An Overcast Day At Lugduff

Who says cloudy days have to be dull!?
Yes, a walk I have done before, and yes, a walk I have written about before (see The Spinc & A Frosty Lugduff Gap). But it’s a great walk and I am able to park my car safe in the knowledge that it will be safe (which is important when hiking in Wicklow – especially in the spring/summer months). It’s a shame that ‘car safety’ is a factor in deciding where to hike, but I have had my car broken into multiple times in the mountains, so it’s something I carefully consider.
Anyway, car safety aside – I had wanted to do this walk this day, because I do enjoy it and it’s a good workout. Plus, I knew the weather was not going to be remarkable so the walk was more about exercise than photography per se.

On past walks here, I usually start by heading up beside the Poulanass waterfall but I opted for a different route this time, just for a change of scenery.
I wondered what cataclysmic event caused this! This tree has been in this condition for at least three years now, and I cannot say how this happened.Tree copy.jpg

After the ‘steps of the death’ (so called by myself because they kill your calf muscles!) that lead you to the top of The Spinc, I like to take a short detour from the track to perch my tripod on a (rather precarious – I might add) rocky overhang to obtain a completely unobstructed view of the western shore of the upper lake of Glendalough. Yep, got a few looks from passers-by at this spot. Worth it.
From here, we can the see upper Glenealo Valley, the Glenealo river and waterfall (left hand side, towards the top), some spoil heaps from the mining operations in the valley (the white ‘sand’ on the steep ground/cliffs at right and on the valley floor) and the white beachy shore of the lake itself. This is a view I particularly enjoy. I love the winding Glenealo river as it meanders its way down to the lake. Such a calm, peaceful day as well. Little to no wind. Glenaelo River copy.jpg

For me, resolution is king. If a landscape photograph I take is not sharp edge to edge, corner to corner then I do not keep it. For my 50mm Nikkor lens, I know I need to stop down to f/8 for this (experience is a valuable teacher) to overcome lens aberrations. In the dominant conditions in Ireland (overcast and dark), this means a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second at ISO 64 (my Nikon D810 has a base ISO of 64, which contributes to its high dynamic range). I cannot hand hold my camera with a 50mm lens at 1/60th of a second and get a sharp shot, my hands are not steady enough- again experience has taught me this. So that big, heavy and unwieldy tripod comes in handy! Most hikers I meet are always amazed at the amount of, and weight of gear that I carry. But I am uncompromising in terms of image quality. I have the highest resolution camera that Nikon sell commercially, so I am compelled to maximise its capabilities. Yep, ready for an upgrade Nikon ;-).

Here is a 100% size crop from the previous photograph, taken from the left hand side (a bit more than a third down from the top), a very small area of the whole image. So yeah, resolution rules. Here we can see the waterfall of the Glenealo river itself and the ‘zig-zag’ tracks that take you up (or down from) the Spinc. Look closely and you can see tiny people! At the first ‘elbow zig-zag’ as you go up, there is an orange jacket and a yellow one. So yeah, resolution rules!!! But to deploy that resolution, discipline and technique is required. It’s not a simple ‘point & shoot’ task.  Glenaelo River crop copy.jpg

Here is my lofty perch, BIG drop below and you do not want to slip here.Perch copy.jpg

As the seasons change the greens of the ‘Emerald Isle’ are making their return, as seen in the almost aerial view of the Scot’s Pines below. I took this from the cliffs of the Spinc.Trees copy.jpg

Whilst on the subject of the cliffs of the Spinc, here is a shot of a small patch of sunlight striking the northern aspect cliffs. That was about it as far as direct sunlight went on this day.Cliffs copy.jpg

Yeah, I did not see much sun this day. But I don’t mind, I just enjoy being out and about!
I opted to head for the top of the Spinc walk (as opposed to heading left at a junction to head straight for Lugduff gap) and then proceeded to hand rail a rather decrepit old fence!Fence copy.jpg

This fence soon expired and then I was relying on my navigation skills to avoid the steeper slopes of Lugduff south east top. I wanted a gentler approach, sore legs and feet always in my thoughts. This turned out to be a much gentler gradient than the main track up to Lugduff Gap actually, but of course the terrain was not as ‘easy going’. Tussocks of grass and some wet bog patches were the main problem. But I opted for this route as I had hoped to cross paths with some deer. Plus it offered a nice view of the Glenealo Valley and the surrounding hills (though a dull day unfortunately).Glenaelo Valley copy.jpg

Well, I did see some deer – though they were spooked by my presence and immediately departed hastily upon sighting me!Deer copy.jpg

A stealthier approach was required, and a longer lens (I had my 100mm Zeiss with me but not my 70-200 Nikkor). But I was not out specifically to shoot the deer this day, I just like to see them!

At the summit area of Lugduff south east now, and I like to head south from here as there is a small rocky outcrop where I like to eat and observe Lugnaquilla from its northern aspect. A murky day, but not an unpleasant one. Lugnaquilla copy.jpg

As shown above, the summit area of Lug was in cloud – as it was for most of the time I was at Lugduff. I estimate the cloud cover level to be about ~900 metres above sea level here.
Here, we can see (at left) the shoulder of Cloghernagh, also marked on EastWest Mapping’s wonderful maps as ‘Bendoo’. There are only two “Ben’s” (in physical geography, ‘Ben’ is commonly used as part of a place name for a mountain peak in Gaelic) that I know of in Wicklow, the other being Benleagh – which is shown in the above photograph on the right – the imposing looking cliffs above the tree line. Also visible is the Fraughan Rock Glen (or ‘Fraggle Rock’ as I like to call it!), almost dead center.
Lugduff translates to English as  ‘Black Hollow’ – though I am not certain what/where the ‘hollow’ is – perhaps the hollow referred to is the hollow of Fraughan Rock Glen, it certainly looked dark this day and if the sun were behind it (as is the case on a clear day in winter) then the glen most certainly would be very dark due to its northern aspect. If someone knows what the ‘hollow’ is, please correct me in the comments!
Then finally, that dark towering hulk that is Lugnaquilla itself – slightly left of center, rising up into the clouds.

A closer view of Bendoo and Lugnaquilla, with fog rolling off the cliffs of the south prison of Lugnaquilla. A great approach to Lugnaquilla itself is to start at the bottom of the Fraughan Rock Glen and follow the forest track (bottom right) up to the Fraughan Rock Brook and handrail the waterfall up. Tough work going up, even harder going down, it’s quite steep, wet and slippery in places. I must do that walk again soon, it’s amazing, but it is tough on weak/injured/overused/arthritic joints. From the Hollow Of Luqueer, at the top of the waterfall, swinging slightly north of west helps avoid some steep rocky terrace areas and then when on higher ground and past the terraces a heading south east will take you to past Cannow mountain and onto the Lugnaquilla plateau itself. Lugnaquilla 100mm copy.jpg

Starting to head back now, lunch had and exercise complete – the conical Croaghanmoira stands proud to the south east, with Carrawaystick waterfall visible near bottom right. Yep, I know Wicklow pretty well!Croaghanmoira copy.jpg

Back on the Spinc boardwalk now, and boy – it’s pretty busy! One of the things I find fascinating about walking in Wicklow, is that some places are completely deserted, while other places can be like Piccadilly Circus! As readers of this blog will know, I prefer the quieter spots.

Here is a view of the rocky area (my lofty perch) I was sat atop for my earlier images of the day, on the right hand side. At left we see the slopes of Camaderry, another regular haunt of mine! Phil's Seat copy.jpg

Back at the car and another great day in the hills. Time for an Indian take away when I get home I think (I love Chicken Madras!).

P.S. Happy Birthday to my Dad today!

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!

A lot of time and effort goes into this blog and the images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.

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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.