It’s official. Mutiny on the S.S. Creekmore. Emma, my last hope for a loyal mate to join me on my sunrise walk around Uluru rolls over and says ‘I’d rather sleep.’ Amanda and Lily had already begged out the night before, a little sheepishly. They know we are hiking several hours tomorrow and we hiked Kata Tjuta yesterday. I guess three early morning forced marches is too much. Fine, I’ll go by myself.
The truth is, I love going by myself. We spend several weeks together in very close quarters. This trip in particular we’ve been even closer because hotels are really expensive and I rarely bought two rooms. Starting tomorrow we’ll be driving some long distances together in a tiny car. A few hours alone is a good thing.
After a quick stop to photograph Uluru in silhouette as the sun rises, I drive to the Mara carpark from which most walks start, including the hike over Uluru. The car park is empty but for me and two rangers are on radios at the entrance. An elderly japanese tourist had died on the trail yesterday and they were still getting the body off the mountain. The trail over is closed but the loop around Uluru is open. That’s the one I wanted anyway.
Something like 35 people have died on Uluru. It’s not particularly high or long, but it’s extremely strenuous in the the heat and something about this thing makes unfit people think it’s worth doing.
Ironically, other than the bragging rights, there isn’t much to gain from a hike across Uluru since it’s the only thing worth seeing for miles.
The government will finally close down hiking over Uluru in November of 2019 after many decades of promoting it as a patriotic Australian act. It’s true that without Uluru, there would be nothing out here, no tourism, no money for anyone including the Aboriginal tribe that considers this a sacred place. There has to be some kind of compromise. Stopping the hiking seems reasonable.
What doesn’t seem reasonable to me is the request to take no photographs unless you are more than a mile away. There are signs on my morning hike asking all visitors to refrain from taking shots. I can see limiting commercial photography perhaps, and maybe requesting that they be tasteful, but no photos at all?
The sun is just peeking out over the horizon and I move quickly as we have a 11 am pick up for our skydiving today. The landscape is similar to Kata Tjuta but it’s a flat walk and honestly I think Uluru is a lot more interesting to look at than the Olgas. Uluru from above is not at all an oval shape, but from the ground it looks that way.
Uluru is an inselberg, which is basically an isolated mountain or hill. It was once part of a huge range of mountains that covered the area but has now all eroded down to the flat plain of the Outback. Uluru’s special composition prevented it from eroding at the same rate and it survived the destruction of the range of which it was once part.
Inselbergs are not uncommon, but it’s rare for them to be both so big and also so monolithic. Uluru is basically one single rock aside from a few small places where it has broken off. There isn’t anything like it on the planet. Add to it the heavy iron content that rusts to a reddish brown and you have the makings of a wonder of the world.
Back on the mutinous ship, Amanda and the girls are all smiles and sunshine because they got an extra few hours sleep. Whatever. Lily makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for all of us. She is the best at spreading the peanut butter and jelly to the edges of the bread. She’s also good at getting each person’s jelly right. Emma: none, Dad: tiny bit, Amanda: light, Lily: normal.
Before 11am we meet Skydive Uluru in a parking lot and go with them to the airport. They are a small outfit, using a tiny 4-person plane, which means only two of us can jump tandem at a time. There are not a lot of bells and whistles here, no fancy ipads for disclosure forms, no introductory videos, no logo’d helmets (no helmets at all actually.) But they do announce the safety measures with every step and it does feel like they know what they are doing.
Business is booming today. The Australian schools let out a few days ago and the caravans of campers are literally lined up at the gates of the park to get in. Sam is doing 5 jumps today. I’m his freight on this trip from 12,000 feet back to earth. It’s my 4th skydive and the highest I’ve done. Most have been from 10,000 feet or less.
I get a few moments of anxiousness sitting on the runway. The flight up is loud. I’m going with Lily. She’s quiet for her first skydive. Calm and quiet. Scared lily gets wide-eyed. I see none of that. It was only 5 years ago we couldn’t get her on an adult roller coaster. I can’t believe she’s jumping from a plane today.
The views of the ‘resort’, Uluru and Kata Tjuta are fantastic. You can really see Uluru’s weird shape from above. There are a few black brush fires in the distance and the white salt flats contrast with everything else red from up here.
‘Wanna do some rolls out of the aircraft?; Sam asks me. Of course I do. I hug my knees to my chest, and they open the aircraft door. After freefall, the best part of skydiving is opening an aircraft door and feeling the cold wind. ‘Head back, go!’ he says and we tumble out of the aircraft. I see the plane above us for a moment as we spin 3-4 circles. ‘Bananna’ he yells and taps my shoulder. That’s the signal to get in a freefall position.
Freefall from 12,000 feet is about 45 seconds, nearly double what I’ve done in the past. It’s breathtaking, loud, a little cold. He pulls the chute open and we are dragged deep into our harnesses from the deceleration. Everything quiets down and the ground comes into focus. From above the brush and trees against the red earth are gorgeous.
Lily follows me a minute after I touchdown. She’s exuberant. What a moment for her at 15 years of age to have skydived in the Outback, Australia. We all agree it’s our best jump ever.
We jump in the car and begin our 4 hour drive north to Kings Canyon. A long boring but easy drive. The largest town for 150 miles is this gas station cum campground.
I’m very proud of you Lily! Good job for getting over your fears!