Camenabologue Via The Table Track

I have not visited Camenabologue for years, and never from this direction.
The last time I was here was way back on the 20th September, 2013. For that visit, I started from the valley of Glenmalure.
This time, I wanted to approach it from the Glen Imaal side, to see the views from the south western side of the mountain.

It’s one of the more remote spots in Wicklow, and I was expecting to see only a few die-hard walkers on this trip (my suspicions were correct! I saw only one group of four).

The weather forecast on the day was for calm winds and partly cloudy skies, with a chance of rain. So, in the hills of Wicklow – an almost certainty of rain!
The route started at a regular starting point of mine – Fenton’s Pub in the Glen of Imaal.
From here, I would walk a couple of kilometres on the road, past the entrance to Leitrim Graveyard, and the ruins of Leitrim Barracks and up to the forest track at “Tim’s Crossroad” – a crossroad near the Knickeen Ogham Stone of Imaal. You can see more information about this area on my post about a hike to Knocknamunnion. I would be following the same journey for the most part, but I would be going much further this day – following the Table Track up and on to Camenabologue itself.

This route is one of only two approved routes near/within the Glen of Imaal Army Artillery range (the other route being the route up Camara Hill to Lugnaquilla – one I know very well!), so it’s best to check in with the warden office before planning to take this route. And of course, it cannot be done when the army are using the range.

Camenabologue ( ‘step/pass of the bullocks’) rests in a magnificent area, an area I am very familiar with and find fascinating personally. Camenabologue forms one of the high walls that cut off Glen Imaal from its neighbouring valley – Glenmalure.

A short walk down from the pub, at Seskin Bridge (passing over the river Slaney), the first view over to Lugnaquilla presented itself. In fog – not unusual for a September morning!
Lug from Seskin Bridge copy.jpg

Autumn is just about here now in Wicklow, the leaves are turning all sorts of hues of gold and yellow but have not yet fallen at the time of this walk – but I am fairly sure the next winds will start to bring them down in earnest.
Seskin Road copy.jpg

Moving beyond the crossroads now, I took a short detour into the forest to take a quick snap of the Ogham Stone. This stone stands about 8 feet high, with an Ogham inscription reading “Maqi Nili” – I think this translates approximately to ‘Of the son of Neill/Niall’. Ogham is an ancient British and Irish alphabet, consisting of twenty characters formed by parallel strokes on either side of or across a continuous line.
Ogham copy.jpg

Leaving the stone now, there are a couple of kilometres to walk on forest tracks now, until we reach the first of two (rather rugged and worn) wooden footbridges.
From the forest track here, an interesting perspective of Lugnaquilla can be obtained. I used the equivalent of a 300mm lens for this long range shot of the cliffs of the north prison. A cloudy day, alright.
Lug from forest track copy.jpg

After these bridges, a steep (though short) climb up the northern flank of Knocknamunnion brings you out onto open hillside.
At a junction in the trail at Knocknamunnion, you are reminded not to stray from the approved route.
Stay on route copy.jpg

As the day unfolded, the weather showed small chances of hope in the form of clearing skies. However, it was drizzling over the Glen of Imaal as I climbed up the table track at Knocknamunnion. The view here is very pleasing, even in such gloomy conditions.
Drizzle Imaal copy.jpg

The table track itself is an ancient path that connects the valleys Glenmalure and Glen of Imaal. The name ‘Table Track’ I assume comes from the fact that the path gives easy access to ‘Table Mountain’ – the nearest northerly neighbour of my target for the day (Camenabologue being my target).
I have also heard of the track being known as the ‘Black-Banks Road’ – presumably the black banks referring to the large black peat hags at the top of the road. I also read somewhere that J.B. Malone referred to this track as ‘The Stony Road To Imaal’. I can understand why – further up the track, the terrain gets a bit rougher and comprises of mostly stones and wet peat. Here, it is nice soft grass though. Look! The sun came out!
Table Track copy.jpg

Climbing higher now, and I have two choices. There is a junction in the track. I can head left and take the longer, less arduous approach to the high point of the track (between Table Mountain and Camenabologue itself), or I can take the stonier, steeper but more direct approach to the high point. Naturally, I chose the latter. I think the latter is probably known as the ‘Stoney Road’ and the former may just be a continuation of the Table Track itself.
As I reach the col between the two mountains, the name ‘Black Banks Road’ struck me as being a rather obvious choice for the track name. Place names in Wicklow often are purely descriptive as opposed to imaginative, it could perhaps be argued!
Black Banks c.jpg

Mullaghcleevaun looms beyond at left, and Tonelagee at right – Wicklow’s second and third highest mountains.
Looking north at the col between Table Mountain and Camenabologue, here is the ‘dog leg’ track that I opted to skip in favour of the slightly more arduous approach. I love the yellows here at this time of year.Table Track Elbow copy.jpg

From here, the summit of Camenabologue is only a short distance to the south, so on I went.
As I ascend higher, the sky is gaining an almost chrome-like, liquid metal appearance. The weather in Ireland is very changeable, and swift in its transformation – blink and you’d miss it!
Heavy rain was forecast for the evening, and I did not particularly want to get caught out in it – a sense of foreboding arrived with these skies though.
Camenabologue Cairn copy.jpg

Beyond the cairn in the shot above, sits Cannow mountain and Lugnaquilla itself.
Also visible from here, using a long lens is Cloghernagh Mountain and the Peat hags of Benleagh.
Cloghernagh copy.jpg

The north-eastern slopes of Lugnaquilla, before they plunge down to Fraughan Rock Glen.
NE Lug copy.jpg

Thinking about heading back now – back the way I came. Quite a walk back and the sky looks increasingly threatening.

Back at the col between the two summits now, and I take a shot looking over to the partially forested Lobawn and the Wexford Gap. I liked the rebellious trees that (presumably are self planted) sat higher up the slopes and chose to grow away from the ordered plantations below.
Lobawn copy.jpg

Further down now, and it started to drizzle a bit. Also, Camenabologue itself became enshrouded with fog.
Back down the wet side of Knocknamunnion and crossing a footbridge, over Oiltiagh Brook, places you back at the Coillte forest track, near the start of the journey. Some of the forestry has been felled here, providing a nice view over to Lugnaquilla in this autumnal scene.
Lug Autumn-2 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.

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The Five C’s

Multiple prehistoric megalithic tombs, four mountain summits, a clear weather forecast and great company, what more could you ask for on a Saturday?

The “four C’s” is a circuit walk in the north Wicklow/Dublin mountains. It is more popularly known as the Kilbride Circuit but I prefer to refer to it as the “The Four C’s”.
This moniker originates in the names of the four mountains that the circuit navigates – Seahan (also known as Seechon), Corrig, Seefingan and Seefin.

I opted to do this walk clockwise, starting with an initial attack on Seahan/Seechon.
The plan was to then cross the boggy gap between Seahan and Corrig, cross another (even boggier!) gap from Corrig to Seefingan – the highest summit of the day – and finally descend to Seefin – in my opinion: the superior summit of the four (hence saving it until last!). These are all places I have visited many times for their own sake, except Seefingan – it is a bit ‘out on a limb’.
Being close to Dublin, Seefin and Seahan make for great evening walks in the summer time however.

There is lots of interest in these summits, certainly from an historical point of view at least. The mountains themselves are generally quite featureless (we shall see the exception to the ‘generally’ clause later).
Navigation can be tricky in this area in poor visibility, due to aforementioned featureless terrain and there is the danger of the Kilbride rifle range that must not be strayed into.

This is a great walk, and by the end of the day my pedometer clocked in a distance of 15km – I did make some minor detours for photographs and I believe that usually this walk is around 11km.

‘But Phil, why is the title of the blog post “The five C’s”?’ I hear you cry…
Well, because I had my best hiking pal Casper the Bichon Frise with me on this walk! He made up the extra ‘C‘! We shall hear more about him later. But I will say this about him for now – he is a Trooper!

Anyway, on with this day’s walk. The start of the journey involves a gentle climb through a gap in the (ever maturing) sitka spruce plantations. I remember these trees being much smaller back in ’13. They grow up so fast eh?!

Further up the trail, and the sky is looking a bit dramatic. The forecast had said sunny spells, but when in the hills of Wicklow – all four seasons in one day is the norm!
Sky copy.jpg

Further up the trail, there is a great view west, beyond the shoulder of Cupidstown Hill over to the plains of Kildare. Cupidstown Hill is the highest point in County Kildare (though it is small – only ~380m above sea level) and named after Oliver Cromwell’s gun, I believe. Nice, clear weather for the moment.
Kildare copy.jpg

From here, there is also a nice view over to the Poulaphouca Reservoir at Blessington.
Blessington copy.jpg

Please stay like this – weather!

So, the first summit of the day – Seahan. According to logainm.ie, the Anglicised name ‘Seahan’ comes from the Irish ‘An Suíochán’ – in plain English this translates to ‘The Seat’. This is a mountain I have had a long relationship with. It is one of the first mountains in Ireland that I had attempted to climb (the first I actually climbed was Djouce mountain and then Kippure mountain – both on the same day in fact).
But Seahan was the first one that I had visited, I just did not get to the top on that particular day. That first time that I went here, Seahan was covered in deep frozen snow. I have memories of deliberately sliding down the slopes here because it was easier than walking down! That was all the way back in March 2013!
Ah, to be young again.
Casper has also climbed this summit at least five times before – he is most definitely not a ‘lap-dog’!

Getting near the summit now, and the view beyond the Kilbride Rifle range to Seefingan (at left, the highest summit of the day) and Seefin (to the right of Seefingan, in shade – the last summit of the day) is great.
Seefingan Seefin copy.jpg

It looks like a lot of ground to cover, and the second summit (Corrig) is not even shown in the above photograph. But that’s the thing about hiking – the appearances of distances can be very deceiving.
The sky is looking like it could go one of two ways : clear up nicely, or get cloudier. We shall see what the Weather Gods of Wicklow have in store for us!

There are numerous memorial plaques in the hills of Dublin and Wicklow – and there is one just below the summit of Seahan/Seechon – dedicated to an ‘Alan Nolan’ here. I do not know who he was but this is a wonderful place for such a memorial.Alan Nolan copy.jpg

Switching to my favourite long range lens now (the Zeiss 100mm) and the view over to Seefin mountain is quite pleasing. The dark terrain feature slicing down the mountain is a re-entrant known as ‘The Slade’ according to my map (at centre). I whimsically refer to it as ‘The Slide’. But I am silly like that.  Rising above the top of the ‘slide’ is Mullaghcleevan, the second highest mountain in Wicklow and just right of that in the far distance is the Monarch of Wicklow herself – Lugnaquilla.
The small ‘bump’ at the top of Seefin is a large megalithic tomb. We shall see this up close later!
Slade copy.jpg

At the top of Seahan now, and atop one of the three (that I know of) burial cairns here is a rather battered looking Ordnance Survey Trigonometrical Station. Getting quite a bit cloudier, I fancy. It is warm though.
Seahan Trig copy.jpg

This cairn is about 2 meters high and 24 meters in diameter and all of the cairns on these mountains most likely date to the Neolithic period, more than 5,000 years ago. The tombs are believed to be the remnants of passage tombs, a type of burial tomb that appears as a large round mound of stones, encircled by large stones set on their edges to form a kerb structure. Parallel lines of upright stones created a passageway leading to a chamber which usually contained the remains the revered dead.
The view over the city of Dublin is notable from up here.

The other tomb (a shattered wedge tomb) lies a short journey to the west of here, but I did not take a photograph of it this day because it was unfortunately covered with the remains of some form of barbeque. Not terribly respectful of the local ancient ancestors I think you’ll agree.
The winds will blow it away, and the tomb will remain, I guess. I was not really in a position to ‘litter pick’ this day I am afraid as I was carrying a lot of camera gear and water for Casper and I. A shame though. I have taken many photographs of this tomb before, but I am trying only to share images I took this day on this post. There will be other posts about this walk in the future, I am sure :).

The first summit of the day for Little Casper! Seven years old and still rocking it! Top chap!
He is so fast but usually he opts to stay right behind me on these walks, he never leaves me – unless there is some good heather sniffing to be done of course. He might leave me then but soon realise that whilst he has stopped – I have not! At which point he frantically rushes towards me once I am more than 5 meters away!
Casper Seahan copy.jpg

Casper is a rescue dog, and as a result of his previous life experience, he has some anxiety problems. I would consider him sort of an ‘autistic dog’ if such a thing exists –  I do not know about that.
He does not like dogs that he does not know, he also does not like things that might be considered strange to a little dog, or things that disrupt his routine. Cyclists might be an example, loud noises or other ‘exciting’ things are also triggers for him. He has a habit of ‘stacking’ his anxiety, and doesn’t let things go easily. When the stack gets too high, it gets too much and he melts down.
He really loves hill walking though. When it is just me and him roaming the hills of Wicklow he really comes alive. He loves to barrel around the peat hags and he loves to sniff the heather, especially when it is in full bloom (wait another month for that, Cas).

A short distance to the east, is another tomb – this one is a passage tomb, over 21m in diameter, with a kerb of elongated granite stones. This one I find particularly provocative.
Seahan Passage Tomb copy.jpg

I could stay here all day, watching the light change on this tomb and the humps and bumps of Wicklow in the distance glow and dimmer with the passing clouds but Casper and I have a mission today.
From here, we need to head south east for a short distance to reach our second summit of the day – Corrig. It is only about 1km away, but the ground in the gap between Seahan and Corrig is awkward. It’s very wet and boggy and I once observed an abandoned army jeep stuck in the bog here. I imagine somebody was in trouble when they had to report back to HQ that they had managed to get the jeep stuck in the bog :-/.
“Not again, Private!”.

At this point, Casper and I were uncertain about what the weather was going to bring. My suspicion was for increasing cloud and possibly rain showers. Casper concurred.
We had hoped not, and I crossed my fingers, and Casper crossed his paws.
This would not be the first time that Casper and I had been caught out in the rain, and we have a strategy for this that I shall explain later.

Looking towards Corrig, with the pointy Great Sugar Loaf in the far distance and Kippure with its RTE broadcasting mast at right.
Looking to Corrig copy.jpg

Casper has a habit of pausing for heather sniffing opportunities as previously mentioned, but also for another reason.
He loves taking selfies!
He puts his camera on the tripod, locks it into self timer mode and then scampers over to his chosen spot for the selfie.
A clever little dog really. Here he is, in the boggy gap between Seahan and Corrig.
Casper Corrig Gap copy.jpg

Some of the heather that Casper enjoys on the eastern shoulder of Seahan. Not quite at it’s ‘purplest’ yet.Purple Heather copy.jpg

A curious find here between Seahan and Corrig, it is an old ‘War Department’ pillar, a fact revealed by the ‘WD’ inscription on it. I believe, though I am not sure – that this is a throwback to the British ‘War Department’ that used both this range and the artillery range at Glen Imaal before the Irish Defence Forces used them, as they presently do. These pillars were used to denote the boundaries of the Kilbride rifle range.
WD corrig gap copy.jpg

This particular pillar looks over to Glendoo mountain, Two Rock mountain (at right) beyond and Dublin Bay (at left). In the far distance beyond the sea is the Howth peninsula (slightly left of center).

At the summit of Corrig (‘Rock’ in English) now, summit two of the day. It really is the poorest of the four summits I am afraid to say. Not offering splendid views and having no megalithic cairns (that I know of). Not much to say about it really. I am sure that good views might be had by dropping down the eastern slopes, but that was not the mission for this day.
There is another ‘WD’ pillar here, resting in a boggy pool.
WD Corrig copy.jpg

Not much wind this day at all – hence the reflections in the still pool above.
Another Casper photograph, at his second summit of the day – Corrig. He looks pretty clean still, surprisingly so – after the wet ground we just crossed.Casper at Corrig copy.jpg

Casper is a small dog (really small!) so I basically have to lie down to get to his level whilst he patiently poses for me!
After a pause here, for some water and some snacks we must start the assault on Seefingan. The highest summit of the day. Not a steep hike from here but quite a long (feeling) ascent from the boggy gap between here (Corrig) and Seefingan itself.
A gentle reminder en route.
Reminder copy.jpg

Some really nasty wet patches on the way to Seefingan. Poor Casper is much lower to the ground than I, but he is well trained in the art of ‘bog dodging’, or ‘bodging’ as he calls it! Bog Pool copy.jpg

Seefingan, our target, is at left above. The fingers (and paws!) crossing has done the trick for now, and we have some nice warm sunlight hitting us as we negotiate our path through this marshy gap. However, it does look as if cumulonimbus clouds are starting to tower up. These can produce sudden, and heavy rain showers. Keep an eye out, Cas.

Yes, definitely getting much cloudier now as we start the ascent of the northern slope of Seefingan.

Casper in the heather.
Casper Heather copy.jpg

I shot this wide open (f/1.4) with my 35mm lens. Only the tip of his nose is in complete focus, depth of field (or zone of focus) is razor thin wide open at this distance. I like the effect of this, and it really helps make a subject ‘pop’.
I took another version of this shot but I focused on his eye instead (usually in a portrait photograph, out of focus eyes is a big no-no) but I actually preferred the ‘nose focus’ shot to the ‘eye focus’ shot – because his nose is nearer.
But that is why I took two shots with different focus areas- options are nice to have and in the field it may not be obvious where best to place the focus for the effect you want. Experience has taught me this.
As I say, usually the eyes win but every case is different and it costs nothing to ‘bracket’ the focus in digital photography.
He is starting to look at little bit muckier now!

Partway up Seefingan, and the view north shows our journey so far – Seahan (left) and Corrig (right). Beyond Seahan and Corrig lies the sprawling city of Dublin.
Yeah, time to put the waterproof jacket on I think. The sky is moody and threatening.
Seahan Corrig copy.jpg

The actual summit of Seefingan (“Fingan’s Seat”) is marked only with a ‘Wicklow Mountains National Park’ post.
Casper at the summit of Seefingan. Man, it is getting dark now – the clouds overhead are thick, dark and threatening.Casper Seefingan copy.jpg

Looking over to Kippure from just east of here reveals a rather desolate area of eroded peat hags. Pretty gloomy looking, but interesting I thought.
Kippure copy.jpg

A long lens shot of Kippure, with the communications mast visible at the summit and War Hill and Djouce in the distance at right. The mast itself is 127 metres tall, and sits at the top of Kippure mountain – itself 757 metres above sea level. Construction of the mast was completed in the summer of 1961.
Kippure 100 copy.jpg

Well, we cannot pick the weather on the weekends eh! Sun would have been nice, but if my photographs were always sunny that would be an inaccurate depiction if Wicklow. Most of the time, it is just not sunny.

A short detour from the summit to the west reveals another very impressive megalithic tomb. This one is over 25 metres in diameter and about 4 metres high. Visible on the top is another ‘WD’ pillar.
Seefingan Tomb copy.jpg

At this point in the walk it had started to spit rain, so Casper and I decided to move on towards the final (and superior) summit of the day – Seefin (“Fionn’s Seat”).

Descending the south-western slope of Seefingan, the sky looked ever more menacing – a downpour was imminent.
The view here is pleasant, despite the grey conditions. Sorrel Hill is prominent slightly up and left of centre, with the sprawling Poulaphouca reservoir just beyond (and also to the right – below Lugnagun).
Seefingan Descent copy.jpg

My usual strategy for downpours when I have Casper with me is to wrap the little chap inside my waterproof jacket (whilst I am wearing it) so that he does not get totally drenched. He does own a nice jacket himself but sometimes the rain is just so heavy that he needs more protection. That was the case at this point – the heavens truly opened!
We took shelter behind a large peat hag and decided to wait it out. We thought it was never going to end! Casper insisted on poking his head through my jacket, despite my advice not to – and as a result he did get wet. But we tried to minimise this!

The rain fell straight down in vertical lines, as there was almost no wind.
25 minutes later, or so – the shower stopped and we opted to move on. Roll out autobots!
The sky was not clearing though, and looked to be darkening again.

The gap between Seefingan and Seefin is less boggy than the previous two gaps (between Seahan – Corrig and Corrig – Seefingan). So the going here was much easier, especially for Casper. The route took us to the mouth of the re-entrant known as ‘The Slade’ (or slide as I prefer!). At this point, it was only a trench a few foot deep but Casper had great fun launching himself over it – go rocket dog!

Approaching Seefin now, and a quick glance back to Seefingan (at right) also shows the first summit of the day (Seahan, at left). It looks like the sky may clear up for us as we arrive at the favourite summit of the day. Fingers & paws crossed :).
Seefingan Seahan copy.jpg

The cairn at Seefin is a passage tomb, measuring around 25m in diameter and about 3m high. You can see a number of large kerb stones around the base of the tomb defining its outer edge. The tomb has a passageway that is roughly 10m long and opens into a chamber with five compartments. If you are small, you can climb through the doorway portal shown in the below photograph. However, I am simply not small enough!Seefin Tomb copy.jpg

Towering cumulonimbus clouds in the distance and above the Poulaphouca reservoir at right hint at thunderous downpours in that area – I think this is the remnants of what previously passed over Casper and I earlier – the wind was easterly this day and we are looking west here.

A rather poor looking Casper, at his final summit of the day. He is a bit wet from walking through wet ground here but I am not worried, it was a warm day and he is pretty used to walking with me in the rain.
I think if you ask any dog, would they rather go out for a walk (and possibly get a little bit wet) or stay at home (but be dry) the answer will always be the same!
Well done Casper!
Seefin Casper copy.jpg

A colour shot of the tomb, with the view west on display.
Seefin Colour copy.jpg

The doorway to a forgotten world:
Seefin Portal copy.jpg

Heading off Seefin now, it’s been a long day for Casper and our lift is en route from Dublin – so we must not make them wait for us after the generous chauffeuring!

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 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!

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.

 

A Return To Log Na Coille

Yes, I went to Log na Coille (Lugnaquilla) again :-). One of the many advantages of frequent visits to a particular place, is you notice new things of interest each time, new ways of looking at the same things and also you increase your chances of being there when something magical happens. The weather plays a vital role, and it is never the same from one day to another in Ireland.
I must mention that there are many other great places in Wicklow, but Lugnaquilla is my favourite. It’s a very special place.
Reading the weather forecasts (yr.no) I was under the impression that there was to be a strong temperature inversion. If my information was correct, this would be the second time I would witness an inversion at the highest point in the east of Ireland.

After a very frosty drive to the Glen of Imaal (careful on the roads, now), I left my car at Fentons Pub at around 5:30 am ish. I’d like to note that there was still traditional Irish music coming from the pub at this time, a great start to my day and this put a smile on my sleepy face! It would appear that this is not an unusual occurrence on the weekends!

Hiking up Camara Hill in the dark has become somewhat of a habit for me, as this would be the fourth time I have done this part of the walk in the dark. I have a brilliant 225 lumens headtorch that lights my way, which is an essential piece of gear. However, the sky was so clear and the crescent moon so bright, that it might have been entirely possible to simply allow the stars and the moon to light my way on the frosty path up Camara Hill.Crescent copy.jpg

At the top of Camara Hill itself, a familiar (to me at least) view appears. Lugnaquilla with a herd of deer (bottom right, though small at this resolution) about an hour before dawn. It was still dark so this was a long exposure photograph.Lugnaquilla predawn copy.jpg

Looking down to a frosty Glen of Imaal.A frosty dawn copy.jpg

Climbing up the two Corrig’s (see my checkpoints on a previous post about this walk here), the sun had started to rise, and the final challenge before I arrive at the plateau of Lug itself was ahead of me. I always love this section, it’s a bit of work to get up and the views open up considerably on this slope. From here we can see evidence of the inversion itself, with considerable fog in the lowlands of the south.Inversion II copy.jpg

On the summit plateau of Lugnaquilla itself now, and most people head straight to the top proper from here. But instead, I like to follow a very small path (easy to miss this one) that skirts the rim of the north prison. I have never been overly bothered by summits themselves really, in Wicklow the summits are often the least interesting part of the mountain. The North Prison copy.jpg

Yes, not too warm here. The north prison receives no sunlight at this time of year.

Some more inversion fun happening here, with the ‘whale hump’ of Tonelagee (the third highest mountain in Wicklow) looming behind what looks like a castle on a volcanic mound. This is no castle, and that’s no volcano! This is the upper lake of Turlough Hill power station, Irelands only pumped-storage hydroelectric system. Turlough Hill and Tonelagee copy.jpg

Leaving the north prison rim now, and heading for the summit. There is a curious direction finder nearby. I’ve often looked at this and tried to ‘pick out features’ that it points to. A great way to spend a morning for nerds like me!Direction Finder copy.jpg

Heading towards the south prison now, it’s certainly always worth checking out both prisons if it is a clear day at Lugnaquilla. From here we can see the shoulder of Cloghernagh mountain with a snow patch leading us to some low (lower than I was) clouds. A wonderful day to be here.Cloghernagh copy.jpg

Here is a wider view of my vantage point above the south prison.The South Prison-2 copy.jpg

Crystal blue skies above the thick layer of fog that seemed to envelope everything that was (by my estimate) between 500 and 700 meters above sea level in this view. Luckily for me, I was at about 900m above sea level here, and although the clouds had the appearance of moving towards me, they didn’t ever reach me.

It would be a rare weekend day that has clement weather where you have Lugnaquilla to yourself, and I most certainly did not this day. Personal feelings aside feel about crowds and other people in general, sometimes they have their uses and can add a sense of scale to a photograph, and a depth that would not be attainable otherwise, so I was grateful to these two:Walkers in Wicklow copy.jpg

And also these two (or rather, two and a dog!):Walkers in Wicklow II copy.jpg
Starting to think about returning now, I’ve been out a long time and sunset is only a few hours away. As always, incredibly difficult to drag myself away. On the way back, I tend to take one last look over the north prison as it’s sort of on the way back. The North Prison II copy.jpg

The fog in the lowlands to the south was also worth another shot I thought.Fog copy.jpg

And here is the return journey, both Corrig humps (Upper and Lower) and Camara Hill itself with the flat floor of Glen Imaal beyond.Corrigs and Camara copy.jpg

Beautiful blue skies above Lugnaquilla as I descend, a rare day (especially for a weekend!).Lug copy.jpg

I always dread the descent at Camara Hill, very tough on the knees, especially with a heavy rucksack. But I had the fortune to meet three chaps I met earlier as I was descending Lug (and they were ascending), it was great chatting to these guys and it took my (pretty tired at this stage) mind off the torture of that descent!

A final glance over to the long shadows at Lug itself, another great day in the hills had!Lug II copy.jpg

P.S. I will try to show another part of Wicklow next time, but Lug keeps pulling me back!

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 Facebook here!

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