The final part of the hiking exhibition with the company I work for! Haven’t read part one? You can find it here!
Day three was easily the toughest but most rewarding and all started early in the morning with breakfast in light, even if it was dark and cold outside. Then it was off for our helicopter flight into the heart of the world heritage area, Siberia Valley.
To get into the Siberia Valley, you can go one of three ways. Either by helicopter, like we did, the jet boat or you hike around 8 hours, some of it in waist deep water. The helicopter fight was very scenic over the ice-carved peaks as we got up close to cascading waterfalls, nestled amongst New Zealand’s most beautiful mountains and glaciers.
Fun fact – this was still part of Mt Aspiring National Park, which takes up around 1/8th of the South Island!!
Once we landed in the valley we really noticed the temperature difference, it was freezing! The fog made it even colder but there was no time to complain, we had a big day ahead.
The Siberia Hut was a lot smaller than the last one and over the next two nights would see us bunk in with over 20 people – 11 of us to one room – but that’s fine, sharing is caring.
So we set off on day three on a mission to make it to Lake Crucible by 2pm, it was only 10am at this stage, 4 hours of hiking, surely we would make it in time. Through Gillespie Pass Circuit was our first challenge, although flat the ground was uneven and very very wet. We did our first river crossing within the first 20 minutes and this went on for an hour, a few deeper and more freezing crossings but we made it to the entrance of the forest.
It is a steep climb initially through beech forest and by steep, I am really steep. Holding onto tree roots to lift you up kind of steep, this was testing and tested us for two hours. Out of breath was an understatement for this part of the hike, we were exhausted and our guide, Sarah gave nothing away as to how long it was going to take us and how much longer we had left, we just had the goal of 2pm.
We slipped on moss, our ankles were rolling, but we looked out for each other. If you heard a slip, you asked if someone was okay, if you found a part difficult to walk on, you told those behind you. It was all about looking after each other.
Then we reached our next obstacle, the river crossing. Now, this was a river crossing, like above the knees in rapids kind of river crossing. We used the walking poles to break the current and we went over in pairs of two, foot up against the rocks and keep your balance. Once we reached the other side we then had to scale the rocks up to the alpine fields.
We continued on, thinking this was it, just this flat – but not so flat – terrain and then we were there. Oh, we were so wrong. We looked up and there it was the lake, only you couldn’t see the lake because it was at the top of a mountain! Set at 1172m, my spirits were crushed and not only because of the mountain, but I also needed the toilet and knew it was still another few hours away.
I hiked on and quickly knowing one of the girls could save me with the toilet paper. Once I reached her, she broke it to me “Sarah has it”. Sarah was halfway up the mountain, I was broken but needed to carry on.
At one stage Kristy, Ellie and I had fallen behind, we got a little lost, but with the help of the orange markers, found out way on the right track.
Most of us lost the physical motivation to reach the top of Lake Crucible. Our knees had begun to give way, ankles were rolling on top of rolling and the time was running out to get to the top by 2pm. But then, as the women reflected on the journey so far, there was no other option but to push through, cheer each other on and use a positive mentality to climb that mountain – and also for me my desire, to get the toilet paper.
I pushed ahead and found Lauren and Jo, they were both like myself, absolutely done but determined to make it to the top. From the bottom we could see Breanna, Sarah and Billie had made it, they also told me we were 45 minutes away from climbing and reaching the top of that mountain.
But that wasn’t an option for me, so I kept scaling, faster and faster. I lost my footing a few times but the encouraging words from the girls at the top and the girls still climbing was what got me through!
We made it, in groups of one or two, we got to the top and it was beautiful. The colour of that bright blue lake was amazing, the view of the valley reminded me of the gorge in the Lion King, the view from pride rock – and might I add the best toilet view ever.
Some of the girls had already jumped in that three-degree lake! So bathers on, boots left on and on I went, down to the lake. What an exhilarating experience. It was absolutely freezing, like so cold, but so so worth it!
Lunch was even better, never had a better soggy sandwich made by myself in my life! In the end, we all made it up there by 2pm and we have never been so proud of ourselves, now that is an accomplishment.
Then we had to scale back down the mountain, across the field, through that knee deep water and back down the forest. You would have thought going downhill would be easier, wrong. It was very hard on the knees and even if it wasn’t as extensive work in terms of cardio, it was hard. All I could see coming down the first mountain was Billie’s bright orange jacket, it kept pushing me to keep going.
To entertain some of the group through the forest I started quoting Kath and Kim, a personal favourite of mine is “Kath, Kel, look at these photos and tell me what you see” – Marion the marriage counsellor “a couple making love” – Kel “two dead sticks” – Kath.
At one stage I found myself alone, this was the hardest part and it felt like I was never going to make it down the mountain. Every time I looked out and thought I was close to the bottom, the ground was still so far down. More injuries were sustained and we were fighting back urges to just lose it.
Once we made it to the bottom we took some time to reflect and express how proud we were of each other, this was so uplifting.
Together – apart from Snez, Eva and Alisha who were still scaling down with a few injuries – we all set on our way knowing we only had an hour left until we were back at the hut.
Dry clothes and a cup of tea had never felt so good. What didn’t feel so good was waiting for the rest of the women to make it back, it was unsettling, but around an hour before it got dark we saw Snez’s red coat coming over the valley and we all ran out to welcome them. What a feeling, we had one of the most challenging days and we all did it together!
That night, we didn’t reflect just enjoyed our chilli for dinner, enjoyed the company and went to bed early with sore bones and muscles.
Day four wasn’t climbing ridiculous mountains – I think the guides felt sorry for us – but we were challenging in different ways. We headed up the local waterfall and were given a problem to solve. We were hikers who were lost, it was nightfall and the rain was setting in, we needed to find a place to set up camp with the shelter we were given.
My group of Lauren, Bree, Kristy and Maddie thought we had it all figured out. We found a spot in the trees, bunkered down our shelter and make a beautiful snack platter. I sourced the toilet spot, standard.
We sold our hut to the group with million dollar views of the local waterfall, we made a clothesline and all cozied into our humble abode together, we thought we had won this one.
The other group it is fair to say killed ours, they had it all really and Billie as an auctioneer even auctioned off their hut to the group. This was a great team building exercise.
Our next challenge, tent building, easy? No, tent building with two blindfolded whilst two directed them. This was a great communication technique as well as gaining a level of trust that the other person guiding you wouldn’t lead you astray. In the end, Billie and I lead Bree and Jo to put the door on the wrong way and then we had to pack it up blindfolded.
Then it was learning how to read a map, which is a very useful skill and one I have no idea about. Once we learnt that both Sarah and Eva went off and we had to find them in our new groups.
In my group we found Sarah who had ‘slipped and fell’, it was our task to get her back to the hut safely and call in the helicopter using our new found map reading skills. She had a broken arm and leg so we had to use our equipment to prop them up and carry her back.
Well, she crossed a river so we had to carry her through that. Our technique was a chair lift and we all played our part in getting her back, she did give us feedback to say we needed someone to take the lead and other safety checks we forgot, but it was good leadership practice.
Finally, it was a trust challenge. Be blindfolded and using guidance from those on your team, find your way to a certain spot. So much trust involved in this exercise, in the end crawling was often the best option or just taking selfies with your blindfolded team members.
We then did this as a group, heading for a boulder, when we thought we had made it, so proud at ourselves we took them off to reveal, we weren’t even remotely close.
For the afternoon, I and some of the others set off on a hike to get in some daily exercise whilst the others “showered”, by showered we mean bathed in the waterfall because you see we didn’t even have a flushing toilet let alone showers.
Our hike was beautiful along the creek and we even saw a rare blue duck! Water babies Jo and Billie went for another dip and some of us realised we were terrible at skipping rocks, well mainly just myself.
Night four was a great night for reflection. We discussed day three and the key learnings and we expressed how proud we all were to not only be part of this challenge but to be able to work together to push through the tough times, the cold wet feet, the sand fly bites, the drop toilets, the no showers, the rolled ankles, sore knees and the steep mountains.
It was an early start to head back to civilisation, but the hike to the jet boat wasn’t as easy as we thought with our packs on. Up the beautiful icy mountains and back down to alongside the river all while carry the esky, (or ‘chilly bin’) taking in turns.
A frosty morning and even colder on the boat. What a great experience to cap off the trip a thrilling 40-minute journey downstream to Makarora and probably one of the funniest pieces of Go Pro footage ever!
We made it back to Makarora and it honestly felt like we hadn’t seen a car in so long, dramatic I know but true!
Piled back in the van and headed to Wanaka for a team lunch to reminisce and express what we were grateful for. Mine? Was the shower we had in the caravan park on the way back from Makarora.
Then it was back to Queenstown to head home. Along the way, we headed back over the mountains and the beautiful scenery where I commented, “on Monday we drove through these a rookie of hikers and have come back… still hiking rookies” – true but also bold and strong rookie hikers.
We stopped at a local farm with a fence full of bras. The farmer of this property lost his wife to breast cancer so, in tribute, women donate money or donate their bra to the fence. I donated mine.
Then it was time to say goodbye, goodbye to New Zealand, goodbye to our guides and goodbye to the 10 amazing women we spent the last five days with. It was a tough five days but my god it was worth it and the goodbyes were sad!
So what were the absolute key learnings of the trip? For one I never want to see another trail mix or muesli bar EVER again! No just kidding, but that is for another blog!