Series of posts celebrating climbers of Ayers Rock.
#5 Beryl Miles 2nd woman to climb
This corner is the only really climbable side of The Rock. Elsewhere it is either impossible, or is a job for a trained mountaineer—as you know, I was certainly not in the latter category! The angle of that north-west corner rose at 60 degrees and a sheer drop fell away on either side of us as the shoulder up which we were climbing suddenly narrowed to a few feet in width. Far down below, the truck dwindled to a tiny speck.
The face of The Rock was scaling and you had to move very carefully if the surface was not to slip away under you. Small pieces occasionally broke off under pressure of hand or foot and went tinkling down, down, down, till the sound was lost from hearing. It wasn't a pleasant thought that just one slip and that was exactly how you would go down too. I found the best way was simply not to think about it at all.
Once up over the first steep shoulder we found wave on wave of rock valleys confronting us, rising and falling in gullies and chasms. Some previous climber had placed a few broken stones on a crest now and again to indicate the way down. It would be very easy to lose your way in that maze of gullies and, as there is no other spot where you can descend safely, you might be lost for quite a time—with three miles of circumference to lose yourself on.
Black streaks of old watercourses scored the rock like great highways, and fantastic lumps of stone, weathered to the shape of prehistoric reptiles, sprawled along the tops of ledges.
We knew that on the very top there was a cairn of stones containing a jar with the names of those who had climbed The Rock. I was longing to add my name to it.
I shall never forget the feeling of anticipation when, finally, we did reach the cairn and I bent down to lift off the first stone, then the next and the next, and then the horrible sinking feeling that followed as only more and more stones appeared under-neath. Perhaps the bottle had been stolen.
Then, suddenly, there was a glint of glass—two jars, both containing scraps of paper with names on—and a small flat cigarette-tin with the name 'McKinnon' scratched on the lid.
As if to make things quite perfect, the very first paper I pulled out of the bottle read as follows:
'Wed. 4.9.47. Arthur Groom of Binnie Burie, Queensland and Tamali Talkajeri (Tiger) of Hermannsburg Mission, leaving one native boy Erowa one third of the way up . . . via Lake Amadeus. Tomorrow we go to Mt. Olga. Signed : Arthur Groom. (and a row of hieroglyphics from Tiger)'
It was a proud moment when I added my name to those in the bottle.
(There were two rather interesting little sequels to this when I returned to Sydney. I happened to see an article on Ayers Rock in the A.B.C. Weekly. It mentioned that there had, as yet, been no successful ascent by a woman. I could not let this pass unchallenged, so promptly sent a photograph taken just as I was about to drop my name into the bottle (ed. unfortunately not in the book). Later, also in Sydney, when I was giving a talk about the Expedition, a man in the audience stood up and said : " I have just returned from The Centre myself, and was fortunate enough to climb Ayers Rock. Oddly enough, the first name I picked out of the bottle was that of Miss Miles. We remarked on it because it was the only woman's name there.")
Near the cairn were three pools of water which was icily cold and very sweet to drink. Eighty miles distant we could see Mt. Connor standing up well against the sky and southward we could see as far as Mt. Woodroffe in the Musgrave Ranges.
It was W. C. Gosse who first discovered Ayers Rock. Born in Hereford in 1842, he had been offered the leadership of a Government Expedition, at the age of thirty-one, to find a route across Australia from east to west. This was in 1872, the same year in which Ernest Giles set out on a private expedition with the same objective.
Gosse's comment on finding The Rock was, "The most wonderful natural feature I have ever seen." He named it after Sir Henry Ayers.
He also went out to Mt. Olga, and thus it was that when Giles arrived, thinking himself the first to pass that way, he found, to his bitter disappointment, tracks of horses, camels and drays in the sand.
"I was perfectly dumbfounded at their appearance here," he wrote in his journal. "Had the earth yawned at my feet, for ever separating me from this mountain, or had another of similar appearance risen suddenly before my eyes, I could not have been more astonished at the sight."
Standing on top of Ayers Rock staring across at Mt. Olga lying like a heap of opalescent bubbles in the hand of the desert, the lines which were such a favourite with Giles came into my mind.
Yet the charmed spell
Which summons man to high discovery
Is ever vocal in the outward world,
Though they alone may hear it
Who have hearts Responsive to its tone.
Not far from the cairn we found a tree—so far as we could tell, the only one growing on The Rock. Its gnarled roots spread out hungrily seeking a foothold in any crevice, drawing sustenance from goodness knows what.
Going down was perhaps harder than climbing up, for there was no means of holding on at all. It was rather like trying to walk down a church spire, and I was thankful Mr. Donkin had suggested bringing a rope—just in case. Before long I was glad to stop and tie it round my waist. It made me feel less as if I were stepping off into space.
Hot and weary, but triumphant at having accomplished our objective, we jumped down from the last ledge of rock at about 5.30 p.m. and made our way back to the truck.