Lonely Planet Writer

Why I didn't climb Uluru

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Uluru (Ayer's Rock, as it was called by white settlers) hums with energy and a palpable magic. Standing at the foot of this majestic hunk of red sand, it's easy to see why many visitors are tempted to climb to its summit.

There's always been dispute over whether or not you should climb Uluru. The traditional owners ask that you don't, but don't forbid it. The debate has recently been given fresh life by a government proposal to close the rock to climbers. There are concerns that local business operators will suffer if tourists can no longer climb.

After weighing the arguments, I chose instead to walk around it - a four-hour amble with plenty of stops to absorb the changing colours of the rock, listen to the singing winds and watch birds of prey larking around in the thermal draughts. Here's why.

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Its traditional owners don't want you to climb it

To Anangu, the rock's traditional caretakers, Uluru has a sacred significance as part of their ancestors' path into the region. Anangu also feel responsible for guests on their land. If you are hurt on the hazardous climb to the top of Uluru, they feel great sadness. They ask you not to climb.

It's dangerous

Uluru's the height of a skyscraper. The climb takes three hours and the last bit passes over rock worn smooth by many feet; you have to haul yourself up on chains. The summit is battered by sun and gusting wind. 35 people have died on the rock, and every year the park's rangers have to rescue people who've been injured in their attempt to reach the top.

It's bad for the rock

Footsteps are eroding it. And if you relieve yourself on top of the rock (let's face it, after a three-hour climb and no toilets, you'll probably need to) it washes down into the waterholes - not much fun for the local wildlife.

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There are so many other ways to have a peak experience at Uluru. Explore the 'men's side', with its bright red colours and blonde grasses and wheeling birds. Sit a while on the 'women's side', with its dusky swirls and folds and waterholes. Take your time and really feel the place. At one point near the base of the rock, there's a sign that urges you to put away your camera and look and listen to what's around you. I sat and watched as group after group wandered up, read the sign, photographed the sign and wandered off. Don't miss out on how wonderful the rock really is in the scramble to summit. As Kunmara, one of its traditional owners, says, the climb is 'not the real thing about this place. The real thing is listening to everything.'

Have you been to the top of the rock? What was it like? Would you do it again and why?