Beautiful morning on day 1 to begin our mission.
When I first heard that to climb Clytemnestra one needed to drop over the edge of Frenchmans Cap, I was filled with horror. Do you know the cliffs that shape the Frenchman, my reader? They seem formidable from any distance. However, the notion of climbing all the Abels had been planted in my brain by my former climbing partner, and had taken root there, and if I wanted to achieve that goal (still not sure, actually), then I needed to conquer any misapprehensions I felt with regard to dropping off the Frog’s hat.
Off Angela and I set on the start of this little mission, past Vera Hut too early for lunch, which we had upstream. In case you’re also there in a dry time of year, I’ll tell you that the last water after leaving Vera is about 45 mins up the track, where it crosses the creek for the final time. We arrived at Tahune Hut mid-afternoon in plenty of time to choose a scenic spot for out tents, to organise our gear, and to go swimming (Angela) or to chat with others (Louise). I must have sweated a lot, as I needed a copious and salty afternoon tea, staring out at mountains reflected in the amber waters of the lake.
Our plan for day 2 of our venture was to set out at 7 a.m., but at 6 the continuing sound of heavier-than-we-liked rain had us push back the time to 8, … and then to cancel the idea of climbing altogether. However, at 10 it looked as though it might be clearing, so we decided to give it a go. Maybe this was a recce, maybe this was a climb. Time would tell. At least it was some exercise for the day.
Getting near our goal by this stage
We were on top by 11, enshrouded in thick mist, but decided to continue this recce business a bit further, and to try, at the very least, to find where we’d drop off the cliffs on the morrow, perhaps saving ourselves time then. We attempted two chutes that ended abruptly in dead ends (excuse the pun), but on the third attempt, managed to negotiate our way down the slippery rock with success, which meant we reached a knoll near the two tarns at the mountain’s base, 1 hr 10 mins after leaving the summit. I was still in recce mode. Angela didn’t comment. On we pushed, now proceeding up the lightly bushed ridge that connected with the main Frenchman-Clytemnestra one, and then contouring around its belly to avoid unnecessary climb. When we rounded that bulge the mist cleared enough to give us a brief glimpse of our grail – way, way closer than I believed possible. Angela was now excited and announced that this was no longer a recce. We were climbing this thing and now. I would continue forward, but reserved judgement on the certainty of success.
The cliffs of Frenchmans, teasing us while we had lunch on Clytemnestra
Into the final saddle, with only some cliffs between us and the summit cairn, I still refused to believe. Up, right, up, right, we climbed, walked, climbed, walked, until, truly amazing: there, fifty metres in front of me was the summit cairn. Only then did I allow myself to believe we were really going to do it. Ceremoniously we approached and touched together.
The route back to Frenchmans. We thought the mist was clearing!
We had lunch on top, watching the mist swirling around us, every now and then allowing a teasing half-glimpse of the silhouette of Frenchmans. At this moment, when I decided to consult my phone which had been tracking our route, I discovered that the battery was basically dead and I couldn’t even see the screen. Our homeward route was thus concealed, but, no worries, we have memories. Off we set.
We have to go over Frenchmans (back) before we drop down to our tents.
There were no mishaps until it came time to choose which chute we needed to use to climb back up onto the main massif. At that time, the mist was particularly thick: visibility was zilch, and it felt like hours later than it actually was, with so little light penetrating the thick clouds. I did not like this at all. It felt like these conditions were set in for the remainder of the day, and we would never be offered a glimpse of a possible route. We were in a nasty cliff maze with no perceptible way out.
Eerie light as the sun tries to break through (before giving up again).
Luckily, before we left home, I had emailed Hobart Walking Club and received a gpx route, which I had transferred to my phone, and forwarded to Angela, who had also downloaded it. Now was the moment to consult this route on the phone that still worked. We could see the other club-member’s track, and our position relative to it, and note that we needed to contour a bit to the east before we would intercept it, and then follow it due north for about 150 ms, when, with luck, an attractive chute should reveal itself. It did. The feeling of relief as we emerged on top, and I knew that we just had to keep climbing – no more chutes, no more difficulties – was enormous. As we climbed higher, safe and sound, mission successful, a kind of golden circle where the sun should be coloured the mist and lent the landscape a temporarily yellowed hew. Everlasting daisies, in funny, closed cups, shone silver in the tinted light.