Sunday, January 16, 2011

Siberia Hut & Crucible Lake

1/14-15/11 Leaving Wanaka we drove up the broad valley of the Makarora river to start an overnight tramp to Siberia Hut. Short on time, we booked a jetboat to shorten the approach hike. A weathered man with sun-leather face and confident smile handed us lifejackets and loaded our packs on the small craft. He shot the boat out of an ingenious, mobile dock and roared up the Wilkins River, occasioning some crazy spins which set Leah’s smile to neon. My hands tensed as we careened around corners, skidding across the rapids in ankle-deep water and I marveled at the boat’s sheer power. All too quickly, he gunned the bow ashore and we started hiking through wind-blown, grassy meadows farther up the Wilkins river.

Ancient glaciers had ripped through the bedrock, leaving sheer walls with hanging valleys dropping horsetail waterfalls into the breeze. Soon we confronted this wall, climbing steeply up through massive beech thickets whose branches were draped with moss.  Huge ferns crowded the forest floor, their sword-life leaves jousting in the breeze. After 1500’ we crested a ridge and entered a side valley. In the distance lay the Siberia Flat, a 6km long grassy meadow guarded on either side by mammoth cliffs.  A lazy ribbon of stream meandered through the plain until it pierced the moraine, dropping swiftly into a sharp, V-shaped defile beneath us, a raging turquoise maelstrom.

An hour later, we left Adam and Leah cavorting by a waterfall next to the hut, while Margaret, Galen and I marched towards the ice-clad face of Mt. Dreadful. After fording the icy stream, we scrambled up roots to escape the glacial valley, finally reaching the stunning bowl of Crucible Lake.  Icebergs drifted in the azure waters and sheer, shale cliffs rose 4000’ to the summit of Mt. Alba. I’ve seen some stunning mountain scenery before, but this was truly breathtaking.

When we woke, the weather had broken and clouds kissed the surrounding summits. After a quick hike and speedier jetboat return, we drove over Haast pass towards the western coast.

The overhanging, mossy walls of Wilson canyon caught our eye, and Galen waded icy water, luring us after him with stunned appreciation of the sculpted views which rewarded each turn. Above us, mist from a second fall drifted into the emerald light filtering from the forest.

The town of Haast was unremarkable, but after dinner we drove to the beach.  Exiting the car, we were struck the shimmering din of cicadas infesting the gale-stunted brush which guarded the shore.  A few steps later and we heard the crashing waves of the Tasman Sea. Masked by clouds, the sun set in the west.  I craned by eyes for Australia, wondering if Brisbane’s floods were receding.

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