Day 1. (23/03/11) Makarora to Young Hut 20.4km
Day One started from Makarora Information Centre with a 3km trudge up the main west coast highway to the trailhead which led me to the junction of the Young and Makarora rivers. Crossing the Makarora at this point allowed me to access the Young Valley and the Young River. There was the option of avoiding a wet crossing of the Makarora by taking a jet boat which would be the safest option when the Makarora is in flood. Today however, while the water was very cold the crossing was only knee deep with a moderate to strong current mid-stream.
After crossing the Makarora I followed the Young Rivers true left through the Young Valley to a swing bridge at the junctions of the North and South branches of the Young River. After crossing the swing bridge I followed the track to the Young Hut which climbed very steeply for around 100 metres then sidled through a series of unstable slips before it reached Stag Creek. From there I had a long steady climb to the modern 20 bunk Young Hut.
I spent the night at Young Hut with one other couple so the spacious hut was far from cramped. The foam mattresses were reasonably comfortable however, I slept fitfully despite being warm enough considering how chilly the early morning hours were.
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Day 2. (24/03/11) Young Hut to Gillespie Stream 7km
Day 2 started early with a long steep climb above the hut to the bush line. I then crossed a swing bridge over the upper Young River and followed the valley floor to the point where the Gillespie Track climbed the pass to my left. This was my last chance for water until I was well over the pass so I filled my water bottles here before leaving the valley floor.
The track climbed abruptly alongside a rock bluff that in some spots was quite slippery and a slip could mean a long tumbling fall with very little chance of arresting it. The climb over the pass was not made any easier by my heavy pack as at times I had to pull myself up the bluff by my hands while balancing on small foot holes gouged into the cliff. Leaving the rock spur I arrived onto a snow grass spur that after about 4 hours of climbing veered off to the left before the pass and climbed a ridge line to the summit at a height of 1600 metres. I stopped briefly at the summit and took in the impressive views, with Mt Alba dominating the skyline closely accompanied by Mt Awful topped with its fading glacier and its foreboding twin, Mt Dreadful.
If the ascent seemed long then the descent seemed to take forever. Once over the pass the track descended steeply through a scree field before sidling down through a series of slippery snow basins. The track then entered the upper treeline on a small predominant spur and wound its way steeply down through a carpet of heavily rooted forest that made for slow progress with some sections requiring down-climbing. Down and down the descent continued with rooty slopes, tiny footholds and steps trodden into the tree roots, always at leg stretching heights.
The track eventually opened onto a small clearing beside Gillespie Stream. It was close to six o'clock in the evening by this time and the burnt down Siberia Hut was some 3-4hrs further on so I decided to camp beside the stream. It was a beautiful wild camp only a few feet from the bubbling Gillespie Stream surrounded by towering mountains and the imposing snow covered peak of Mt Awful dominating the surroundings.
I didn't sleep that well that night as there was very little flat ground so I had to pitch my tent on a slope that resulted in either my sleeping mat or myself sliding down to the bottom of the tent. That, and a hard tussock under my back meant that sleep was difficult to come by.
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Day 3. (25/03/11) Gillespie Stream return to Makoura 29.6km
I was up as soon as it was light this morning and outside the tent I found my backpack covered in a layer of sleet/ice so it was a fairly chilly start to the day. My plans had changed for the trip by this stage. Originally I had planned to catch a jet boat from the Wilkin River back to Makarora tomorrow afternoon but the promise of bad weather rolling in late today and feeling completely shattered I decided to fastrack my plans and try to catch a jet boat I knew was leaving the Wilkin River today at 2:30pm.
The track left the campsite beside Gillespie Stream and continued down steeply at times through the forest, sidling above the stream before descending in a series of steep zigzags to Siberia Stream. On the valley floor it was an easy hours walk to the remains of the 20 bunk Siberia Hut which had burnt down the previous week after a gas leak.
Opposite Siberia Hut and across the stream the little plane from Makarora was just landing on the valley floor with a party of 'soft' tourists. They fly them into this point and they then walk the easy 2-3hrs back to the Wilkin River and catch the jet boat back to Makarora. Its a nice option for those not wanting to or unable to do the full Gillespie Pass circuit but still allows then to experience this area of New Zealand. I was quite happy to see them in the distance as I hoped this would mean that if I missed the 2:30pm jet boat then there be another jet boat allocated to collect them and return them to Makarora.
I hurried on regardless in case my assumption was wrong and the tourists were so far behind me that I didn't want to stop and wait to ask them. So I continued on past Siberia Hut travelling on the true left of Siberia Stream until the track from the Wilkin Valley entered the forest at the southern end of Siberia Flat. For 2-3hrs the track sidled above the Siberia Gorge to descend in a series of zigzags to the junction of the Wilkin River and Siberia Stream.
Following the flats and entering the forest at the bottom of flats I heard the roar of a jet boat leaving the Wilkin Valley. It was only 2:10pm and I would easily have made the pick up point by 2:30om so I was annoyed that it was leaving early. I hoped that I was correct that it would be back to collect the tourists behind me. The pick up point for the boat was not obvious and I had lost the track at this point but the Wilkin River was low so I followed the river bed, crossing it occasionally until the 10 bunk Kerin Forks Hut became visible at the western end of the flats 400 metres downstream from the Siberia Stream junction. From this spot I spied a marker 500 metres downstream on the northern bank of the Wilkin River so I continued on, river bed hopping towards it.
On I arrival I saw it was marked as the jet boat pickup point so I dropped my gear there and was instantly swarmed by sand flies to the point I could hardly see my legs for the little critters. I hastily donned sand fly protection, long pants, long sleeves, beanie and gloves despite it being relatively warm but it was to late, the damage had been done. I was desperate for a jet boat to arrive as I didn't relish the prospect of camping until the next afternoon along this sand fly infested river bank. However, shortly after the tourists from the plane arrived and confirmed they had booked a boat out, the last for the day. After a short wait the boat arrived and I was over the moon that there was enough room on it for me it. A pleasant 20-30 min jet boat ride down the Wilkin River and up the Makorara River followed before arriving back at the tourist centre and my car. Two hot pies and a can of coke from the visitor centre cafe went down exceptionally well before I started the two hour drive back to Queenstown.