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Is It Ethical to Hike to the Top of Uluru?

This is what the blog Why Go Australia recommends for those of you thinking about climbing to the top of Uluru:

Uluru, or Ayers Rock, has become one of Australia’s most iconic travel destinations. Its allure is undeniable: sitting at the very heart of the flattest continent on the planet, its jettisoning, majestic red walls and hubris shape demand recognition; as if to remind all of its visitors that this place is anything but ordinary. Aside from the nearby Mount Olga, it’s the only significant landmark for hundreds of miles around, so Uluru defines the landscape of the vast Australian outback.

Perhaps for this reason, many travelers find it difficult to shrug off the beckoning, spiritual urge it compels to climb it. Climbing Uluru is certainly possible, and many travelers do make the trek to its summit every year. A chain handhold was added in 1964 and extended in 1976, making the half mile climb easier and more accessible for tourists, but it’s still a difficult hike to the top.  (………)

All of that said, as any visitor to Uluru will attest, there are also some significant ethical concerns to consider before deciding to make the climb. Specifically, the local Tjukurpa and Anangu people choose not to climb Uluru due to the site’s great spiritual significance, and they kindly request that visitors don’t climb it either. The climbing path crosses a sacred “Dreamtime” track, which the locals only trek for ritualistic purposes. In fact, as you arrive at Uluru you’ll notice signs posted right at the foot of the climbing trail asking visitors not to climb. The juxtaposition may seem paradoxical, but for the conscious traveler, seeing the site shouldn’t be removed from experiencing– and respecting– the unique cultures of the region too.  [Why Go Australia]

To say that Uluru and the Olgas are the only significant landmarks for hundreds of miles in the Red Center is not exactly true.  Mt. Connor is just down the road from Ayers Rock and actually often confused with it when visitors first see it:

There actually other large rock formations in the area as well though Mt. Connor, Uluru, and the Olgas are the most prominent.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand; the belief that the local Aborigines do not want tourists to climb Uluru has a ring of truth to it, though not for the reasons you may think.

When I went to Uluru I asked one of the local Anangu people if his people would be really offended if I climbed the rock.  He said the local Aborigines actually don’t mind people climbing the rock, but they just try to discourage people from climbing rock in effort to get people who may be elderly or out of shape from climbing up the rock and killing themselves from exhaustion or heat stroke.  He said that when someone dies on the rock the locals have to conduct an elaborate ceremony so that the spirit of the deceased person leaves the rock.  This is highly annoying to them when they have to do it over and over again because of people who shouldn’t be trying to climb the rock in the first place die for whatever reason.

So from that perspective I could understand why they try to discourage people from climbing the rock.  He also told me that yes Uluru is a holy rock, but that the Olgas are actually more important to the local people.  He said that Aboriginal males still do coming of age pilgrimages to the Olgas and that is why visitors are not allowed to climb the Olgas, but can climb Ayers Rock.

So if you go don’t feel bad about climbing Uluru if you are in shape.  The views from the top are really incredible and worth the effort to climb up the rock to see.  The views feel even better to see when you can do it with a guilt free concious.

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