Climb Every Boulder
Quest to Climb Mt Olga
[Extract from The T-Team with Mr B: Central Australia 1977, a prequel to Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981.]
The T-Team with Mr B — In 1977 Dad’s friend Mr Banks and his son, Matt (not their real names), joined Dad, my brother (Rick) and me on this journey of adventure. I guess Dad had some reservations how I would cope… But it soon became clear that the question was, how would Mr B who was used to a life of luxury cope?
‘What about we try and climb Mt. Olga?’ Mr B said.
Dad had been trawling the Rover around the track at the base of Kata Tjuta for several hours. I had sat silent in the rear cabin of the Rover, now exorcised of its peanut-demons.
When he wasn’t managing some adverse hump or bump in the terrain, Dad chewed his nails and puffed the bitten pieces out the window. Glad I sat in the back in exile.
[Photo 1: Around the track at the base of Kata Tjuta © L.M. Kling (nee Trudinger) 1977]
‘What do you say, ol’ boy?’ Mr B badgered Dad.
‘I don’t know, it’s getting late.’
We edged around the southern foot of the mountain-sized boulders. Mr B leaned forward and peered at the hill leaning up against the designated highest peak. ‘I mean to say, we could give it a try.’
‘Er, um. It’s very steep.’
Mr B pointed at the sloping foot to the right, now bathed in the golden hues of a sun heading for sleep. ‘We could go up that side hill. I reckon there might be a ridge that joins to Mt Olga.’
‘Oh, very well, then.’ Dad sighed and turned onto a track leading to the rise. ‘It’ll be an adventure.’
[Photo 2: Kata Tjuta in Afternoon © C.D. Trudinger 1981. Highest dome, Mt Olga 1066m. We climbed the dome on far right.]
Dad stopped the Rover at the base of the dome south of Mt Olga and we all crawled out into the cool fresh air of late afternoon. Richard squinted at the reddening boulders. ‘Nah, not going. I’m staying here.’
‘Oh, but, why?’ Dad asked.
‘What’s the point? That hill you want to climb is not going to get you there.’
Dad studied the mounds. ‘I don’t know about that. Could be a ridge or something to the side.’
‘Don’t think so. Can’t see any tourists climbing?’
[Photo 3: Tourists marching up Walpa Gorge © L.M. Kling 2013]
Dad sniffed. ‘It’s sacred.’
‘Hasn’t stopped them climbing Ayres Rock.’
‘Ah, well, we’ll see.’
Richard snorted. ‘Waste of time.’
Mr B shrugged on his back-pack. ‘Come on, Matt, let’s go for a little climb.’
‘Come on, Lee-Anne,’ Dad called, ‘let’s go. Richard can miss out being one of the few people to climb Mt Olga.’
We waved at Richard and then tramped up the slope. The sun hovered above the western horizon casting a spell of gold over the land.
[Photo 4: Bloodwood Tree near Walpa Gorge, late afternoon © C.D. Trudinger 1981]
‘We can at least see if there’s hope,’ Dad said. ‘Even if we run out of time, we can see if there’s any way to reach Mt Olga.’
‘How long should we go for before turning back?’ I asked.
‘About an hour, I reckon,’ Dad replied. ‘We don’t want to be hiking in the dark.’
We trekked upwards on the gentle slope. The sun travelled downwards, measuring the hour in deepening shades of orange, then crimson. The ridge turned into a series of ridges; one wave after another and cluttered with spinifex jutting out from cracks in the gravel.
A kangaroo bounded alongside us and then skittered into the shadows.
[Photo 5: Walpa Gorge © C.D. Trudinger 1981 ]
‘What a shame,’ I said. ‘Look what Richard missed out on.’
Matt laughed and muttered, ‘Dinner prospects.’
Dad glanced at his watch. ‘Okay, ten more minutes, and then we turn back.’
‘But we haven’t got anywhere near the bridge to the summit,’ Mr B said.
‘Who says there’s a bridge,’ Dad snapped.
‘I say, there has to be.’
Dad locked eyes with Mr B. ‘Not necessarily. Anyway, we’ve already been hiking an hour. We have to get back before dark.’
‘Very well, ol’ chap. But we can try tomorrow.’
Dad pointed straight ahead at the gorge wall cutting a definite shadow over the ridge upon which we stood. ‘We’ll walk straight ahead and then see what it looks like. I think we can tell if there’s a chance of a land-bridge or something from here.’
[Photo 6: Sunset over Boulders © C.D. Trudinger 1986]
We followed Dad to the edge and then stared into the abyss. A deep chasm stretched from the wall of our ridge to the end; no join or any hint of connection to the highest peak of Kata Tjuta.
Dad screwed up his nose. ‘Well, it looks like if you want to climb Mt Olga, you have to climb up that steep slope.’
I stared at the neighbouring rise past the gap. It appeared almost vertical. ‘Too steep for me.’
‘Hmm, far too dangerous,’ Dad said. ‘I reckon that’s why no one’s climbed it.’
Mr B placed his hands on his hips and puffed. ‘What a waste, I say. They really should do something to improve the experience. I mean, what about constructing a ride up there? You know, a cable car like they have in the Alps for skiing? They’re not making the most out of their assets. For the tourists, I mean.’
Dad turned his back to Mr B and shook his head.
I stared at the stony ground. ‘We better get back, I s’pose.’
So, with our eyes glued to the rocks, and mouths shut, we weaved through stumpy bushes back to the Rover.
‘Did you get to the top?’ Richard asked.
‘Nup,’ I said. ‘There’s a big chasm.’
‘Could’ve told you that.’ Richard bit into an apple and munched.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016; updated 2018
Feature Painting: Sunrise on Kata Tjuta © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2014
[Photo 7: Sunset on Kata Tjuta © C.D. Trudinger 1986]
Some years later, accompanied with a couple of adventurous friends, Rick embarked on climbing Mt Olga. The climb up this prominent boulder is forbidden, but my brother and his mates were young and somewhat foolhardy.
‘The climb up was alright,’ Rick reported upon his return, ‘just had to watch you went in a straight line and didn’t go too far left or right, or you could’ve dropped right over the steep edge.’
He laughed as he recounted a kangaroo hopping across their path in front of them. Then he looked straight at me. ‘The descent, now that was a different matter. Never been more scared in my life. Could barely see a metre in front. It was that steep.’
He vowed he’d never do something as dangerous as that again.