Hannel's Spur - The Western Fall Wilderness
I'd been interested in ascending the iconic and historic but badly overgrown Hannels Spur solo for a few years now - but the sun, moon and planets of a busy family/work life just never seemed to line up for it to happen. In late 2016 my interest in Hannels Spur was reignited and I really wanted to tick this classic but tough Hannels Spur route off my bucket list for 2017. Australia's biggest vertical ascent (1800m) - I was going to make it happen! I did a bit of research about Strzelecki's ascent of Hannels in 1840 even buying an old, historic book by Major Clews detailing Strzelecki's climb from an antique book dealer. That's it - I've spend fifty bucks on this damn book - I've got to climb it now!
Finally in late January I could see a great window of opportunity approaching and I kept watching the weather forecast as the day got closer and closer. Although I knew my fitness and weight left a little to be desired for such a strenuous ascent in one day, followed by the hike back to DHG and a 38km bike ride back to Geehi - I also realised that the days were only going to start getting shorter. I did not want to wait any longer. The original plan was to have a good mate based down at Geehi Flats with a UHF radio set on channel 4 (Mt. Youngal repeater channel) to communicate - but he was unable to come in the end. This is definitely not the hike you'd invite people who were not somewhat hardcore hikers used to long hard days and suffering - that's for sure. To tell you the truth looking at the map and also viewing from a distance such as Scammels Spur or the Geehi Flats the route up Hannels looks somewhat benign - but don't be fooled - it is a tough, long and difficult route due to large sections suffering the perfect storm of steepness, fallen timber, thick bushfire regrowth, navigational challenges and lack of water. But don't be put off - is a great and iconic walk!
I finished work in Melbourne early at 11:00am on Friday the 4th of Feb. and drove up the Hume to Wodonga - then off towards Corryong, through Khancoban then arriving at Dead Horse Gap at about 6:00pm to hide my bike and a small bike backpack with snacks/water/lights. The plan was to ascend Hannels Spur then return via Wilkinson Valley, Muellers Pass and down the Kosciuszko trail towards Thredbo veering right off and along the Dead Horse Gap track. I would then cycle the 38km back to my car at Geehi. All in one day - that was PlanA. PlanB was to get a hotel for the night in Thredbo and then make my way back to Geehi somehow early Sunday morning.
I set up camp by the car at the Geehi Flats on the Swampy Plains River - preparing my pack that evening after placing the bike. It was a still, cloudless night with a quarter moon shining on the Main Range. After a great nights sleep I woke about 5:00am to make a leisurely breakfast, coffee(s), got my hiking clothes on, re-checked pack and top up the batteries on the GPSs/phone. Packed about 4litres of water together with my PLB, emergency shelter, extra batteries, powerbank, food, FA kit etc.
I locked the car and departed Geehi at about 6:15am (ish) and headed across the road (Alpine Way) and though the gap next to the gate leading southeast across the flat, open plain. As I passed through between the gate/fence I immediately turned a hard right, 90degrees and followed a faint 4WD track that briefly leads along the inside of the fence before turning SSE across the open plain. The 4WD track quickly becomes more defined. This was much easier than following the footpads heading SE inside the gate that become very tussocky and rough. Note ^this^ route and particularly the Geehi river crossing I found much easier than crossing the Swampy Plains River at Dr. Forbes hut - both routes which i'd previously scouted in Dec. 2016. The 4WD track ^above^ is not on the SV map - it is a closed track for NPWS vehicles only.
I followed the 4WD track for about ~600m SSE veering to the right when I came to junction in track - continuing on through a glade of ferns until reaching the ford at Geehi River. This is just a little upstream from the junction of the Swampy Plains River. I forded the river in my 'junk' socks and shoes - the water was quite pleasant - almost warm! Out the other side I followed the NPWS 4WD track briefly - before it veers to the right up to Doctor Forbes Hut - I veered left and continued southeast across the open flats for several hundred more metres, passing 3 or 4 very old lichen covered trail posts that mark the 'trail' to the start of the spur. The Hannels Spur sign can be seen at the bottom of the ridge to the left at the very base of the spur. I stopped at the HS sign for a couple of pictures and to change from my wet 'junk' river crossing socks to my thicker, dry and comfortable hiking socks. A small snack, a couple of electrolyte capsules and a sip of water and I was ready to start up.
The track from the HS sign although becoming quite steep is generally well marked and obvious for the next couple of kms up - marked with the occasional orange triangle nailed in trees and frequent ribbons of bright pink flagging tape. A few fallen trees here and there to negotiate but just a bit of a long, uphill slog really. On reaching the top of the first spur at ~800m AMSL there is a small rocky knoll under the trees with glimpses back down towards the flats. Nice. So far so good!
From this rocky knoll I continued east along the trail down then back up to another knoll at 970m. Slowly the trail was becoming a little harder to define/negotiate but not too bad - it was still obvious with pink flagging tape ribbons. About 500m past this 970m knoll the track takes a sharp turn to the south and down into a bracken/fern gully at a creek head. There is a big, long log you can walk across this gully which makes it a bit easier. To me from this gully it seemed the pink ribbons and orange triangles seemed to almost end or at least become much less frequent and what were there you had to look quite hard for as they were mostly either completely faded in colour and/or just small, faded scraps hanging from the trees if you could locate them.
Between this bracken gully and Moira's Flat it's less of a trail and more of a route only - or a 'path of least resistance' to follow - you really need to' work for your money' to find the best way. I went off route several times into the sheer 'hell' of crazy, THICK regrowth and a mishmass and jumble of fallen trees. Many of the orange triangles in this section were on fallen trees and almost impossible to spot. It was really tough, physically draining and time consuming trying to extricate myself out of these situations and get back on route. This section from the gully to Moira's Flat was the longest, hardest bit for me for sure and most of it is a blur in my memory as I was exhausted. Several times I thought I was completely 'lost', searching and searching for another ribbon or orange marker and continuously cross checking the GPS. But if in doubt just go UP - but sometimes easier said than done though! At one stage at about 12:30pm, losing any sign of the route and totally spent I collapsed into a tiny clearing and had lunch and rehydrated. This section 2km below Moira's just seemed to go on and on and on. Checking the time and GPS distance I was sure I'd passed/missed Moira's somehow. On the last big off-trail bushbash of the ascent I pushed though some thick scrub trying to regain track only to pop out immediately behind the actual Moira's Flat sign at Moira's Flat! Relief!
After a brief rest at Moira's Flat (~1450m) I decided I didn't want another 100m bush bash down to the signposted water source so I decided (poorly) that I would continue up to Byatt's with only about 600mls left. Moira's Flat even with the regrowth still has ample space for about 4 tents but the area could do with some attention to clear it or tidy it up a little. The track either side of Moira's itself is still quite overgrown but the orange triangles are easy to spot. I continued on and upwards knowing that the higher and higher I got the regrowth would become easier to negotiate - wrong! I just smashed my way through and upwards observing again the occaisional orange tree marker but now very few signs of any pink ribbons. I guess up here in the more exposed environment the harsh UV rays and harsher weather have destroyed most of the ribbons. Stone cairns started to appear on small rock outcrops which provided great views back down to Geehi. I finally broke out of the treeline at about 3:30pm (~1750m) and followed the orange markers which were now easy to spot until leaving the snowgums altogether. I couldn't locate any obvious footpad so just continued on towards Byatt's Camp using the GPS track. The water near Byatt's tasted like liquid gold and I guzzled it until full. I got a sudden burst of SMSs on my phone (Telstra) and 3 bars but each time I tried to call it immediately reverted to 'No Service' - this happened repeatedly and I was not able to make any calls.
If the weather is fine the Byatt's Camp area is such a stunning location with glorious views forever across the mountains to the west. I highly recommend treating yourself to an overnight stop here after climbing Hannels - unfortunately I didn't have the time and had to keep pushing on to Thredbo/DHG. As the sun was starting to get low in the sky I pushed onwards over the top and around into the picturesque Wilkinson Valley - stunning! After reaching Muellers Pass I joined the Main Range track and stopped for only the second time for some nourishment and fluids. The sun was starting to get low in the sky as I continued to Rawsons Pass then on down towards Thredbo. I decided by now that I would stay in Thredbo for the night and not cycle back to Geehi - I was pretty sore, chaffed and knackered enough already! From Rawsons Pass to Eagles Nest (top of Thredbo) I powerwalked all the way. Finally got a solid phone signal up near the Kosciuszko Lookout and was able to call home. It was dark by the time I reached the top of the closed chairlift so had to make my way down from the top under torchlight following a combination of the road, bike tracks and walking tracks.
At 9:15pm - after 15hours I stumbled into the Thredbo pub a stinky, sweaty, blood stained mess with shredded clothes and salivating for a giant thick steak (cooked bleu) with all the trimmings only to be informed the kitchen had just closed and a bowl of wedges is all they could muster up... Dang! Picked away at the wedges and sipped a cold ginger beer then called next door to the Thredbo Alpine Hotel and booked a room for the night.
Woke up early and after stuffing myself at the hotels's delicious buffet breakfast I headed off up the road with my minimalist pack to Dead Horse Gap and my bike. I was in a bit of pain now from chaffing, blisters and general wear and tear as I gingerly walked up through the village when a kind retired couple from Vic. offered me a lift - I wasn't going to say no! They drove me all the way back to Geehi to the car.
Would I do it again? Well - if you'd asked me in the 48hours after the 'hike' I would have said "bugger off - I'm not completely stupid!" But now as my memory of the suffering and stress fades - I would do it in a heartbeat! In fact I'm now spurred on to climb Townsend Spur and Hannel's Spur. The biggest regret of the hike is not being able to camp at Byatt's in such incredibly great weather with totally AMAZING views - but I was really pushed for time on this trip and just had to push onwards to Thredbo.
It took me 15hours - Geehi-Thredbo but I lost a lot
of time accidentally going slightly off-route several times and wasting a lot of time continually checking-rechecking the GPS to confirm the route. My fitness level could have been a bit better too. I reckon if the entire route up to the top of the tree line was clearly re-marked I could easily do Geehi-Thredbo in about 13hours instead of 15 - possible 12. In comparison to others reports of Hannel's in the past I did not
encounter any caterpillars, minimal spiderwebs, minimal stinging nettles and only 2 small snakes (40cm). No other wildlife encountered (that includes humans) along the entire
route to Thredbo apart from a gazillion resident kangaroos at the Geehi Flats.
For Hannel's Spur I would highly
recommend wearing gardening gloves, long pants, long sleeves and long heavy duty gaiters. Next time I would cut the very tip of the index finger off the glove to allow much faster manipulation of the GPS.
Note: As Hannel's Spur is within the now declared Western Fall Wilderness Zone apparently policy dictates that the NPWS is no longer permitted to recut, clear, mark or maintain this route in any way.
If anyone has any questions about Hannel's Spur please feel free to PM me and I'd be happy to try and answer any questions...
- The view from ~1700m back down Hannels Spur to Geehi Flats
- The classic Moira's Flat sign at the campsite at about 1450metres. Typical spur regrowth surrounding the sign.
- Trail marker up at about 1750metres
- Beginning of the HS route at the base of Hannel's Spur
- The gate at the very beginning on The Alpine Way road. - Geehi Flats. I personally find this way the easier way to access the base of the spur - in the mid distance on the far right in photo.
Last edited by Stew63
on Wed 05 Apr, 2017 9:28 am, edited 19 times in total.