Why We Didn’t Climb

For some people, the highlight of a trip to Uluru is the opportunity to climb it. “The Climb,” as it’s known, was first popularized in the mid-twentieth century by tour operators. To some Australians I’ve talked to, Uluru is The Climb. After mentioning that we visited Uluru, the next question is often “And did you climb it?”

The answer is no, we did not. Even if we had wanted to, we probably couldn’t have: summer in the Outback is so unforgiving that the National Park service closes the climb from 8 a.m. in December, January, and February. (That means you must have started by 8, not finished.) It’s also closed when it’s windy, wet, covered in cloud, when thunderstorms are nearby, etc. The days we were there were so windy that the climb was closed, so there’s never a guarantee that you’ll be able to climb. All these rules are put in place for safety reasons, yet people still die. As of our visit, forty-three people have died on Uluru.

There is a more important reason that we didn’t climb. The local tribe, the Anangu, don’t climb it because to them, it is sacred. Remember their version of the creation story? They believe that Uluru was created by a deity, an ancestral being, and to climb is to disrespect Uluru. And climbing is bad enough, but getting hurt or dying is even worse- that’s defiling it. It’s not hard to understand, really. Imagine how you would feel if someone ran into your church, knocked over everything on the altar, and ripped down the Cross. Or, as one of the park rangers said to me, if someone came into your house and died in your living room. Places are special, they can even be sacred, and it’s unfair to treat Uluru differently. Unfortunately, until 25 years ago, the Anangu did not have any say in the matter. They did not own their own land; it had been seized by white settlers and the government. Now they own it and help to manage Uluru along with the National Park service. The Climb is still allowed, for the time being. The Anangu remember how it felt to be disrespected, and they don’t want to disrespect visitors to Uluru by banning the climb outright. They know that most visitors have traveled a long way at great expense, and they don’t want to disappoint those tourists who have spent a lot of time and money getting there. However, their wish is for you to consider their viewpoint, and not climb Uluru.

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