New Zealand – Up and down the Gillespie pass

We had originally intended doing a longer tour through the makarora region, but the stories about people dying on the rabbit pass had put me off!  So instead we settled for a wonderful wander up the Gillespie pass and over to Lake Crucible…. one of the finest days I have had in the mountains in a long time 

Makarora river

Day 1 – an easy stroll up to young hut – 25k, 4.8 hours

We were dropped off in makarora and had an unpleasant walk up the highway followed by a wander through some paddocks.   We hit the river and it was flowing faster than I expected, but not so worrying that I wouldn’t cross it.   Papa scout and I adopted the kiwi approach of holding each other’s packs and crossing together.  Honestly it was at the limit of what was sensible as the water hit my waist and the current was strong, but we were fine and papa scout had survived his first proper river traverse.   As it happens, a young English guy had been swept some way down the river the day before when the river was higher, and everyone else took the long way round that day including a 100kilo doc warden.  Oh well.    We made haste to young hut after finding out that the hut had 30 people in it the night before (and 20 mattresses) and enjoyed the easy amble up the valley.  Luckily we got a bed, unlike the few people who slept on the floor that night.

Stream in the young valley

Day 2 – a bonkers day trip to Crucible Lake and back – 32k, 2400 up then down, 10.5 hours of walking

Several younger Israelis had told us my plan for today was impossible!  Well it turned out to be possible but it was a long day!  Rather than stay at the Siberia hut which is always heaving with rich people who fly in on the helicopter, we decided to do the equivalent of three days of walking, or 22 doc hours of walking, in one day.  

Mount awful
Up at 6.15 per usual we passed the campers at the start of the pass track, and we were first up to the Gillespie pass to enjoy the stunning views of Mt Awful with the early morning sun by 8.45 after a 1000m climb up a slippery track with some of it on my hands and knees.  Breathtaking! 

At the summit of Gillespie Pass

Descending the other side of the pass was a knee jarring assault above the tree line followed by a rocky rooty ride through the bush down to Siberia flats.  
The view up to Crucible lake

When we arrived at the flats we found 20- 30 other hikers, mostly young Israelis, making a start on the trail up to Crucible lake.  The start of the trail was a hands and feet grunt for 300m of ascent and I was delighted that we swiftly overtook all the young kids on the way up while not getting too out of breath.

Crucible lake

We made it to Crucible Lake after 5.5 hours of steady hiking and had a lovely lunch in the sun.   Honestly stunning!!!!  

At crucible lake

When the crowds arrived, we decamped and headed back down to the flats to begin the second traverse of Gillespie Pass.  It does seem bonkers to climb over a huge hill twice in one day, but the mountains look delightfully different in the morning versus the afternoon sun.  
In the Siberia flats
To our amusement, as we were making the ascent, we passed all of the Israelis who had told us our plan was impossible, descending the hill which we had come down six hours earlier.   

After stopping for mandatory chats with the kiwis that we passed (something papa scout finds bizarre as it isn’t part of French hiking culture), we made it back to the hut at six and proceeded with our standard ritual of shoving food in face.  To our delight there were only eight of us in Young Hut, and we heard from the ranger that the 20 bunk Siberia Hut had 50 people in it, many sleeping on the veranda. 

Mt awful in the afternoon

Day 3 – a sleepy stumble back to town

Honestly, after yesterday’s scenery we didn’t much pay attention to what we passed.   We returned down the valley, and reforded the river.  While it was calmer, we did manage to get wet to chest level, but it was an easy ford.  

Additional notes

– you can do this tramp as a circuit and stay at Siberia Hut (which has fly in tourists) or Kerin Forks (where you normally need to arrange a jet boat to get there and back as the river is tricky to ford).  Most people do this, we just couldn’t be bothered with the logistics of Kerin Forks or the crowds at Siberia 

February 17, 2017, Makarora