Image: Jess Simson | ©
Gillespie Pass should only be undertaken by experienced parties with river crossing skills. Tents should be carried. Be aware rivers can become impassable after rain.
The circuit is not recommended during winter months due to snow and ice.
The circuit can be walked in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. This description begins from the Young/Makarora confluence.
Time: 6 - 7 hr
Distance: 20 km
Access to the Young valley is signposted on the left, 2.5 km north of the Makarora Visitor Centre.
Cross the stile and follow the orange poles to the junction of the Young and Makarora rivers. If Makarora River is too high to cross safely, there are three options: wait for the river to drop; take the Blue-Young Link Track or use a commercial jetboat.
Once across the Makarora, follow Young River on the true left to a swing bridge at the junction of the North and South branches (3 - 4 hours).The track divides after the bridge, and the Young Forks campsite is 200 m upstream, with an open shelter, toilet and fireplace, which campers are encouraged to use. The track to Young Hut (550 m) continues downstream to cross a grassy flat then enters the foreston the true left of South Branch, just beyond the junction. The track climbs steeply for 100 m and then sidles through a series of unstable slips to reach Stag Creek. From here, it’s a steady climb to Young Hut.
Camping is not allowed around Young Hut. The cleared area is a helicopter landing site.
Time: 6 - 8 hr
Distance: 12 km
Climb 1 hour to the bushline, cross the bridge over the upper Young and follow the valley floor for about 20 minutes until you reach the start of the Gillespie Pass track on your left. This is usually the last water source until well over the pass, so fill your water bottles before leaving the valley. The track climbs steeply alongside a rock bluff onto a snow-grass spur that, after 3 - 4 hours, veers off to the left before the pass and climbs the ridge to a height of 1600 m. From here, there’s an impressive view, with Mount Awful dominating the skyline.
The track descends steeply before sidling down through a series of snow grass basins. Take care; snow grass can be very slippery when wet. The track enters the forest on a small predominant spur and leadsdown to Gillespie Stream, a beautiful spot for a rest. The track continues down through the forest, sidling above Gillespie Stream before descending in a series of zigzags to Siberia Stream.
On the valley floor, it’s an easy 1 hour walk to the Siberia Hut (630 m).
High above Siberia Valley, nestled under Mount Alba, is Lake Crucible, an excellent day trip from Siberia Hut. Go up the valley flats to Crucible Stream, where the track enters the forest on the true left, climbs a narrow spur, sidles around to a river crossing, and comes out on a snow grass flat. Follow the pole markers in the upper basin and go up the flat to the lake. The tiny rockwren/pīwauwau can often be seen among the largerocks at the lake outlet.
Camping is not allowed in Crucible Basin because of its fragile alpine herb fields.
Time: 7 - 8 hr
Distance: 26 km
Time: 2 - 3 hr
Distance: 7 km
About 30 minutes down from Siberia Hut, travelling on the true left, the track to the Wilkin Valley enters the forest at the southern end of Siberia Flat. It sidles above the Siberia Gorge to descend in a series of zigzags to the Wilkin River (7 km, 2-3 hours).
Kerin Forks Hut (340 m) can be seen 400 m downstream from the Siberia Stream/WilkinRiver junction, at the western end of a large flat on the other side of the Wilkin. If accessing the upper Wilkin valley, cross here, provided the river is low enough to do so safely.
Time: 4 - 5 hr
Distance: 15 km
The track from Kerin Forks follows the flats and enters the forest at the bottom of Dans Flat. The track from here is rough in places – when the Wilkin is low, it’s quicker to cross here, follow the flats on the other side (true right) and then cross back where the Wilkin and Makarora rivers meet. Cross the Makarora with care, watching for soft sand, then either tramp up the open river flats or continue out to the main road to Makarora Township. Be prepared to wait if the river is too high to cross.
The circuit can begin from either confluences: the Wilkin/Makarora River or Young/Makarora. Either starting point can be reached by jet boat. The new Blue-Young Link Track (7 km, 1.5-2 hr) offers a swing-bridge crossing of the Makarora River.
It's possible to fly by plane out of Siberia Valley (Southern Alps Air) or catch a jet boat from Kerin Forks (Wilkin River Jets). All transport needs to be pre-arranged with the transport providers - the warden at Siberia Hut can't make bookings.
Adverse weather: The weather can change rapidly in New Zealand. Hypothermia is a real risk even in summer. Be prepared by having warm, windproof clothing and the appropriate footwear. Whiteout conditions caused by snow or low cloud may be present.
Unbridged rivers: There are river and stream crossings that become hazardous in heavy rain or snowmelt. Be prepared to turn back.
Trampers are encouraged to use the Blue-Young Link track when the Makarora River is high.
A dam that formed in the Young valley North Branch in 2007 still poses a potential risk to trampers. We recommend you avoid the Young valley during periods of heavy rain. If heavy rain starts during your trip, do not camp in the valley floor and move through the valley as quickly as possible. Watch for any unusual or rapid rises in water levels and move to higher ground if necessary.
Be avalanche alert: This area has terrain that can produce avalanches that cross the track, usually from May into November. View avalanche information and the terrain rating for this track.
Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.