17/04/2016 - The Gillespie Pass was perhaps a little adventurous for our group of fair weather hikers but a challenge beckoned. A 4 day hike peppered with River crossings was a bold antidote to the Department of Conservation's usual over cautious warnings about treks. But this was really an advanced track this time and we were woefully ill-prepared.
Day 1 saw us casually rock up to Makarora at 1pm having taken our merry time brunching on eggs and avocado. Immediately, we had to work out how to cross the fast flowing river to reach the starting point in the heavy rain. Our only guidance was from a French couple pondering whether to return to the Pass to retrieve a lost croc (madness!) who warned that if the water reached ball height, it was dangerous. Arms linked and in weight order with the heaviest upriver was our approach but we had to turn back when the current became too strong and threatened to knock us down domino style and sweep us away. In short, 3 attempts later and at 4pm with twilight fast approaching, we Arrived on the other side of the river thoroughly soaked from chest to toe including backpacks and all their contents. Darkness approached and with 1 torch and 2 mobile phone torches between 5, we navigated precarious rock faces suspended over sheer drops. Relieved, we arrived at Young Hut in pitch blackness at 9pm.
Day 2 began pleasantly enough but descended into a grueling (but beautiful) slog. The hours of steep uphill tested the lungs and the runt of the pack, Simon Beard's spirit began to crumble. We noticed a faint whimper escape from him that descended into a gentle weeping for a little over 20 minutes. The pass impressed us with spectacular mountain views in every direction but the tough downhill tested our knees (cue more weeping from Simon) and we arrived at Siberia Hut completely exhausted.
Day 3 - The piece de resistance had to be the full day return side trip to Crucible Lake. A real wonder reached only by arduously clambering up ladders formed by tree roots. Because of the position of this glacier fed lake, situated high in the valley, it only receives 1 hour of sunlight each day before the sun dips behind the mountain.
We arrived just in time for a brief and breathtakingly cold dip. Motivated to get ahead of schedule and escape the battleaxe warden of Siberia Hut, we resolved to push on to Kerin Forks Hut. Unfortunately, this required another river crossing and this time, in complete darkness we failed to cross the river. It was a devastating blow to have to turn back and walk the 2 hours back to Siberia Hut, soaking wet and at our lowest ebb.
Day 4 - After the disappointment of the previous day, we had had our fill of 8 hours of walking and as soon as we got wind of the possibility of cadjing a lift with either a returning helicopter, aircraft or jet boat for a fraction of the usual price, that was the end of the hike. We played a quick game of shithead (card game) to determine the pecking order of who would get out when and how and divied out our depleting food sources which by now were only a few nuts and a pack of Arnott's buttersnap biscuits. Thankfully, I managed to get a ride in the helicopter for a mere $60.