Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Day 4: Day hike from Siberia Hut to Crucible Lake, then Siberia Hut to Kerin Forks Hut (and fording Wilkin River)

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

The following day, we hiked back up along the Siberia valley – in full sun this time, with bright blue skies and clear peaks, but no magical “Rivendell” views of roaring waterfalls – for a day-hike destination to the small alpine “Crucible Lake”.

What a difference the sun can make – it looked like an entirely different valley!

Various forks of Siberia Stream – some fordable by hopping from rock to rock, others requiring wet boots (or in our amateur, non-New-Zealand-variant: taking off boots).

Crucible Lake

Once we reached the alpine meadow enclosed by a beautiful circle of snowy peaks – and realizing we were short on time, if we wanted to make it back to Siberia hut and then travel onwards to the next hut  – we decided to skip scrambling up the final rock moraine to the actual lake, and instead pause to admire both the beautiful view and the welcome lack of sandflies.

(The small lake itself sits just behind the boulder-field ahead)

Heading back the way we came in, towards Siberia Valley.

Beautiful cascading pools along the way.  This particular spot was one of Michael's favorite views, reminding him of the Kalalau Stream in Kauai

Back in Siberia Valley.

Trying out the New Zealand "wet boot" philosophy

Heading back to the hut, and figuring that our boots were already damp (they hadn’t quite fully dried out over-night from the previous day’s rainstorm), I decided to try embracing the full Kiwi-tramping experience by hiking across the Siberia stream without taking off my hiking boots (the stream was calf-deep, which we had earlier forded by trading out our boots for crocs). Walking across the river was great, but reaching the other side, I realized I hadn’t quite experienced full saturation the previous day. Our boots are fully waterproofed all-season leather Asolos, and apparently, they’re not the best boots for water crossings, as they have no way of self-draining. Water visibly sloshed out the top of my boots with each step – which was a rather strange and not altogether pleasant experience. By the time we had picked up the rest of our gear (we had left everything at Siberia Hut when we went on the day-hike to Crucible Lake), and by the time we headed out on the short 7km (4.3m) tramp towards the next hut, I realized I was still definitely an amateur compared to true New Zealand trampers. My feet were distinctly unhappy with their new wet conditions (lots of blisters and bloodied toes), and I had to revert back to my tried and true motto of “keep feet as dry as possible”.

Siberia Hut to Wilkin River

Despite our blistered feet, we reached the confluence of Siberia Stream and Wilkin River surprisingly quickly, thanks to the flat and well-maintained trail between Siberia Hut and the confluence. (This was the only section of the trail – besides the initial .75km off Hwy6 leading to Blue Pools – that was wide and well-graded, unlike the much more "rugged"-style trail we had become accustomed to along the rest of the hike, with its ample tree-roots and continuous up-and-down windings. Presumably, this short section of trail – despite not being directly accessible from the highway – is more highly maintained thanks to the confluence being reachable by jetboat, and Siberia Hut featuring its own helicopter pad, and hence allowing easy access to a short "wilderness" hike between the two.)

Challenge of River Fording

Here at the confluence, we had our first serious river crossing. We had forded waist-deep rivers in previous adventures, but this was our first time crossing chest-deep waters. (The chill factor – and even the fording itself – however, wasn’t nearly as bad as the sandflies attacking us while we were stripping off boots and pants to trade out to crocs, which we strapped to our feet with extra shoelaces, just to make sure we wouldn’t lose a shoe. Although this system did work, here is where the local Kiwis would simply ford in their boots, and then hang everything up to dry that evening by the hut fireplace, and I can definitely understand the overall convenience factor, along with the extra safety provided by sturdy ankle supports and warmth.) By the time we loaded up our boots into our backpacks, and then slung on our packs (without buckling, as you’re supposed to be able to quickly ditch the pack if needed), we eagerly stepped into the cold water to get away from the sandflies.

Adrenaline pumping, we picked the widest crossing spot available (and hence, the least deep and the least swift), and carefully aimed diagonally for the other shore, facing upstream. With hiking poles for extra stability, I placed each foot carefully and braced myself before picking up the other foot. But for about 15ft-worth of crossing, I discovered what it really means to ford a challenging river: the water became chest deep, and as I lifted one foot, I realized the current was strong enough that I would not be able to keep my other foot in place. Fortunately, Michael was there to add a helping hand – and even more important – the clear instructions that it’s okay to slightly lose your place and let the current drag you backwards (hence the diagonal route) as long as you’re leaning upstream (so you stay upright and don’t get swept away), and bracing your feet to land as quickly as possible among the rocks. As someone who likes to be in control of my footing, this was quite an experience! But fortunately, no swimming or chasing backpacks was required, and we made it safely across with yet another skill to add to our experiences!
Looking back across the river that we'd just forded.  The angle of the picture doesn't really do it justice, as this very closest spot to the sandbar was merely knee-deep, and short.  It's the main branch of the river on the other side of the sandbar that was both much longer, much deeper, and flowing much more swiftly.

Kerin Forks Hut

After fording, we quickly made our way to Kerin Forks Hut, where we would stay for the night. This hut was definitely on the smaller and older side, and with another couple staying there, we decided to pitch our tent and sleep outside.

Here are links to the other days:

1 comment:

Helen Kline said...

Wow! Did you have supplies to fix your feet so they wouldn't hurt and get infected? The river fording sounds scary! Sure glad you enjoy all this because it sounds way too difficult to be fun!