Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Day 3: Young River Hut over Gillespie Pass to Siberia Hut

From "New Zealand Adventures, Part II: South-Island Hiking Trip"

Leaving early the following morning, we finally left the forest and rose up into a beautiful alpine meadow surrounded by a soaring line of jagged peaks, traversed by so many waterfalls it seemed impossible to count them.  This was the start of Gillespie Pass, the iconic hike of this area.

This creek – and to some extent, this whole alpine area – reminded Michael of Alaskan scenery: the creek – and the shrubbery and rocks surrounding it – of the approach to Eagle and Symphony Lakes in Eagle River; the rim of darker mountains of Reed Lakes at Hatcher's Pass.

Hardy flowers on the side of a wind-swept hill.

The beautiful scene, like many others throughout the trip, both reminded us of other sights we’ve seen throughout our years of travel and hiking, and at the same time revealed unique features we’ve seen nowhere else. We were reminded how remarkably blessed we are, both to have the opportunity to travel and see such a wide variety of natural marvels, and that we live in such a beautiful state where we have easy everyday access to mountain beauty. (It was lovely knowing we wouldn’t always have to take 17-hrs worth of flights to see a similar mountain treasure again!)

Our last views looking back into Young Basin, from where we had come

The rim of the valley was clearly visible; but the very tallest peak, Mt. Awful, was obscured by the low clouds.

Kea Sighting 

We just beat the weather for the crossing over Gillespie Pass, with a low set of clouds obscuring only the very tallest peak and providing welcome shade and cooler temperatures for the strenuous climb up the steep southwestern slope. Towards the top of the pass, enjoying a last glimpse of the beautiful Young Basin Valley behind us and just as the wind whipped up and the clouds rolled in  we were rewarded with another amazing sight: two kea parrots (the protected alpine parrot whose mischief we were warned about by the local New Zealanders that we'd met earlier). We got a glimpse of how playful they are, as we watched in fascination as they played in the strong wind: chasing each other, dipping, gliding, and generally testing their weight and flight skills against the wind.

Above:  video of the Kea parrots flying in the wind.  Below, a few close-ups.  Hard to capture – though visible to us when we saw them in person – were the beautiful orange and blue streaks on their outstretched feathers (and esp. on the inside of their wings).  If you're curious, see professional photos on sites dedicated to New Zealand birds, such as http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/kea#bird-photos

Descent From Gillespie Pass

After enjoying a well-earned respite on the top of the pass (high elevation + windy = no sandflies!) and admiring views of the new valley that had opened beneath us, we descended down towards the valley floor, which would follow the Gillespie Stream towards its convergence with the Siberia Valley.

The view ahead, along the top of Gillespie Pass.
Gillespie Stream, meandering through the forested valley floor.

This was our first day of truly wet hiking, as the rain rolled in and we quickly became soaked. Despite wearing “waterproof” pants, our boots started to squish after a few hours.  Fortunately, the rain itself felt warm and pleasant (or at least, to the extent that a torrential downpour can be pleasant), so our wet clothes caused us no harm. After heading back into the forest, we finally emerged into the wider valley alongside Siberia Stream.

Heading towards the next hut (and looking forward to the dryness awaiting us), we made our way through open grasslands, enclosed by rows of forested ridgelines.

This day ended up being one of the highlights of our trip, with such beautiful alpine views climbing up towards Gillespie pass, and our first experience of what makes multi-day trips so special – being able to descend into a brand new valley!  On a day trip, we’ll often climb up to the top of a peak with the reward of looking out across an opposing valley, but we almost never have time to descend into that other valley.  Yet here, over the course of a day, we traversed from one ecosystem into a different one, separated by a very serious ridge that is beyond the scope of what you can do on a there-and-back day-hike.  It was awesome to traverse entirely new valleys with a whole new set of ridgelines and peaks to admire.

Gifts of Rain

The change of weather, right as we topped the pass, was also an interesting experience.  We haven't actually had that much experience hiking in the rain (despite living in the Seattle-area!), as we can usually choose sunny days and locations for our summer day hikes. This experience of hiking in the heavy afternoon rainfall granted us another gift: although the ridgelines and peaks were obscured by foggy mist, with a general gray tint coloring the views, we have never seen such waterfalls as we saw that afternoon. In one particular cirque-like gully, cut into the jagged rock wall, were dozens of large waterfalls cascading, splitting, and merging all through the hillside, giving us a glimpse of a real-life Rivendell setting.  (How unique this was we realized the next day, when we passed through this area again: the view was still beautiful, but with only (only?!) a handful of waterfalls on that hillside, the magic of seeing a whole wall of torrential waterfalls sliding down the mountain was gone.)

This was a truly remarkable sight to see in person: viewed from the bottom of the Siberia Valley, just before reaching the hut.

Siberia Hut

That night we stayed at Siberia Hut, which we reached after about an hour's walk from when we emerged out of the forest and onto the wide Siberia Valley.  The hut was smaller than Young Hut, but very welcoming and nicely maintained (it is also the only hut along this hike that requires advanced reservation).  Each of the huts offered various info sheets about the area, and here we spotted a brochure about the very birds that we had enjoyed watching earlier at the top of the pass (and we realized what a unique treat it is, to have seen the endangered alpine Kea parrot in the wild!).

Here are links to the other days:

1 comment:

Helen Kline said...

Would love to see pictures of the huts you stayed at. But loved the birds and waterfalls!