Happy New Year!

A long time since I posted – I’ve been a bit neglectful – I apologise about that. This post is also about a trip to Lugnaquilla I did back in November 2019 – I am quite far behind on my blogs because I have been up to Lug two more times since this visit!

It takes a long time to get a post ready and I just have not found the time! Usually the text portion takes a few hours but processing the photos (curating, focus stacking, fixing white balance etc) takes a lot of time. The photos I post here are not ‘instagram’ instant gratification photos where you fire and forget. A lot of time is spent on each individual shot, both in the field and in the digital darkroom.

That’s not to say I have not been hiking, I’ve been doing about 230 km a month for the last six months. That’s not just hiking, but also day – to day ‘steps’, mind.

So yeah, another post about Lugnaquilla today. The monarch of the east of Ireland.
And yep, there was snow, fog, leg pain and and a temperature inversion!

The last few weeks the weather here has overall been quite mild, but very wet. A few dry days here and there but the overall theme is of grey and wet.

The forecast for the day was high altitude clouds, low temperatures and light winds. 0°C at midday at Lugnaquilla, with a wind chill of -2°C. Not too bad. It was about -6°C at 9 am.
Given the frequency at which I visit the mountain, I am getting better at reading the weather forecasts and deducting exactly what sort of conditions might occur on the mountain. I had a strong suspicion that on this day there would be a temperature inversion. I was right! I’ve actually experienced five of these at the Lug now.
I always really enjoy the days at Lugnaquilla where there are high altitude clouds. I am not sure why but I think I like the mood of the place better than on sunny days.

Ascending Camara Hill in the dark, I look behind and observe a large bank of fog in the lowlands to the west, slowly inching it’s way towards my location.
I stopped for a shot of Keadeen, wide open with long exposure. It was still dark (the sun was not rising for another hour and a half). The fog had started to build on the valley floor and the lower slopes of Keadeen, but also the summit. The fog was also getting closer behind me, rising up the slopes of Camara hill.Keadeen copy.jpg

As I climbed higher, the fog grew thicker in the valley but cleared off the summit of Keadeen. This was interesting, and something I would consider later.
Keadeen 2 copy.jpg

This shot was a long exposure (30 seconds) shot wide open on my Zeiss Milvus 35mm (at f/1.4). Far from it’s optimal aperture for such a photograph but I was faced with a choice – stop down to f/8 and do a 16 minute exposure or use that 16 minutes to get (perhaps if I am lucky) one look at Lugnaquilla before the inevitable fog rolls in. I opted for the latter. Absolute image quality is nice to have of course but photography is all about compromises, and nice as the above image is, it’s not the reason I rolled out of bed at 3 am that morning.
Nevertheless, the light gathering capabilities of this equipment is amazing. All I could see with my eyes were the lights in the valley and a few stars blinking through the clouds – it was still pitch black.

I put the camera away and continued the ascent. Shortly after, I was completely engulfed in a thick blanket of fog. I had suspected this was going to happen.
As a glasses wearer, hiking in the dark with very thick fog can be quite tricky for me – there is a huge amount of glare from the head torch and this slowed me down.
I had suggested to myself that perhaps today I would just summit Camara Hill and then head back home, I was very tired (having only about 5 hours sleep the night prior) and the thought of hiking 20 km or more with only fog for views/company was not terribly enticing. Not when you carry a pack that weighs about 18 kg (due to photography equipment). I also had a sore hamstring and knee. I like to use the lemon system, 3 lemons and you go home. Sore hamstring/knee, one lemon, bad weather (the fog) half a lemon, fatigue (half a lemon). In my book, that was two lemons. The darkness was not a lemon, it was temporary because the sun would rise.
On I pressed, to the summit of Camara Hill. As I reached the top, it became clear that the fog here was very thick – I could see nothing. I sat on a rock for a while near the summit and zipped up my jacket. It was very cold. The sun was due in 30 minutes. I ate a sandwich, I was starving. I could see pretty much nothing outside of a 2 metre vicinity. I was looking forward to packing up and going back to bed, to be honest.
But then, something interesting happened.
Fog Bank Lugnaquilla copy.jpg

The fog broke, and I could see that Lugnaquilla itself was not in fog – and also, covered in snow! I wait all year round for the white stuff at the ‘quilla. Looks like I’ll be going to Lugnaquilla today after all!
Better watch that hamstring and knee.

Pressing on, the fog came and went, but each time it went – I could see that Lug was completely clear.
The sun was coming.
Fire in the sky 100 copy.jpg

Fire in the sky over Lugnaquilla.
This was a focus stack of 8 frames, quite a challenge – there was a bit of wind and the shutter speed was quite low (0.8 seconds per frame).Fire in the sky 35 copy.jpg
Another shot with a wider lens. Taken about ten minutes later, the colours are much softer here. You get much more sky with a wider lens, but also a lot more foreground.

18mm sunrise-2 copy.jpg

Moving up now, and looking over to the west, the inversion is clear to see as Keadeen and the slopes of Ballineddan rise above the fog.
Keadeen inv copy.jpg

As of writing this blog (1st January, 2020) – I had hit my self set target in 2019 of visiting Lugnaquilla at least once each month. I have never been up Lug every month for a whole year before, and last year (2019) I actually went on average twice a month!

I wanted to press on here, because I was very excited to get to the snowline.

Looking down to Slievemaan with Mount Leinster in the far distance. Lots of fog in the lowlands!
Mount Leinster copy.jpg

The following shot is quite a ‘deep’ focus stack. I shot this using a 35mm lens but with very close foreground and because I wanted everything sharp from close foreground to infinity, 22 frames were required. I have a fast PC but focus stacking large TIF files is CPU (and RAM) intensive and it can take some time. If there are stacking errors, they need to be manually fixed using brush tools. This is literally a manual brushing exercise and it really can take a lot of time. By ‘stacking errors’ I mean, if grass shoots have moved between frames (due to wind) then you can get duplicates. So you have to paint in manually the sharpest ones. The below image took about an hour of retouching due to such errors.
The result is totally worth it. The full 36 megapixel image looks amazing full screen on my PC. This would print to massive dimensions flawlessly. It would be literally impossible to get such a sharp and detailed photograph with this particular composition with only one shot/focal point. 22frames-2 copy.jpg

A long range shot now, of the Ow valley and river. Beautiful light at this time of year. Winter truly is my favourite season for photography. No focus stacking needed here, just a single frame. The joys of long lens distance shots!
Ow copy.jpg

Another long range shot, with the wind turbines on Ballycumber Hill rising above the fog (at right). The metallic look of the sky is very appealing. Heavy rain (snow in the higher ground) was forecast for the next day if I recall correctly.
Ballycumber Hill copy.jpg

Almost near the summit area now.
Another ambitious focus stack here. I didn’t think this would work out because of the extreme proximity of the boulder compared to the background. 15 frames worked a treat. Pretty cold here!
Dice-2 copy.jpg

A very snowy summit. High altitude clouds totally obscuring the sky, and low altitude clouds obscuring the low lands. Cool!summit-2 copy.jpg

A shot of the cliffs of the south prison, not far from the summit. What a day!
35SP-2 copy.jpg

A shot of Lugcoolmeen.
Lugcoolmeen copy.jpg

A different angle of the cliffs.
SP35 copy.jpg

Another optimistic focus stack here. Using a long lens I wanted to emphasise the cliffs but also I wanted the far background sharp. 10 frames was enough for perfect sharpness at 36 megapixels. This was not a problem with the light winds on Lug this day, but with even moderate winds – this sort of shot would be frustrating to capture.
SP100-2 copy.jpg

A couple of single shot long range shots now.
Croaghanmoira says Hello!
Croaghanmoira copy.jpg

A shot looking over to Mullaghcleevaun, Tonelagee and Turlough Hill. I was grateful for the lone hiker in the foreground!
Turlough copy.jpg

Heading back now, but I will descend near the north prison. It’s much steeper than the way I ascended the mountain but it’s very scenic and usually there is a lot of snow on the north side of Lug.
Looking over to Lobawn and the Sugar Loaf of Imaal.
Sugar Loaf copy.jpg

Above the clouds indeed on this day!
A view back to Camarahill, my descent route.
Camarahill copy.jpg

A view from the top of the north prison.
NP-2 copy.jpg

Another focus stack, down low to the ground this time. A lot of snow here.
jagged-2 copy.jpg

A shot of the route back.Route back-2 copy.jpg

The cold north prison cliffs. The sunlight never hits them at this time of year.
NP cliff-2 copy.jpg

Descending much further now, and below the snow line. I liked the colours of this scene, I think at the time I had been thinking that I had only seen a lot of white this day so far so the colours really popped out at me!Colour-2 copy.jpg

Almost at the descent of Camarahill section now. I took a look back at Lug. I’ve always thought it looked very impressive with a bit of snow.
Lug copy.jpg

Not long until sunset now, and I chose to descend Camarahill in the dark so I could capture this.
Sunset copy.jpg

Two days ago I witnessed a spectacular sunrise from above the south prison of Lugnaquilla. Maybe in a few months I might get time to write a post about that! It was truly spectacular though, one in a million.

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to browse my other blog posts where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Facebook here! I am also on Instagram now, as phillipjwells.

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

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