King of the Mountain

Exploring King’s Canyon in the Northern Territory

It’s 8am. We’re twenty minutes into what we’ve been told is a four hour journey and already I’m out of breath. My friend Jarratt and I know we need to take this one slowly. We’ve had a steep vertical climb to start but we’ve been assured that from here on in, most of it is on the level.

We arrived in King’s Canyon yesterday from Uluru, some 300km away. It shouldn’t have taken us that long to drive but we couldn’t leave until we had driven round Uluru one more time and so didn’t set off until about midday. A third of the way into our journey, we then stopped at the lookout for Mount Conner where we ate our packed lunch. I use the term loosely as “packed” lunch suggests some sort of preparation, whereas we retrieved the remains of the previous day’s takeaway chicken to which we mixed the leftover potato salad and coleslaw, giving it a quick sniff to see if it had gone off in the heat of the car. Haute cuisine this was not but more survival tucker in a place where your nearest convenience store is inconveniently 200km away. This we washed down with water and the apples that I had stolen, much to Jarratt’s chagrin, from that morning’s breakfast buffet. He thought this was cheeky whereas I considered it resourceful. Why would they put fresh whole fruit on the buffet table if you’re not allowed to eat it? The chopped melon pieces are for you to eat there and then and the basket of fruit is for you to take away with you as sustenance for the day, right?

Mount Conner is often confused with Uluru which is understandable as it is a big rock in the middle of nowhere, though unlike Uluru, it is largely inaccessible. There is a designated raised viewing point on the Lasseter highway though. Rather than take snaps from the car park, it is worth the 20 metre climb to the viewing platform as, from this vantage point, in the other direction, there’s also a vast salt lake.

Back to the story. It’s 9.20am and we’re weaving our way over the top of King’s Canyon, following the little blue arrow markers set into the stone. We chose the longest trek — the rim walk, which is 6km is length. There’s part of me that is telling me to savour the walk and take as many photos as possible but there’s another part that’s saying “Get off the mountain quick or you will fry.” I want to call ahead to Jarratt to ask him how hot he thinks it is, but I can tell he’s concentrating on the task in hand. We’re both battling our little injuries — my long term right knee injury and the left ankle which I slightly sprained two days ago, (both of which have been strapped up tightly in preparation) and he is struggling against the blisters on his feet that sprung up yesterday in defiance.

For those of you who haven’t heard of King’s Canyon, you’ve possibly seen it before in film. It was featured in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in the “Cock in a frock on a rock” scene when Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terrence Stamp climb to the top in full drag. One thing is for certain, they certainly didn’t do it in forty degree heat or their eyeliner would have been down around their ankles.

Just when the heat gets too much, we arrive at The Garden of Eden — a shaded valley within the canyon. When I looked at the map before the climb, I thought it rather conceited that they gave it such a name but as I climb down the steps out of the hot gaze of the sun, I concur that it really does feel like paradise.

I would like to stay down here for a while a) because it’s cool and b) because I need to put the effort in to climb back up again. Jarratt has been waiting at the top because his blisters are starting to get blisters. He allows me to recover for a bit and then crack on. It’s 10.45am, we’ve just passed the 4km mark and we’re running out of water. We were told to bring 3 litres each but thought we would manage with 3 litres between us. We’ve had an apple and orange each which has helped, but it hasn’t stopped Jarratt from getting worried.

Vertical cracks in the rock erode over time to form domes.

As it turns out, we don’t need to stress, the 6km seemingly include the two offshoot walks, one of which I did down to the waterhole and the other neither of us could be bothered to do. So, we’re actually on the last leg, but we don’t know it yet.

The sight of the pathway stretching down to the car park and the huge flat plains ahead of us is a great relief. It means we can finish off the little water we’ve been hoarding.

We reach the bottom just before 11.00am — about 3¼ hours after we started. The temperature is 40 degrees and we get in the car, crank up the air conditioning and head to the hotel swimming pool as we’ve got nothing else on until sunset.

The best sunset I ever recall seeing was back in 1990 when I was travelling in the Northern Territory with Schmotty and a couple of Dutch girls. We had hired a car and mischievously gone off road to visit a deserted old gold town. We weren’t insured on unsealed roads and although we knew we had to get back to Alice Springs before dark, we felt compelled to get out of the car to marvel at the puffs of pink and purple clouds that were scattered across the sky in every direction. We waited for half an hour for the show to finish and were then forced to race back to Alice before darkness set in. This was a mistake as, twenty minutes into our journey, a big red kangaroo leapt in front of the headlights and nearly had us off the road.

Although I am unlikely to relive a spectacle as great as that again, the sun, the clouds and the scenery in the Northern Territory seem to collude to deliver a great sunset night after night.

The following day before we leave, Jarratt generously shouts me to a helicopter ride over the Canyon. It’s only then that we both realise the enormity of the whole place, the insignificance of the huge trek we did yesterday and the isolation from anywhere else.

In reality, we just scratched the surface of King’s Canyon but I leave there feeling like I have conquered a mountain. This trip keeps getting better and better.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.