to be outdone, I continued (Ayer’s Rock is equivalent to 95 stories tall). The top appears flat, and I was disheartened to find it to be a series of valleys and hills, averaging two to three metres (six-nine feet) deep. I had to run down a hill so I could achieve momentum to make it up the next one.
It seemed there was no end in sight, travelling across the top. My goal was to reach the kiosk where you sign the book and receive a certificate. I did not realize the climb up the rock was one third of the way, and the trek across the top was two thirds.
Finally, I saw a small group of people standing in the distance. I realized it was the destination I had been aiming for. When I arrived, it was all I could do to keep from being blown off the mountain. I signed the book and received my well-deserved certificate. Now came, what I anticipated would be the easiest part of the journey; the way back.
Well, let me tell you, I have never been more wrong about anything before. Heading back across the top was as rigorous as it had been getting there. The hills and valleys were the same height, except I was a great deal more tired by this time.
When I arrived at the downward slope, I quickly learned the easiest way to conquer this challenge was with my hands behind my back, planted firmly on the stone. I am sure I looked like a crab, clumsily crawling down the side of the rock. Fortunately, others were doing similar maneuvers, some sliding on their behinds and others on their hands and knees. The satisfaction came from people heading up whom, judging by their expressions, were developing second thoughts about continuing. I too, would have questioned the trek, except when I went up there was no one heading down.
I finally made it to the bottom, after a mere five hours of the most strenuous exercise I have ever had. A British explorer discovered Ayer’s Rock, and named it after the Secretary of South Australia in 1873. The traditional, Aboriginal name is Uluru, and both names are used.
The area is sacred to the Indigenous people and stewardship was handed back to them in 1985. Uluru has spiritual meaning and climbing was banned in 2019. The ‘chicken’ chain was removed, and the rock is once again part of nature.
I have a new respect for mountaineering, and although I have climbed the steps of Chichen Itza and conquered Mount Kilimanjaro (albeit only three metres of it), my mountain climbing days have come to an end, and now I only travel in well secured cable cars.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com