The challenging Hannels Spur walking track[1] in the NSW Snowy Mountains is now cleared from the base to the top of the spur, opening its full length to adventurous hikers and experienced trail runners. The lower 5.5 kilometres of the trail was cleared by a group of volunteers working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in March, linking up with work on the upper section of the track completed by the group in 2018.

The 15.5km track, which leads to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko from near Geehi Flat on the Alpine Way, is unique in offering the greatest elevation gain (1800m) of any single walk in Australia. It takes in the entire western fall of the Snowy Mountains, climbing through the full range of vegetation from heavily-forested slopes above the Geehi and Swampy Plain Rivers to sub-alpine and alpine tracts on the top of the Main Range.

The trail is also historic in following the spur ascended 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.

As previously reported by Wild Australia, including in a feature piece in the September-October 2017 edition of the magazine, the track had almost disappeared as a result of regrowth after the 2003 bushfires and was in danger of being lost.

Following on from last year’s work (during which around 4km and 500 vertical metres of track from Byatts Camp to below Moiras Flat was cleared), the March 2019 work party cleared around 850 vertical metres of trail from the sign at the base of the track southeast of Dr Forbes Hut. The team of seven volunteers, including mountaineer and Wild Australia contributor Tim Macartney-Snape, and a NPWS staffer, based operations at Dr Forbes Hut on the Swampy Plain River. It worked over four days with chainsaws, brush cutters and hand tools to reveal the existing footpad created over decades by cattlemen (in the 1920s and 30s), walkers, and Australian mountaineers in training. Macartney-Snape and several others in the group (including the author) had used the spur in the past as a training walk for climbing expeditions to the Himalayas.

Although the trail is now clear all the way to the top of the spur itself, it is recommended for experienced walkers/trail runners and navigation skills are still required. After the 1350m ascent (approx.) from the base to Byatts Camp, walkers need to follow 3-4km of uncleared footpad through alpine heath above the tree line. This part of the trail – south from Byatts Camp and then east around Abbott Ridge to Wilkinson Creek valley before intersecting with a well-made path between Mueller Peak and Mt Kosciuszko – is marked by occasional stone cairns, but needs to be followed carefully and walkers need to be well-prepared, including for rapidly-changing and severe weather on the main range. A map and compass and/or GPS, an emergency locator beacon (mobile reception is not always possible), good clothing and emergency bivvy gear is highly recommended. If the walk is done over two days rather than one, Moiras Flat at around 1520m in elevation (where water is usually available from a nearby creek) is a logical campsite.

For experienced and adventurous folk up for a challenge, this is an iconic walk, worth it for the challenging ascent and/or descent and still off-the-beaten-track experience.

The completion of the clearing works stands as a testament to carefully-managed cooperation between the NPWS and a well-organised group of volunteers working within established environmental and other guidelines on a priority project in a national park.

All volunteers involved in the project ask that fellow travellers on the spur respect the beauty and fragility of the mountain environment (as well as other walkers) and leave no trace beyond your footprints on the trail.

(Photos: Keith Scott, Andrew Stanger, Tim Macartney-Snape, Ken Baldwin)

[1] Pre-clearance track notes on Hannels Spur appeared in the September-October 2017 edition of Wild Australia magazine. There is also a description of the route in Snowy Mountains Walks, 2001 (8th edition), Geehi Bushwalking Club.