Photo essay: Hiking the Australian Outback at Kings Canyon

This past weekend I went to see 127 Hours, the Oscar-nominated movie starring James Franco.  It’s based on the true story of a man who goes hiking in the Utah desert and gets pinned under a boulder for 5 days. He ends up chopping off his arm with a dull pocket knife and miraculously survives.

Other than the bloody amputation scene, the most memorable part of the movie was the gorgeous scenery. In fact, the southern Utah landscape reminded me a lot of Australia, which we visited during our round the world trip.

We hiked around the rim of Kings Canyon, a massive gorge in the middle of the Australian outback.  Due to its remote location, 200 miles south of Alice Springs, it was refreshingly free of tourists.

Unlike the national parks in the United States, Kings Canyon has no ropes, chains or fences to keep hikers from the canyon rim. We hiked on top of sheer vertical cliffs, with drop-offs of over 1,000 feet, without a guide or trail map.

Kings Canyon 02

We had to climb a long vertical staircase, known as “Heartbreak Hill,” to reach the entrance to the canyons.

Kings Canyon 01

Several other hikers stood atop the rim across the canyon, just a few feet away from a massive drop-off.

Kings Canyon 03

The views from the canyon rim were amazing.

Kings Canyon 04

Layers of sandstone created natural steps, which came in handy as we didn’t bring any climbing equipment.

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We crossed several narrow bridges that stretched over crevices. Below our feet, the canyon seemed to stretch for miles.

Kings Canyon 06

Some brave hikers ventured close to the edge, risking a 1,000 foot fall.

Kings Canyon 07

Sheer cliffs ran along each side of the canyon.

Kings Canyon 08

Despite its desert location, the valley floor was lush and green. This permanent watering hole is known as the “Garden of Eden.”

Kings Canyon 09

We came across several brave (or foolish) hikers getting close to the edge. At first we were shocked by their lack of caution, but by the end of the hike we were taking risks ourselves.

Kings Canyon 10

Leslie posed next to the “beehive” sandstone formations that surrounded the rim of the canyon.

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We didn’t see any bodies on the canyon floor. That’s always a good sign!

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I took my turn and walked to the canyon’s edge.

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Desensitized to the risks, Leslie scaled a rock formation. We set out with one liter of water, flat-soled sneakers and sunblock. We were fortunate not to get stranded in the canyon, considering our lack of supplies.

Kings Canyon 14

Kings Canyon was one of the highlights of our round the world trip.  It was more impressive and less crowded than Uluru, its much-hyped outback neighbor.  If you find yourself in the middle of the Northern Territory of Australia, make sure to check it out!

The main canyon rim hike is about 4 miles long and takes about 3 hours roundtrip. You can go with a guide, but it isn’t necessary.

For more info

Check out the Kings Canyon Wikipedia page for a brief description of the canyon and visitor information.


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About Jake Semmel

I'm a blogger and round the world traveler. I'm always on the lookout for new places to scuba dive, hike and ski.