Gillespie Pass (April 2012) – where it all started

How did all this tramping madness get started, you might ask?  Because let me tell you, it’s highly addictive.  Now I know there are people who can’t imagine anything worse or more miserable than carrying a heavy pack over kilometres and kilometres of track.  I’m not one of those people.

Tramping is quite possibly one of the greatest joys of my life.  I LOVE it.  I came to NZ in 2007 and started tramping in 2008.  I started off with some of the popular tracks – Milford, Copland, Rees-Dart.  About 1 a year.  They all absolutely kicked my butt, but I still loved them.

Then Dylan and I started dating in February 2012.  What better way to test your relationship than going on one killer tramp together, right?

We decided to do the Gillespie pass over Easter (and my 29th birthday!) 2012.  Gillespie pass is a popular 4 day circuit just north of Makarora.  The weather was perfect – warm, it had barely rained in weeks (low rivers!).  Five of us started out for this epic journey through the mountains.

I knew it was going to be tough (58 km, not a great walk, , but I’ll admit I was still a bit of tramping rookie (1-2 tramps a year max) at this point.

Lets just say I learned a lot on that tramp.  If I did the Gillespie again, I would do it totally different.  But hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?

Amazing views on the Gillespie

Amazing views on the Gillespie

Dylan, in his underwear, in the snow, going over the Gillespie

Dylan, in his underwear, in the snow, going over the Gillespie

The first thing we learned early on was that the heat is not our friend.  Well, the heat is not Dylans friend.  Our first day was hot and long.  We knew day #2 (going over the Gillespie pass) would be the real killer (you climb and then descend 1000 m), so we got up ridiculously early on day #2 and set out to do most of the climbing before the heat of the day (it was still hot enough that Dylan did most of the climb in his underwear.  Just his underwear.  Not only that, but New Zealand is a small enough place that inevitably Dylan ran into someone from his department while he was tramping in his boxers.  Typical.).  Now day #2 is 12 km and supposed to take 6-8 hours.  I think it took us 11.  😦  We were fine getting up to the pass, it was coming down where we became absolutely stuffed.  It was hot, there was no water, and Dylan was on the verge of heatstroke.  We were saved by the tiny amount of crusty snow that lives at the top of the climb all year round.

But we learned!  We learned critical things.

  1. A heavy pack is your worst enemy.  Pack light.
  2. Always carry hydration salts.
  3. If you’re carrying a tent, you’re stuffed, and you come across an excellent camping spot – just stop.  Don’t keep going to the next hut just because.  Undoubtably it will be filled with a million loud children.
  4. If there is the option to jet boat out, don’t be cheap.  Just pay the $85 and save yourself 27 km of walking through farmland.
Looking back up the Wilkin valley

Looking back up the Wilkin valley

So day #3 we were so stuffed most of us didn’t make the day walk up to crucible lake – aka the highlight of the trip.  Day #4 was a horrible 27 km slog out along the Wilkin river, watching every single other person zoom past us in a jet boat.  Jerks.

Jet boats passing us along the Wilkin

Jet boats, zooming passing us along the Wilkin

I know, it sounds amazing (amazingly agonizing) right?  Dylan loved it so much, we went on another tramp later in April with the tramping club (a much, much easier one.  Just into the Greenstone hut and back out again).

If I were going to do the Gillespie again, I would definitely take a tent so that I could camp either just below the alpine area of coming over the pass, or down at the bottom of the valley where the track splits of to crucible lake (and saving you from having to backtrack the next day).  I would also absolutely pay the ridiculous $85 or whatever it is these days to get jet-boated out.  Live and learn.

Happy tramping!  Read more about the Gillespie circuit here.