By Kathleen Griffin, 02 July 2023
We had an early start from Queenstown, heading over the crown range towards the top of Lake Wānaka. We took Patrick’s car down a random dirt “road” to get as close to the Makarora River as possible. It wasn't your typical trailhead, but with the absence of anyone to tell us otherwise, we parked up. We did our final gear check & decided to brave the river crossing in bare feet to keep our boots dry. Patrick took the bold approach, stripping down to his underwear and crocs - which was probably unnecessary considering it was only shin deep.
The track wasn't immediately evident, but we followed the general direction up the valley. Eventually, we saw an orange triangle, albeit on the other side of an electric fence. The Wilkin Valley was absolutely stunning, walking along the river, quickly leading to wet feet. In hindsight, our initial efforts to keep our boots dry seemed silly. The trail alternated between the riverbed and the forest's edge. We encountered some random cows in the bush & found ourselves frequently engaged in frozen puddle antics. We chose a sunny spot for lunch & Chris ate two sticks of salami.
Our detour to bag Kerin Forks Hut became a point of regret. It began with a very deep & very cold river crossing. If wet undies wasn’t enough, the next section was an unpleasant tussock bog, with my ankle feeling the strain of repeated rolls. The ordeal continued through a maze of scratchy plants. While the hut itself was unremarkable, the arduous detour made it an experience I'd rather have skipped.
Once back on track, we slogged uphill a bit before heading down into the Siberia Valley right as the sun was setting. Siberia Hut was lovely, with great mountain views out the window. We made some hot raro & set up our sleeping mats in front of the fire.
The next day we started as the sun was rising & we climbed towards Gillespie pass. It was a beautiful day & we played games as we walked, rhyming things with each others names. Most, unfortunately, too rude to be repeated.
We stopped for lunch just above the bushline. Chris ate more salami. We continued upwards, trudging through some very soft snow. Once the snow got to knee deep I finally decided it was time to change from shorts & trail runners to mountaineering boots & waterproof pants. We got our ice axes out near the top but the snow was so soft we never needed crampons, carrying them the whole way for nothing.
We were treated to a spectacular view at the top, looking down to the Siberia Valley & the Young Valley with Mt. Awful towering next door. We even caught a distant glimpse of Mt. Aspiring.
The descent was pretty chill, despite the steep terrain. Luckily the north-facing side was less snowy & we heard distant avalanches as we made our way down under the sun. At the bottom of the Young Valley we paused for a snack break & briefly contemplated walking the whole way out that day, but decided it was probably a bit too far to be comfortable. Chris had carried Catan the whole trip so we set up a quick game on the snow before continuing on to Young Hut.
Again we were alone at the hut. & again it was cold. Patrick & I had a satay curry with TVP for dinner, but we got the ratios wrong somewhere & the resulting flavour strongly resembled cardboard. Patrick still ate all of his. I added blackcurrant raro to mine, to add some flavour - which unsurprisingly didn’t help. Patrick ate the rest of mine anyway. We set our beds up in the front of the fire again & told stories until we fell asleep.
The walk out down the Young Valley was mainly in the bush with glimpses of mountains & the river, playing 20 questions as we walked. Patrick had been tricky yesterday, making us guess impossible things (a specific football stadium that we’d never heard of) so in the spirit of being annoying back, we started asking everything in the form of a silly comparison. I don’t recall the exact connection, & even if I could I don’t think it would help, but Patrick said that he would rather put Zita in the fridge, than a giant pizza. We all found this very hilarious & couldn’t walk because we were laughing so much. This turned into a game of Would You Rather, where Patrick had to choose between doing something gross, or putting Zita in the fridge. Sorry Zita, it will be a chilly one for you ;)
Once again, we faced the task of crossing the Makarora River to return to the road, and this time, finding a suitable spot was challenging. We sent Patrick in as the scout to scope the depth. Once he got halfway he yelled back that is was okay, but deeper ahead so he would wait for us to all go together. We faffed around getting ready, while we Patrick patiently waited the freezing river. When we were finally ready, we linked arms and took a collective step forward, only to discover that it instantly got shallower. We all laughed, except for Patrick, who just shivered.
We were still 10km from the car so we sent Patrick out to hitchhike while Chris, Kevin & I sought refuge from the sandflies in a bothy on the side of the road. When Patrick returned with the car, he had collected a French hitchhiker named Benjamin. We recounted our hike to him, & in typical VUWTC fashion Chris started showing him the route on topo maps. Benjamin looked very confused.
Overall it was probably one of my favourite tramps ever. It was such a wonderful spot & we had splendid conditions. I also don’t think I’ve ever spent an entire three day tramp crying from laughter rather than misery!