Summiting Mt Kosciuszko Via Hannels Spur | Australia’s Highest Ascent Hike

You know that feeling, when you set foot in a place and instantly feel at home? As if you’ve been subconsciously searching your whole life for this one piece of paradise? That’s how I feel each time I’m engulfed in the shadows of mountains. 

Australia is often teased for its shortage of ‘real mountains’. But where we may lack in quantity, we make up in quality. Throughout this last year, I have had the good fortune of summiting some of Australia’s most incredible peaks. Mt Murchison and Cradle Mountain in Tasmania blew me away – almost literally off Cradle Mountain’s summit – and The Warrumbungles’ ancient volcanic formations brought a sense of awe I will never forget. 

But perhaps the most jaw-dropping experience to date was our recent hike, Hannels Spur. Thanks to our guide and now friend, Keith Scott, we witnessed the raw terrain and learnt of the rich history that is the Hannels Spur trail.

From our experience, we can promise you this – Hannels Spur will have you hooked from the very beginning…

Overview Of Hannels Spur Hike In The Kosciuszko National Park

Distance: 22km one way (Shuttle needed)

Grade: Grade 5 – Very Experienced Only

Time: 17 hours (over 3 days)

Elevation Gain: Approx. 2,000 m

Highest Elevation: 2,228 m

Lowest Elevation: 450 m

Entrance Fee: Kosciuszko National Parks Pass

Facilities: Toilets at Geehi Flats (beginning) and Eagle Nest Restaurant (end)

An epic sunset over Wilkinsons Creek Valley at the base of Mt Kosciuszko while embarking on the Hannels Spur Hike

Hannels Spur lies within the Western Fall of the Snowy Mountains. Beginning at 450 m elevation and ending at 2,228 m, you can expect a world of difference as you climb through dense forests of alpine ash and blanket leaf trees to the skeletons of snow gums leading up to the jagged snow-capped alpine.

At a total of 22 km from Geehi Flat to the top of the Kosciuszko Chair in Thredbo’s Ski Resort, Hannels Spur can be done in a day. BUT you will be gaining at least 2,000 m in elevation… that is no small feat. I was certainly happy to stretch it over three days. Who likes to rush through nature’s beauty anyway?

While the Hannels Spur Trail has been cleared by Keith Scott and an epic group of volunteers – who worked with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service – it is still a navigator’s delight. The relentless forest regrows at a rapid rate, meaning the trail is somewhat difficult to follow. Markers have been added to trees in the form of pink tags and orange metal arrows, however, a compass and map are essential for this hike in Kosciuszko National Parks’ wild west. 

Once the expansive alpine is reached, rock cairns guide the way through low lying heath and boulders. On a clear day, all is peachy following the natural markers. But don’t be fooled – once the unpredictable mountains lower a frosty mist around you, these markers will all but disappear. 

Rock Cairns stationed along the alpine walking track signaling the correct path for the Hannels Spur Hike

Hannels Spur is for the adventurous and fit, with a strong understanding of navigation and the potential dangers of hiking in unstable alpine conditions. 

If you are yet to discover the art of navigation but cannot resist the call of this unmatched hike, K7 adventures are here for you! Keith Scott, a guide from K7 Adventures, provides guided two or three-day tours along Hannels Spur. He not only leads you through with extreme knowledge of the trail but also enlightens you of the extensive history that ties in with Hannels Spur. 

Now, without further ado, let’s tuck into our tasty tale from our adventures of the Hannels Spur Trail. We aren’t sorry for the excitement it will produce…

A beautiful sunrise over the creek in Wilkinsons Valley in the Kosciuszko National Park while climbing Hannels Spur

The Journey That Is Hannels Spur

A 50-minute drive from Thredbo to Geehi Flats – winding around the western flanks of the Snowy Mountains – perfectly showcases what’s in store for the next three days. The Main Range looms above as we descend to 450 m, the beginning elevation for the Hannels Spur Trail. 

A farewell from hundreds of kangaroos sends us on our way as we follow Geehi River to our crossing point just under a kilometre away. 

Stripping down to our knickers, we shrieked as the icy river gushed at our bare legs. Settling almost at our hips, we waded slowly to the other side, thankful for the hiking poles we’d hired.

NOTE: Check the weather forecast before crossing the river. Loads of rain and snowmelt in Spring can cause the water level to be too high to cross. Don’t underestimate the dangers of river crossings. Take a look at this river crossings post From Trail Hiking Australia to learn the correct way and what to look for.

Passing Dr Forbes Hut on our right, we snuck in to write our message in the logbook before getting ready to attack the first 1,100 m of Hannels’ Spur’s epic ascent.

Walking past the Hannels Spur hiking trail sign, signifying the epic climb begins

Climbing Hannels Spur

Lush fields give way to an almost impenetrable green wall filled with forest debris. The abandoned fire road becomes a trail no wider than a goat track – if that in places – and leads vertically in an almost straight line. 

A game of find the markers keeps us entertained as we follow our guide, Keith, who seems to have the ability to navigate this track with eyes closed.

Short traverses give respite to our unprepared legs as we gape at the forever changing scenery. With such a large ascent comes a number of terrain shifts. From spindly tightly pressed trees to a canopy of peppermint gums, mountain gums and alpine ash with blanket leaf trees filling in the blank spaces. 

Trudging through the thick blanket leaves lying across the Hannels Spur Hiking Track

A glimpse here and there of the valley falling away beneath us ignites excitement of what’s in store. Providing fuel to leap over and under fallen trees, eager to gain higher ground – and to leave behind the many leeches who flourish in the forest’s mulch…

Lucky we had waterproof boots to save us from the blood sucking devils.

Remnants of snow gums, blasted from the 2003 wildfires, welcomes us to the sub-alpine. A gully provides the perfect vantage point to witness first hand the harsh effects of such a ferocious fire. All those years have passed and still, the mass devastation of the snow gums is present. 

In just under six hours of trudging through the raw trail of Hannels Spur, following the footsteps of Strezlecki, and the original landowners before him, we break into a wide-open space known as Moira’s Flat.

Climbing over fallen trees on the Hannels Spur Trail as we make our way up to Mount Kosciuszko

The First Campsite – Moira’s Flat

Moira’s Flat was named after the daughter of a cattleman who first made a track up the spur, his team probably used the natural clearing as a camp in the 1920s/1930s, when they would drive cattle through the Snowy Mountains. 

It’s easy to see why they would choose such a beautiful sanctuary to camp. Moira’s Flat is equipped with a bubbling stream just a stone’s throw away, delivering the freshest alpine water. And a viewing rock 150m higher provides stellar sunsets.

Keith and his fellow volunteers have done an incredible job at making this campsite homely. The perfect campfire with sitting logs and a healthy stack of firewood awaits you at Moira’s Flat.

A roaring fire dried our garments – that lost their battle with the river crossing – as we tucked into a well-earned meal. 

Camping at Moira's Flat Campsite half way up the Hannels Spur track in Kosciuszko National Park

The Alpine Climb

The new day brings in frosty air and blue skies, causing our frozen fingers to work a little slower. As the sun breaches the tree line, we shoulder our packs for another day of climbing.

Trickling water covers the path, producing sloppy mud – a heavenly delight for more leeches. Picking them off as we ascend to a clearing, we clamber onto a rock and get our first glimpse of the rolling hills stretching beyond Geehi Flats below. 

The higher we climb, the shorter the shrubs become before we’re left with knee-high alpine health and the skeletons of stunted snow gums. 

Before long, the snow gums disappear completely and we enter the high alpine country of the Main Range. Peaks kiss the horizon in front as Hannels Spur falls away behind us, showcasing what we’ve accomplished. 

Standing high in the alpine of Kosciuszko National Park after embarking on Australia's highest ascent hike, Hannels Spur

Pink tape and orange markers are replaced with rock cairns as we pass Byatt’s Camp – the main camp for the historic cattlemen – and wander deeper into the clutches of the towering bouldered slopes. 

Our jaws continue to stay glued to the ground as we take in the surrounding landscape. Walking south through a valley of almost eternal wonders, who would have more than a few stories to tell if they could. The 400 million-year-old rock has a way of humbling us as we gaze in silence, drinking in the historic environment. 

The spring snowmelt creates a labyrinth of streams cascading from the snowy peaks, causing an intertwining maze of swampy alpine heath for us to navigate.

Hopping over small trickles of water and avoiding the swampy tracks proves a harder task than anticipated, and the sudden shift to snow is welcomed as we traverse the slopes of, and round, Abbott’s Ridge. The contrast between brown and grey rocks, deep green heath and startling white snow paints the perfect picture, one that we spend many minutes trying to capture through our lens.

The snow soon provides its own challenges, not enough to warrant our snowshoes, but enough to slow us down slightly as we stumble and giggle our way into Wilkinsons Creek Valley. 

Wandering down the snow covered slopes of Wilkinsons Valley in the Kosciuszko National Park

Entering The Wondrous Wilkinsons Creek Valley

And then we stop dead in our tracks… If we thought we were immersed in the beauty of nature before, we certainly were now. 

We descend into the embrace of the Main Range. Mt Townsend and Mt Kosciuszko – the two tallest mountains in Australia – rise magnificently around us. To our right, a seasonal waterfall crashes against ancient boulders on its journey to Wilkinsons Creek. 

This is a source of the Murray River, the longest river in Australia which borders the states of New South Wales and Victoria, before ending in South Australia. It all begins on the slopes of the Main Range. And what is even more magical, the Snowy River begins on the eastern side of Muellers Pass ahead of us – a ridge connecting Mt Kosciuszko to the more northerly peaks of Kosciuszko National Park.

We set up camp between the ancient rocky tors and the gurgling alpine creek, finding a patch of spongy snow grass that is yet to become the ants’ playground.

A stunning sunset in Wilkinsons Creek Valley, just below Mt Kosciuszko as we climbed up Hannels Spur

The sun begins to slouch lower on the horizon, casting a reflection of the giant peaks across the winding river. We choose to climb a nearby tor for sunset, scrambling up the partly snow-covered boulders just in time to witness the sky transforming from blue to yellow to purple on the horizon. 

You could show me all the coastal sunsets in the world and still the mountains will win my heart. The snow transitioning from white to pink and purple. The long shadows casting shapes across the landscape. The frosty air filling your lungs as the sun takes with it the heat of the day.

We scramble down in near darkness, ready for a warm meal and tea to thaw our already frozen bodies as we wait for the stars to begin their dance across the inky sky. 

The Milky Way in the beautiful night sky over Wilkinsons Valley while on the Hannels Spur Hike

Summiting Mt Kosciuszko

We wake with the birds and crawl out of our tent as the blue hour begins. Armed with a coffee and multiple layers, we wander down to the banks of Wilkinsons Creek to watch the sun rise over Mueller’s Pass.

What a special moment, not a single other human in sight, just us and the birds and the rising sun methodically warming up the earth. A moment nothing but nature can provide. 

A beautiful sunrise in Wilkinsons Valley in the Kosciuszko National Park while climbing Hannels Spur

Our morning routine moves slowly, spending far too much time revelling in the wonders surrounding us. We eventually say goodbye to our beloved campsite and set off for the summit of Mt Kosciuszko.

Mueller’s Pass provides us with a whole new perspective of the Snowy Mountains. This time, the tall eastern slopes slide into deep green valleys, divided by the snowmelt signalling the beginning of the Snowy River.

We move south, traversing along the ridgeline and sinking in the melting snow. As the traverse becomes steeper and the snow deeper, we decide it’s time to attach our snowshoes. This makes our last 200 m of ascent up the northern face of Mt Kosciuszko a breeze, we arrive in time for lunch at the highest point in Australia.

The Main Range lays out in front of us, our campsite nothing more than a speck in the rolling valley beneath. The mandatory photos atop the summit marker are taken before we shoulder our packs for the last time, embarking on the slippery descent to Thredbo. 

Making a human star on top of Mt Kosciuszko, the highest peak in Australia

An easy walk along a steel grid, there to protect the fragile ecosystem, is the perfect ending to a perfect adventure. One that covered so much eclectic beauty. We feel as if we have embarked on multiple hikes in multiple countries, rather than just one. 

The diversity and challenge of Hannels Spur cannot be beaten in Australia. A unique, rewarding and awe-inspiring trail with millions of years of history spilling from every corner. We cannot thank Keith and his team of volunteers enough for reviving Hannels Spur and keeping it alive and thriving. 

Hannels Spur is one for every adventurer’s bucket list. If not for the intense beauty, for the bragging rights of conquering Australia’s greatest vertical ascent hike. 

Standing on top of a Tor in Wilkinsons Valley watching the Sunset after climbing Hannels Spur

Suggested Gear For the Hannels Spur Hike

Even in summer, the nights can get mighty cold in the Australian Alps and snow is not uncommon. For this reason, make sure to bring warm clothes, sleeping bags and mats if you’re planning a multi-day hike. For the day hikes, we still wouldn’t venture into the Snowy Mountains without some essential survival items.

The track is anything but clear to navigate and those without any experience could get into some trouble. Make sure to study the map before you leave and bring the essential emergency gear. No reception in most sections and the remoteness of the hike results in help being harder to acquire if you get lost or break a leg. Morbid, I know, but we would feel so terrible if we didn’t warn all our lovely readers of the possible dangers of this epic hike.

This is the list of gear we took on our trip in early Spring and highly recommend:

  • Compass and some sort of map – Hannels Spur is not an easy hike navigationally. Experience is highly recommended and a map, compass and GPS are essential. If you don’t own a GPS, download Gaia GPS and preload the map before leaving. This app will track your location, even telling you which direction you’re facing with its arrow.
  • Head Torch – It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.
  • Sturdy hiking shoes – Our favourites are Salomon XA Discovery Trail Runners.
  • Waterproof shoes – The snow can last all summer in sections, as well as swampy heath in the alpine. If you’re not equipped with above ankle, waterproof hiking boots, we recommend using NEOS overshoes for those sections.
  • Snowshoes – This is dependent on the season. It is a must in winter and we would recommend them for the shoulder seasons also, it’s much better to be safer than sorry!
  • Extra warm clothes – The wind can whip like crazy through these mountains and a storm can hit at any time. Check out my post How To Stay Warm Hiking for more information.
  • Rain Jacket – High winds and sudden rainfalls are more than common!
  • Sunscreen – Quite the contrary to a rain jacket, but it’s Australia… that sun is fierce.
  • Water Bottles – Preferably VERY hard plastic or metal, the chances of dropping it are high.
  • Sunglasses – Those rocks and snow can be mightily reflective.
  • Small Backpack for day walks – A hike is never complete without snacks. 
  • SNACKS – The highlight of our lives.
  • Camera – DER… if it’s not documented, did it really happen!?
  • Camping equipment – If you’re embarking on an overnight hike, make sure to pack a tent, warm sleeping bags and a mat. It can get cold up on top of the hills even in summer!
  • Cooking equipment – Again, if it’s cold nothing will beat a warm cuppa.
  • First Aid Kit – Unbeknown to Dylan, I always put this in our pack. He’s clumsy on a good day!
  • Emergency Beacon – There is no reception for most of this hike and with the remote and difficult nature, help could be a long way away without an emergency beacon.

For a full list of what to take with you on an overnight hike, subscribe to our email list and tick the hiking content box!

Forcing through the thick trail of Hannels Spur in the Kosciuszko National Park

When to Visit Hannels Spur

The Snowy Mountains experiences the highest snowfall in the whole of Australia through winter. Snowshoes are needed for Winter – and sometimes for Autumn and Spring as well. Navigation in winter is far more difficult, the rock cairns are buried and everything seems to look the same. I would highly recommend using a guide in winter unless you’re well equipped with snow gear and have extensive experience in navigating through the snow. 

Summer can bring hot days and cold nights. Though a sudden snowfall is not uncommon in the warmer months. Summer is best for those with no winter hiking experience. The nights are warmer and the chance of getting stuck in a snowstorm is much less likely. 

The shoulder seasons are my favourite as you get to experience the contrast between snow and wildflowers. And the nights are cold rather than freezing! The shoulder seasons require good planning and watching the weather. If you’re not equipped with snow gear, wait for a clear weather window. But be prepared for things to change rapidly. 

A beautiful sunstar over the creek running through Wilkinsons Valley just below Mount Kosciuszko

Whatever you choose, the scenery will leave you breathless. Just make sure to be prepared. 

Be mindful of the river crossing at the beginning of the hike. The levels could be too high and dangerous after the snowmelt in Spring. Check the weather forecast and avoid large weeks of rain. 

We recommend Keith Scott from K7 Adventures if you choose to take a guided tour of Hannels Spur. He is super friendly and extremely knowledgable. He shared some great facts about Hannels Spur’s history and provided us with an unforgettable experience. What a legend!

Getting There

The Hannels Spur Trail begins at Geehi Flats, 50 minutes north of Thredbo, along Alpine Way. Thredbo is 494 km south-west from Sydney – approximately 6 hours if you don’t get the terrible traffic! 

Shuttles, Fees and Carparks

Hannels Spur is a one-way journey, which in our opinion, makes the adventure even better! Retracing our steps is not our favourite… However, this does mean a shuttle of some sort will need to be sorted. 

If you choose to embark on a tour with K7, you will leave your car in the overnight car parks in Thredbo. These car parks are free, you will only need to pay for a Kosciuszko National Parks Pass.

If you’re planning to embark on your own, two options are open to you. Firstly, you can choose to turn the hike into a return, retracing your steps after summiting Mt Kosciuszko. This will add on another day. 

Secondly, If you choose to get an adventure posse together, the simple act of leaving one car at Thredbo and one car at Geehi Flats car park (which is free) will work swimmingly. 

Unfortunately, there are no shuttles or busses that run from Thredbo to Geehi Flats. Some crazy fit people have been known to leave a bike in Thredbo, drive to Geehi Flat, conquer Hannels Spur and ride their bike back to their car…

No, this was definitely not us! We are not that fit.

Whichever way you choose, a Kosciuszko National Parks Pass is needed to enter the national park’s boundaries before Thredbo.

Walking through the thick green forest while climbing up Hannels Spur on our hike to Mt Kosciuszko

The Campsites Of The Hannels Spur Hike

Moira’s Flat was our first campsite, a cosy clearing located six kilometres from the beginning and enclosed by trees. Keith and his fellow volunteers have produced the perfect campfire complete with stumps for sitting and a stockpile of wood.

The second possible campsite is Byatts Camp, an opening just out of the snow gums as you reach the top of Hannels Spur. This is an open site with stunning views of the valley where you began. We didn’t stay here, choosing to move onto Wilkinsons Creek Valley instead. 

Kathmandu Tent behind our gear to cook our backpacking meals on the Hannels Spur Hike in Moiras Flat Campground

Camping freely within the Kosciuszko National Park is allowed. However, some rules must be abided by…

Once the alpine is reached and you’re above the tree line, all poo must be taken out with you. To do this, bring along an airtight container, garbage bags and baking paper. Do your business on the baking paper – your toilet paper goes on the baking paper also – then grab the corners and place inside the garbage bag inside the container… It’s not gross, it’s necessary. Stop being a baby.

When choosing a place to camp, make sure to stay 100m away from any fragile swampy heath and rivers, streams or creeks. 

And of course, take EVERYTHING out with you. This includes unburied toilet paper, tissues, wipes and food scraps. 

Please, please, please heed by these simple rules. If people don’t, camping could well be banned within the plateau of the Snowy Mountains and we certainly don’t want that!! 

Read this Leave No Trace post for all you need to know on the subject.

Dr Forbes Hut at the base of the Hannels Spur Hike

History Of Hannels Spur

A bountiful history surrounds Hannels Spur, beginning with the original landowners – the Aboriginal clans – who summited the Snowy Mountains each summer to feast on Bogong moths. In 1840, Count Paul Strzelecki became the first European to climb Mt Kosciuszko via Hannels Spur, with the aid of two Aboriginal Guides, Charlie Tarra and Jacky, and accompanied most of the way by James McArthur.

This is only the beginning of Hannels Spur’s rich history, and I admit, I cannot give it the justice it needs in this post…

For a full history of Hannels Spur, including in-depth track notes and a map, click on this link to Keith Scott’s article – In The Footsteps Of Strzelecki – in Wild Magazine which helped spur the rehabilitation of Hannels Spur. 

A cool formation of a peppermint trees bark along the Hannels Spur Clmib

Wow, that was a long post! I guess you can tell how damn excited I am about sharing this phenomenal adventure with you all. If you have but one bucket list hike in Australia, make it this one. You won’t be disappointed. The challenge of Hannels Spur enhances the reward of witnessing the inner reaches of the Kosciuszko National Park. A feeling you can’t recreate by following the boardwalk to Mt Kosciuszko. 

If you have any questions about Hannels Spur or the tours available with Keith Scott at K7 Adventures, please ask! I am always happy to help you fulfil your wanderlust in any way I can.

**In no way shape or form were we endorsed to write this article. We met Keith on our first winter snow camping expedition and through chatting, learnt of Hannels Spur. Naturally, we had to experience it for ourselves and sought to book the tour through K7 Adventures. 

Hannels Spur hike in the Kosciuszko National Park pinterest pin
Hannels Spur hike in the Kosciuszko National Park pinterest pin
Hannels Spur hike in the Kosciuszko National Park pinterest pin

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