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Rob Roy Peak, 2644m

19 December 2010

Coordinates 44°27.069′ S, 168°43.600′ E

Rob Roy Peak from the slopes of Mount Alta. Photo D Hegg


Rob Roy Peak, at the head of Rob Roy Stream between the Matukituki River West Branch and the Matukituki River East Branch, is a bulky mountain with a number of ribs and spurs rising to a long, flat summit ridge. The High Peak (2644m) is 350m further east than indicated on the topomaps, at CA11 600691; the Low Peak (2609m) is 800m away to the east of the High Peak, at the head of the Glacier Burn. The mountain divides three glaciers, the Maud Francis Glacier to the north-west, the Avalanche Glacier to the north-east, and the Rob Roy Glacier to the south.

While the peak is not particularly beautiful or elegant, its complicated topography ensures a wide variety of climbs, including the gentle, glaciated south-west ridge, the moderate slopes of the west face, the more challenging rock-climbs on the east and north ridges, and the serious technical routes on the 500m high vertical step of the south face.

On the south-west ridge of Rob Roy Peak. Photo D Hegg


Rob Roy Peak was first climbed by a party of 9 Dunedin climbers on 20 April 1934, via the south-west ridge. Party members were Russell, George and Gordon Edwards, Monty McClymomt, Ernie Smith, Bob Fullerton, George Palmer, Don Divers and Cedric Benzoni. The mountain was named on the occasion after Rob Roy Stream, which drains its southern aspects [1,2]. Five of the party members had previously attempted the peak in late December 1934, and while they were thwarted by the weather on the occasion, they scouted a route to the Rob Roy Glacier, and completed the first ascent of Glengyle Peak [2,3]. On their successful attempt, the climbers used the Aspinalls’ pack-horses to carry their gear from Niger Hut to Wilsons Camp, then proceeded up the creek draining the mountain’s southern aspects to a bivvy site at 1800m of elevation. The climb to the summit (one way) took 6.5 hours from the bivvy site, with a few crevasses on the way – today, the route would be more often than not completely cut off this late in the season. Russell Edwards optimistically carried his skis up the mountain, but found the snow too hard frozen for skiing [1,2].

On 14 December 1954, Paul Powell and Frank Cooper completed the first traverse of the mountain, opening three new routes on the way: the north ridge to the Low Peak, a traverse of the summit ridge from the Low Peak to the High Peak and a descent of the west face to Shovel Flat [4]. For Paul Powell, the achievement vindicated multiple failures on the mountain over a period of three years, although the success was marred by poor team dynamics with his climbing partner [5]. Powell’s first attempts on Rob Roy were up the east ridge; the latter had to wait another decade, the first ascent falling to Graham Bishop and Tony Bowden on 19 January 1963 [6]. Graham Bishop was also first up the north-west ridge of the mountain, with Laurie Kennedy on 20 December 1974 [7]. Kennedy can also claim two first ascents on Rob Roy, since he went on to conquer the north face, with Bruce Robertson, in December 1975 [8]. The most daunting line on the mountain, the south face, was first climbed by P. Glasson, R. Cunninghame and K. Thomson in January 1973 [9].

The Low Peak of Rob Roy from the High Peak. The airy ridge connecting the two summits was first climbed by P. Powell and F. Cooper in 1954. Photo D Hegg


On a different note, during the night of October 25-26, 1978, a large rock avalanche (1 million tons of rock or more) plummeted from the Low Peak of Rob Roy into Gloomy Gorge, filling in the lake in the valley and sending a flood wave down the Matukituki River West Branch, which destroyed Pearl Flat and deposited blocks of ice down valley as far as Cameron Flat [10].

Route descriptions

Rob Roy Peak can be comfortably climbed in a weekend. With its varied routes and outstanding views from the summit, it makes for a very rewarding trip. It is also one of the most challenging mountains in the  Matukituki River West Branch – not because of the technical difficulties (the standard route is easy by all means), but rather because of the rough access through untracked country, a stark contrast to the pleasant ambles to Liverpool Hut or French Ridge.

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

The south-west ridge

Rating: Alpine, grade 1+                   November 2010

The south-west ridge of Rob Roy Peak, sometimes incorrectly referred to as the south ridge, is the original ascent route to the summit, and remains the standard route today. Cross to the true left of the Matukituki River West Branch about 300m downstream of Wilsons Camps Stream, then climb up the creek that drains the southern aspects of Rob Roy and flows into the Matukituki at CA11 583631. A 10m waterfall at the 700m contour can be bypassed in the bush on the true left – if on the way down, sidle left into the bush about 5m above the top of the waterfall, until a steep, incised forested gully is encountered, which offers easy travel to the bottom. Travel in the creek bed remains confined and bouldery for a while, until a second series of cataracts and waterfalls is encountered, which requires a wide loop around in open scrub on the true left. Above this last obstacle, follow the shingly creek bed until above scrub line, then climb out to the right (east) to the spur leading to point 1695m. Just below this point, sidle west across the creek’s head-basin, keeping between 1600m and 1700m of elevation, to pick a short but steep gully through the bluffs at CA11 583660. The gully tops out on the ridge half way between points 1691m and 2049m. Drop into the basin to the north, and over a low ridge into another basin south of Glengyle Peak (there are good campsites with water in both basins), then climb to the south ridge of Glengyle Peak about 300m north of point 2049m. Descend 50m on the east side onto the Rob Roy Glacier. It is possible to get to this point directly from elevation 1695m, sidling east under the south ridge of Glengyle – however, the sidle may become unpleasant and dangerous (rock fall) once solar radiation hits the slopes.

Climb the Rob Roy Glacier, always about 200m below the ridge, weaving through crevasses to gain the south-west ridge of the mountain at 2450m of elevation. This route may well be cut off in late season.

Rob Roy Peak west face route topo. Photo Jaz Morris

The west face

Rating: Alpine, grade 2-                   November 2010

The west face of Rob Roy Peak offers a short, pleasant climb up moderate snow slopes in early season. From the Rob Roy bivvy rocks, sidle to the south under bluffs for 400m, then climb easy slopes to a broad shelf at 1800m of elevation, just south of point 1971m. A short but steep slope leads to a break in the bluffs above and across a spur onto another broad shelf, at 2100m of elevation, at the toe of the west face. From here, there are a number of routes leading to the summit ridge; snow slopes are generally continuous in early season, but turn into rock slabs later on. Mountain conditions will dictate the choice of the best line. A good route starts at CA11 587687 – it’s a 240m climb at a steady slope of 42 degrees to the summit ridge. Another route of similar difficulty is found at the northern end of the west face, and leads directly to the high peak.

Rob Roy Peak west face. The route follows the couloir to the right of centre image. Photo D Hegg


[1] Benzoni, C.C.: Trip to Matukituki Valley Easter 1935. Russell Edward’s personal papers, MS-1164-2/86/1 in Hocken Library Archives and Manuscripts.

[2] Edwards, R.: Mts Glengyle and Rob Roy (first ascents). The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol VI, No. 22, 1935, page 156. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 

[3] Edwards, R.: Chtistmas Trip 1934-1935. Russell Edward’s personal papers, MS-1164-2/86/1 in Hocken Library Archives and Manuscripts.

[4] First ascents and explorations – Matukituki Valley. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol XVI, No. 42, 1955, page 174. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 

[5] Chapter 11 in Powell, P. (1967) Men Aspiring. AH & AW Reed, Wellington, 183 pages

[6] Bishop, G.: Tiger Country. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol XX, No. 50, 1963, pages 116-122. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 

[7] Bishop, G.: Rob Roy revisited. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol 27, 1974, pages 30-31. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 

[8] Robertson, B. and Kennedy, L.: Matukituki East-West. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol 29, 1976, pages 27-29. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 

[9] New climbs, 1972-73. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol XXVI, 1963, page 100. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.

[10] Bishop, G.: A flash flood in the Matukituki. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol 32, 1979, page 82. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.

One Comment leave one →
  1. adrian permalink
    10 October 2011 11:16 am

    great report

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