OK, enough already! My next blog post will be about a different place.
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.
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!
I felt a close up of the ice that had formed on the surface of the pool was worthwhile. Interesting patterns and subtle colours.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 :-).
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!
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.
And in it came.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you for reading!
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