A White Lugnaquilla – Episode II

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 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.
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!

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Lugnaquilla from Fenton’s Bar

It has been a long time since I visited Lugnaquilla (8th Feb 2015, to be precise), the highest mountain in Wicklow and the highest point of land in Ireland outside of County Kerry. This would be my fourth visit to this amazing place.

I have been working very hard for over a year (since 19th April 2015, to be precise) to build my strength up and recover from a nasty Arthritic flare up of Plantar Fasciitis coupled with Achilles Tendonitis. For 2 months starting in April 2015, I could not even stand up in the shower without excruciating pain. Stretching, icing, heating, resting and swimming have all been the order of the day for many months since that dreaded April day. All with one goal in mind. Get up Lug.
If I pushed my mileage/intensity/speed too much too soon, I was rewarded with MTSS (medial tibial stress syndrome) – commonly called shin splints. Morton’s Neuroma is another frequent visitor of mine – I am currently suffering from this in fact. Life is pain, man. But after a year of training, last Sunday I felt that I was finally ready to adorn my heavy back pack along with my 24mm Sigma Art f/1.4, Nikon 50mm 1.8g (my lightest lens) and my Nikon 85mm 1.8g. And of course my Nikon D810. I was toying with bringing my 14mm prime lens as well, but it’s heavy and a tricky lens to use due to some dodgy field curvature and an asymmetrical frame. I didn’t want to faff about, I just wanted to get up Lug!

This day was about hiking. Less about photography, so I left the 14mm at home. I regretted this later. A 04:30 start gave me an arrival time at Fenton’s Pub of about 06:00. Curiously, there must have been a ‘lock in’ at the pub as there was still music and voices and laughter coming from within!

I took my first photograph overlooking the Glen of Imaal from Camara Hill at 07:18. The sun had not risen yet, and there were some nice fog patches in the Glen itself. I do love the early mornings.Glen Imaal fog patches copy.jpg

Looking south to Mount Leinster also rewarded a pleasant view that morning.Looking South copy.jpg

Lugnaquilla is a long way off yet.Lugnaquilla in the distance copy.jpg

But at least there is a clear way to go (initially at least).Follow The Arrow copy.jpg

Do not be fooled, the way up to Lug is not signposted! That would spoil the fun now wouldn’t it?! This is just one of a few posts I encountered on the mountains themselves. Presumably installed by the Irish Defence Forces to help prevent walkers from straying into the Glen Imaal Artillery Range to go ‘unexploded ordnance’ hunting! Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonitis would be the least of your worries if you stumbled onto the range!

I have a few logical checkpoints that I have established on the way to Lugnaquilla during my training and hiking rehabilitation regime. The top of Camara Hill is the first, the second is an area known locally as Lower Corrig (Corrig translates to ‘rock’ in English) not far from the summit of Camara Hill.

The third checkpoint is a high point on the Camara ridge known as Upper Corrig.
Nice Autumnal colours and a blue sky (a first in Wicklow!) at Upper Corrig looking over to the flanks of Slievemaan Mountain, Ballineddan Mountain and finally in the distance at right Keadeen Mountain. Colourful copy.jpg

After Upper Corrig is the final push onto the Lugnaquilla summit plateau. The summit is broad, flattish and quite featureless. The summit is also known as Percy’s Table, named after a local landowner (Colonel Percy) of the 18th century I am led to believe. What a fine dining place this would make!

In fog, navigation is a challenge as the plateau is surrounded by dangerous cliffs to the north and north west (The North Prison) and to the east and south east (The South Prison). There are further cliffs to the north, overlooking Benleagh and Fraughan rock glen (see my previous post here about this area). But I would not be going near this area today, I didn’t want to push my luck pain-wise and do too many kilometres.

There are ‘navigation hints’ that may assist you when in dense fog, but you need to know their meanings, where they are, and how they can help you. Here is a walker-built navigation cairn partway up the final slope to Lugnaquilla.Navigation aid cairn copy.jpg

The final slopes of Lugnaquilla has a tricky (but not too difficult) rocky section to negotiate. Here I am looking south west down onto Slievemaan and the ‘Muddy Floor’ of wet peat that separates it from Lugnaquilla.The Muddy Floor of Slieve Maan Wide angle copy.jpg

Even on fine days, Lug can be completely shrouded in dense fog. A statistic I heard from a local once was that 3 out of 5 days Lug is completely covered with fog. Mountain Rescue are frequently called out to Lugnaquilla to recover lost walkers. It is easy to see why. When in fog, the mountain can turn you around in a heartbeat. I had my map and compass at the ready! You seriously do not want to descend to the Glen Imaal Artillery Range, where unexploded ordnance might kill you. Does not sound too enticing huh!?

Almost there, I am now on the last stretch of the plateau to the summit. Looking over to the shoulder of Cannow mountain with Camenabologue mountain just beyond. Lower summits than my target, and already the fog is moving in.Fog rolling off Cannow copy.jpg

What is this?! A rare sighting! A Phil in front of the camera! Here I am at the summit. Boy am I glad to see you Mr Summit! In clear weather too! Phil Lug copy.jpg

This clear weather did not last long. Just enough time to set up the tripod and set the camera to self timer mode. I believe I was the first up here this day!

Anyway, I put myself back behind the camera – where I belong – and descended slightly to a spot I like to view the North Prison from. I had my much deserved lunch here. Given that the North Prison has North facing cliffs, the sunlight never directly touches them at this time of day and year.Lugnaquilla North Prison copy.jpg

The clouds we see here, are literally just above my head. Yeah, I kind of knew it was going to be time to get the compass ready soon.Fog incoming copy.jpg

Soon after this, the fog came rolling in, and danced its way down the steep slopes and cliffs of the North Prison like spectres from a forgotten world. Fog Spectres copy.jpg

Yep, I came here for the views!I came here for the views copy.jpg

I decided to wait, to see if the fog would lift. I was confident that I could find my way down even if the fog got worse. Plus, it was still early in the day, and at this moment in time I had this popular mountain all to myself. I took the opportunity to rest my legs and eat some rather tasty grapes. Yum :-).

I was right to wait, as there was a partial (and temporary) clearance. Here I am looking down to another good pal of mine, the Sugar Loaf of West Wicklow (you can read about this guy in my blog post here).Looking down to the Sugar Loaf copy.jpg

Here I am looking inside the North Prison after a partial clearance. I wish I had my 14mm lens at this point. So wide, is the corrie, that 24mm is simply not wide enough in this instance. My favourite 35mm lens certainly wouldn’t have been much use at this spot. But I will find a spot where it will work ;-).The North Prison copy.jpg

We are getting to that time now. It’s important to remember that we are merely visitors to these wonderful places. Ultimately we have to leave to return to the daily grind of our day jobs. Rock copy.jpg

Of course there are (as I often say!) always things to see on the way back down.Little Slaney copy.jpg

I shall return, and I will bring my 14mm lens next time!
The next time I visit, I will also take a detour to over look the South Prison – I didn’t do this on sunday as I did not want to ‘push my luck’.

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A Camera at Camara Hill – a glimpse of greater things

I opted for a gentler hike yesterday.
After Benleagh last week, there has been an alarming amount of pain in the shins throughout the week so I was apprehensive about the prospect of tackling another tricky hike this weekend. It sort of helped that the weather was poor too – it would have been a shame if it was glorious but I had to ‘tone it down’ due to shin pain!

Anyway, Camara (pronounced ‘Camera’) Hill is not a walk I had done before, and not one I had been particularly excited about in the past. The walk is relatively straightforward and a gentle ascent to the summit of the hill itself lends the possibility of much greater things – Lugnaquilla, the highest point in Ireland outside of Kerry.

Forest Walk copy.jpg

However, Camara Hill is within the perimeter of the Irish Defence Forces Glen of Imaal Artillery range (the only one of its kind in Ireland I believe). So this walk is not always permitted (only permitted if firing is not taking place), and you are not permitted to stray from the agreed access path. Away from the agreed route, there is the possibility of stumbling onto unexploded ordnance on the hillside, so I think it’s fair to say that it’s not enticing to deviate from the agreed route! I think shin splints would be the least of my worries if I were to come across unspent military debris! I advise checking in with the Warden office if you are planning to walk around this area.

Military Range copy.jpg

The mist was down at The Lug (Lugnaquilla is affectionately known as ‘The Lug’ to locals), and later it actually descended to Camara hill – I think the cloud level was at an estimate of 350 meters above sea level at that point.

Walkers approaching Lug.jpg

The slopes of Camara hill itself are gentle and this fella certainly seemed comfortable! I had visions in my head of him climbing, tiring halfway up, and needing to stop for a ‘breather’. I also thought how much easier this hill was for him to get up with 4 legs, a lower centre of gravity and (presumably) no shin splints! A very helpful and patient model though.

Sheep at rest.jpg

All in all, a good walk had and a bit of exercise and fresh air was obtained!
There are some good spots on this hill, and some lovely views. I must return in more clement weather!

Tree copy.jpg

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