Flashback Friday: An Early Morning Run Around Uluru

“Editors note: Fishin’ Tale Australian Outback: An Early Morning Run Around Uluru was written by Erik Siewertsen for ATRA’s Trail Times Newsletter #24 – originally published in 2002.”

Fishin’ Tale Australian Outback: An Early Morning Run Around Uluru

The alarm sounded at 4:45 am, and a weary glance through the window above revealed the brilliant stars of the Southern Hemisphere, still shining brightly in the pre-dawn sky. I slept surprisingly well considering my night’s accommodations consisted of the reclined front seat of a rented Toyota Corolla. When motivation finally kicked in, I slid into the driver’s seat and turned the key. This morning’s destination was Uluru, that famous monolithic mass of stone which first comes to mind when one thinks of Outback Australia. The early wake-up call would be rewarded with a brilliant sunrise and the perfect way to start the day: a leisurely run around the base of the rock.

Uluru is also known as Ayer’s Rock, but was rightfully returned to the Aborigines who regard it as a very sacred site and therefore, was given back its rightful name. From above, its shape resembles that of an arrowhead, and the sun’s effect of changing its color throughout the day is what attracts visitors from all over the world to its location, hundreds of miles from any other major attraction. The previous day I’d driven the five hours from Alice Springs along a vast, open road which cut straight through the Outback. The only real distraction was the multi-trailored road-trains that thundered past me and drove on through the endless vistas of yellows and greens that sprouted from the bright red soil.

When I first sighted Uluru, it was as if I’d just come across the Grand Canyon, something so utterly out of place in an otherwise featureless plain. Uluru is BIG. It measures three and a half kilometers long, one kilometer wide, and nearly half a kilometer high. Scientists believe two-thirds of the rock lies below the ground.

When I arrived at the best viewing spot it was not surprising to see throngs of tourists who also made the early morning effort to see Uluru at its finest time of day. Cameras clicked and videotape rolled capturing images of the dull gray rock slowly turning bright pink as the sun began to rise above the horizon. Soon it was bright red and provided an amazing contrast to the green shrubbery and yellow spinifex bushes that dotted the landscape. The rising sun would eventually heat the day to an arid 98 degrees, but for now, as I laced up my shoes and took one last sip of water, the sweltering heat had not yet arrived and I set out on the ten-kilometer track around the base of Uluru.

The rock was completely blanketed in color — an amazing shade of red — and each turn along the trail showcased new formations and shadows in the stone. As I ran along the narrow path toward the southern end of the trail, the waist-high grass swayed in the breeze as the wind increased. This portion of the trail is known as the Mala Walk, and its features contain the stories of the ancient tribe of Mala, or “Hare-wallaby” people. It started near “the Climb,” a sacred area where the tribesmen once walked up to the top of the rock. These days, despite the wishes of the Anangu tribe of Aborigines, tourists tread upon their ancestors’ steps on this path and are therefore known as “Minga,” or “little ants.”

Running along a straight stretch of sand soon brought me to the Malaku Nyiinkaku Wilytja, a small cave where the Mala tribe once held their initiation ceremonies. Soon after lay the Mala Puta, a triangular-shaped cave so sacred to the Anangu as to be neither photographed or touched. The rising sun was turning the bright red Uluru into a light shade of brown as the trail wound its way through a stretch of trees and the Kantju waterhole. This was the main water source for the Mala ceremonies and was used by the Anangu for thousands of years. Rounding the eastern tip of the rock, I came upon the long straight stretch of its northern side. The sites along this area are so sacred to the Anangu that it is forbidden to photograph or touch them, nor do they explain their meaning.

Today’s run was a nice, easy, and relaxing six miles on flat sandy terrain with the only obstacles being the tourists that occasionally stood in the path. I had visited Australia last year and spent each day running on a new trail in one of the many national parks strewn along the eastern coastline. The most memorable was an early morning run up Mt. Warning, so named by Captain Cook as a landmark to avoid Point Danger, a rocky inlet farther north. It was a beautiful trail that rose steeply through lush rain forests and emanated with the sounds of the many tropical birds living in the tall trees. Coming from Boulder, Colorado, a typical comment while running in the Flatirons might be: “Oh, look out honey, here comes a runner.” But in Australia, where mountain trail running hasn’t quite caught on, I heard: “Good GAWD mate! What the hellya think ya doin?!” When I reached the summit, the 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains was spectacular. After having gotten to the bottom, I decided to give it another go, and the comments I received from the familiar faces the second time around often contained the classic Aussie use of expletives and many cheers of “Good on ya mate!”

The longest stretch of Uluru was behind me now as I came upon the Mutitjulu, whose cracks and shapes symbolize an ancient battle between two snakes: Kuniya and Liru. The victorious Kuniya poisoned the Urtjanpa, or green spearwood bush, now found among the surrounding grasslands. The trail once again cut through the tall grass to theMutitjala Cave where many of the Anangu who currently live in the surrounding lands once spent their youth. The last turn around Uluru brought me to the Mutitjala Waterhole, whose sheer rock walls once provided a natural game trap for the Anangu. As I ran along the last kilometer of the trail, passing tourists along the way, a hand extended in front of me and exclaimed, “Runnin’ around Uluru! Alright!!” I slapped him five and extended a morning greeting to a man who undoubtedly shared my love of running. It was a great way to end a run that has surely been done for thousands of years.