Combining two of our most popular Wild Walks, this is a 6 day trek exploring the Upper Wilkin river valleys and lakes, heading into the Siberia Valley and over the famous Gillespie Pass before descending down through the Young Valley.
We spend several days hiking around the alpine lakes, valleys and waterfalls near the Upper Wilkin river and then head downstream, crossing the Wilkin river into the famous Siberia Valley. The names here reflect the challenging geography for the early explorers : Siberia Valley, Mt Awful, and Mt Dreadful. Luckily it's not quite as bad as it sounds for modern day hikers with pleasant huts and camps to sleep in. A side trip to Lake Crucible is well worth the effort before camping at our pre-placed site at Gillespie Stream.
By the fifth day when you are heading over Gillespie Pass at 1600m you will be hiking fit, and able to enjoy the magnificent views of Mt Awful. Descending steeply into the Young Valley, our final night is spent in the Young Hut.
"I cannot thank you enough for this amazing wilderness experience you organized for me! You thought of every detail and threw in extra care and personal touches…With Brenda as a guide I felt so completely taken care of (in my first real river crossings) and she was a delight to be with. No more worries about wet boots! I'm a Kiwi now—and certainly—knees willing, I'll come back for more of the wild (and will spread the word!)."
The 6 day Upper Wilkin and Gillespie Pass is suitable for experienced hikers who are comfortable on uneven ground, but It doesn't have the same exposed sections as some of our other Wild Walks (Rabbit Pass or Lake Nerine). This trip is ideal for fit (but not so intrepid) hikers who are wanting a more extended time in the New Zealand mountains.
The scenery will certainly not disappoint - this trip has everything - alpine rivers, native beech forests, alpine tussock and snowgrass, snow capped mountains, ice covered lakes, waterfalls, and grassy meadows. There's also a high 1600m pass to cross which will also provide for a great sense of achievement at the end of the day.
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To enjoy your Upper Wilkin - Gillespie Pass trek you need to be fit and have good balance. This is classic New Zealand hiking which is to say the track is rough and sometimes wet. While there is a prepared track it is not groomed to the level of the busier Great Walks trails. Sometimes the footing is unstable and hikers need to be good on their feet and be comfortable on rough or slippery ground. While it can be slippery you will not encounter deep mud. Hikers should be able to maintain a slow but steady pace uphill for an hour between rest stops. You will only carry your own gear plus sleeping bag (no tent or food) and each day walking is designed to be 5-7 hours. There is plenty of time to rest, swim, and take photos.
Track times and distances in New Zealand can be deceiving. The tracks here are quite slow progress compared to other countries. The nature of the terrain means that you seldom get long stretches of fast travel. Tracks twist through the forest, there are streams and waterfalls to negotiate around, as well as steep ascents and descents. In the alpine terrain there can be loose scree or exposed drops. Do not be deceived into thinking that days with short mileage will be easy - the days that we travel less than 10km can be more tiring than days we travel considerably more distance. Call it what you want, but it is never dull!
Meet with your guide at our office in Wanak and travel 45 minutes to the small village of Makarora. Here you will helicopter into the heart of Mount Aspiring Park. A leisurely 20 minute walk brings us to the Top Forks Hut. Dropping overnight gear, the rest of the day is spent walking to Lake Lucidius or if the group is strong - Lake Castilia, a high alpine lake surrounded by cliffs and hanging glaciers. The trail climbs gradually as it weaves through native beech forest until breaking out above tree line. The hiking gets rougher just before the lake with a short boulder scramble rewarded with a spectacular view of the valley and lake, the bold go for a swim. 6-7 hours return.
The hike to Waterfall Flat climbs from dense forest into the high alpine. It is a magnificent climb as the trail rises through Snow-Bridge Gorge, a deep canyon surrounded by glaciers and waterfalls. The trail is challenging until it opens out into the incomparable Waterfall Flat. Surrounded by high peaks and flowing rivers, this seldom visited valley is a unique New Zealand paradise. 6-7 hours return.
We head down river to the Kerin Forks Hut at the confluence of the Siberia and Upper Wilkin Rivers. This is a gentle downhill grade for 6-7 hours along the north bank of the great Wilkin River. The track is varied with lots of up and down with numerous river crossings. The track is surrounded by lush native bush.
A steep track leads to the Siberia Valley. The valley is surrounded by high mountains. The early surveyors had a sense of humour when they named the two largest and beautiful ones Mt Awful and Mt Dreadful. We camp at a fantastic spot called Gillespie stream, a high alpine meadow.
Today we reach the high point of the trip, Gillespie Pass. This is a real accomplishment and you will be rewarded with one of the great views of the Southern Alps. The trail climbs steeply from camp for 2 hours before we reach the top of the pass, then steeply winds its way down (a long way down) to the Young Valley. You camp in a high open valley surrounded by towering cliffs and waterfalls or walk another 45min to Young Hut.
The trail continues its steep descent into the rain forest. We follow the Young River which gradually flattens out and becomes a tranquil route though native forest for the final three hours. A final river crossing and we are met by the vehicle to take us back to Wanaka.
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