In Greek mythology, Clytemnestra was famous for murdering Agamemnon, whom she was forced to marry against her will. If she was anything like the mountain sharing her name, I find it hard to believe she was forced into anything! Clytemnestra the mountain throws many challenges at you and fights against you reaching her summit. Those that push through to her glorious peak are richly rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of floating on top of the world, whilst sitting high above her cliff bound southern and eastern faces. Wow. Just wow!
Date: 1st November 2020 Summit: 1271m
Distance: Approximately 12km return from the summit of Frenchmans Cap.
Time taken: Approx. 6 hours return to the summit of Frenchmans Cap.
Difficulty: Difficult. This walk should only be undertaken in fine weather by experienced hikers confident in off track navigation and with some degree of comfort for minor exposure.
Type of track: Tracked from Lake Tahune to the summit of Frenchmans Cap, then completely untracked to the summit of Clytemnestra. Very occasional cairns assist with the descent from Frenchmans Cap.
Access from: Lake Tahune Hut, Frenchmans Cap Track.
Standing on top of Frenchmans Cap…
It was lovely to meet some familiar faces at the lake Tahune Hut from the LWC. They too had planned a Frenchmans/Sharlands/Clytemnestra long weekend. It appears that great minds think alike, and we were all loosely sticking to the main Abels book route, which was also used by Nature Lovers Walks for our trek to Clytemnestra. The Abels references an alternate route which passes under the east face of the Cap, but it is a much riskier route due to rockfall and the loose ground to traverse. I was all in for the longer-but-safer route. The LWC set off a good hour and a half before us, as we were feeling a little lazy from the huge hike in from the Lyell Highway the day before. Note: this trip report starts from the summit of Frenchmans Cap to save repeating that essay.
We were welcomed to the summit of Frenchmans Cap with a crisp and clear morning. Already the heat of the day was building and the steep climb up the ‘Cap had warmed our legs for the hike through to Clytemnestra. The views below and across to our north of the Overland Track’s superstar mountains floating in low cloud had us stopping at the summit for a while to immerse ourselves in the moment. From our high vantage point we could see Clytemnestra nearby, but decided she could wait another half hour we were not going to miss this moment in a hurry to proceed to the next big thing!
We could have spent the whole day on the summit of Frenchmans Cap, but it was time to stop dilly-dallying and commence the crossing to Clytemnestra – it looked a long way away! Leaving the summit cairn of Frenchmans behind us we headed westwards in search of the cairn approximately 400m away that would lead us gently down off the southern side of the Cap. Ben was following a couple of GPS routes as a guide, and I was navigating with my usual compass and map set up. Making sure we ignored the first cairned route heading south (which leads to a very exposed and unrecommended descent) I scouted ahead for the cairns leading towards the south-west. The descent here over delicate cushion plants (avoid stepping on!), low alpine heath and rocky jumbles was steep. This was going to test our already-tired legs on the return journey. As we descended, a rocky ridge came into sight. This would be the ridge we would use to access the vegetated slopes leading off the ‘Cap. Hopefully this would allow us to avoid the worst of the exposure.
It would be very tempting to turn south too soon and find oneself on exposed ledges that would be difficult to descend, and so I was very conscious of following the cairns as far as they would lead us past the bluffs, before turning and starting our descent. Even with this care we still found ourselves having to track half way back up one of the vegetated gullies to find a less exposed drop point. Keeping the tarns below in our line of sight as a directional marker, we carefully made our way down the steep ridge.
The vegetated slopes gave way to small shale-y rock slopes and with cairns now no longer present, it was a choose our own adventure down towards the scoparia field below. Once again, we acknowledged the climb back up to the summit of the Cap from this southern side was going to test our legs later on in the day. Rapidly losing elevation now meant that we were also starting to feel the heat. Knowing we were in for a day of serious elevation changes, we had packed light; Bender had only a half-litre water bottle so we’d be relying on hitting the creek at the bottom of the valley to keep hydrated. (In hindsight the sudden shift from winter/spring to summer conditions caught me off-guard. There’s not much water to be found once out of the valley, so 1-1.5L water capacity is highly recommended, or more if in the heat of summer – Ben)
Below the shale slopes, we hit the first band of scrub that we would have to force ourselves through for the day. Nothing says ‘rarely visited’ like head high scoparia to push one’s self through. Quite possibly the only positive about scoparia is you don’t feel too bad pushing through the nasty stuff, when the plants are as tall and thick as they are on these slopes. As we were descending they held our weight, when the steep gradient below meant there was no solid ground beneath our feet! Mind you, they also spring back and smack you in the face, which happens too often when you are midget-sized like me! It might have been very dense and a struggle at times, but it was quite short lived. We soon found ourselves in more open scrub interspersed with boulder outcrops just after crossing the small creek at the base of the scoparia. The water at this section of the creek wasn’t too appealing, stagnant and filled with algae. Fortunately it runs clean and clear further around.
Whilst the boulders provided some relief from the scrub on the way over to the tarns, occasionally they would force us to back track as they were too high to drop off. On the return journey we would skirt around these boulders sticking to the marsh and avoid the unnecessary effort. The tarns were quite discoloured and so instead of filing up there (probably safe to drink but lots of gross floaties) we located a small but fast flowing creek outlet in the marsh and refilled our water from there. We also used the time to plan our forward route. Ben’s GPS route led off to the left of the rocky ridge leading to South Col. We decided instead to use the rocky ridge to make travelling easier. Whilst it appeared slightly steeper it should have been easier going without the scrub – which it was. We did return via the scrub and it was pretty horrid. The rocky spine made for much better travelling!
The rocky ridge was certainly steep, and the heat coming off the rock increasingly intense, but at least there was minimal scrub to deal with. Way, way, way, way, way, way off in the distance we could see Clytemnestra. We would use the ridge we were on to access South Col, that in turn would lead us to Clytemnestra. It first appeared from our vantage point that we did not need to climb right to the top of the ridge, but could contour around it towards South Col – this wasn’t the case. Deep gullys from the ridge meant that there was no choice but to walk right up to and along its spine. There would be no avoiding any elevation gain today! Our three day trip topped out at over 4700m of elevation gain – this area is steep country! Interestingly enough, there was just as much elevation loss so the downs were just as steep! Speaking of steep downs – the walking down the ridge to join South Col was over steep, slippery shale. Our poles came in very handy to avoid falling over.
Staying low on South Col we finally had Clytemnestra in our sights! It felt like we might actually get there. Both of us were feeling the heat and our weary legs from the day before, but we were so close! Well at that stage we thought we were so close. Little did we know that Clytemnestra is one of those mountains that just keeps giving. No sooner would be crest one of her knolls and another would appear. Like kids on a long car drive, we were asking – are we there yet?!
Finally, hot and bothered but triumphant, we stepped onto the summit plateau. The plateau was beautiful with its scattering of delicate cushion plants and tiny tarns. We could see the team from the LWC at the summit finishing their lunch and we hurried over to join them.
It had taken us three solid hours from the summit of Frenchmans Cap to reach the summit of Clytemnestra. It had been a hard slog in the heat, but wow, was it worth every bit of effort. To our north Frenchmans Cap laughed at us knowing we had the trek back to its summit still to come. To the east, our goal for the next day – Sharlands Peak – was also quietly chuckling, I am sure! In every direction we saw glacial carved valleys, peaks and ridges, tarns and lakes that commanded our attention. For those brave (read: stupid) enough to carry a tent all the way out here, the plateau of Clytemnestra would make a magical camping spot -albeit hard to recommend, being a delicate environment and without any flowing water or cover if the weather packs in). Whilst munching on lunch and enjoying the views, we chatted about how all of us now believe Clytemnestra is a “oncer”. None of us were in a hurry to every make that trek again! The LWC crew set off, so Ben and I enjoyed a little more time at the summit as we were in no hurry to begin the hard hike homewards. Clytemnestra is one of those mountains where the return journey is just as physically taxing as the climb to the summit, that’s for sure.
The journey back to the summit of Frenchmans Cap was indeed as physical as we had predicted, but we were buoyed by the fact that we had enjoyed a successful traverse to Clytemnestra. In rare perfect weather no less. We were now walking in the hottest part of the day, and my sneaky green cordial was working wonders with giving us little bursts of energy, as was our electrolyte powder. Stopping at the same creek we had used on the way over we refilled our water bottles before facing the uphill battle through the scoparia, the climb up the vegetated valley and the final push to the summit of the ‘Cap from the south. Arriving back at Frenchmans summit cairn at 5pm, we allowed ourselves time in the warm evening light to ponder the magic of nature that lay before us. Soaking up the views one last time, we descended back to Tahune Hut, a hearty feed and lively conversation with the lovely members of the LWC about how none of us are ever going back!