31st Dec 3rd Jan
Our usual Christmas trip companions were jetting to Colorado, so we trialled a threesome, worried that 13 year old Ned could be bored. Thankfully the weather, the scenery and some great hut companions contributed to a successful trip for all.
The 58 km Gillespie Pass circuit starts and finishes at Makarora. We travelled up the Wilkin Valley, crossed Gillespie Pass and returned down the Young.
We wanted to do the classic two nights at Siberia to knock off Crucible Lake but could book the hut for only one night. Instead we had a night in Kerin Forks Hut and walked up to Siberia and then to Crucible Lake in the same day.
This area was doing 'adventure tourism' before the term had been coined. In 1974 an enterprising local devised the 'Siberia Experience'. You flew into the beautiful Siberia Valley, walked a gentle three hours down into the Wilkin and jet boated back to Makarora. The 'Siberia Experience' is still happening, along with helicopter drop-offs and guided treks. It’s busy but we did get stretches of several hours with the track to ourselves.
In the seventies, my brothers and I were treated to a jet boat ride up the Wilkin great excitement. Lucky Ned also got a jet boat ride, saving us a few hours sweat on the hottest day of the summer. The laconic driver was more into transportation than a thrilling experience but he slid the back of the boat out a few times to add to the joy.
Lunch was at Kerin Forks Hut with the 90 year old volunteer ranger who entertained us with stories of his seventeen years as a warder, and showed his ingenious wine bottle mouse trap. It was tempting to doze away the sweltering afternoon but we roused ourselves to walk a couple of hours further up the Wilkin, returning the same way.
The next morning a trekking guide recommended a crossing of the Wilkin not far from the hut, and it looked good so I went for it. The flow was moderate, and underfoot was smooth but closer to the far bank it got deeper and deeper until I was swimming. No drama, but Ned and Richard decided to find a less wet crossing further down; this one only waist deep.
It was 1st January, and the start of 2020 felt foreboding. Conditions were hazy and sepia toned part overcast but mostly smoke from the Aussie bush fires. The sun was a red crisp edged circle which I mistook for the moon until I remembered the sickle moon two nights before. Later that day it smelt like a billy boil up. No the pleasant wood smoke smell was coming from across the Tasman
At Siberia Hut we bumped into ten fellow Lower Hutt residents. Some of them were having a rest day; the others doing a Crucible Lake day trip. Ned hopped into his sleeping bag and a Hutt dad joined Richard and I to race up to the Lake.
I loved emerging from the steep bush climb into the hanging valley. The flowers were past their best, but still beautiful. There was a steep scramble up a rocky barricade and then we were at Crucible Lake grey and filled with gravelly icebergs. We skipped the swim, as it was drizzling, and hot footed it back to our families.
Rain and gale force winds were forecast for our Pass day, but 100 mm fell overnight and the weather was clear by the time we set off the next morning. After his snooze the previous afternoon and a good feed of dahl, Ned was having a good day. He cruised ahead on the 1000 m climb to Gillespie Pass, zigzagging up through the bush and then forging up the steep tussock slopes. There was a little bit of snow just before the pass and then we traversed the weathered schist slabs. Mount Awful’s top was shrouded but we could see everything else.
The descent into the Young was punishing on our knees, but not too long. Soon we were boulder hopping beside the river and soon after that ensconced on the Young Hut verandah with tea and books.
The big question of Day Four was whether we’d be able to ford the Makarora or have to make the extra seven km trek to Blue Pools. Everyone coming the other way had helicoptered over or crossed at Blue Pools. The walk out was glorious mostly in the bush, sometimes breaking out to the banks of the roiling Young. It dropped steeply in parts and there were pretty falls and deep pools. We were tempted to swim, but it wasn’t quite warm enough. By the time we got to the Makarora, crossing it was a non event thigh deep and easy under foot. Luxurious accommodation with friends in Hāwea Flat book-ended our trip. Yes a threesome works!
- Party members
- Ned Sykes, Richard Sykes, Sarah White (scribe)