Towering over Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park, Rutjupma/Mount Sonder beckons hikers with an exciting challenge and humbling views at the summit. 


We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the Arrernte people who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

Quick Overview

Rutjupma/Mount Sonder is a 15.8km hike located at the western end of the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park, roughly 160 km from Alice Springs. The hike takes around five hours to complete, depending on fitness levels.

About Rutjupma / Mount Sonder

At 1380m above sea level, Rutjupma/Mount Sonder is the fourth highest peak in the Northern Territory and the highest climbable mountain the West MacDonnell Ranges, making it a must-do for adventure-seekers visiting the Red Centre.

This hike is the grand finale of the Larapinta Trail for those hiking east-west, or it can be completed as a standalone day hike. Visiting the summit is popular at sunrise and sunset, because it’s just that extra bit special when it’s lit to perfection.

Read more: Hiking the 10 Highest Peaks in Australia


The West MacDonnell Ranges stretching as far as the eye can see

Mount Sonder History

Rutjupma/Mount Sonder is sacred to the Western Arrernte people, who have cared for the lands encompassing Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park for thousands of years.

The beauty of Rutjupma has been captured by the celebrated Arrernte painter Albert Namatjira, whose paintings are exhibited in galleries across the country.

More recently, Arrernte people have allowed visitors to explore the area as a day trip or as part of the 223km Larapinta Trail.

How to Get to Mount Sonder

The Rutjupma/Mount Sonder hike begins and ends at the Redbank Gorge day-use area, about 160km from Alice Springs. The road into Redbank Gorge is unsealed, so a 4WD is recommended, but not mandatory. Check road conditions before you go.

Want to brush up on your 4WD skills? Check this out: How To 4WD For Beginners


The only way to get here is on foot

Skill Level


The trail is marked as grade 4, so anyone with a decent level of fitness should be able to tackle the hike. The path is well marked and easy to follow, but it is very rocky, very steep, and can be unsteady underfoot.

Keep an eye on the weather as conditions can change quickly and the wind can be fairly intense, especially at the summit.

Distance/Duration/Elevation Gain of Mount Sonder

15.8km / 5 – 6 hours / 882m


Worth every step

Essential Gear for Hiking Mount Sonder

  • A head torch if you’re planning the hike for sunrise or sunset (with spare batteries)
  • Plenty of water to keep hydrated – there isn’t anywhere to fill your water along the hike so you’ll need to carry it in with you
  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Warm clothes for when you reach the summit. It sounds strange, but if you’re hiking before sunrise the summit will be freezing. Bring a warm jacket, pants, a beanie and gloves to keep cozy while you wait for the sun to come up, at which point you can strip off your layers and bask in the sunshine
  • First aid kit
  • A snack to munch on while you wait for sunrise/sunset
  • Your camera to capture some of the brilliant colours
  • A PLB in case you get into trouble
  • A fly head net (for sanity)

Read more: Remember to leave no trace

What it’s Like to Hike Mount Sonder

Brace Yourself for an Early (or Is It Late?) Start

Mount Sonder is famous for its sunrise views, so we decided to hike in the early hours to catch the first light of the day at the summit. This meant setting a 2:30am alarm, which is actually so absurdly early that it felt more novel than tortuous.

By 3:00am we were setting off from the Redbank Gorge car park, using our head torches to light the way. The reflective trail markers are bright and flashy by torchlight, making them nice and easy to spot. Hiking in the deep hours of the night with millions of stars overhead is a pretty epic way to start your day.


The Ascent Begins

After a short meander on a flat trail and across a sandy riverbed, we reach a set of rocky stairs that will be our path for the next 2.5km. It’s a steady climb but our early start has left us with plenty of time to take breaks and catch our breath.

Eventually the stairs give way to a less-defined, rocky path that requires a fair amount of concentration. We start to feel strong winds battering us from either side of the track, leading me to believe that we are now at a pretty high elevation – despite having no visual cues to tell me so. It’s a surreal feeling to think how high we are without being able to actually see where we are.

We continue climbing steadily with a few short breaks to admire the stars, which are absolutely epic in the isolated desert range.


This is what you can look forward to

Summit Time

We reach the summit around 5.15am, which is a bit of a non-event when you can’t actually see the views. The wind is icy, so we bunker down behind a tree and wait for the first light to appear. And boy, when it does, it doesn’t disappoint.

A glow creeps its way up from the horizon before the first red beam of sunlight finally makes an appearance. It’s utterly spectacular. And it just keeps getting better. Eventually we can make out the vast MacDonnell Ranges stretching in every direction, looking very old and very, very majestic.

We’ve been traveling and hiking around Australia for months, and this has got to be one of my favourite moments of the entire trip.

There are only a handful of other hikers at the summit, so it doesn’t feel crowded and there’s a nice atmosphere as we share the moment. One of the hikers even gets down on one knee and proposes to his partner, who tearfully accepts. We all whoop in celebration. Hot tip for anyone who wants an epic place to propose: Mount Sonder is the place to do it!


There she is!

It’s All Downhill From Here

Eventually we stop snapping photos to make our way down the way we came. Although this is an out and back hike, the way down feels like a completely different route now that we are seeing it in the daylight, revealing views of the surrounding peaks as well as the native vegetation of mallees and hakeas.

The descent takes around two hours as we take in the views of the plains around us. We get back to the car around 9:00am – just in time to have a coffee and look back at the awesome mountain we’d just climbed.


Daylight changes everything except for how beautiful it is!

Tips For Hiking Mount Sonder

  • If you want to do the hike for sunrise but avoid a long drive in the dead of night, you can book one of the campsites at Redbank Gorge which are only a few minutes’ drive from the trailhead.
  • A Northern Territory Parks pass is required to visit the West Macs. You can purchase your parks pass online before you visit.
  • If you want to finish your hike with a celebratory swim, follow the signs from the end of the trail into Redbank Gorge. The walk is about 2km return and the permanent waterhole is phenomenal.
  • The Red Centre has classic desert weather, scorching hot during the day and icy cold at night. Make sure you have layers for your hike and be prepared for all conditions.

Read more: How To Hike in Hot Weather


Pretty special eh?!

FAQs Mount Sonder

What does Rutjupma/Mount Sonder mean?

To be honest, I’m unsure what the preferred Indigenous name is for Mount Sonder, but it appears to be interchangeably referred to as Rutjupma and Rwetyepme. Both names mean ‘pregnant lady’ or ‘sleeping pregnant lady’ and are a great call given the shapely curves of the mountain.

You’ll also see Rutjupma and Rwetyepme used to describe Redbank Gorge and the Mount Sonder walk itself.

How long does it take to climb Rutjupma/Mount Sonder?

It takes the average hiker between 5 – 6 hours to hike Mount Sonder. This can vary though, especially if you are climbing in the dark. For sunrise hikes, always allow a little extra time so you don’t accidentally miss the main event!

Are people allowed to climb Rutjupma/Mount Sonder?

Yes! You’re allowed to climb Mount Sonder but it’s requested that you stick to the main track and camping’s strictly prohibited at the top.

How do you get to Rutjupma/Mount Sonder?

The hike to the top of Mount Sonder begins at Redbank Gorge, which is a decent 160km from Alice Springs. The cheapest option is to drive. You can get a bus from Alice Springs to Hermannsburg, and then a taxi to Redbank Gorge if driving isn’t an option.

How high is Mount Rutjupma/Mount Sonder?

Mount Sonder is 1380m above sea level. It gets cold up the top so make sure that you pack layers.

What’s the weather like at Rutjupma/Mount Sonder?

Up the top of Mount Sonder can be cold but during the middle of the day in full sun, you’ll find yourself stripping off pretty fast. Weather conditions can change rapidly so you need to be prepared for everything from hailstorms to bushfires.

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