Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mt Woodroffe, SA, Australia

2013 May: Climb Mt Woodroffe (highest mountain in SA, Australia)

This completes my 3-year mission to climb the highest peak in all 8 Australian States & Territories (called the State-8 peaks). The other 7 peaks are listed at the end of this account.

Mt Woodroffe:
- 1435 meters, highest mountain in SA

- Takes me 2 hrs 15 mins to climb from its base (at 750m) to the summit (a gain of 685m)

- In Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara aborigines land ... now, you try pronounce it! Or call it APY land like everybody else.

- Known to the Pitjantjatjara people as Ngarutjaranya - don't you just love learning big words like this!!!

- Located in the Musgrave Ranges, close to SA / NT border

- Nearest general passenger airport is at Ayers Rock in NT

- For most people, the only way to climb it is via a 3-day tour with Diverse Travel Australia (DTA)

Of all the State-8 peaks, Mt Woodroffe is both the hardest and the easiest to climb.

Hardest: Because it requires permission from the APY aborigines elders who are hard to track down. In any case, permission is usually not given, unless you go on a 3-day tour organized by DTA (Diverse Travel Australia). Their website is:   (Look for "Mt Woodroffe Climb".)
Even then it is still not easy ... as there is only one trip per year, around May; and requires at least 4 people for the tour to start. Last year, 2012, DTA cancelled the tour - only 2 people were interested. So, I wouldn't be able to climb it in 2012 even if I wanted.

Easiest: Because once you sign up with DTA, they will organize everything - transport, food, swag to sleep etc. I don't need to plan anything!

Part of the fun of climbing the State-8 peaks is the research into how/where/when to climb the mountains. In particular I enjoy getting into Google Earth and plotting out the routes. For this trip, I miss these activities. But as it is my last climb, I guess I deserve a rest and let DTA to handle everything.

Day 1:
We were picked up at Ayers Rock resort by SEIT Outback Australia. SEIT's website is:
Does anyone know what is the relationship between SEIT and DTA?

SEIT picked us up with 3 cars. Why 3 cars? Because there were 27 of us climbers. 27 was an all time record. Usually, hardly anyone climbed Woodroffe. Last year DTA couldn't even garner 4 people. And there was a rumour DTA may permanently drop the Mt Woodroffe trip from their offerings if the numbers remained so low. Perhaps words got around that this year might be the last trip, hence everyone who wanted to climb Woodroffe signed up for fear of missing out.

It took a while to load all the luggage into the cars. By the time we were on our way, it was 9:06am.

After 2 breaks to stretch our legs, we arrived at Ngarutjara campsite exactly 4 hours later at 1:06pm. The campsite was by the dry Whittle Creek (Ngarutjarayna Creek to the Pitjantjatjara people), and about 11 km by car from the base of Mt Woodroffe.

As there was no walking track to the summit of Woodroffe, and the SEIT guides would not be climbing at all, hence after lunch, we drove the 11 km to the base of the mountain to survey the landscape, and to check over potential routes to the summit. Next day, it would be up to us to find our own way to the top.

Here is the GPS route from the campsite to the base of the mountain:

Then it was back to the campsite, gathered around the campfire and swapped climbing tales. As expected, barring 1 or 2 people, almost everyone who was there were intend to climb all the State-8 peaks ... Woodroffe is so remote and difficult to get to, no one would take the trouble to go there unless there is a higher purpose.

1.) Day 1 - You know you are in outback Australia when the toilet signs are Sheilas and Blokes. (This is taken at Curtin Springs.)

2.) Day 1 - Typical scene in the middle of Australia, navy blue sky and red earth ... we stop here to have morning tea (near Mulga Park Station homestead).

3.) Day 1 - Morning tea on the red earth

4.) Day 1 - We are entering Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) aborigines land, right at the NT/SA border. The sign says: An entry permit is required to enter these lands. Penalties Apply. For entry without a permit, $2,000 + $500 for each day on the lands.

5.) Day 1 - As there is no walking track in Mt Woodroffe, and the SEIT guides will not be climbing at all, hence after lunch, we drive from the campsite to the base of the mountain to survey the landscape, and to check over potential routes to the summit. Next day, it will be up to us to find our own way to the top. This picture of Mt Woodroffe is taken on the way to its base.

6.) Day 1 - Group photo at the base of Mt Woodroffe. The 4 SEIT guides are in the front row, on the left side. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

7.) Day 1 - Beautiful Jeni, she is always smiling. But don't underestimate her. She is tough. She has ticked off 2 of the State-8 peaks, Mt Kosciuszko in NSW, and Mt Ossa via Tas Overland Track ... Anyone who has walked on the Overland Track is tough. She'll soon be heading for Mt Bartle Frere, Qld's highest. To soften her up, we tell tales of horrible leeches gorging blood from her body in the rain forests of Bartle Frere ... haha!

8.) Day 1 - Back at the Ngarutjara campsite, Brett, the chief guide, demonstrates how to use a swag. I've never seen a swag before. It has a mattress. Combined with our own sleeping bag, it is pretty warm and comfortable.

9.) Day 1 - Sunset at Ngarutjara campsite - we'll sleep in the open on the soft sands of the dry Whittle Creek bed, (Ngarutjarayna Creek to the Pitjantjatjara people). In the photo, 2 of the guys put up their own tent instead.

10.) Day 1 - Centre of activity at the Ngarutjara campsite is always around the campfire. Here we swap yarns about our travels. The green tank in the centre of the photo collects rain water. If there is not enough rain, the windmill will draw water from the ground. You can see a solar panel on top of the roof - it provides electricity for a few lights at night.

11.) Day 1 - Ngarutjara campsite - There are 2 toilets. One is seen here, and one behind it. The toilets have no door. If someone is coming, you yell out "I'm here." Don't sneer at this set up, it is better than doing it in the open. The toilet is quite far from the campsite, hence the solar lights on top are like beacons, really helpful. Else we'll have trouble finding our way there in the dark.

Day 2:
Early in the morning, SEIT drove us to the base of Mt Woodroffe. Most people headed up a spur slightly to the east of the mountain (to the right of the red line in the map below). Further up the slope, they would turn west towards the summit.

Knowing Ricky, my climbing partner for most of the State-8 peaks, I suspected he would simply take a direct route - head straight up towards the peak ... with a series of cliffs blocking the way. Before I could suggest to him that we should avoid the cliffs like the rest of the group and take the spur to the right of the red line, Ricky was already on his way. Ggrrr!!! What could I do!!! So I raced after him. As it turned out, the cliffs were not high and easy to scale over.

3.8 km, 2 hours 15 minutes later, we were at the summit. Here is our GPS tracklog:

Map superimposed with our GPS tracklog (in red):
- Green dot: Base of Mt Woodroffe, where the cars are parked, and the start of the climb
- Black dot: Mt Woodroffe summit

I thought Ricky and I might be the first ones to reach the top. But Jeremy (who climbed Mt Zeil with us) beat us by a 7-minute margin. Like the others, he came up via the longer route - on the left spur. He must have run all the way up!

Woodroffe is not a difficult climb. On the other hand, it is not easy either. So you better be fit before attempting it.

Also, like Mt Zeil, Woodroffe was covered with spinifex grass whose ends were sharp spikes. Most of us were well prepared with gaiters. But the spinifex still managed to pierce through them ... very unpleasant, at times painful. Obviously the gaiter manufacturer had never been to Australia! But the view at the top was worth the pain. You can see Mt Conner, a fascinating mountain shaped like a long table top (photo #26). More interestingly, you can also see Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) over on the NT side (photo #27).

After a set of photo sessions at the summit cairn, Jeremy, the couple David & Nicole and I came down the mountain together. Ricky was with us for a little while, then went off by himself to climb a nearby peak. I would have liked to go with him ... but ... well, I have climbed 7 and a half of the State-8 peaks ... Why 7 and a half? ... Well, to claim 8 out of 8, I need to make it all the way home to Sydney to brag about it ... hhmmm ... do you think anyone would care about this feat?!?!?! ... haha! Anyway, to claim 8 out of 8, discretion is the better part of valour. Not wishing to take any risk like breaking my neck on the way to another peak, I continued down the slope with the others.

For the record, of the 27 people started out from Ayers Rock, one didn't climb due to an injured foot; the remaining 26 all reached the summit. Make it 28 at the summit, because Page (a SEIT guide), and Lee (an aborigine who lived around this area ... see photo 12) both decided to join the climb and successfully reached the summit.

During dinner, Lee's father, Peter Nyaningu, an aborigine elder of the Pitjantjatjara people who owns the APY land, came over to chat with us by the campfire. He is 83. He said he started to learn English about 10 years ago. Although his English was broken, but considering his age, that was a very good effort. I tried to learn Spanish on and off for 5 years, but I can hardly understand a sentence, let alone to speak it.

It was refreshing to listen to Pete talking about the aspiration of his people. By coincidence, on the plane to Ayers Rock, I was reading Jared Diamond's book "Guns, Germs and Steel". The book attempts to answer the question ... why did the Europeans conquered Australia and not the aborigines sailing across the oceans to conquer Europe? Most people would answer with "guns, germs and steel". The book goes deeper than this ... why did the Europeans have them? Were the aborigines an inferior race who developed neither farming, nor guns, nor big cities? No, according to the author, who went on to give an account on the development of the various human races around the world for the past 13,000 years, with a view of answering why Europeans have "Guns, Germs and Steel" and not the aborigines.

I urge every one to read this book. It made me understand more of Pete's view on the relationship between his people and the white Australians.

12.) Day 2 morning - Lee, an aborigine who lives around this area, comes to climb Mt Woodroffe with us.

13.) Day 2 - There is no trail to the Woodroffe summit. We'll have to find our own way. Here is me early in the climb. The white SEIT cars can still be seen below.

14.) Day 2 - Me, climbing up Mt Woodroofe.

15.) Day 2 - Me, climbing up Mt Woodroffe. Grayson is behind me.

16.) Day 2 - Me, climbing up Mt Woodroffe.

17.) Day 2 - Me, climbing up Mt Woodroffe.

18.) Day 2 - Mt Woodroffe slope - Ricky.

19.) Day 2 - Woodroffe summit is in sight. The green fluffy balls are spinifex grass. They look pretty and benign and inviting. But don't go anywhere near them. Their ends are sharp spikes which can pierce your gaiters. I guess the gaiter manufactures have never been to the Australian outback.

20.) Day 2 - Mt Woodroffe summit - Jeremy is already there (the tiny figure). He took a longer route up and still beat us by 7 minutes. I reckon he must have run all the way up.

21.) Day 2 - On top of Mt Woodroffe summit cairn: 8 out of 8 State-8 peaks for me !!!

22.) Day 2 - At Mt Woodroffe summit with Ricky - we climbed 7 of the State-8 peaks together.

23.) Day 2 - At Mt Woodroffe summit with Jeremy - We, together with Ricky, climbed NT's Mt Zeil in 2012.

24.) Day 2 - At Mt Woodroffe summmit with Grayson - we climbed WA's Mt Meharry together.

25.) Day 2 - View from Mt Woodroffe summit - pretty good.

26.) Day 2 - View from Mt Woodroffe summit - Mt Conner is the long table top mountain at the centre of the horizon. One day, I'll be there. Watch this blog.

27.) Day 2 - View from Mt Woodroffe summit - Faintly on the horizon is Uluru (Ayers Rock). Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) is on its left.

28.) Day 2 - Ricky went off by himself to climb another peak. On the way down, he took this fantastic photo of a waterhole on a dry waterfall.

29.) Day 2 - This is the waterhole of the previous photo ... magic blue colour!

Day 3:
At breakfast, Pete, the aborigine elder, came over to say goodbye (see photo #32). Then we packed up our gears and returned to Ayers Rock Resort.

On the way, we stopped at Curtins Springs for lunch. Our car was late in getting there due to an exciting blown tyre incident ...

One of the climbers, Sue, a very knowledgeable woman who knows about everything on everything, suddenly yelled at the top of her voice STOP STOP STOP!!! She saw smoke coming out of the side of the car. Page, the SEIT driver/guide duly put her foot on the brake and stopped the car. It was then we noticed a pungent smell of burning rubber. Once out of the car, we were surprised on how most of the tyre was already grounded to dust. Only the outer rim was left (see photo #33). I think on the bumpy ride of a dirt road, it was easy for Page not to feel the blown tyre. Hence she kept driving and driving till smoke came out from the tyre.

What if Sue hadn't noticed the smoke and Page kept driving? ... Ha! ... that would be really fun! Ah Sue, if only you had kept quiet :-)

To change the tyre, two jacks (one borrowed from another SEIT car) were used to jack up the car to a sufficient height. If there was only one car, I wonder how were we going to find another jack on a desolate dirt road where hardly any car drove by, and no phone connection?

This incident hightlights the danger of driving in the Australian outback ... people have died on outback roads due to car breakdowns.

30.) Day 3 - At Ngarutjara campsite - Mt Woodroffe (highest peak in this photo) basking in early morning sun

31.) Day 3 - At Ngarutjara campsite - Breakfast is bacon and egg sandwichs. This is how the SEIT guides make them ... totally novel to me ... never seen it done like this before ... cut a hole in the middle of the bread. Drop the egg in the hole. Turn it over when it is cooked. Yummy!

32.) Day 3 - Peter Nyaningu comes to say goodbye. He is an aborigine elder of the Pitjantjatjara people who owns the APY land. He is quite well known in Australia. Hence having a photo taken with him is both an honour and a high point of this trip. Just so that there is no misunderstanding, I'm the young bloke, ok?

33.) Day 3 - On the way to lunch at Curtin Springs, we have this humongous puncture of a tyre ... well, Page, the SEIT driver/guide keeps driving and driving until Sue, one of us climbers, notices smoke coming out of the side of the car. It would be real fun if no one notices the smoke and Page keeps driving ... wonder what would happen??? Ah, Sue, if only you have kept quiet :-)

360 panoramic view:
A video of 360 panoramic view from the summit is in:

(1) There must be a jinx in this mountain ... Within the first ten minutes up the slope, I lost my hat and sunglasses. Also broke one of my hiking stick. This could easily have been a disaster if it was a much longer hike. Luckily it was only a short climb to the summit. It was also the reason I didn't go with Ricky to another peak. Without hat, sunglasses, walking stick, and also haven't planned on taking more water for the extra distance, it was prudent not to attempt additional adventures.

(2) I had a Deuter Streamer 3L hydration bladder for some years and was very satisfied with it. But it was worn out. So I bought a new one for this trip - same brand, same model. Unfortunately the new bladder had two design changes for the worse:

- The opening where you fill up the bladder with water is smaller. It is now difficult to squeeze your hand through to clean the inside of the bladder.

- The tube leading out from the bladder is shortened. To get a sip, you have to turn your head almost 90 degrees to reach the tube!

Deuter must be hell bent on cutting cost due to the Great Financial Crisis of the past 2 years. If you are thinking of buying a Deuter Streamer ... DON'T !!!

State-8 Peaks:
This completes my 3-year mission to climb the highest peak in all 8 Australian States & Territories.

The other 7 peaks are:
- 2010 Oct, Qld - Mt Bartle Frere

- 2011 Jan, ACT - Bimberi Peak

- 2011 Feb, Tas - Mt Ossa

- 2011 Mar, Vic - Mt Bogong

- 2011 Apr, NSW - Mt Kosciuszko

- 2012 Jul, NT - Mt Zeil

- 2012 Aug, WA - Mt Meharry


  1. Interesting page. Would like to climb Mt Zeil in the winter months.


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