The iconic Hannels Spur walking track on the western side of the Snowy Mountains is once again open to adventure walkers.

As reported in Wild Australia in September-October 2017, the historic trail had all but disappeared due to regrowth after the 2003 bushfires and was in danger of being lost. In a win for walkers, Wild Australia and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), a team of volunteers working with the NPWS spent several days on the track in mid-March clearing the worst of the regrowth and making the route navigable.

The team of eight camped at Moiras Flat, 300 vertical metres below the top of the spur and, with helicopter support from the NPWS, cleared around 4km (and 500 vertical metres) of trail between Moiras Flat and Byatts Camp at the top of the spur and, for several hundred metres, below the flat. Volunteers included Canberra climbers and members of the Australian chapter of the New Zealand Alpine Club, including one of Australia’s foremost mountaineers and Wild Australia contributor, Tim Macartney-Snape.

While the route is now navigable from Geehi Flat on the Alpine Way to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko, care is still needed on the lower section, where a small amount of work remains to be done, and through alpine fields between the top of the spur and Mueller’s Pass where the route joins the well-maintained Main Range track at the top of the Snowies. Members of the team and the NPWS hope to conclude marking along the trail and some light trimming over coming months, although it will remain the case that the walk is a difficult one and both navigational skills and bushwalking experience are essential.

According to NPWS alpine area manager, Anthony Evans, the work party on Hannels Spur was an outstanding example of the NPWS and volunteers working cooperatively on a priority project in a national park. The party worked under close supervision and within established environmental and other guidelines, but was able to effectively re-open a trail that could otherwise have been lost.

The Hannels Spur trail is significant for historic reasons and because it provides the greatest vertical ascent of any walk in Australia – taking in all 1800 vertical metres of the western fall of the Snowy Mountains from Geehi Flat (450m) to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko (2,228m). Historically, it follows the route taken by Polish explorer Paul Strzelecki, James McArthur and two Aboriginal guides when Strzelecki became the first European to ascend (and to name) Mt Kosciuszko in 1840. Before the 2003 fires, it served as a favourite training walk for Australian mountaineers, including members of expeditions to the Himalayas.

Macartney-Snape and other members of the work party and the NPWS are hopeful that the work on the route will encourage enough fit and adventurous walkers onto the track to maintain it as a natural footpad through this remarkable part of the Australian wilderness.

– Keith Scott