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February 14th 2014
Published: February 14th 2014
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King's CanyonKing's CanyonKing's Canyon

A view down the valley - leading into a very scary hike down.
Yes, that really is the name. So called because of the number of people who have suffered one while attempting to scale the astonishing gradient with over-confidence unbefitting of their aerobic capabilities. We were assured by our guide that only last week, a man had been airlifted to hospital. Sounds like fun. My part in the tale begins before we travelled out to the infamous tor however, and before I became a coffee drinker. I was what you might call a neophyte, a fledgling, a greenie. We'd been camping outside and under the stars in swags – thin mattresses inside sack-like sleeping bags with just your head poking out – at the King’s canyon campsite slap bang in the Red Centre of Australia. Watarrka National Park. Our guide was young, and wick. He already had cereals and milk laid out for us before even the most religious insomniacs among us had creaked open our eyes. And of course, there was tea and coffee. I despise tea but didn’t want to be left out of the hot drinks clique and so invested myself in two cups of the strong stuff, avec sucre of course, being the uninitiated.

We'd been advised to get a little shut-eye on the drive to the day’s hiking, it being still pre-dawn, but I was already climbing the dizzying peaks of euphoria, the day’s potential flitting before my very eyes one unlikely caffeine-fuelled scenario after the other. Nothing could stand in my way. My still-bleary friend shook her head in disgust at both my festive cheer and the ungodly hour. If only coffee still had the same effect on her. How I laughed at my good fortune. Then we were shown the hill. So help me but I scorned its majesty, the barely hewn path, the precarious rocks, the giddying heights. I wagered with myself that although my unlofty stature might prevent me from reaching the summit first – I would at least beat my friend and be among the pioneers of that prodigious peak which contained no room for respite in its 100m of vertical hell.

A race indeed it was, as the aim all along had been to reach the top before sunrise, so as to witness the ascendancy over King’s Canyon from the very best vantage point. I set off with unbridled vigour and set my poor quads to work. About a third of the way up they were on fire and pleading for respite, the lactic acid mounting with each step and increase in altitude. But I had started with haste and must continue it through or lose face not only to my friend but to the others trailing in our wake. Call the ambos right now.

My breaths came in heaving gasps, desperate to take in the still cool morning air but my mood remained on high; the sun had not yet risen and the caffeine not yet dissipated from my veins. It worked as it was supposed to. This fine beverage must be the stuff of gods, the fuel for Olympic athletes. From this moment forth I would become an obedient minion, a slave to this elixir of bitter black gold. My triumph lasted as long as it took the rest of the group to reach the top, which wasn’t long. Then came the obligatory selfies and group-portraits, camera phones running hot with the sweaty palms frantically snapping cheesy grins for the family album. I hadn’t invested (wisely or unwisely I’m still not sure) in a top notch camera so was content to admire the view with my own two lenses. Until my friend pulled me into one of her life-affirming panoramas. When in Rome.


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