A White Lugnaquilla – Episode II

Ah!
The long awaited sequel (long awaited by me, that is!) to my earlier post – A White Lugnaquilla.
I’ve often said that Lugnaquilla is a hill in summer, but a mountain in winter – and I still maintain this view.
I am not going to lie, I found this day tough, it was very cold (high of -4°C, low of -8°C : not including wind chill), I was carrying a lot of gear and I was SUPER tired that morning!
For the last few weeks, there has been a reasonable amount of snow at Lugnaquilla – but the weather has been pretty poor on the weekends (nice in the week when I was at work of course!) and hill fog was the order of the day, until finally – a break!
High clouds were forecast, but few low clouds – I was not worried about overcast skies, but I was not interested in hill fog (low clouds).

So, taking my usual route – up Camara Hill, past the two Corrigs then up and onto Lug itself. A 05:00 start meant that I would have a reasonable amount of time on the mountains (sunrise was 08:30 and sunset 16:06). I think I got home (from memory) at around 18:30. A long day.
A route I have taken many times, and will take many more times – I love this route. It’s a constant climb all the way to the top, and I almost always see multiple herds of deer en route. There are many other route choices of course, and I have taken them all (except the technical ones) – but with this route you can usually drive to the start point regardless of the weather – the other routes require driving on the mountain roads. These roads are not treated in winter, and the typical advice is to stay away from them if there is snow and ice about. I am a proficient driver but I do not own a 4X4, and even then – it would appear that using a 4X4 only really gets you ‘further into trouble’ when the mountain roads are impassable due to snow/ice. I don’t like risks, otherwise I would play the lottery.

Heading up Camara Hill on this morning was a tough old slog. Lots of snow about, some ice as well. I was also super tired, due to a lack of good sleep the night before. My Dad refers to this ascent as 25 minutes of purgatory, but on this occasion it was more like 45 minutes of purgatory! Slow going. I had not done a walk greater than 10 kilometres for a few weeks, and this was most certainly felt on the ascent!
Near the top of Camara Hill now, and a pause for a pre-dawn shot of Keadeen Mountain was welcome.
Keadeen copy.jpg

At this point, I was overtaken by a ‘Lug regular’ that I had met a few times before, Kevin, and his mate – Simon. They both had ice axes and were aiming for the North Prison of Lugnaquilla. We chatted for a while, and then they moved out with haste! I would not have been able to keep up with them by any means – but, I was carrying about 5 times the weight of their packs I suspect!

A wider angle shot of Keadeen, just below the summit of Camara Hill.
Keadeen 35 copy.jpg

The sun still not up yet, but I was under no illusions – the overcast skies meant there was not going to be a lot of colour as the sun rose. At this point, I did not know the ‘fog’ status of Lug yet, i.e. was it in fog or clear. I had not seen it yet because it is hidden as you climb Camara hill, and it was dark at the time I was at the viewing points of Lug prior to the climb of Camara.

Finally, at the top of Camara now, and the ‘fog’ status is revealed. Yep, it’s in fog. Not unusual! It’s always disappointing though – after the purgatory of Camara Hill. I had faith, however, that the fog would pass.
The sun is up now, though not much a sunrise due to the cloud cover. The ‘blue hour’ is over now.
Camara Summit copy.jpg

Here, I saw a herd of deer running northwards over the saddle between Camara Hill and Lower Corrig. I often see a herd (or several) here, always moving north – near dawn. I found it curious that they always head this direction – north from there takes you into the artillery range. I suppose there would be no humans there at least!Deer Herd II copy.jpg

Frozen grass tufts between Camara and Lower Corrig.
Tufts copy.jpg

Shortly after the above shot, I turned to see a familiar Border Collie about 50 meters away. Another couple of ‘lug regulars’ – Damian and his dog! I walked back towards him, thinking to myself that he probably doesn’t recognise me in my new jacket! We walked and chatted from there up through Lower Corrig, and then up to Upper Corrig. He (like Kevin & Simon) also had designs on the North Prison, and came equipped with his ice axe. A funny coincidence, the last time I was in this area (a few weeks ago) I met both Kevin and Damian separately on ascent and ended up descending Camara Hill with the pair of them. On this day, I mentioned to Damian that Kevin was in (or more correctly, en route to) the Prison, and Damian started looking for footprints in the snow to follow! Lug regulars indeed.

Looks like Lug might clear of fog after all.
Lug Fog copy.jpg

Continuing on the journey now, as Lug clears. Damian pointed out a herd of deer over on the slopes of Slievemaan mountain. Thanks mate! My longer lens was left at home unfortunately, but I like the image my Zeiss 100mm delivered here. Oh! For a 400mm lens! Perhaps I should take more risks, and start playing the lotto!
Deer Herd III copy.jpg

Damian & Dog parted ways with myself just after Upper Corrig – he wanted to drop over to the North Prison, and my route took me up a much gentler incline (no ice axe required) – though still a steep one.Damian copy.jpg

Pausing for a breather, and some breakfast (a banana and a piece of shortbread), I liked the arctic feel of the rocks.Arctic Corrig copy.jpg

So tired! I was really feeling this hike this day. Punishing.
But I must press on, it’s so beautiful.

The final slope up to Lug is always a tough pull. But this day, it was something else. About an hour of quadruple purgatory, I reckon.
Breath pause halfway up, and a shot over to Ballineddan & Keadeen. B & K copy.jpg

Further up now, and the climate is a touch more arctic.
Frozen Rocks copy.jpg

The jumbled mica-schist rocks that lie about the face of this slope tell a story of high winds and freeze thaw conditions the previous day.

Almost at the summit now, and much gentler work ahead. Looking back over to Slievemaan, Ballineddan and Keadeen again, higher this time!
Frozen Dice copy.jpg

No shortage of snow alright! Just how I like it.
A hazy and overcast day, but very light winds. A beautiful day really. You don’t always want blue skies in the mountains, after all.
This military post, however, shows signs of some serious winds on the previous days!
Frozen Post copy.jpg

At the summit now, well worth the hard work!Frozen Cairn copy.jpg

A hazy view down to Aughavannagh from near the summit.
Hazy Aughavannagh copy.jpg

As I sit here scrolling through my images, and type this blog – I am reminded of the cold on this day! I am freezing! But I did not feel cold on the day. I have good clothing.
Time to turn the heating on, I reckon.

Brrr…..
Brrr copy.jpg

The cliffs of Lugcoolmeen. It had started to get a bit foggy shortly after this, not unusual, and not a great surprise.
Lugcoolmeen copy.jpg

I sat here (in my ski trousers) and decided to have a nibble. Yum! Starbar! I love these. I only seem to buy them for my visits to Lug, however, and it has become a part of my ‘Lug ritual’ at this point. No Starbar, no Lug – and vice-versa. At a push, a Snickers or Double Decker will do, but Starbar is where it’s at.

The fog was thin, and short lived – it cleared up rapidly. Great news!
To get the following shot of the cliffs of the South Prison, I had to stand in a ‘less than safe’ place – but it was totally worth it.
Lugcoolmeen II copy.jpg

A similar comment applies to this shot (i.e. standing in a dodgy spot!).
Lugcoolmeen III copy.jpg

But then! Disaster struck! The great scholars of the future will write legends about the following event for millennia…
I went to open my rucksack using the ‘ease of access’ zip on the front of the pack, but the puller mechanism must have frozen so when I pulled to close the zipper (it of course, opened fine), the slider just disintegrated as I pulled it!
Great, now my bag is going to be open at the front for the rest of the day!
Ok, so they may not write about this event – but at the time it felt cataclysmic! I was now going to be worried about dropping things out of my pack for the rest of the day. Paranoid glances behind me for ‘lost luggage’ after every rough patch of terrain were ubiquitous after this!

Heading back towards the summit area now, not a busy day for Lugnaquilla, let me tell you. I saw only a handful of people this day.
I wanted to start my way back to the car now, but en route I chose to head over the North Prison, and descend the slope of Lugnaquilla hand railing it, in case the fog came down again. I know Lug well, so I know to never underestimate it.

Only a couple of hours until sunset now, and I didn’t relish the thought of descending the steep slope of Lug in the dark (although I was equipped for such an eventuality – always be prepared!).
I took another shot of the frozen post, I found this very interesting.
Frozen Post II copy.jpg

Above the North Prison now, and the sky is getting darker. It looks like there is some fog moving in actually. Chances of a whiteout are high (this happened to me last year – A White Lugnaquilla).
North Prison copy.jpg

I love winter.
Winter copy.jpg

Some fog did roll in again now, but it too was short lived.
Heading down now, hand railing the North Prison. The views here were great.
Selfie!
Brrr cop1y.jpg

Yes, it has been pointed out to me already that I look like a ‘minion’ from ‘Despicable me’. The thought actually never occurred to me! I did not go to fashion school, clearly.
Say what you like about them, but these clothes kept me warm! Bright clothes are generally a good idea when hiking, especially if alone.

Looking down to Glen Imaal.
Looking down to Glen Imaal copy.jpg

Less than an hour until sunset now, and I am nearly at the bottom of the final slope of Lugnaquilla. Mount Leinster is prominent beyond Slievemaan in this photograph.Mount Leinster copy.jpg

I also liked this scene, with the two walkers heading over to Upper Corrig as they continue their descent from Lugnaquilla.
Scale-2 copy.jpg

The frozen Little Slaney river just below the source. Gentle tones in the sky, as the sun dips lower.Little Slaney copy.jpg

I didn’t stop for photos as I descended to Camara Hill because there was a spot I wanted to get to during ‘blue hour’, after sunset – and before it got too dark. I had planned to get a shot of the deer as they leave the artillery range and head south over the Camara ridge. It was just an idea I had – I suspected that if they travel north over the ridge at dawn, then perhaps they might travel south over the ridge as night fell (I had never witnessed this before, though).

My suspicion was correct!
I do hope they are visible at this resolution, WordPress does not allow high resolution photographs to be uploaded (unless you pay). They are just down and left of centre, three small dark figures.
Deer Lug copy.jpg

Getting dark, and much colder as I took this final shot. Now, for the descent of Camara Hill, which I always dislike after a long (though wonderful) day at Lug!

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 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.