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Climbing Mount Woodroffe
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|New South Wales||Mount Kosciuszko||2228|
|Australian Capital Territory||Bimberi Peak||1913|
|Northern Territory||Mount Zeil||1531|
|South Australia||Mount Woodroffe||1435|
|Western Australia||Mount Meharry||1253|
|Highest Peak||Mount Woodroffe|
|Elevation||1435m (4708 feet)|
|First recorded ascent||Unknown|
|Vertical Gain|| Base to summit
Base to summit (oneway)
|Estimated hiking time||Base to Summit||2-4 hours one-way
|Maps||1:250,000 Woodroffe (not required)|
|Summit GPS||S26 19.087 E131 44.660|
|Nearest accommodation||Curtin Springs|
|Date climbed||17th May 2014|
Short and Hard!
This is how I would describe climbing Mount Woodroffe. I managed to get to the summit in just under 2 hours (1.5 hours of actual walking, the rest taking photos), however it was a tough slog straight up the side of a spinafex entangled mountain face. Nevertheless, the views are spectacular and being such an isolated summit made the entire trip a great adventure.
Mount Woodroffe lies within the lands of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara people. Try saying that 10 times quickly! I think even the traditional landowners must find that a bit of a mouthful, as the lands are more generally known as the APY Lands. The traditional custodian of the mountain, Peter, lives near the base of the mountain and at 85 years old is still a pretty spritely and lively old man. Apparently he is known as a first contact Aboriginie, meaning he came into first contact with white people while still quite young. He only learned English in the last few decades.
The first white man (the explorer William Ernest Giles) trundled through these lands in 1873. Although it was another early explorer, William Gosse who renamed Ngarutjaranya to Mount Woodroffe after George Woodroffe Goyder, the Surveyor-General of South Australia (and another early explorer). Gosse had a habit of renaming already named landmarks, having previously renamed Uluru to Ayres Rock.
Cecil Hackett & Norman Tindale on the summit ~1933
Interestingly Mount Woodroffe was the original proposed site for the Anglo-Australian Telescope, although due to remoteness, the telescope was eventually built in Siding Springs in NSW.
As Woodroffe lies on APY land, you must get permission from the APY landowners to enter their land. Apparently in the good ol' days this wasn't so diffcult to do, however more recently an Ayres Rock tour company has negotiated to be the exclusive tour operator taking climbers to and from Woodroffe. This makes it easier for the APY owners to manage, and hence going through this tour company is really the only way to climb Woodroffe.
If you do however want to try and get permission directly, the details are below, although an explanation of the process may change your mind. You must first submit an application to the YPL council explaining that you want to climb Woodroffe and the reasons why. The YPL council will likely tell you that you must join the Ayres Rock tour, so you better have a good reason why you shouldn't do this. If the YPL council agrees you have a good reason, they must then contact the actual custodians and get their permission. Given Internet, phone reception, mail does not exist, this could take awhile. After all this is completed, you will then get permission (after paying a fee). The entire process normally takes 4-6 months (unless you know the Tourism Minister of South Australia or Australia and you can circumvent all of the above - it has been done!).
In any event, going with the tour company is a great (although seriously overpriced) adventure. Typically the tour will run from Friday to Sunday (cost about $950 and include all food, transport, and a swag).
I've described the way to actually get to Woodroffe below, in case you've managed to organise your climbing permit.
From Yulara (Ayers Rock) head East on the Lasseter Highway.
Approximately 107km (1hr) you will pass Curtin Springs Cattle Station on the left. This is the last opportunity for fuel, food, accommodation, athough Ayers Rock/Yulara is better for all these supplies.
About 10km past Curtin Springs, take the turn-off onto Mulga Park Road (Victory Downs), heading South. You will see Mount Conner in the background. Mulga Park Road is a good but dirt road.
About 70km (2 hours) you will pass another cattle station on the left. Shortly after you will cross a cattle-grid. There is another 'major' dirt road on your right. Stay to the left.
This is where it gets complicated. About 8-9km after crossing the cattle-grid, you need to take a turn onto a track on the right. The track is poorly marked. You will have passed two road bend signs prior to this turn-off. A few hundred metres on this new track is a burnt out orange kingswood/torana.
About 5-6km along this track, you will cross another cattle grid, a fence running (East-West: the NT/SA border) and a sign entering the YPL lands. This is just before crossing a river bed.
You will then follow this road another 10-15km before reaching Woodroffe. Although this last section is kinda tricky unless you know where you're going as there are lots of dirt tracks coming in/out. I've marked the entire route on Google Maps here.
You can start to realise why the YPL suggest you join the tour, and hence what I and 15 others also did.
Everything following assumes you joined the tour:
The actual camping/sleeping arrangements are pretty good. There is a shipping container which has been converted into a kitchen. A windmill pumps water, and there are clean pit-toilets (with solar lighting). The sleeping is on the sandy bottom of a creek.
A swag is provided and each camper can set up their swag anywhere they like on the creek-bed. Given the creek extends in both directions and wanting to avoid sleeping amongst a bunch of snoring men, I decided to pitch my swag alone and a little ways off from most of the campers.
That same night our tour guides explained that a few dingoes lived in the area. No sooner had they said that, than howling started all around us. I wanted to duck back down to my swag and drag it back into the safety of the others. Unfortunately not wanting to appear chicken I had to man up and leave my swag out alone.
Fortunately the dingoes were pretty harmless, as I discovered later that night. I went to the toilet during the night, fully prepared with my boots on, a knife in hand, and my sharpened walking stick at the ready. I could see some shinning eyes ahead of me, and with my heart beating a thousand miles an hour I was fully prepared to tackle this ravenous dingo into submission. However, when I shone my light on this crazed animal, I was slightly bemused to realise that this Alpha Male was only just bigger than a large cat. One more step toward it and it scampered off into the darkness. A few more encounters over the coming days made me realise that these tiny little wild dogs really don't want to take on a big smelly tourist, when there is plenty of other food to eat. And besides, it was pretty cool falling asleep with the sounds of howling dingos piercing the night sky.
On the evening of our arrival, with my swag now setup, we were driven to the base of Woodroffe for our first scouting trip. The drive is about 20-30 minutes from the campsite. This was our first opportunity to see the peak up close. It didn't look too bad, although the spinafex is pretty horrendous. You ABSOLUTELY MUST bring decent boots and gaiters. Your legs will otherwise end up completely shredded.
Most of my fellows climbers immediately started climbing up the mountain or wandering around the left and up a dry river valley. A few climbers had print-outs from previous successful summitteers, as well as the fairly useless 1:100,000 topographic map. I instead walked back toward our camp, so I could get a better view of the entire mountain face. I figured it's hard to work out the best way to climb a mountain when it's 2 metres in front of you. Rather, getting an overview picture seemed the more sensible approach. My route up the mountain would end up being straight up the front face.
Below are my reasons as to why the route I ultimately selected to climb up, turned out to be the best way up (in my opinion anyway).
There are really two ways to get to the top. Straight up the front face (drifting to the left or right) or round the left and up the river valley. The point at which to leave the river valley is discussed below.
Straight up the Front Face
The bottom section of this route is actually the hardest part of the entire hike. Not only are you not used to climbing through spinafex, but it's also steep and quite rocky. However, it's really very short. And once you get over the lip of the first section, you are on a plateau. It's then a relatively straight forward walk to the summit "relatively". There is still another one-two hours of climbing.
Rather than always climbing the steepest face of each additional section, I tended to traverse across the face of each next bump, heading up, but not straight up. Higher up, I managed to get onto a large rock face which made avoiding the spinafex much easier. There a few tricky sections toward the top, and a false summit means you have a tendandancy to stray to the right, where-as the actual summit is still in a forward direction.
On my way down, I climbed the accompanying peak (left of Woodroffe) which afforded a fantastic view of the entire mountain (see photos below) and this only confirmed my route seemed the easiest. I came back down the valley (on the left) and found this really challenging. (see below the River Valley).
The River Valley
Wrapping around the left of mountain is a dry river bed. This is really easy walking and you can follow a donkey trail someway. However, if you follow this all the way to the end, you'll reach a dry waterfall. A great view but a real b*tch to climb. I ended up coming down this way (right off water fall) and it was really steep. Although once up the steep section (to the right of the base of waterfall), it gets much easier.
If you do take this route, then before reaching the base of the waterfall head out of the river valley on the left. This seems counter-intuitive as you are heading away from Woodroffe. However, you skirt around the back of a small hill, and end up at the top of the waterfall. The going is then much easier. I think this route is much longer, and the route isn't immediately clear. Coming down wasn't so easy.
However, picking your own way up the moutain and the challenges of doing so is half the fun. And almost everyone in our group who attempted the summit made it, so while there were more than 10 different routes taken they all ultimately ended in success.
I arrived at the summit at 9.10am (having departed at 7.20am). It was very windy and cold (15C) on the summit, so I didn't stay too long. A few photos, signing the visitors book (which looks like it's been sitting there for 50 years) and I was off.
As it was still very early, and with only one other person on the summit, I figured I'd have hours sitting back at the vehicles if I headed straight back down. This turned out to be a correct assumption. So I immediately headed off to the 2nd summit. I don't think it has a name (or at least a Western name), as I couldn't find anything marked on a map. The initial walk down was a little rough, as the ground quickly changed from spinafex to small bushes and trees. This meant a little bush bashing and climbing through the undergrowth. However, once I was down in the saddle between the two peaks it got a whole lot easier. The spinafex virtually disappeared altogether and the climbing was really quite easy.
It took almost another 2 hours to reach the summit of the 2nd peak (arriving at 11.30am). However, this was a really great view. I really was now by myself now, Woodroffe being too far away to see any movement on the summit. I had brought my own radio, so I could sit on the rocky outcrop listening to the chatter of the other climbers as they slowly made it to the summit.
After 15 minutes, I started to head back to the base. Coming back down requires a little navigation around a few cliffs, but otherwise it's pretty easy going. All that spinafex seems confined to Woodroffe. I learned a valuable lesson about climbing and taking photos as I was coming down, as I was too busy concentrating on getting a great pic, when I stumbled and almost toppled down a 2 metre rocky outcrop. That would not have been fun.
On my way down, I ended up on top of the dry waterfall (although there were a few puddles of murky water), which was pretty nice. As stated above, I should have come down on (my now right facing downhill), however I ended up coming down on my left. This was a really steep rocky section of the climb. But I was soon back on the donkey trail and back to the vehicles by 1.50pm.
It would still be another couple of hours before the last of our group would end up back at the vehicles. Did I mention the flies? Waiting for everyone else to make it back to the vehicles was aweful. The flies are relentless. At the end of a tough climb, you just want to lie down and relax. This only possible if don't mind a thousand flies crawling all over your face. Dousing myself in RID didn't seem to help either. Oh well. If that's the worst I had to endure, I guess it was all worth it.
But I'd done it. Another peak of my State8 conquered.
I've listed below all the timings for my climb:
Pick-up from Ayres Rock Hotel: 8am
Tooling around picking everyone else up: 8.30am
Mulga Park turn-off: 9.50am
South Australia border: 11am-11.30am
Arrival at camp: 12pm
Get up morning of climb: 6am
Depart camp (tooling around again): 6.30am
Depart vehicle, base of Woodroffe (climb): 7.20am
2nd summit: 11.30am
Back to vehicles: 1.50pm
Last climbers back: 5.30pm
Hiking time: approximately 1.5 hours up
Average walking speed: 2km per hour
Temperature at base: 25C
Temperature at summit: 15C
The Woodroffe map is pretty good. The problem is that the scale is 1:250,000, so there really is not alot of detail. You can at least see (very broadly) the diffferent ways up the peak. You certainly don't need this map to climb Woodroffe. There are no other maps (that I'm aware of) of this area in any more detail.
The tour is generally May of each year. This is also the best time, given more mild temperatures. Middle of summer is CRAZY!
|Avg. High C°||38||36||34||29||24||20||20||23||28||32||34||36|
|Avg. Low C°||22||22||18||14||9||5||4||6||10||14||18||21|
|Mean Rain mm||28||26||29||16||18||14||13||8||10||19||24||29|
|Avg. Rain Days.||2||2||2||2||2||2||1||1||2||2||3||3|
|Base of Woodroffe||S26 17.968 E131 45.955 (752m)|
|Summit of Woodroffe||S26 19.087 E131 44.660 (1435m)|
|2nd Summit||S26 19.199 E131 46.833 (1305m)|