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Sisyphus Peak, 1859m

12 November 2010

Coordinates 44°22.539′ S, 168°49.940′ E

View into the Kitchener River from the summit of Mount Avalanche. Sisyphus Peak at top centre image; Wilmot Saddle to the left. Photo D Hegg


Sisyphus Peak is nothing more than a small bump on the east ridge of Fastness Peak, 600m south-east of Wilmot Saddle. What it lacks in topographical prominence, it fully makes up with its stunning views – located in the Matukituki River East Branch just to the east of the Main Divide of the Southern Alps, it is an ideal pedestal from where to admire the imposing eastern aspects of Mount Aspiring, Popes Nose and Fastness Peak. Add the ease of access to the equation (the summit can be easily reached on a weekend trip, no mountaineering skills required), and you have all the ingredients for a very popular tramping destination.


Sisyphus Peak was first climbed by E. Miller, H. Boddy, J. Shanks and R. Pinney on 30 December 1930. Taking advantage of a break in a long spell of appalling weather, the  party of four Dunedin climbers walked into the head of Rainbow Stream and reached Wilmot Saddle. Here, Eric Miller wrote “Between us and the [Bledisloe] gorge lay a rocky range, culminating in an easily accessible peak [Sisyphus] some 500 feet above. As it was possible simply to stroll up to the rounded top without climbing, some of our enthusiastic mountaineers thought it beneath their dignity to make the ascent, but when finally persuaded to do so, were more than satisfied with the view from this particularly well placed vantage point. In commemoration of Pinney’s escapade with the boulder a few days later [the next day in fact], we have named this peak Mount Sisyphus, and I venture to predict that in years to come it will be the most frequented in the Matukituki district. The grade to the summit is exceptionally easy…” [1].

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus is a king condemned to push a boulder up a hill in eternity. The accident that prompted the naming of the peak happened on December 31, while the party was descending the northern slopes of  Wilmot Saddle to Ruth Flat. Miller gives further detail about the accident “When descending the smooth through of a waterfall, Boddy brushed his pack against what proved to be a balanced boulder and set it in motion after him. Without warning it threw him somersaulting down the hill, smashed his ice axe into matchwood, and made for Pinney, who had just time to dive over a small waterfall, on top of which the boulder came to rest. Unfortunately, he landed on his chin at the bottom and took the count. […] In such circumstances Pinney had the advantage of two more languages than the rest of us, and had recently attended some dog trials, in a receptive frame of mind” [1].

On New Year’s day, the party had an alpine start to climb Ruth Ridge to the Volta Glacier, but was forced back by a nor’westerly storm. The climbers just made it down Bledisloe Gorge before heavy rain set in, then had to wait a couple of days for the rivers to drop before being able to reach the Aspinalls’ Homestead [1].

Route descriptions

Sisyphus Peak map. 1 grid square = 1km. Left click to enlarge


From Wilmot Saddle via the north-west ridge

Rating: tramping, off track, easy                           April 2005

A 20 minute stroll along a broad, easy ridge

To Aspiring Flats via the south ridge

Rating: tramping, off track, moderate                April 2005

This is a good, safe route, the only obstacle being a belt of thick sub-alpine scrub above the bush-line. Because of the latter, I would recommend the south ridge as a descent route only. Rainbow Stream offers better walking up the hill.

From the summit of Sisyphus Peak, follow the crest of the south ridge, scrambling over the top of point 1723m. Lower down, pick up deer trails and leads through the tall sub-alpine scrub; once below bush-line, stay away from the ridge proper and veer gradually to the right, aiming to hit the valley floor at the top of Aspiring Flats. See the notes about the Kitchener River for access to Aspiring Flats. Times: approx 4 – 5 hours from Sisyphus Peak to Aspiring Flats, 7 – 8 hours in the opposite direction.  There is no water on this route.

From Ruth Flat

See Moir’s Guide North [2].

View from Sisyphus Peak: Rob Roy Peak, Mount Avalanche, Mount Aspiring. Photo D Hegg


[1] Miller, E.: On the Spurs of Aspiring. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol IV, No. 18, 1931, pages 216-226. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.

[2] Spearpoint, G. (Editor) 2005. Moir’s Guide North, 7th Edition – The Otago Southern Alps. A tramping and transalpine guide from the Hollyford to Lake Ohau. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 260 pages.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Thomas Goodman permalink
    17 February 2011 6:37 pm

    Hey Danilo!

    Don’t expect you will remember me but I was in OUTC with you in 04/05. Was quite interested when I saw the name ‘OMG I know that guy!’.

    I just googled this to see the view we should have had last week, when we went up Sisyphus we couldn’t even see the saddle from the summit, let alone Aspiring! Finally got a view of it from near Albert Burn Saddle 2 days later. Definately a beautiful area.

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