Monday, September 29, 2014

The Joys of Multi-Pitch Climbing

Sliding into the smooth sided chimney on pitch three of The Shroud (on The Pharos) I cursed myself for slipping our double length runners over my torso instead of redoubling them and clipping them to my harness as I usually do when seconding a pitch. I had the foresight to girth hitch a sling to the handle on my small climbing pack, and I'd moved both mine and Doug's (huge) shoes to the front of my harness in preparation for the few chimney moves I'd need to make, but, I was struggling sweatily to get my small climbing pack off my back and slung off my belay loop between my legs. Forgetting the double runners over my shoulder, I'd had first one arm pinned behind my back, and then the other, as I tried to slip the backpack off. Eventually, I freed both arms and clipped the pack into my belay loop where it hung freely between my legs. Finally, three or four thrutching chimney moves and I could stand on a small hold on either wall and slip the pack back onto my back. Why is it that multi-pitch climbing, with the attendant need to haul packs and water, and approach shoes up the cliff is so much more engaging than single pitch climbing even when it involves uncomfortable thrutching? 

Finally, pack hanging freely

Single pitch climbing, like sport climbing is fun, but, somehow multi-pitch trad climbing just seems to combine all the best elements of climbing into the most piquant package. There is something intoxicating about stepping off the ground and knowing you won't return to the horizontal space for three, six, twelve or twenty pitches. When it is your turn to lead, your attention is focused exclusively on the climbing and the gear placements. The fact that you are 100 feet, 100 metres or even 1000 metres up does not register; it is only when you stop on a small belay ledge, build an anchor, call down "secure" and turn around do you look out and see the landscape small beneath you, and then you get that peculiar thrill that comes with multi-pitch climbing.

Doug hanging out on belay

After two weeks of fantastic climbing, we've had to leave Mount Arapiles for a few weeks. The only reason we could tear ourselves away was because we knew we would come back soon. We spent our first few days at Arapiles getting a feel for the grades, the gear, and the rock. When we realized the grades were amazingly consistent, the gear placements (almost always) plentiful and the rock incredibly solid, we gradually started climbing harder routes (technically, we are still climbing easy routes but we are steadily working up the grades) and moved on to climbing some of the classic multi-pitch routes that go to the top of the various walls, towers and buttresses. We've literally giggled our way up such classics as Arachnus, Siren, The Shroud, and The Bishop among others. The greatest difficulty we have each evening when we sit down with the guidebook is choosing from the myriad of excellent routes the one we will do next day.

 Doug coming up the beautiful corner pitch on Siren

My first few climbs I was plugging in gear at every opportunity, the way you do when trad climbing as you are never exactly sure when you will get another good placement. Leading Exodus however (a three star crack route on The Mitre) I suddenly "got" climbing at Arapiles. If you feel solid, you can run it out as there will be more gear placements just where you need them. It's funny now to look down a route I've just led and see a bunch of widely spaced placements, and then a flurry of pieces placed closely together which clearly indicate when I reached the crux, and then, some more widely spaced placements. I've never been a particularly brave lead climber, especially on trad gear, but, there is a certain confidence that comes from knowing if you feel sketched out, you can just stick in another bomber chock or cam and keep moving. 

 Pitch two of Siren

The other great thing about Arapiles is you can walk/scramble off just about any route (although we did rappel off The Pharos). It's only after you've had a few stuck ropes (happens to everyone, particularly at places like Red Rocks in Nevada) that you really come to appreciate the simplicity of "the walk-off." With classic climbs, plentiful gear placements and easy walk-offs, who cares if there are so few sport climbs?

Hanging out before the walk-off

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Amazing Arapiles

Mount Arapiles, it's been called "the best crag in the world," is actually a string of convoluted buttresses, gullies, faces and towers spread across a three kilometre expanse and rising a 150 metres or so above the surrounding Wimmera Plain. Calling Mount Arapiles the best crag in the world seems like the worst kind of hubris - it's hard to believe the typically understated Aussies actually coined the expression - but, it certainly has the best climbing in Australia, and, compares very favourably with other well known climbing areas like Red Rocks, Nevada, Joshua Tree, California, City of Rocks, Idaho, Smith Rocks, Oregon, Squamish and Skaha, BC, and even the Rubbly Mountains (aka Rocky Mountains for the Aussie readers - all Canadian readers will know what I mean) of Alberta. The multi-pitch routes aren't long by Red Rocks standards, the grades aren't easy like Squamish, the crag isn't ultra friendly and safe like Skaha, but the climbing is superb. 

Doug on the fantastic second pitch of Siren

We are into our second week at Arapiles and we haven't climbed a bad route yet. Even the routes that get no stars are great and the star routes are simply superb. Visiting climbers, used to the YDS grading system apparently find the grades tough at Arapiles. A 16 Ewbank at Arapiles is just not equivalent to a YDS 5.8 at any North (or even South) American crag. But, if you can toss away any idea of climbing at an equivalent (or what you think is an equivalent) grade to what you climb back home, and just go climb for fun, rather than to tick number grades, you really can't have a bad day at Arapiles. 

 Clean corner climbing high above the Wimmera Plains

The traditional ethic at Arapiles has apparently been staunchly defended by local climbers, and, truthfully, most of the well traveled routes seem to suck up gear like a yobbo sucks up beer. Climbers used to bolted belay stations, top anchors, and rappel anchors will be disappointed. All the belays are gear, and you have to walk or downclimb off most of the routes, but, then maybe that's just part of the Arapiles experience. Certainly, the number of high quality easy to moderate trad routes (and hard routes if that is your bag) is staggering. 

Chilling out on top of the Pinnacle Face

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The First Three

Finally, two years to the day after we arrived in Australia, we parked at the Melville Cave track head, hefted up big climbing packs and strolled along a good track to Bushranger Bluff. It was a warm, sunny, strikingly calm (it has been excessively windy lately) Sunday and we were expecting to find climbers swarming all over the rocks. Not quite, in fact, not even close. We saw about half a dozen other climbers all day, strangely all of them were top-roping, something we saw repeated over the next two days. 

Our first day at Arapiles it was hard to decide where to climb - our guidebook has 1,200 climbs listed (although most of them are out of our grade) - on a confusing labyrinth of bluffs, buttresses and gullies. In the end, we chose Bushranger Bluff, a long cliff-line that runs roughly north to south. One side is sunny all day, the other, especially at this time of year, shady all day. A group of four from Melbourne were having some kind of instructional session at one end of the sunny side of the crag, and some top-ropers were haunting the shady side, but other than that, the crag was quiet. We had a great first day climbing mostly on the sunny side where the routes are short, mostly easy (there's a challenging grade 16 at the far north end), but also did one longer slightly harder route on the shady side. The quality of climbing was very good, the grades - although no where near the YDS equivalent listed at the front of the book - are very consistent, the protection is great, the walk-off easy, the rock clean, the moves fun. Really, it was all quite wonderful. 

 Doug at Revolver Crack

Our second day we walked part way up the tourist track to a side track that leads to Charity Buttress. This crag has a lot of crack and face climbs in the easier grades but the rock is quite different to the knobbly, steep, jug covered Bushranger Bluff. The rock is smoother, steep without the big jugs and the climbing more technical. Great climbing again, more thought provoking, even in the easy grades than Bushranger Bluff, but again, great protection, easy walk-off, clean rock, engaging climbs, consistent grades. Another big group of top-ropers arrived again, so we wandered further along the crag and did an obscure but easy climb up a big buttress to end the day. 

Doug and I alternate picks when we are rock climbing and Tuesday was my pick again. There were a few routes at Bushranger Bluff that I wanted to lead so we went back there only to find it inundated with groups of top-ropers. There must have been about 30 or 40 people top-roping there, mostly adolescents with "guides". Ropes were strung up on every climb along the sunny side and many climbs on the shady side. Loath to pack up and go somewhere else (truthfully I hadn't studied the guidebook enough to come up with anywhere else) we climbed on the shady side in a blustery cold wind. The routes we did were really awesome, up a series of steep grooves, cracks and open books with good protection, fun moves, and great ambience, the only problem was it was freezing in the 30 knot wind. Arapiles climbing is very steep and can be intimidating, but, again we found the grades consistent and, if the guidebook said there was good protection, there was good protection. Having a good rack of cams and chocks (don't buy that party line that all you need at Arapiles is chocks) helps, as does double and triple length slings to cut down rope-drag. 

 Doug leading one of the beautiful crack climbs at Charity Buttress

We did finally manage to get on one route on the sunny side in a brief period between one group of top-ropers monopolising it and a second arriving as soon as the first had left. I was quite shocked at the anchor set-ups the "guides" had put up to top-rope all these adolescents off as they were constructed of long pieces of static line (nothing wrong with that) tied off with loose granny knots! Half of them looked as if the knots were about to unravel and I tightened several as I walked off after leading a route, although tightening up a granny knot gave me great pause. I really wanted to rip the entire set up down and rebuild it. 


Finally, as we were planning a rest day the next day, we gave in to the overwhelming tide of top-roping - we try to lead rather than top-rope - and put a top-rope on a grade 16 . This was a pretty burly haul up a steeply overhanging wall. I came off first go and was hanging so far off the wall that Doug had to push me in and I had to swing hard to finally latch a hold on the wall. As we suspected, a baby has better grip strength than we do, but it was fun to climb until our hands couldn't grasp the holds any more, particularly as we have a day to recover. 

So, what about Arapiles? Is it the "best crag in the world?" Those are big shoes to fill, but the climbing is certainly high quality. Even in the very easy grades, the climbing is engaging and the protection good. There are a few things about climbing here that are pleasant surprises after climbing in other areas of Australia. One is the guidebook which has good route photos, access directions, sun/shade information, and, most importantly, consistent grades. I don't really care what number grade I'm climbing (although like all climbers I do like to improve) but it sure does make climbing more fun if the grades have some degree of internal consistency. It's not merely frustrating, it's down right dangerous to find yourself on some run-out, sandbagged horror show. Too many Australian crags have such variable grades that you really have no idea if the 10 you are about to climb is really a 10 or is actually a 20! Under some circumstances, it can even turn out to be a 5. The only thing that could improve our experience now is if the wretched wind would abate and the sun have a chance to shine through. 

Mount Arapiles

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hiking and Bouldering in the Adelaide Hills, Shipwrecks and Dolphins

On Sunday afternoon, we arrived at Rocky Paddock Campground in Mount Crawford Forest Reserve to an inferno of picnic fires and blazes. Apparently, 90% of the Adelaide population drives up to the Adelaide Hills on the weekends armed with fire starters and launches their own personal conflagration. We had to wait until about 6.00 pm when the last of the arsonists finally left before we could pull into a campsite. Strangely enough, people weren't camping at the campground, just having incendiary blazes, while the picnic area was eerily quiet. In summer, the South Australian forest service gates and bans camping in these forest parks because they can't trust the Australians not to light a campfire. Australians are strangely (at least to a Canadian) given to ignoring rules, regulations and laws that they don't agree with. Interfering with an Australian's right to have a campfire is tantamount to asking the Pope to convert to Judaism. It just isn't done. It's common to see a big ugly fire pit right next to, and partly consuming, a wooden sign indicating fires are not allowed. 

Luckily, it rained overnight thus extinguishing all the campfires that had been left burning and making us much happier campers. We've been hanging about this campsite for about five nights now. During the week, the campsite is empty and it's really pleasant with big pine trees, open green grassy meadows, granite boulders scattered about, and a few hiking tracks accessible from the campground. It's a pleasant short walk up the Warren Fire Tower lookout - the tower is fenced off but the hill is open, spacious and there is a good view over the Adelaide Hills. A sign on top points out various "mountains" in the area, but you'd be hard pressed to distinguish one from the other. The countryside is more rolling than mountainous I'd say. 

 Warren Tower Hill view

You can also meander along forest roads and the Heysen track to the top of Mount Crawford, deliriously high at 525 metres (the same height as the Warren Fire Tower), but the summit has grown in so there are scant views. The track, however, does pass the ruins of an old sandstone Presbyterian Church and an old graveyard with graves dating back to the late 1800's. There is also pretty reasonable bouldering around the campground on granite boulders of varying heights and difficulties. The landings are good, and, even after rain the boulders seem to dry pretty quickly, although that might have something to do with the terrific winds which have been blowing for the better part of the week.

 Stocky old gray haired lady bouldering

One day, we took the O-Bahn into Adelaide and visited the extensive Art Gallery and Museum of South Australia. Both have so many exhibits that you get overwhelmed pretty quickly and it's not possible to see everything. Lots of beautiful old sandstone buildings in Adelaide and the O-Bahn, which is a bus that runs on a train track is super efficient and inexpensive. 

Today we drove down to Port Adelaide; as good as the O-Bahn is, I don't think we could have got the sea kayaks on board, and paddled around Garden Island. This is not the sort of place you'd normally go for a peaceful paddle as it is right by the Port of Adelaide and there is a big coal fired power plant on the island, but, there is a pod of about 30 bottlenose dolphins that live in the Port River and more than 300 visiting dolphins have been recorded in the dolphin sanctuary. The other attraction is the Ships' Graveyard where a number of old sailing vessels have been beached and dismantled. While this might sound like a rotting pile of garbage, these are actually ships from the 1800's and are historical relics. Plus, ships beached like this always become artificial reefs and attract all kinds of bird and sea life. 

Hull of the Dorothy H. Stirling

We spent a pleasant few hours paddling around Garden Island, at least half of that time we spent watching a few dolphins foraging and feeding. Normally dolphins are pretty skittish and even in a kayak you can not approach too closely, but these dolphins are obviously used to a lot of boat traffic and were quite happy swimming only a metre or so from our boats, swimming underneath our hulls, or sculling by on their sides looking at us. While they were fishing, a very persistent pelican followed along hoping for a free fish meal and every so often they would swim at the pelican and shoo it off. It was all very entertaining. 

 Watching the dolphins foraging

Tomorrow is Friday, and the first of the arsonists is likely to arrive so we'll be moving on. It's time to get closer to Arapiles and death by sandbag anyway.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Trekking Poles: Crutch Or Cure All

It's actually pretty amazing that I haven't written one of my trademark rants about trekking poles already, but, as far as I can recall, I never have. Truthfully, I don't really remember people in Canada being quite so fervent as the Australians are with trekking poles. Occasionally, when people were carrying big mountaineering packs off-trail you'd see poles, but it was not that common, at least among my friends and climbing companions. In Australia, folks seem to use trekking poles to hobble from their caravan to the outhouse. In all the 223 km and 13 days of the Larapinta Track I saw exactly two people walking without trekking poles, and to see one of those, I had to look in the mirror. 

I do recall, nearing the end of a 30 km day on the Larapinta Track meeting a hiker coming in the other direction who was burdened down with a huge pack, dressed head to toe in new gear - thick pants, heavy boots, gaitors, long sleeved shirt - and bent virtually double over a pair of trekking poles. I felt under-dressed in shorts, tee shirt and a pair of running shoes as I scampered by, but, couldn't help thinking that folks would enjoy hikes more if they got into tolerable shape for their hike by working out in the gym and building a strong core and legs before they went out walking rather than thinking the walking would get them in shape. 

This seemingly irrelevant story is not solely presented to cast me in a favourable light, but is meant to set the stage for an alternative view of trekking poles to the standard "rah, rah" trekking poles are great. I actually think trekking poles are a bit like bands used in Crossfit to help people get their first pull-ups. They work, but there are better ways. Doing negatives is a much better way to get your first pull-up and strengthening the weak musculature and poor balance/proprioception that is the reason you picked up those trekking poles in the first place is a infinitely preferable solution to using trekking poles. 

 Doug on Euro Ridge near the east end of the Larapinta Track

The proponents of trekking poles rave about how they help your balance ("four feet are better than two," they say), but, I say, if your balance is a problem, instead of propping it up with an artificial aid, work your balance. Stop wearing big clumpy shoes that don't allow you to feel the ground, walk barefoot, walk on rough ground, practice various balance exercises, walk without poles, do all the things that actually improve your balance. Physiotherapy studies have repeatedly shown that using trekking poles reduces proprioceptive ability which is why it makes no sense to worsen your already poor proprioceptive ability with an over-reliance on trekking poles. 

One of the other big reasons people use trekking poles is to help them stay more upright when walking/running. If you can't hold yourself upright while walking/running even with a big pack on, you have weak core musculature and should be strengthening your core, not compromising already flaccid trunk muscles by leaning on poles. If you are so tired from running/walking that you can't hold yourself upright, stop. There is no difference between using poor form when weight lifting and using poor form when walking/running. Once you've reached the leaning over stage, you're done for the day. It is counter-productive to ingrain poor movement patterns simply because you want to run a few extra kilometres or walk a few extra miles. Poor form doesn't count when weight lifting and it doesn't count when running or walking either. 

The same goes for taking the weight off your knees, helping you go uphill or down, or even propelling you on the flats. Don't prop up weak leg muscles by using poles, take a step back from all the walking/running and get into the gym and strengthen your legs instead. If you are one of those steady state cardio junkies who has to run, run, run and is concerned about trashing your knees, well, you're probably right to be concerned, but the answer isn't picking up a pair of trekking poles and continuing to run with weak leg muscles. A better solution would be to decrease the running and increase the weight training. You might find that your running improves. 

You could train all your trunk muscles, your torso, your upper body and that amorphous thing that yuppies call your "core" simply by going to the gym for half an hour two or three times a week and doing some big Olympic lifts with heavy weights. Two or three months and you'd be strong enough to snap those stupid trekking poles in half, lift your 30 kg pack overhead, and walk/run all day without your trunk collapsing over your knees.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

We're Bound For South Australia

In South Australia round Cape Horn
We're bound for South Australia..

After 3.5 months in the Northern Territory among flat savannah eucalpyt forest, dry grasses, and blood red quartzite gorges driving south to the ocean at the head of Spencer Gulf was like entering another country. We had travelled south along the Stuart Highway through the dry desert lands of northern South Australia (the most arid state in an arid country) where we had slept each night under a huge desert sky with the wind blowing diurnally through salt bush and mulga. The highway weaves between huge salt lakes, some completely dry, others with a thin layer of water from recent rains. The white salt under the brilliant desert sun was almost blinding and walking across the salt plains was eerily like floating on thin skin of ice. About 50 km north of Port Augusta, which lies at the northern end of the long Spencer Gulf, we pulled over at a road side rest area overlooking the northern Flinders Ranges, the first hills we had seen in days, and saw green vegetation laying thinly over the distant ranges. 

Sunset over Island Lagoon, one of SA dry salt lakes

Port Augusta is the jumping off point for the Gawler and Flinders Ranges and Wilpena Pound. The 1200 km long Heysen Track begins at Parachilna Gorge in the South Flinders Ranges and runs all the way to Cape Jervis on the south coast. Moonarie, South Australia's premier crag, is situated high on the rim of Wilpena Pound in this distant part of the country and must be one of the remotest "crags" in Australia. Spring is a good time to visit these northern ranges, as summer temperatures climb into the 40's (Celsius), but, completely against our own normal custom, we continued past the road to the northern ranges and drove south into the lush hinterland of the Willochra Plains. At some point in the last few months our motivation to get to Australia's iconic climbing crag, Arapilies, had reached a high enough level to cause us to drive past places we would like to visit. I knew that, were we to drive north again, back into the ranges, we'd end up staying a month or two, by which time Arapilies would be baking under a summer sun. 

 Blinding white salt on Lake Hart

Driving out of Port Augusta, we took the Main North Road, a narrow, dippy, bumpy road - typical of country Australia - up a winding valley lined with huge river red gums and indescribably green grass to Horrocks Pass. There was something strangely soothing about being around verdant vegetation again. In the small town of Wilmington, we parked for an hour and hiked up Mount Maria. Kookaburras were laughing in the trees, the open grasslands were rich with wild-flowers, ring necked parrots chattered in the tall gum trees and galahs shrieked raucously overhead. It was the quintessential Australian bush experience. We camped that night by Goyder's Line - a rainfall boundary line purported to demarcate the area suitable for cropping from that suitable for grazing - among thick green clover and enormous river red gums. The evening air smelled moist, lush and loamy. Mount Remarkable, is just 20 km south of Mount Maria, and we took a decadent day off driving to walk the long sweeping track up to the forested summit. There are views of the productive Willochra Plain, and, between gaps in the vegetation you can glimpse Spencer Gulf to the west. 

Mount Remarkable from Mount Maria

It is almost two years to the day since we arrived in Australia, we've driven from the south of the country to the north and back to the south again, and now, we are traveling east, in full expectation of getting spanked, schooled and sand-bagged on the steep walls of Arapilies.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Uluru and Kata Tjuta

Trying to say anything original about either Uluru (Ayers Rock) or Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) is beyond the scope of my impoverished imagination. Instead, I'll resort to that boring travelogue type blog post that has become all too common of late here at the Conspiracy Times. We arrived at Yulara, the purpose built resort town about 20 km from Uluru, mid morning and checked into the caravan park. We got the important stuff, food, coffee, a shower, out of the way and then drove over to Uluru. 
Apparently, back in the 1940's all the tourists camped right around near Uluru and there were also a few very primitive "hotels". At some point, visitor numbers grew quite large and there was considerable environmental damage near Uluru so the town was moved away from Uluru and built from the ground up in the new location. Which all seems very environmentally friendly until you realize that now thousands upon thousands of visitors are driving out and back from Yulara to Uluru and Kata Tjuta every day. Some visitors even make multiple trips to each site in one single day. That's a hell of a lot of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere and a hell of a lot of infrastructure (roads and car parks) is required. The really smart thing would be to shut the roads down to private cars and run a free shuttle bus that basically just circles about the town of Yulara and past all the major car-parks at Uluru and Kata Tjuta. In some USA National Parks (Zion and the Grand Canyon) the National Park runs a free shuttle bus service and it's awesome. 
Anyway, back to driving out to Uluru. Like all Australians, I've seen hundreds of pictures of Uluru and I can sing John Williamson's song (albeit off key) with the best Karioke singer, but, nothing quite prepares you for how big the thing is. I think it is something like 3.5 km long and 350 metres high, not massive by Canadian mountain standards, but, out in all that flat desert, Uluru doesn't just dominate the horizon, it is the horizon. It doesn't have to be sunrise or sunset to glow red either. Uluru glows red at all times of the day. 

When I got my first gander at the rock, I thought, "yeah, I gotta climb it." The traditional owners would really like people to stop climbing Uluru. They have a myriad of concerns not the least of which is the 35 deaths that have occurred while people have been climbing Uluru - although I suspect the true cause of most of those deaths is a surplus of pies and a dearth of exercise - not simply the experience of climbing the rock. Before arriving, I really thought I would respect the wishes of the traditional owners and be content to walk around the rock rather than climbing it, but, as soon as I saw Uluru, I was seized with a compulsion to walk to the summit. I'm not sure that isn't because, at heart, I'm a climber and I'm seized with a compulsion to climb anything tilted off horizontal. It could also be because of what avalanche professionals in Canada term "pent-up demand" which is when people go crazy skiing avalanche slopes when it first snows after a long dry period. Everyone has been waiting so long for new powder snow that their brains shut down. In the Red Centre, I feel like I have driven, walked and bicycled past so much incredible rock for climbing and only been able to climb a few pitches because climbing is banned almost everywhere. Yet, finally, at Uluru, climbing the rock, while definitely not encouraged, is not yet banned (I'm sure it will be sooner rather than later). Pent up demand overwhelmed any semblance of cultural sensitivity. 

There really is only one way to climb Uluru, and that is up a lower angle rib on the west side. A series of metal uprights strung together with heavy chain have been drilled into the rock as a handrail, but these start about 40 metres up the slab and end at the top of the rib. Beyond the rib, you are only about 2/3 of the way to the top and the remaining 1/3 includes some rather steep, albeit short, climbs. The rock in the vicinity of the chain hand-rail has been polished by thousands of feet, and is remarkably slippery in places. Doug went up in his sticky approach shoes (perfect choice), I, however, had only my crappy La Sportiva trail running shoes (which I have long lamented as having slippery soles) with me. My five tennies (super sticky approach shoes) were back in the caravan. Going up, however is pretty easy, as long as you don't have a fear of heights because the climb is rather exposed. 

 Kata Tjuta
We ambled up without using the handrail. A few folks were coming back down and many were really quite frightened. At the top of the rib, there is one last steep section with a handrail where the rock is shiny like a mirror from slipping feet. I hauled generously on the hand-rail here. The rest of the walk ambles up and down the ribs that lie vertically across the top of the rock. There are a few steep sections where hands are needed - I would rate some of the climb class 3/4 (YDS not Ewbank) - and, if you are not careful, your feet will slip but the exposure is very limited. On top, there is a view of Kata Tjuta further west, and to the south you can see South Australia's highest peak (Mt Woodroffe). Otherwise, it's all pretty flat. You don't really climb up Uluru for the view. 

We didn't hang around on the top. I had this awful discomfited feeling caused by the cognitive dissonance of believing myself a supporter of aboriginal rights and yet climbing one of their sacred sites. Coming back down, you can actually walk all the way down simply facing out with one hand near the rail in case of a slip, but, it does feel exposed and the greasy rock does not inspire that much confidence. Most people seem to descend hand over hand going backwards, but this looks super awkward. Part way down we encountered a young man wrapped about one of the railing posts. We encouraged him to descend as he was wearing only sandals was clearly discomfited by the exposure, was none too fit, and could easily get into trouble. He assured us that he was resting and would come down, so we left him behind. Truthfully, apart from talking him down the section with the railing, there is very little we could do to get him right to the bottom as the final fourty metres has no hand railing and there is no way one could offer any physical support without being belayed to something yourself.
A short distance below the gentleman wrapped about the support we encountered a large group of youth, most of whom had their eyes rolled back in their heads from fear. Again, we thought they should likely go down as again they were wrapped about the rails with white knuckles. Finally, at the bottom, an older out of shape looking couple quizzed us about the climb. We also encouraged them not to go. I'm not actually sure what compels people, who never walk anywhere, to set off up a rather steep intimating scramble (climbing up Uluru is really out of the realm of walking) when the last most strenuous thing they did was walking to the toilet block from their caravan. In any case, the human drama unfolding on the rib of Uluru was so compelling that it took a lot of mental energy to pull ourselves away and go down to the Cultural Centre. All night I kept wondering what had happened to the young man wrapped about the metal upright. Two days later when we returned to walk around the base he was no longer there so I can only assume he made it down. 
The next day we drove out to Kata Tjuta which is a 100 km return trip from Yulara - wouldn't that be great to do in a shuttle bus? This is another tightly regulated area. There are two main walks you are allowed to do (weather permitting), and, of course, we did them both. The Valley of the Winds walk is a 7.5 km circuit that travels over a couple of rock passes between the large conglomerate domes. This is a really nice walk, but, if you're a climber, you'll have soaked the front of your shirt with drool by the time you've finished as you look at the sheer number of quality climbs that could (in a parallel universe where climbing was socially accepted and bolts were allowed) be established on these domes. The rock is heavily featured with heucos, pockets, slopers, incuts, jugs, and pinches. Some of the domes rise over 500 metres above the surrounding plains and the rock is bomber solid. There are shady walls and sunny walls, walls sheltered from the prevailing wind, and walls exposed to cooling breezes. With smart development, you could climb here for a month and never do the same route twice. Won't happen though as you are not even allowed to walk off track. The other walk is a short 2.6 km jaunt up a narrow canyon between two massive domes (more climbing potential) and ends at a small lookout below the pass between the domes. 

Valley of the winds walk
Finally, on our last morning at Uluru, we walked around the base of the rock. This is another pleasant easy walk with a couple of side trips to waterholes. Most of the walk is close by the rock and there is lots to look at as there are interesting caves, mini-valleys in the rock, dry waterfalls, aboriginal art sites, and, of course, the big hulking red rock of Uluru itself. It was howling windy when we walked around and surprisingly cold. The summit climb was closed (and had been the previous day) due to wind which made me doubly glad we'd dashed up on our first day there. 
An hour later, we were in the car driving back to the Stuart Highway on our way south. As usual, we'd only been driving for about 40 minutes before we found the whole experience intolerable and were looking for an excuse to stop. We've got another 1,800 km or so until we arrive at our next major destination. At an hour a day, that shouldn't take too long, should it?