A Circuit Of Brockagh East Top

I decided to leave the bigger hills alone this week, and instead opted to visit a much smaller hill, but a hill with very fine views of some of Wicklow’s beautiful valleys.

Brockagh South East Top is a hill I have visited many times, but I have not written a blog post about this place before, so I shall rectify that now!

Weather forecast was for light winds (westerly) and rain showers, some of which might turn thundery. Better pack the waterproofs (you should always pack these when walking in Ireland)!

According to Mountain Views, Brockagh translates to ‘mountain of Brocach or place of badgers’. I have never seen a badger here, mind.

My plan for the day was not to actually visit Brockagh Mountain ‘proper’, I opted instead to visit the South East Top only. The reason for this is that actual summit of Brockagh Mountain does not offer the wonderful views that Brockagh SE Top offers and I have often been disappointed by the views at Brockagh proper after the extra effort to get there. Instead I had wanted to spend more time at the superior SE top.

Anyway, starting at the car park at the lower lake of Glendalough (you have to pay in summer) I followed the Wicklow Way as it zig – zags its way up through Brockagh forest. After a short stretch, the Wicklow Way path heads south east, I departed ways with it here. Instead, I followed a forest track that heads north west. Forest Track copy.jpg

I had not taken this route to Brockagh South East Top before – usually I park in Glenmacnass or near the Brockagh Resource Centre, so I was curious to see how the views would be from this approach.

Just beyond the forest track in the photograph above, the forestry ends and a closed (closed when I was there) gate greets you along with a sign that says no mountain bikes/motor vehicles beyond this point. Walkers were welcome though. Walker code is to leave gates as they were found, so I closed the gate after passing through. It had a strange upward lifting bolt mechanism – one which I was not familiar with – I should have taken a photograph, actually. But, as I say, it was a mechanism I had not seen before and an unfortunate event occurred whereby as I closed the gate, the heavy bolt snapped down on my thumb. Ouch! Live and learn!

Leaving behind the gate, and its angry guardian, the route I had planned hits open hillside. Climbing gently, views over to the rugged north-eastern face of Camaderry are revealed.
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From this spot there are also fine views looking up to Derrybawn Ridge. This is an angle I had not viewed the ridge from before.
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Climbing a bit further now, and turning back reveals a pleasant view down to the lower lake of Glendalough and the surrounding hills. I knew there was a better to view to come so I did not want to wait for the sun to totally illuminate the view here. Time is always against you as a photographer! The clouds were building as well.
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A small bit further up and I took the opportunity to take a longer range shot of the lower lake with my 100mm lens. I really enjoy using this focal length for landscapes because it compresses the perspective only a small amount but allows closer views of details and interesting compositions.
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Nearing the summit of Brockagh SE Top now, and a curious perspective of Wicklow’s third highest summit come into view, here is Tonelagee (‘backside to the wind’). I must visit this mountain again soon, it has been a long time since I was up there, and it’s great! Tonelagee copy.jpg

Getting much cloudier now, as shown in the above photograph, and I think I can see rain in the distance. Better waterproof up!

Lego Batman always comes prepared, and he was ready for any rain. It rains in Gotham too! He did mention that he prefers the greens of Wicklow to the dark hues of the city of Gotham.
He was very grateful of the outing, but in the back of his mind, he was always aware that; should the signal be lit, he would have to return to fight criminals in the dark city. Jeez, talk about tortured soul… Can’t even enjoy a relaxing day out on the hills!Lego Batman copy.jpg

Coincidentally (or perhaps a little bit deliberately!), I saw the Lego Batman movie on the same day as this walk. It’s great fun and highly recommended. The same applies to the movie!

Back to the walk, a nice piece of sunlight illuminates the floor of the beautiful valley of Glenmacnass here, with the Glenmacnass waterfall at distance. The Military Road is also prominent on the valley floor itself, and on the right is a shoulder of Scarr Mountain known as ‘Kanturch’ I believe, or Scarr North West Top. This is the view from the northern slopes of the summit area of Brockagh SE Top. You do have to descend quite a bit to get an unobstructed view, as shown here.Glenmacnass copy.jpg

A wider shot of the valley taken a few minutes later. Woah! Everything got much darker all of a sudden! Yep, rain is definitely on the way! One angry looking sky….
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And the sky darkened further…
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Heavy rain shower now. I hope it will pass soon, but Batman and myself (and more importantly my expensive camera gear!) are waterproofed up. Batman and I fear no rain!

Heading over to the south side of the summit now, back to complete my compact and scenic loop and a wonderful view of the lower lake and the Spinc is revealed.  Lower Lake and Spinc.jpg

Some rain fog moving past my favourite trees of Camaderry, with the great cliffs of the spinc beyond. Plus a partially fog covered Lugnaquilla lurking behind.Cover Image copy2.jpg

Sometimes poor weather can help photographs I think. And the images above are very representative of the climate in Ireland. It rains a lot and it is totally overcast a lot of the time. Don’t be fooled by ‘postcard’ photographs!
I have been to this place in many weather conditions (still waiting for snow though). I would say 75% of the time I have been here, it has been completely overcast! Many mornings I have sat up here at sunrise, after a very early start, only to be disappointed by the clouds.

Here is the beautiful ‘Valley Of The Two Lakes’ – Glendalough. The lower lake at left and the upper lake peeping behind the shoulder of Camaderry. Even on rainy, cloudy days it’s a wonderful sight and this is one of the best views of it I think.Lakes 50 copy.jpg

Descending further, almost back to the forest line. A bit of light creates some drama on this boulder here. Look at the moody sky! Another downpour imminent, I think.Drama copy.jpg

I was right. Boy, did it RAIN! I did have some shelter from the forestry but wow!

Almost back at the car park, and the ‘Little Yellow Man’ of The Wicklow Way reassuringly points the way!LYM copy.jpg

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook!

A lot of time and effort goes into this blog and the images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.

Hazy Views At Mullaghcleevaun

A new walk this time.
A walk to (almost) the middle of the Wicklow Mountains.
I had not attempted Mullaghcleevaun from Ballynultagh Gap before, so I was excited about this one. It looked straightforward enough on the map.
I had been to Black Hill before (many times), as part of a walk to Silsean and Moanbane, and also on it’s own and I have also been to Mullaghcleevaun before (a few times).
A couple of times, I hiked to Mullaghcleevaun via Carrigshouk, Stoney Hill (Mullaghcleevaun East Top) and then onto Mullaghcleevaun itself – it’s a good walk and I think it’s probably the easiest route of the three I describe here. Car park safety below Carrigshouk is an issue though.
Another visit to Mullaghcleevaun was via a tough (the hardest of the three routes here), five summit hike from Sally Gap -> taking in Carrigvore, Gravale, Duff Hill (tough pull up from the col between Gravale and Duff Hill), Stoney Hill and then finally Mullaghcleevaun. That was a tough day, and upon reaching Mullaghcleevaun and sitting down for lunch – I realised I had left it in the car boot. OUCH.
Yep, that was a real sinking feeling alright. I had to head back the way I came, over four mountains, with an empty belly! There was a further surprise this day, and not one I was grateful for – when I finally got back to the car – it had been broken into (though presumably, not for my lunch – which was still in the boot – and had not even been tampered with). Parking anywhere north of (and including) Sally Gap, or on the Military Road itself for any length of time is ill advised these days – but it was not this way more than four years ago when I started walking. As the hills get more popular, I fear the crime will increase.

I have had some problems with my big toe joint on my left foot for about two weeks now, so I have been resting up a bit. Weight bearing and flexing is painful, in addition, a trapped nerve in my left foot, 2nd and 3rd toes) has also been playing up (Morton’s Neuroma). A painful condition, and I often say ‘unhappy feet, unhappy person’. It’s difficult to not be irritable when standing up and walking is painful. But the resting didn’t seem to help much so I thought it might be a good idea to do a bit of ‘gentle exercise’ and attempt Mullaghcleevaun and see did the exercise help. I suspect that a lot of people would probably not classify hiking up Wicklow’s second highest mountain as ‘gentle exercise’ but I had been wanting to return here for ages! My physiotherapist gave me the go-ahead, so I rolled the dice. We’ll see in a few days if it helped or hurt, but initial reports state that the pain is still the same – so no point in resting then! Readers of this blog will know how much I hate the word ‘rest’. My physiotherapist describes my left foot as ‘very complex’ and a ‘lifelong battle’. Joy! I do wear custom orthotics but there is still the outstanding issue of Ankylosing Spondylitis, which causes me pain and is no doubt the underlying cause of my lower limb/back pain. I would say surgery is in my future!

Anyway, negativity over with – a beautiful sunny (though hazy) evening and the second highest mountain in Wicklow beckons! On with the journey…
After getting a (very) generous lift to Ballynultagh Gap car park, between Sorrel Hill and Black Hill itself – I did my usual stretches, applied a ‘metatarsal pressure pad’ to both feet (I was hoping this would help with my left foot big toe joint) and gauged the journey ahead. It looked far. No problem, car safety not an issue this day.Looks Far copy.jpg

There is a nice path (most of the way) up to the top of Black Hill, so ascent is straightforward. Looking back over the shoulder of Sorrel Hill (at left) towards the Kilbride chain of summits – the four C’s (Seahan, Corrig, Seefingan and Seefin). Only Seahan, Seefin and Seefingan are visible in the photograph below, Corrig (the poor sibling for many reasons which I will document another time) is obscured – I must do that circuit again at some point. So many adventures to be had in Wicklow! 3 C's copy.jpg

Wow, I am already two photographs in and I have forgotten to mention the view over Blessington and Poulaphouca Reservoir. I am getting carried away! The reservoir itself is vast and (despite appearances) man – made. Poulaphouca translates as “the Púca’s hole”. A Púca is a creature in Celtic mythology – they can be bringers of both good and bad fortune, either help or hinder rural and marine communities. The creatures were said to be shape changers which could take on the appearance of black horses, goats and hares. I’ve never seen a live one, mind. Or MAYBE I HAVE! I have seen many black horses, goats and hares in my time in Wicklow!
The view itself from Ballynultagh Gap is vast, but in my experience does not translate to a good photograph. I took one anyway!
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The summit of Black Hill has no interesting features really, only a wet boggy patch and a ‘Wicklow Mountains National Park’ post. Nice views to Mullaghcleevaun though:Black Hill Summit copy.jpg

Looks like there is some ground to cover!

Descending the slopes of Black Hill now, heading in a south-easterly direction – a nice view of the Mullaghcleevaun massif is revealed.
Mullaghcleevaun is at right of center, at distance. Stoney Hill (the ‘East Top’), slightly left of that. Near center is a peat ditch, not really a path. Beyond that (towards the right hand side) is a labyrinth of peat hags – many of which were taller than me. Where the peat hags end, the final climb begins in earnest – a steep slope onto the broad summit of Mullaghcleevaun. Tough work going up, it was a warm evening. I was more concerned about the descent with my blinking left foot though! Trust me, that slope is steeper than it looks. Mullaghcleevaun trail copy.jpg

The trail I was following peters out in the gap between Mullaghcleevaun and Black Hill. The ground in the col itself is very wet, even under dry weather. Leather boots are a must!

Heading up the north-western shoulder of Mullaghcleevaun now, and there is a faint trail, one which I lost and then found again at various intervals. Not a trail that can be relied upon, so navigation skills are a must. I actually think Mullaghcleevaun can pose more problems than Lugnaquilla in some ways. It is much less frequented, so the trails are sparse and sporadic – and because you are less likely to meet other people here, if you do hit a spot of bother then help is not close at hand. The day I did this walk, I met nobody at Mullaghcleevaun. Not a single person. Granted, I did do the walk in the evening but it was a glorious evening. Some of the tortured and weathered peat hags you can expect to encounter if you do this walk:
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Looking over to Silsean and Moanbane beyond Billy Byrne’s Gap just before the last pull up to Mullaghcleevaun. Yeah, I took a rest break here and had a couple of bananas and oranges. I needed some fuel! Billy Byrne's Gap copy.jpg

Just over half way up the steep western slope of Mullaghcleevaun now, and some walkers have built a few navigation aid cairns. How precarious this one looked! I wondered how long it had been here, and how long until the gales blow it over. But it could have been here for years for all I know. Lovely blue skies.
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Finally! At the summit now, and standing on the second highest mountain in Wicklow. And I have it all to myself, on such an amazing evening. Tonelagee looms beyond the triangulation station in the photograph below.Trig copy.jpg

Because I know where many of the Trig stations in the Wicklow Mountains are, I always find it a fun game to ‘connect the trigs’ mentally. I am a nerd like that. Tonelagee has a trig and from this spot, Lugnaquilla was also visible this day, as was Djouce, Seahan, Keadeen and Kippure (which also have trigs). Connect the trigs! Try it, it’s fun!

Lots to see up here, and it is late in the day now. Only a few hours until sunset. No time for rest breaks. There are two memorials (that I know of) at the summit of Mullaghcleevaun, and a further one between Duff Hill and East Top, but I would not be going there this day.
The first memorial I visited this day was the An Óige plaque, attached to a granite boulder. This is dedicated to three Wicklow hikers who drowned at Clogher head. I composed this hoping that readers would be able to read the text, unless you are using a small phone screen! My blog is best viewed on larger screens, but if you are using a phone – the text reads:

“In perpetual memory of three Wicklow hikers who loved these hills so well:
Peter Purfield, Joseph O’Gorman, Matthew Porter – Drowned at Clogher Head July 17th 1945 R.I.P. – Erected by fellow hostellers of An Óige – 1945.”
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Another view of the memorial, with the view east – Duff Hill, Gravale, War Hill and Djouce prominent in the distance.An Oige copy.jpg

The second memorial, which I had not seen before but made an effort to seek out this day, is dedicated to a Pat Redmond:
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I have always thought the view from the summit of Mullaghcleevaun is a bit of a disappointment – it’s a large swollen hump of a summit. But (much like Lug, and Wicklow in general, really) good views can be had by dropping down to the steeper slopes of the mountain.
I opted to head to the steep ground above Cleevaun lough, nestled below the northern cliffs of Mullaghcleevaun. From here, the view north is expansive. I had wanted to drop down further – to get an undisturbed view of the lake, but mindful of my big toe pain, I opted against it. I also wanted to spend more time at the other side of the summit.
It is believed that Mullaghcleevaun (‘Summit of the Cradle’) acquired its name from the little lake:Lough Cleevaun copy.jpg

Another photograph of the lake, with the chain of summits leading towards Sally gap at right towards center. Some low clouds rolling in from the east coast (at distance). Light easterly winds this day, but the clouds were coming this way. I figured I’d be gone before they enshroud Mullaghcleevaun.
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Switching to ‘long range’ mode now, i.e. putting my Zeiss 100mm lens onto my camera – I liked the desolate and tortured ground near the lake shore.Lough Cleevaun Portrait copy.jpg

Desolation and isolation. I liked being alone up here.
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Heading back to the summit now, I wanted to find some views looking over to Tonelagee. Pausing for a photograph of a bird on some boulders against the hazy humps of Silsean and Moanbane (far right, tiny fella!).Hazy Humps copy.jpg

There was a layer of mist in the atmosphere, creating hazy views south. But I quite liked it, I felt it added ‘atmosphere’. Looking over to Turlough Hill beyond the scarred peat of Barnacullian. Turlough Hill copy.jpg

A view from the summit of Mullaghcleevaun, looking over to Tonelagee – the third highest mountain in Wicklow, and one I must visit again at some stage:Tonelagee copy.jpg

A similar shot, but with a different perspective. I think I like this one better. Most of my landscape photographs are taken using a 50mm or 100mm lens actually. Most people prefer wide angles (28mm or shorter) but I like to focus on scenes as opposed to ‘fitting everything’ into the shot.
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Thinking about heading back now, it is getting late. But it’s wonderful up here, and it feels much ‘wilder’ than other places in Wicklow. Not a soul to be seen. Mullaghcleevaun might be second in height to Lugnaquilla, but one might argue that it is first in terms of wilderness and isolation.

Hazy views down to the south as I reunite with the earlier photographed navigation cairn. One might be terribly grateful for the handful of these scattered about the slopes of Mullaghcleevaun if descending in thick fog.Cairn 2 copy.jpg

The return journey lies ahead – visibility in this direction is not perfect and the haze was getting worse as the sun dipped lower in the sky, but I actually like the presence of the mist and haze, it adds some atmosphere. A hazy view over to Black Hill and the Poulaphouca reservoir.Return Journey copy.jpg

It look like a long way to go! But first, this labyrinth needs to be solved.
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A large number of the peat banks here were much taller than I am.
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Labyrinth complete, now on the shoulder of Mullaghcleevaun and a beautiful view down to Glenagoppul (with the Kilbride range in the distance) opens up. I enjoyed this view, and the large forestry areas really add a sense of scale.
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Almost back at Black Hill now, and the sun is getting very low – this is the time that all landscape photographers love. During ‘Golden Hour’, as it is known (the hour after sunrise/before sunset), the landscape takes on a sort of reddish hue. Within the visible range of light, red light waves are scattered the least by atmospheric gas molecules. So at sunrise and sunset, when the sunlight travels a long path through the atmosphere to reach our eyes, the blue light has been mostly removed, leaving mostly red and yellow light remaining. Looking back to Mullaghcleevaun, we can see this reddish hue start to appear. P.S. the only ‘editing’ I performed on the below was to add my logo and website link.
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It would be a rare hike that I don’t find a single lone Sitka Spruce tree, and I found one this day!
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The final push back down Black Hill where my kind and patient chauffeur had returned, and was waiting to collect me. No car breaks in this day!
I do dread descent much more than ascent. You are tired, probably hungry and all the weight of your pack is keenly felt in your lower extremities. The pack always feels much heavier on the way down! At least there is a straightforward path!
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Last light over a red Mullaghcleevaun. It was like a Martian scene. I did not ‘jazz’ this up in the digital darkroom, this is how it was.
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Now I will leave you all be, and go and ice my big toe!

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook!

A lot of time and effort goes into this blog and the images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.

An Overcast Day At Lugduff

Who says cloudy days have to be dull!?
Yes, a walk I have done before, and yes, a walk I have written about before (see The Spinc & A Frosty Lugduff Gap). But it’s a great walk and I am able to park my car safe in the knowledge that it will be safe (which is important when hiking in Wicklow – especially in the spring/summer months). It’s a shame that ‘car safety’ is a factor in deciding where to hike, but I have had my car broken into multiple times in the mountains, so it’s something I carefully consider.
Anyway, car safety aside – I had wanted to do this walk this day, because I do enjoy it and it’s a good workout. Plus, I knew the weather was not going to be remarkable so the walk was more about exercise than photography per se.

On past walks here, I usually start by heading up beside the Poulanass waterfall but I opted for a different route this time, just for a change of scenery.
I wondered what cataclysmic event caused this! This tree has been in this condition for at least three years now, and I cannot say how this happened.Tree copy.jpg

After the ‘steps of the death’ (so called by myself because they kill your calf muscles!) that lead you to the top of The Spinc, I like to take a short detour from the track to perch my tripod on a (rather precarious – I might add) rocky overhang to obtain a completely unobstructed view of the western shore of the upper lake of Glendalough. Yep, got a few looks from passers-by at this spot. Worth it.
From here, we can the see upper Glenealo Valley, the Glenealo river and waterfall (left hand side, towards the top), some spoil heaps from the mining operations in the valley (the white ‘sand’ on the steep ground/cliffs at right and on the valley floor) and the white beachy shore of the lake itself. This is a view I particularly enjoy. I love the winding Glenealo river as it meanders its way down to the lake. Such a calm, peaceful day as well. Little to no wind. Glenaelo River copy.jpg

For me, resolution is king. If a landscape photograph I take is not sharp edge to edge, corner to corner then I do not keep it. For my 50mm Nikkor lens, I know I need to stop down to f/8 for this (experience is a valuable teacher) to overcome lens aberrations. In the dominant conditions in Ireland (overcast and dark), this means a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second at ISO 64 (my Nikon D810 has a base ISO of 64, which contributes to its high dynamic range). I cannot hand hold my camera with a 50mm lens at 1/60th of a second and get a sharp shot, my hands are not steady enough- again experience has taught me this. So that big, heavy and unwieldy tripod comes in handy! Most hikers I meet are always amazed at the amount of, and weight of gear that I carry. But I am uncompromising in terms of image quality. I have the highest resolution camera that Nikon sell commercially, so I am compelled to maximise its capabilities. Yep, ready for an upgrade Nikon ;-).

Here is a 100% size crop from the previous photograph, taken from the left hand side (a bit more than a third down from the top), a very small area of the whole image. So yeah, resolution rules. Here we can see the waterfall of the Glenealo river itself and the ‘zig-zag’ tracks that take you up (or down from) the Spinc. Look closely and you can see tiny people! At the first ‘elbow zig-zag’ as you go up, there is an orange jacket and a yellow one. So yeah, resolution rules!!! But to deploy that resolution, discipline and technique is required. It’s not a simple ‘point & shoot’ task.  Glenaelo River crop copy.jpg

Here is my lofty perch, BIG drop below and you do not want to slip here.Perch copy.jpg

As the seasons change the greens of the ‘Emerald Isle’ are making their return, as seen in the almost aerial view of the Scot’s Pines below. I took this from the cliffs of the Spinc.Trees copy.jpg

Whilst on the subject of the cliffs of the Spinc, here is a shot of a small patch of sunlight striking the northern aspect cliffs. That was about it as far as direct sunlight went on this day.Cliffs copy.jpg

Yeah, I did not see much sun this day. But I don’t mind, I just enjoy being out and about!
I opted to head for the top of the Spinc walk (as opposed to heading left at a junction to head straight for Lugduff gap) and then proceeded to hand rail a rather decrepit old fence!Fence copy.jpg

This fence soon expired and then I was relying on my navigation skills to avoid the steeper slopes of Lugduff south east top. I wanted a gentler approach, sore legs and feet always in my thoughts. This turned out to be a much gentler gradient than the main track up to Lugduff Gap actually, but of course the terrain was not as ‘easy going’. Tussocks of grass and some wet bog patches were the main problem. But I opted for this route as I had hoped to cross paths with some deer. Plus it offered a nice view of the Glenealo Valley and the surrounding hills (though a dull day unfortunately).Glenaelo Valley copy.jpg

Well, I did see some deer – though they were spooked by my presence and immediately departed hastily upon sighting me!Deer copy.jpg

A stealthier approach was required, and a longer lens (I had my 100mm Zeiss with me but not my 70-200 Nikkor). But I was not out specifically to shoot the deer this day, I just like to see them!

At the summit area of Lugduff south east now, and I like to head south from here as there is a small rocky outcrop where I like to eat and observe Lugnaquilla from its northern aspect. A murky day, but not an unpleasant one. Lugnaquilla copy.jpg

As shown above, the summit area of Lug was in cloud – as it was for most of the time I was at Lugduff. I estimate the cloud cover level to be about ~900 metres above sea level here.
Here, we can see (at left) the shoulder of Cloghernagh, also marked on EastWest Mapping’s wonderful maps as ‘Bendoo’. There are only two “Ben’s” (in physical geography, ‘Ben’ is commonly used as part of a place name for a mountain peak in Gaelic) that I know of in Wicklow, the other being Benleagh – which is shown in the above photograph on the right – the imposing looking cliffs above the tree line. Also visible is the Fraughan Rock Glen (or ‘Fraggle Rock’ as I like to call it!), almost dead center.
Lugduff translates to English as  ‘Black Hollow’ – though I am not certain what/where the ‘hollow’ is – perhaps the hollow referred to is the hollow of Fraughan Rock Glen, it certainly looked dark this day and if the sun were behind it (as is the case on a clear day in winter) then the glen most certainly would be very dark due to its northern aspect. If someone knows what the ‘hollow’ is, please correct me in the comments!
Then finally, that dark towering hulk that is Lugnaquilla itself – slightly left of center, rising up into the clouds.

A closer view of Bendoo and Lugnaquilla, with fog rolling off the cliffs of the south prison of Lugnaquilla. A great approach to Lugnaquilla itself is to start at the bottom of the Fraughan Rock Glen and follow the forest track (bottom right) up to the Fraughan Rock Brook and handrail the waterfall up. Tough work going up, even harder going down, it’s quite steep, wet and slippery in places. I must do that walk again soon, it’s amazing, but it is tough on weak/injured/overused/arthritic joints. From the Hollow Of Luqueer, at the top of the waterfall, swinging slightly north of west helps avoid some steep rocky terrace areas and then when on higher ground and past the terraces a heading south east will take you to past Cannow mountain and onto the Lugnaquilla plateau itself. Lugnaquilla 100mm copy.jpg

Starting to head back now, lunch had and exercise complete – the conical Croaghanmoira stands proud to the south east, with Carrawaystick waterfall visible near bottom right. Yep, I know Wicklow pretty well!Croaghanmoira copy.jpg

Back on the Spinc boardwalk now, and boy – it’s pretty busy! One of the things I find fascinating about walking in Wicklow, is that some places are completely deserted, while other places can be like Piccadilly Circus! As readers of this blog will know, I prefer the quieter spots.

Here is a view of the rocky area (my lofty perch) I was sat atop for my earlier images of the day, on the right hand side. At left we see the slopes of Camaderry, another regular haunt of mine! Phil's Seat copy.jpg

Back at the car and another great day in the hills. Time for an Indian take away when I get home I think (I love Chicken Madras!).

P.S. Happy Birthday to my Dad today!

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook!

A lot of time and effort goes into this blog and the images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.

A Hot Day At Keadeen

Wow!
Another beautiful sunny day on the weekend!
I am being spoilt.
Thank you Weather Gods!

Obviously wanting to return to Lugnaquilla (for my hat trick in 3 weeks), I decided not to at the last minute. My plan was to get up early and catch the sunrise on the slopes above Upper Corrig almost at Lug itself. But I was remembering how much pain my feet and legs had given me the previous week after my second visit in the last two weeks to Lugnaquilla. Not wanting to aggravate my Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonitis, I opted for a gentler hike this time.

I wanted to start early, but in all honesty – I just could not stir myself from my slumber this day. So a lie-in was had and I rolled (groggily) out of bed at 8am. Sacrilege!
I rarely lie in, but I obviously needed it. Anyway, on to the walk!

Parking just above the Dwyer-McAllister Cottage, I left my car in first gear with the handbrake firmly engaged (the parking area is on a steep slope). I am paranoid about car roll backs in my absence so I always place the steering wheel so that if the car were to roll, the direction of rollage would spill the car away from danger (ditches, roads etc.). Yeah, I am weird and worry about things like that.

Being an (almost) isolated summit in the deep south-west of Wicklow, Keadeen (‘flat-topped hill’ according to Mountain Views, ‘Fortgranite’ according to Google Translate) offers supremely commanding views over south Wicklow and parts of Carlow. It also offers an impressive view of the Lugnaquilla massif and the Glen of Imaal. I say almost isolated, as its twin peak – known as Carrig – stands less than two kilometers away and is less than one hundred meters shorter and so prevents the solitude of Keadeen itself.

Again, a walk I have done many times and will do many more times I suspect. It’s not a tough walk but it’s good for a calf stretcher. The last pull up to the flat summit can be a work out.

A layer of fog at the start of the walk, but my suspicion was that a combination of heat from the sun and the wind would dissipate this. Fog Trees copy.jpg

This area suffered an intense fire a year or so ago – perhaps more, I do not know exactly when it occurred, I did not witness it. I just came here one day and the ground was scorched. The vegetation is slow to heal (hence the tortured appearance in the above photograph).

As suspected, it looks like the fog is clearing now, revealing blue skies above:Fog Clearing copy.jpg

Oops, hang about, I was mistaken – it’s back again!Fog Returns copy.jpg

Ok, now it is clearing!Fog Clearing II copy.jpg

And now we can see the Monarch of Wicklow – Lugnaquilla – looming above Ballinedan and Slievemaan mountains.Fog Clearing III copy.jpg

And Lugnaquilla is unveiled:Lugnaquilla copy.jpg

Part of the north prison and the ridge of Camara Hill visible at left, to centre, in the photograph. From this angle, it looks a long walk to approach Lug from Camara. It is. I should know (See : Tranquility And Changing Seasons At Lugnaquilla, A White Lugnaquilla, A Frosty Log Na Coille, A Wintry Hike To Lugnaquilla, A Return To Log Na Coille, Lugnaquilla From Fenton’s Bar – The Sequel, Lugnaquilla from Fenton’s Bar, A return to Camara Hill, A Camera at Camara Hill – a glimpse of greater things – wow. I must approach Lug from a different route next time!).

Anyway, moving on and up – a small sapling caught my eye:Sapling copy.jpg

Taken using my new Zeiss Milvus 100m f/2. This is very quickly becoming my favourite lens. It is simply a joy to use, and a tool that is fun to use is a tool that will get used often.

The flattish ground just before the last pull up to Keadeen is very wet in parts, so some careful dodging of bog pools and sucking soft ground is required. Like a large proportion of the Wicklow Mountains really! I don’t mind, soft ground is good for arthritic joints.

Further up the final slope to the summit of Keadeen now, and a quick pause for a breath (and a quick snap of course).Lug II copy.jpg

Near the summit area now, and looking south to Mount Leinster. Some fog rolling clinging to the lower slopes.Mount Leinster copy.jpg

One wishes for a clear atmosphere AND sun but one can wish all one likes! Bring back bright and clear winter days please.
At the summit now, with the ordnance survey trig pillar and a large summit cairn beyond. A lovely bright day. And HOT!Trig copy.jpg

The origin of the cairn is a mystery to me – I have heard two accounts. One is that the cairn is a prehistoric burial tomb and the second account states that it was built by hill walkers. I like to think it’s a bit of both – that there was indeed a prehistoric cairn at this site, but it was damaged and has since been reconstructed by hill walkers. But I honestly don’t know – I stand to be corrected on this!

Quite a hazy day now, a thin layer of mist in the atmosphere. Hampering absolute sharpness on long range imagery but nearby views were acceptable. There was also atmospheric blurring occurring (Astronomical Seeing was poor due to a turbulent atmosphere). This can be critical when using long lenses for long range photographs, and will be a large factor that you cannot control affecting photograph sharpness and clarity. The effect would be missed by most, but a critical photographic eye will know it when they see it.

Windy up here, at the top. And quite cool too actually. Jacket time. Also snack time! YUM!!! These are my favourite walking snacks. Snacks copy.jpg

I also enjoy flapjacks and an occasional Lion Bar. If I am planning on Lug, I will treat myself to a Lion Bar!

From the summit cairn, the views are quite remarkable really. Looking to the west here there is low cloud in the far distance but closer lie Spinans Hill (right) and Cloghnagaune (left) and in the distance Baltinglass Hill.Cairn View copy.jpg

Spinans Hill is very curious and a place I plan to visit at some stage in the near future (I have not been yet). There is a hill fort (known as Brusselstown Ring) on the south east part of the hill and from Keadeen it looks most interesting. Apparently, it is Europe’s largest hill fort. Cool!Brusselstown copy.jpg

Looking northerly now, over Glen Imaal and towards Donard. What a view, and so green! Church Mountain at the back at middle, the slopes of Lobawn to the left and the Sugarloaf of West Wicklow at right. Also visible here is the Coolmoney army camp of Glen Imaal (slightly left of center).Glen Imaal copy.jpg

Another view over to Church Mountain.Fence copy.jpg

Time to head back now, I had left my sandwich in the car (accidentally) and I was starving! This is not the first time I had forgotten to take my lunch from the boot of my car whilst out hiking, and I dare say it won’t be the last!

Detouring a little from the path towards the east reveals a fine view of Lugnaquilla and the Camara Hill ridge.Lug 50mm copy.jpg

A view of Croaghanmoira and the forestry that I was handrailing on the way up during the fog. Croaghanmoira copy.jpg

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.

Tranquility And Changing Seasons At Lugnaquilla

After many weekends of grey skies and wet walks – finally; a break in the misery.
Saturday 25th March was set to be a fantastic day judging by the forecasts. And fantastic it was.
So….. Where did I go? Well, I think readers of this blog will know where I went!

Many kilometers to hike, lots of boot sucking bog to tackle, many views to see. Rock strewn slopes to dodge through, gullies to sit atop and a ‘loaner’ lens to test. A loaner lens because the brand new Zeiss Milvus 135mm lens I purchased revealed itself to have a very soft corner on one side. Even at f/8. Not acceptable really. So, back to the shop it went.

In the last couple of months I have been trying to obtain a decent 135mm prime lens for landscape work. I enjoy shooting longer lenses for landscapes, more so than wide angle lenses actually. I think photography can be an ‘art of exclusion’, so with a long lens, you can exclude easier!

Only a few simple criteria needed to be met by the lens I was searching for. The lens needed to be sharp, and it needed to sharp across the entire image frame. Not just sharp in the center – sharp across the entire image. Not an unreasonable expectation for a prime (non zoomable) lens I don’t think?
Well, after 3 different samples of 135mm lenses (2 Samyang/Rokinon and 1 Zeiss Milvus) – it would appear so. Buying new lenses for a high resolution camera is, well, a bit stressful if I am honest. I am quite experienced with testing lenses and I have very high demands/expectations of new equipment. New equipment is very expensive, so I have every right to be picky I believe.

High resolution imagery places large demands on glass (lenses) placed in front of the sensor and lens flaws will be revealed, certainly. Similarly, flaws that originate from behind the sensor will be revealed equally. By that – I mean photographer flaws. Nobody, and nothing is perfect.

I will talk about this more later.
But for now, the journey begins!

Up bright and early as per usual for me. I took this one at 7am whilst walking up the forest path toward good old Camara Hill. The mountain Keadeen looms beyond this row of trees. The lens I was borrowing from my favourite local camera shop (Conns Cameras – by the way, wonderful customer service guys.) was a 100mm Makro Planar f/2 Zeiss lens. This was my first shot with the lens, shot wide open at f/2, manually focussed in live view on the trees. What a delightful little lens, almost zero field curvature (nearly flat zone of focus/depth of field). This meant that if I was parallel with the row of trees, I could get all of the trees in the same zone of focus with f/2. So that’s what I did!Keadeen Trees copy.jpg

Now, I always manually focus my lenses for landscape photography. With the Zeiss 100mm, it has no autofocus, so there is no choice. But I am happy with this. Manual focus gives much better results than autofocus (unless I mess up – this is not unknown, I am human after all. Plus I do suffer from terrible short sightedness and astigmatism – like certain wide angle lenses I might add!). Besides, I also find manual focus is a much more intimate way to connect with and capture nature, it forces me to think about what the subject really is, in the above case – the trees. Everything else in the shot is ‘contextual background’.

As this is my favourite walk, I have become intimately familiar with it over the last 6 months or so. More than twenty five times I have done at least part of this walk in the past half year. It never gets old, it always looks different. Below is shown the final stretch of forest track that leads you up to the slopes of Camara Hill. From here the journey gets a little tougher. Up onto open hillside and the gradient steepens. My father describes the ascent of Camara as ‘Twenty minutes of purgatory’! Well, it was a humid day when I took him and my mother up there, so the description was warranted!Track to Camara copy.jpg

Well, winter is over now here in Ireland. Much to my dismay! I do enjoy clear days in winter, but with spring comes new opportunities. The gorse has already started it’s luminous and coconut-fragranced return! Bokeh!Gorse.jpg

Depth of field (zone of focus) is minimal in the above shot. Only the very tip of the gorse bud is in sharp focus. A tricky enough photograph to capture, by the time focus is spot on – the bud could have been moved by the wind, and thus thrown out of the zone of focus. I won’t lie, I did not get this focussed exactly how I wanted it first time (see note above about flaws behind the sensor!).

At the top of Camara now, and a familiar view to myself is revealed. Also a familiar view to Michael Dwyer (the United Irishmen leader in the 1798 rebellion against the English). I believe he was born near the foot of this hill and fought for freedom for Ireland from within these secluded glens.

The sky was like a painting at this time of day, not too long after sunrise with the sun beyond Lugnaquilla itself. The last patches of snow are resisting the slow thaw. But their time is coming to an end.Lugnaquilla Sky copy.jpg

Looking at smaller views now, using the Macro lens I am borrowing. A lone grass blade shooting through the tortured and weathered surface of the peat.I stand alone copy.jpg

A few rest breaks required, Camara Hill ascent was tough this day. Lack of sleep the night before and a hectic week at work. But these breaks offered the chance to try the macro capabilities of the Milvus 100mm. Added bonus : I got to lie down for a little rest taking these shots!

Another close up, this time further up the mountain. Hitting the snow patches now, probably the last of the snow until autumn/winter 2017. Spring breaks through!
Blade copy.jpg

Again, an admirable performance from the lens. Depth of field/zone of focus is so shallow at close range on a 36 megapixel camera. Only the little orange ‘knot’ almost halfway up the grass blade is in perfect focus at f/2.8.

A quick stroll to the summit now, with a snow patched Gravale, Carrigvore and Kippure mountain chain in the distance beyond. Summit copy.jpg

Amazing weather and not a soul to be seen! Never have I experienced such beautiful and calm (almost no wind) conditions at my favourite place outdoors. Often it is foggy, cold, wet and windy! By the time I had got to the summit this day, I had taken all of my outer torso layers off and I was just in my thermal T-shirt. Amazing, only a month ago I was in my full winter gear (see A White Lugnaquilla).

A beautiful day indeed.
But don’t worry, I can always find something to complain about! There was some mild ‘atmospheric lensing’, or heat shimmer (temperature differential) occurring. This was hampering long range views. This will get worse as spring progresses to summer. Winter is the best season for a clear atmosphere, and it shall be missed by myself. Photographs are affected greatly by this mirage-like effect, and sharpness and resolution is reduced. Long lenses suffer more because they amplify the effect. There is little that can be done in this case, except shoot earlier in the morning or later in the day when the atmosphere is more stable. Also, it can help to be above your subject (such as, on a mountain). Anyway, I was having such a great day that I really didn’t care that much! Enjoy the moment, if the photographs come, they come – if they don’t then there is always next time!

As always, a short detour to the south prison cliffs was the next item on the agenda. I swore that I was not going to do this on this day, and instead do something else – but I lied to myself. I love it here. A quick stop for a shot and a small bite to eat (Lion bar, yum), then I planned to sit above the Great Gully of the south prison itself (also known as McAlpines Back Passage). Cloghernagh copy.jpg

Descending sharply here to reach my resting spot above the Great Gully. Lunchtime!Selfie_1 copy.jpg

I didn’t enjoy my sandwich much this day to be honest. I opted for chicken tikka, lettuce and sweetcorn. But, it sort of dawned on me here as I was chomping away that perhaps I’d have been better off with just plain chicken and that I did not enjoy tikka sandwich as much as I thought I would. However, I had some amazing raspberries for dessert. They were incredible!

Another shot at the head of the Great Gully, this time minus me.Great Gully copy.jpg

I shot this image and the ‘selfie’ type image above it with my Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art lens. A wonderful wide angle lens, but not perfect. The lens can suffer from sharpness reducing lateral chromatic aberration (AKA transverse CA) in the edges of the image frame due to an inverted ‘V’ (think of ‘^’) shaped field curvature that favours the foreground so that peripheries in the background can become less sharp if not focussed appropriately (hence the use of manual focus!). Software (such as Lightroom, Raw Therapee) can help this effect to some degree, and the colour fringing but there is a small loss of sharpness as a result (but software cannot fix out of focus areas). So careful focus placement is required. Tripod a necessity. But I am looking at the image at pixel level size – even a very, very large print would not reveal this problem! Like I said, I am picky! But like I also said, nothing is perfect and as far as wide angle lenses go, this one is extraordinary.

From here, looking to the south (and shooting with the Milvus 100mm f/2), we can see (beyond the peat hags of Lybagh and Slievemaan mountains) the richly cultivated farmlands of South Wicklow, Carlow & Wexford and a hazy, though prominent Mount Leinster and his cohort of jumbled hills that form the Blackstairs Mountains range.Mount Leinster copy.jpg

I was remarking to myself how quiet Lugnaquilla was on such a wonderful Saturday. It is a popular mountain to climb so this was a great surprise to me. But then as I detoured nearby the summit over towards the north prison, a glimpse of the summit cairn told me that the party was there, and I had not been invited! I thought the party was over at the gully! In all seriousness though, it’s amazing how many people climb this mountain, head straight for the summit then head back the same way. As I’ve often said, there is so much more to explore on the mountain – in the gullies, the prisons and on the quieter slopes. I enjoy the quieter areas personally, never really been one for crowds, or parties for that matter.Summit Party copy.jpg

Another long range (ish) shot as I made my way across the summit from the south prison to the north prison. This shot showing the beautiful (and heavily forested) townland of Aughavannagh with Croghan Kinsella rearing above in the distance. Aughavannagh has been described in books I have read as ‘the last place God made’ – because it is so remote. Saving the best for last? Well, I am not sure it’s the best place on Earth, but the views up to Lugnaquilla and its imposing south prison from there are truly beautiful.Aughavannagh and Croghan Kinsella copy.jpg

Just above the north prison corrie rim now, and I took a quick glance (and photograph) northwards over the Wicklow Mountain range. An assorted jumble of lumps and bumps:Wicklow Mountain Range copy.jpg

The above was taken with the Milvus 100mm f/2, the loaner lens. Proving itself to be sharp edge to edge for distance work as well as a brilliant performance for close range work – an exemplary performance and what I was expecting from the Milvus 135mm (and also the Samyang 135mm, and all prime lenses for that matter). After evaluating the images from this walk and other test samples I shot and carefully examined, I decided that this lens was definitely a ‘keeper’. A truly wonderful little lens. The great guys over at Conns Cameras sorted me out and I did a simple exchange (and a small refund for me, this was slightly cheaper than the Zeiss 135mm I had originally bought from them) and I am keeping this lens. Brilliant customer service, and that’s one of the reasons I shop with them, not to mention the fact that they were willing to lend me the (very expensive) lens on a loan basis whilst my brand new 135mm (2 weeks old) lens went in for servicing. A bitter pill to swallow indeed after spending a large amount of money on it.

Whilst the 100mm is not exactly the focal length I wanted (it is 35mm shorter), the performance is so good, I simply could not bear to part with it. There are also no guarantees that a lens sent in for ‘servicing’ will come back better than when it went in. I’ve said it before, I do not like to gamble.

Anyway, enough of my techy/nerdy ramblings – here is the north prison.The North Prison copy.jpg

More sun light illuminating the tumbling cliffs than the last time I was here, the sun’s transit through the sky has been revised and the seasons are indeed changing. What an amazing day.

Me again! Boy! Do I need a haircut! Resting above the north prison, contemplating the view and the return journey to my car. Time, as always, was pressing on at this point.Me & The North Prison copy.jpg

Hard to tear myself from the view I had here. I took a shot of it (below) but in my experience great views do not translate to great photographs a lot of the time. Looking down to the Sugar Loaf of West Wicklow, Glen Imaal and the artillery/anti tank range and the forested area of Stranahely. There is a tremendous view over to Lugnaquilla and the north prison to be had from a gentle stroll around the Stranahely forest tracks (in a freshly felled area of the plantations). One of the things I love about shooting with sharp lenses and a high resolution camera is the ability to zoom right in on an image and view details with high clarity that I (or anybody else, for that matter) could not have possibly seen with the eyes.Sugar Loaf copy.jpg

Descending my favourite slope now, views beyond the navigation aid cairn (for the track to Slievemaan) reveal a weather beaten labyrinth of peat hags on Lybagh/Slievemaan.Slievemaan Navigation Cairn copy.jpg

Contrasty light. Most landscapes are better during the ‘golden hours’ around sunrise and sunset but I do like to shoot landscapes at all times of the day. It’s representative of what people who might visit the area would likely see, so I suppose it’s more true to the scene.

Back at Camara Hill now, fittingly I took a shot showing the same view I had near the start of this day’s journey over to Lugnaquilla itself. Much more pleasing late afternoon light at this stage.Lug copy.jpg

There is a memorial statue at the side of Fenton’s Pub of Micheal Dwyer, near where my car was parked. Being an Englishman myself, the history of this area is fascinating to me regarding the 1798 rebellion against the English. There is an excellent OPW (Office of Public Works) museum on the slopes of Keadeen mountain with a fascinating history of Dwyer himself (The Dwyer McAllister Cottage). I won’t tell the story here, but I most definitely recommend a visit and I class it as one of Wicklow’s many hidden gems.Dwyer copy.jpg

Back at my car now, and what a great day. The sunset looked promising but I was just simply too tired this day! So here is one I caught one night after work the week before with the Milvus 100mm.Sunset copy.jpg

I actually visited Lugnaquilla again on the sunday just gone (2nd April). Another wonderful day and I found a great new route down besides the cliffs of the north prison (after checking in with the Army Warden Office of course). I might write a blog about that trip soon but for now the hamstring pain is too fresh! It’s too soon! I have to learn to walk a little less on the weekends and a little more in the week – try to balance it. I’ve become a bit of a ‘weekend warrior’ whereby in the week I am quite docile (I have a desk job as a software engineer) but on the weekend I end up doing about 20km or so. This causes pain!

After discovering the #VantagePoint project by Light.co, I wanted to join in on the conversation and share my favorite locations to shoot. And Lugnaquilla is most certainly one of my absolute favourite locations to shoot. It’s a challenging location and because I carry so much heavy gear, perhaps a smaller, more compact set-up might be beneficial for me! Something to think about!

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.

A Snowy Day Above Glendalough

Another hike, another blog post! Jeez, I get out too much.
Somewhere different this time, as promised.

I was expecting the weather to be cold, windy and rainy (or snowy, at higher elevations). This indeed was the case, but I am jumping ahead of myself now!

To start, I parked my car at the Upper Lake car park of Glendalough – the start of so many adventures! I think €4 is a decent enough price to pay to park, knowing that my car will be safe from potential break ins/vandalism. Up bright and early, I planned my route for the day. Well, I say bright, but not once did I see the sun this day so perhaps ‘bright’ is not the correct adjective. But we can have fun without the sun!

So my plan for this day was to head up to the miners village and from there follow the zig zags up to the Glenealo footbridge. From here, I planned to deviate from the boardwalk track (which takes you up to the Spinc) and instead I wanted to get to a rather ‘tricky-to-get-to’ spot that I know that overlooks the Twin Buttress, a section of cliffs on the southern face of Camaderry mountain. Now, I have done this walk several times and you basically have to follow a ‘less steep’ set of contours with very steep contours both above and below you. Navigation is tricky enough here, and there are sheer cliffs about. I was expecting visibility to be poor this day, so I had the map & compass at the ready.

I also knew this day was going to be challenging for photography. There is only so much you can do when it’s constantly raining or snowing and I have to protect my gear. My Nikon D810 is ‘weather sealed’ but I am not prepared to push exactly how ‘weather sealed’ it is by shooting for extended periods of time in torrential rain or blizzards!

Still dry at this stage as I make my way up to the miners village.
Caution! Goats Crossing!
Caution Goats Crossing! copy.jpg

Yeah, mountain goats can be a rare sight in Wicklow, but early starts are your best bet. I have often seen them here on approach to the miners village though.

The dry weather was not to last though. It rained shortly after this and then the whole way up the zig zags until I hit the 250 meter above sea level mark. Here the rain had turned to a sort of sleet/snow/graupel mix. At the Glenealo footbridge (~370m asl) it had turned to actual snow, a development of which I was most delighted! Now, I just need it to stick…..

I took a small rest at the footbridge, checked in with my map and plotted my attack route. Mountains are never about summits for me really, I’ve noted before that the views are often superior on the slopes up to the summit, or in the nooks and crannies that others might not have explored.

Snowing still, not that I minded at all. I was sheltered from the strong winds courtesy of the cliffs above me. Near my chosen location now (not named on any map I have seen, otherwise I would share). I’ve been spotted!Deer copy.jpg

These two were a bit troubled by my presence here. I am guessing that this is sort of their safe haven, a location where few (if any) walkers venture. But it’s good to be off the beaten track I think. Beyond the rocky outcrop, and the deer, is the Spinc (Spinc comes from the Irish ‘An Spinc’ and means ‘pointed hill’). The hills and mountains in Wicklow are often named after obvious features – and this one is quite apparent from this angle!

It would appear that they wanted to engage in a game of hide and seek. Game on! Nobody can win at hide and seek against me! It must be my turn to hide now!Deer II copy.jpg

After a few hours in hiding though, I decided that perhaps they couldn’t find me and that I was simply just too good at this game. I wonder where they were?
Well, I gave up and thought it best if I got on with some photography now :-).

Perhaps not the greatest place to sit (especially as it was snowing), but I opted to seat myself atop the cliffs overlooking the valley of Glendalough with steep ground all around me. Here is a pal of mine, Bob the Boulder I know him as, though he has many names. You can see the snow falling all around him. He is an ancient chap, and I am not sure how many hundreds of years he has left before a freeze-thaw event plunges him deep to the valley below. But he is enjoying his time for the moment, and when quizzed about it he replies coolly “if it’s my time, it’s my time”. I guess we could all learn a thing or two from old Bob.Bob The Boulder copy.jpg

But what about the views Phil? Well, I’d be lying if I said they were the best views I’ve had. They just weren’t. The weather was relentless in its precipitation. But not all days are going to offer stunning views, the best thing to do is to try and work with what a day can offer rather than lament ‘what could have been’. Photography is about opportunities and compromises. I only get certain days where I can go hiking (I work full time, 5 days a week) so I have to just take the chances that I can get, and work with what I am given. In a way it helps my photography I think – it forces me to think about what I capture, rather than just racing to a spot I know that has a great view and snap away. It allows me the opportunity to discover pieces of the landscape in isolation as opposed to the sweeping vista as a whole. It’s more about being out in nature and recording things that I like to see. If something amazing happens, like an inversion at Lugnaquilla, then great – I am ALL over that, but if not – I will work with what I have. Landscape photographers cannot control the light or the weather. In short, just get out there and shoot is my advice. And just enjoy it. Plus, a little bit of hardship never hurt anyone!

The weather did not let up this day, it snowed the whole time I was up here in my spot – I was patient and I did wait a few hours, but it was getting very cold and the day was pressing on. Time waits for no man (or boulder!). Ok no more jokes now.

Hikers might often find that they are not cold at all whilst moving, but sit down for an hour, or maybe two – then you will feel the real temperature.

Well this was the best view I had this day, and to be honest it’s really not too shabby. The snow was still not really sticking at this point, plus the ground in the valley is lower than I am here – so most likely the snow was falling as rain there. But it was still snowing where I was sat. On the left we can see the Twin Buttress itself, a regular route for rock climbers and beyond that is the spoil heaps from the mining operations. At right is the Upper Lake of Glendalough with the Spinc lurking beside it and Derrybawn mountain (silhouetted) at distance behind.Glendalough copy.jpg

I took this using a 20mm Sigma Art f/1.4 lens. It’s a pure joy to use and it’s really in a league of it’s own in terms of speed and sharpness at f/1.4. To get a shot like this with a 20mm lens, you need to get to the edge of the cliff. Not close to the edge, you need to be at the edge.

But I did have to get my first copy of this lens exchanged. It had two small scratches on the front element inside, and fog formed inside the lens under certain conditions. Very bad. I usually carefully inspect each new lens I get, but I sort of forgot to do my tests with this lens (busy modern lifestyle) and only noticed a month later that there was an issue. One very simple test I like to perform on any lens I am inspecting is to point a torch through it (or point the lens to some other bright light source) whilst the lens is not attached to the camera and visually inspect both the rear and front elements. The bright light shows any (internal or external) scratches on the lens. Now, a minor scratch here or there is not going to affect image quality drastically, but it does affect resale value – and this was a brand new lens. So back it goes. Amazon really sorted me out though, they sent me a replacement that arrived the very next day! That is customer service –  thanks and way to go Amazon!

A closer, moody shot of the Twin Buttress:Twin Buttress copy.jpg

Must head back to the car now, a long way to walk back. It’s still snowing.
Gah! I’ve been spotted again! I must work on my stealth skills.
Deer III copy.jpg

Not the original two deer I was playing hide and seek with earlier (well, presumably – I mean there are four here!). Heaven knows where the original two went! I think they probably thought I was hiding up at Lugnaquilla again.

Yup, still snowing but not really sticking. It’s amazing how a flurry of snow can make anything seem magical. Maybe it’s just me, but I do enjoy a (Mc)flurry! Sorry, I am in a strange mood today. Still Snowing Grass copy.jpg

The visibility was getting poor again, but I liked the moss on these rocks.Still Snowing copy.jpg

I also had another friend that I had planned to visit this day, behold! Brian the Boulder! He’s been through some tough times let me tell you. He likes to remind me of this each and every time I visit as well – “These cracks didn’t come fer free ya know!”.Brian the Boulder copy.jpg

There is also a lone human at distance (at right) in this photograph. I like his presence here, it adds some scale to the cliffs of the Spinc beyond him. But this photograph was about Brian and he will hear no different!

Yeah, visibility was getting very poor now. Here is the silhouetted north facing cliffs of the Spinc. Snow was coming down thick and fast now. How exciting! And no, that is not digital camera noise – that is snow flakes falling.Spinc Cliffs copy.jpg

Descending further now, but the snow has turned to just boring old heavy rain. So away went the camera and on I plodded!

Well I couldn’t leave without taking a shot of the Upper Lake now could I? I always take a shot of the lake!
Upper Lake copy.jpg

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio Site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook!

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A White Lugnaquilla

OK, enough already! My next blog post will be about a different place.
Honestly

I just keep going back to Lugnaquilla as I want some photographs of Lug in proper snow and when I went previously (all 5 times!), there was none, or only a small amount.
Well there was some this day! Though the photographic fun at the summit was short lived. We shall see why later!

There is a lot to explore at Lug, most walkers climb up, and then back down. Some might venture off to look over the prisons, but many don’t. I do feel that those that just head straight back up and down miss out a bit. The views are better from the cliffs because the swell of the summit obscures the more interesting sights. I like to see views that are new, and I like to find different angles that might not have been explored before. I tend to drift off the beaten track and I had grand plans for this day.

But plan all you like, as a landscape photographer you are a complete slave to the weather.
The forecasts looked promising, so I set my alarm for 4am and decided that I would decide at that time after re-checking if it was worth going. I felt it was. But I know in my heart of hearts that when it comes to the weather on the highest mountain in Wicklow – roll the dice. Sometimes you might get a 6, sometimes a 4, but quite often (in my experience) a 2. Well I rolled a 3 this day. The weather was not awful, or terribly dangerous (there was no blizzard for instance, that would count as a roll of 1 on the dice) but you will see why it was a 3 from a photographic point of view soon. But I tried to make the most of it.

Soooo, another early start parking at the Glen Imaal bar, yet again I was first in the car park! Not a surprise really and not an unusual occurrence of late either. Making my way up Camara Hill in the dark (which I have done more times in the dark than in daylight!). A tough slog that morning, I was more tired than usual and the ground was frozen stiff. Light northerly winds as I reached the top of Lower Corrig meant I could do a reasonably long exposure. This was about 45 minutes before dawn, and the long exposure meant my camera could gather more light in the darkness. Lug pre dawn copy.jpg

I know many people are big fans of ultra saturated, hyper contrast photographs these days. Personally, I tend to stay away from that and avoid garish colours and unnatural contrast. These kind of photos might be popular on social media and get many ‘likes’ on Facebook and the like, but I like to try and reproduce exactly what I saw, how I saw it, how it was. Yes, sometimes I might decide that a particular image works better in black and white, and one could argue that (fortunately) my vision is not limited to black and white – but it’s all about the point of the image – the message. I suppose, I like a more subtle approach. If other people share the same opinion as me, then great! For me, the art is in the planning, and the taking of the capture – less in the post processing on the computer I think. But of course, that is just my opinion, and we are all entitled to those.

A lot of thought and planning goes into my work, not to mention the leg work! 25km again this day. I have been feeling that since (two days later now), let me tell you.

Anyway, moving on – both in subject and in motion – I took this one looking up to the Monarch (Lugnaquilla) from near my favourite bog pool just beyond Upper Corrig. This was taken just as the sun was rising, hence the colourful sky! Lug is clear of fog, so I wanted to press on! Lugnaquilla At Dawn copy.jpg

I felt a close up of the ice that had formed on the surface of the pool was worthwhile. Interesting patterns and subtle colours.Ice copy.jpg

Crunching through a frozen ‘Little Slaney’ river (in its infancy, near the source of the river) on my crampons, the final push upto Lug was ahead of me. I wanted to rest before tackling this, but I was excited because I could see there was a lot of snow up top.

Looking south over the shoulder of Slievemaan (look at those peat hags!). There was some lowland fog, and wonderful colours in the sky. What a morning.The Peat hags of Slievemaan copy.jpg
A small rest, and then back to work. Hiking up here is always a challenge. I mentioned before in a previous post about how the slope is strewn with mica-schist rocks with holes aplenty. I also mentioned how tackling this in deep snow would be a challenge. Well, I was right. Though the snow was not perilously deep, foot dexterity was necessary getting up here this day. A broken ankle here would be problematic to say the least. Slow & steady. Here is a shot of some of the drifting that I encountered higher up the slope. This is about 30 minutes after the previous image, look at how the colours have changed. It is obvious now why landscape photographers (such as myself) get up at crazy o’clock to take photographs.Small drift copy.jpg
On the summit plateau now. It’s a wonderful feeling being up here on such a nice morning.

Surprisingly, I saw only one set of footsteps in the snow on the way up here. It’s quite a nice feeling knowing that you are one of the first to leave your mark in the freshly laid snow on what is quite a popular mountain. My irregular and awkward footsteps (I have gait problems).

My footsteps copy.jpg

At the summit cairn now, which marks the top of the east of Ireland.
Not a soul around and look at those blue skies! Beyond the cairn to the right the snow capped summit of Tonelagee is prominent with its distinctively whale hump shape, just before this is Turlough Hill. Far right and rear, War Hill and Djouce mountain rear their white heads. They indeed look small, and very distant from here.Summit Cairn copy.jpg

Wanting to press on, as always, I dashed over to the south prison (the superior prison to photograph at this time of year when the skies are clear). Pretty close to the edge here, and we can see that the rim of the prison is corniced. This is basically an overhanging mass of snow at the edge of the precipice. Dangerous, as bearing weight on this would cause it to collapse, and down with it you would go. This is fine and easily avoided in clear weather. But if the fog rolls in, you better be on your game and steer clear of it, because visibility might be so hampered (as in the case of a whiteout) that you might not be able to tell that what you are putting your foot on is in fact a cornice.  South Prison Corniced copy.jpg

At this stage, you might be wondering why I scored this day as a 3 on the weather dice. well, bear in mind what I just said about fog. I was acutely aware of the fact the light northerly breeze had switched to a fresh southerly breeze. Still pretty gentle, but I was also thinking about the cold air (and the fog) in the lowlands immediately south of my position. Now, I am no meteorologist, but I do spend a lot of time out in nature and my situational awareness is quite high. My suspicion was that a ‘fog attack’ could be imminent, and to be honest, when you are at Lugnaquilla – you are on borrowed time before the winds bring in the fog!

Anyway, here is a shot of the rocky precipice of the south prison of Lugnaquilla with the lowland fog in the distance. I took this using my 85mm 1.8G on a Nikon D810 – a 36 megapixel camera (shot at f/5.6 – the sweet spot of the lens – using manual focus). The resolution is simply astonishing if I am honest. Most of the images I share on this blog are 800 * 534 pixels in dimensions but the Nikon D810 creates images of 7360 * 4912. So my originals are just over 9 times larger. If you have pixel level sharpness at that resolution, the level of detail is insane! South Prison and valley fog copy.jpg

Looking beyond a cornice here over to Corrigasleggaun mountain with the pyramid shaped mountain Croaghanmoira in the distance (at left). The fog indeed does seem to be rising up to the higher slopes. It really pays to pay attention to your surroundings.Solar copy.jpg

Another similar shot, showing what looks like a break in the cornice caused by someone (presumably) coming up the south prison. A braver person than I, let me tell you – it’s very, very, very steep ground below. This climb would require a set of skills that I do not possess, that’s for sure. And a real head for heights. I could not say for sure though, it could have been shaped by the wind, but I have seen people climbing up here with ice axes in the past.

Cornice Steps copy.jpg

I had wanted to sit above the south prison cliffs and eat my lunch here. A nice spot I think you’ll agree. I had skiing trousers on, so I was not worried about sitting in snow.Looking over to Cloghernagh copy.jpg

However, at this moment in time, I was becoming increasingly vigilant of the conditions. Ever distrustful of the mountain (or respectful, you decide). The Southerly wind was picking up, and it felt like it was getting colder (it was already about -4 °C). It’s good practice to try and know exactly where you are so that you can pinpoint your location on a map at all times. It may seem like a chore, but it really pays dividends when you later rely on that knowledge in the case that visibility is hampered and you need to plan your escape route and take a bearing. Imperative if you are solo hiking, as I mostly do.

Looking over to the south, I could see the beginnings of what I would label a ‘fog attack’. Aughavannagh mountain, Lybagh mountain and Ballineddan mountain were the first to succumb to the ruthless onslaught.Looking over to Croghan Kinsella copy.jpg

This was followed swiftly by the absorption of Slievemaan mountain. It was only a matter of time before the Monarch itself (Lugnaquilla) was in checkmate (I mean in fog!). Hiking in fog is tricky enough, but couple that with snow on the ground and you experience ‘whiteout’ conditions where visibility and contrast are severely reduced by snow – the sky is white and the ground is white. The horizon disappears completely and there are no reference points at all, leaving the individual with a distorted orientation. Sounds like a barrel of laughs, right? So yeah, it pays to know where you are on a map.

I decided to pause. Confirm my position (I had a very good idea of exactly where I was anyway), eat some grapes and a couple of bananas and rest my legs for a minute. Panicking and rushing around is a poor strategy – undue haste makes waste, or so I was told. After my snacks, I moved south – westerly so as to avoid any cornices of the south prison. Moving west, or north – westerly would have moved me too close to the north prison, and there was almost certainly going to be cornices there too. At this point the fog was not down, but it was coming, and I knew it.

Back at what I (coincidentally) nickname ‘the dice of Lug’ (purely based on its cuboid appearance) I enjoyed this view. This position is at the top of the final steep stretch up to Lug, south-west of the summit. Here in the distance, we can see Lybagh mountain being mercilessly consumed by fog. The poor chap. You can clearly see the ‘3’ on the upward face of the dice. Just kidding :-). Fog rolling in Stack.jpg

Looking back toward the summit now, yep the conditions were getting worse. These two lads had just arrived, at the wrong time! At least I got some clear weather. But that is the way with Lug, you roll the dice. I had about 30 – 40 minutes of clear weather at the top of Lug this day. I was hoping for much more, but it was a great day regardless. A good spot of exercise at least! Fog hikers copy.jpg

One final shot before the fog rolled in proper, looking down at another couple of poor chaps who just missed the clear weather window but who also had a steep rocky climb ahead of them. The fog was coming thicker and faster.Hikers copy.jpg

And in it came.Lugnaquilla Whiteout copy.jpg

I wanted to wait, and see if conditions improved. I was sceptical. I sat and waited for some time. But the days are still short in Ireland, so I was constantly aware of the time. The conditions were deteriorating and the fog was actually getting lower. I decided that I had seen the best that Lug had to offer this day so down I went. A shame, I had a lot of work I wanted to do this day.

Something about Lugnaquilla that anyone who wishes to climb it should know – it’s not a difficult mountain to climb up, but coming down can be a very different story.
I took this on my descent, I call it ‘void walkers’. Some of these fellas were heading up as I was coming down.Void walkers copy.jpg

Fog does strange things to light when a bright light source is behind it (i.e. the sun). I was hoping that I might see a fabled ‘Brocken Spectre’ – I once captured one at Lugduff mountain, but it was not to be this day. But what I did capture I thought unusual and worthy of sharing.

Solar Rocks copy.jpg

Off that steep, rocky slope now, back near the source of the Little Slaney river. Camera trigger finger itching. I decided to think outside the box a little bit. The visibility was poor (even down here) at this moment in time – but I was dying to shoot! I call this one ‘2’.2 copy.jpg

Heading back down to the ‘Corrigs’ and Camara Hill now. The fog has lifted from some of the lower ground before Lug, but Lug is perfectly content to be in whiteout for the remainder of the day I think.Lugnaquilla in fog copy.jpg

Another last glance from Camara Hill to the Monarch – still in fog! Not a great surprise, and somewhat of a relief – I was right to leave, no more photographs to be had up there this day.Lug in cloud copy.jpg

The last leg of the journey now, just a gate to cross then a gentle walk back on forest tracks to the car. I always shoot this tree. Each time I come here I try to shoot a different angle though. I am fond of this angle.Tree copy.jpg

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.