Focus Stacking In The Forest

Something a little bit different today, and no mention of Lugnaquilla in sight ;).
I’m also going to only talk about one image this time, so something very new for readers of my blog!
This is going to be quite a technical post I am afraid guys, so if you are not terribly interested in the pursuit of absolute image quality then this might not be for you.

One of the age old problems in photography, especially with landscape photography is getting sufficient depth of field in a photograph. The traditional method is to stop down your lens. Most photographers understand that if you stop a lens down to f/11, you will get a larger depth of field, or zone of focus than if you shot the same image at say f/4.
So why don’t we just stop the lens down to f/22?
Well, because of diffraction – on my full frame Nikon D810 – diffraction is evident at f/11 but at f/16 its really quite noticeable and the sharpness loss and contrast reduction is easily perceptible, especially when viewing on a large monitor.
This is why I don’t tend to shoot at a smaller aperture than f/16 (most of the time).
Basically, diffraction is an optical effect which will limit the resolution of a photograph – why buy a high resolution camera and then limit it by stopping down too far?
Diffraction occurs when light begins to disperse or “diffract” when passing through a small opening (i.e. a lens set to a small aperture).

Life is all about compromise, and so is photography. If you have a near subject that you want sharp and a far subject that you also want sharp – the usual advice is to stop the lens down. However, high resolution photography magnifies the negative effects of diffraction.
So, a compromise must be made (unless using a tilt shift lens – but they have their own issues). You have a choice to make:

A) Stop down and accept some diffraction that will limit the resolution of your photograph. Sometimes though, especially with a very close foreground and distant background, no amount of stopping down will achieve critical sharpness throughout the frame.

B) Accept a blurred background but a sharp foreground (or vice versa) – sometimes this is desirable for artistic effect. Usually though, in landscape photographs we really do want ‘everything sharp’ and in focus. For some scenes, that is simply impossible – without focus stacking.

What is focus stacking? According to wikipedia:
“Focus stacking (also known as focal plane merging and z-stacking or focus blending) is a digital image processing technique which combines multiple images taken at different focus distances to give a resulting image with a greater depth of field (DOF) than any of the individual source images.”

Lenses I use for focus stacking include Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8, Zeiss Milvus 34mm f/1.4 and the Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2.

One of the many reasons I favour Zeiss glass is the power and control over exactly where the zone of focus can be placed. This, coupled with low aberrations (spherical, chromatic aberration and field curvature) means you have absolute control of where focus falls. There are no surprises.
The focus rings are extremely precise and have a long throw – most autofocus lenses have bad focus rings in my experience, with a short focus throw. It’s hard to describe but once you have used a Zeiss lens for landscape photography – there is simply no going back.
I’d like to add here, that all opinions posted on my blog (and my other content) are my own. Any conclusions I come to are after many hours testing various pieces of equipment. I am not affiliated with any camera/lens manufacturer and all of my gear is personally bought by myself (at my expense, great expense I might say!).

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 at f/10, nikon D810 – 40 frame stack2019-04-01-10.56.44 ZS retouched.jpg

At this low resolution (I don’t think WordPress allows high resolution uploads) there is no difference between the above image (a stack of 40 images, shot at f/10 each) to the one below:

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 at f/10, nikon D810 – focus was placed on the large tree at left
focus on tree copy.jpg

So, to demonstrate this I will have to show some crops.
The following are 100% (pixel level) crops from my 36 megapixel Nikon D810.

CENTRE :: 40 frame stack
stacked centre.jpg

CENTRE :: single shot at f/10 – focus on the tree trunkfocus on tree centre.jpg

What might be already apparent from the above two crops is that whilst the tree trunk is sharp in both crops, taking a cursory glance to the right shows the power of focus stacking. Strong blur (insufficient depth of field) on the non stacked crop but the stacked crop is very sharp. Remember this was shot at f/10! I did a test shot at f/16 (the minimum aperture of the Zeiss Milvus) with the same focus placement and still the background was blurred.

Let’s look at another couple of crops.
This sequence is taken from the far right.

FAR RIGHT :: 40 frame stack
stacked FR.jpg

FAR RIGHT :: single shot at f/10 – focus on the tree trunk
focus on tree FR.jpg

As you can see, absolutely nothing is in focus in the single shot crop. The focus stacked crop shows a very high level of detail. I think the benefits of focus stacking largely speaks for itself in this particular scene but let’s see some more crops.

This sequence is taken from the far left.

FAR LEFT :: 40 frame stack
stacked FL.jpg

FAR LEFT :: single shot at f/10 – focus on the tree trunk
focus on tree FL.jpg

Again, a similar pattern occurs. The area where focus was placed is sharp in the single shot but the background is blurred. Compare with the focus stack crop above. It’s not really a competition if absolute sharpness is required all over the frame is it?

I want to show another crop here, this time taken from the bottom left – this was very close to the camera (a couple of feet at most).

BOTTOM LEFT :: 40 frame stack
stacked BL.jpg

BOTTOM LEFT :: single shot at f/10 – focus on the tree trunk
focus on tree BL.jpg

No way was this area going to be sharp in a single frame. No amount of stopping down would give sufficient depth of field for an area of the image this close (when focus was placed on the tree). This area is simply too close to the camera.
However, focus stacking as seen in the above crop proves its worth.

One final crop, this time of the bottom right of the image.

BOTTOM RIGHT :: 40 frame stack
stacked BR.jpg

BOTTOM RIGHT :: single shot at f/10 – focus on the tree trunk
focus on tree BR.jpg

This area is too far away from the focus point for f/10 to cover it in the single shot (f/16 didn’t either). The advantages of stacking are pretty obvious I think.

So, what are the disadvantages?

Like everything in photography, focus stacking comes with compromises. Some limitations of focus stacking that I have discovered are listed below:

  • Wind and moving subjects pose a challenge for stacking. Any subject movement means extra time on the computer retouching ‘double images’ where the stacking software gets confused. For example, you may have two tree branches instead of one!
  • Time and effort both in the field and at the computer. Stacking in the field requires time and patience. I usually focus on the nearest object in the image and the slowly rotate the focus ring as required to ensure that the furthest objects will also be in focus. In fairness, it only really takes about five minutes but if you do that for 10 shots that’s nearly an hour! I use Zerene stacker (Zerene Systems) to automate the focus stack frames on the PC but usually it needs ‘touching up’ to varying degrees. It’s great software but not free, I bought the ‘prosumer edition’ ($189 USD at time of writing) I believe. It’s really worth it. For the image in this post, I think I spent an hour over several evenings (at a leisurely pace, I was unfamiliar with the software) retouching. It’s really not that bad when you consider how striking the image is when viewed on a large screen at full size. It all depends on how much you care about image quality at the end of the day. If you really care about quality then it’s a ‘no brainer’ investment in both time and money. 40 frames are a lot, but this scene required it because I had very close elements in the foreground – most scenes probably only require a handful of frames. This was quite an extreme example.
  • Storage – 40 images were used to stack the above. So that’s 40 images to obtain one! Of course, you can delete the ‘stack frames’ once you’ve finished building the stack to free up storage.
  • Blur can be beautiful – ‘bokeh’ is very popular these days! Smartphone software engineers are working overtime around the world to emulate background blur in smartphone cameras (software blur) – they are getting good (they are not great to a keen eye) but optical blur is, and will be for some time – king. You don’t always want ‘everything sharp’, it really comes down to intent in the photograph and what it is you are capturing.

I am sure there are other limitations I have not yet discovered but if you are serious about landscape photography (or still life/macro photography) then focus stacking is a skill that you really need to add to your arsenal, especially as camera sensor size and resolution is ever increasing (and depth of field decreasing with it).

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! I am also on Instagram now, as phillipjwells.

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

A Trio Of Visits To Lugnaquilla

Spring was late this year. It is almost as if it didn’t happen.
We had snowstorms in Dublin up until 18th March – this is very unusual for Ireland.
Not that I was complaining, I love the white stuff!

We did not have many bright days though (until recently), there have only been two days (on the weekends, so not including weekdays) where I had been out walking and the sun was out for more than an hour. Two… in four months!
And this day, the first visit to Lug this year for me, on the 21st April – was one of them. And it was one of the most beautiful days I have ever had at my favourite place in Wicklow.

Usual drill, 03:00 hours start, camera packed, batteries charged, lunch prepared, starbar packed (important, this part) and of course thermals on. I suspected it was to be cold early in the morning, and I was right. Very cold in fact, because there was no cloud cover for insulation.

I have neglected my blog a bit recently, not deliberately – I’ve just found it tricky to find the time. It does take several hours to go through my photographs of a day out and then several hours to put it all together in a post. I’ve had a few issues this last few months – car trouble, camera trouble, among various other things that do not need to be shared here. A very busy year so far. Well, here is a long post to make up for that!

Anyway, back to the first walk….
Usual starting point for me, Fenton’s Pub down in the Glen Of Imaal – I choose this route for a couple of reasons but most importantly because my car has always been safe at the journey start. Car break ins in Wicklow are a real problem, and on the rise I am afraid. With the ever increasing popularity of hill walking, I fear it will only increase further. I have been the victim of break ins a few times and I do not wish for it to happen to me again.

This would be my first ascent of Lugnaquilla this year, though I have spent a lot of time in the South Prison and surrounding area – I had not visited the summit so far this year.

A predawn shot, showing the ‘Belt Of Venus’ glow over the Glen Of Imaal from Camara Hill. A nice warm glow on a cold morning.
Keadeen Belt Of Venus copy.jpg

I had not realised it at the time, but I did not take any photographs since the above one until I paused for breath part way up the final slope to Lugnaquilla itself. I was on a mission!
Looking back over the shoulder of Ballineddan and the Glen Of Imaal. Nice, warm light – but I was cold! The sun rises beyond Lugnaquilla from the direction in which I approached it, so it would be a while before the sunlight struck the slope I was on.
Ballineddan copy.jpg

Looking south now, over the shoulder of Slievemaan. Some very vibrant colours on display. Brilliant atmospheric clarity too, at this time. Early mornings often are the best for this sort of atmospheric visibility, also known as ‘seeing’ or ‘astronomical seeing’. When you shoot a high resolution camera with Zeiss lenses – the limiting factors in your photographs are the photographer, and the weather. Only one of these elements I can control!
Slievemaan copy.jpg

The final stages of the approach, and here is my old friend – the ‘dice’ of Lugnaquilla. I rolled a 6 weather wise this day!
Dice copy.jpg

It is often desirable to get everything sharp when shooting landscape photographs. But not always.
I think blur can be very beautiful and subject isolation is a strength of fast lenses. I took several versions of the above, some at wide apertures, others stopped down. I preferred the wide open shot at f/1.4 above ultimately.

The summit cairn at just after 08:00 in the morning. I was the first up here on this day, I believe. It’d be a lot busier here later in the day! And yes, that horizon is straight – I use a digital spirit level and my tripod analogue spirit level to level all of my photographs – I do not level my camera ‘by eye’ because that is not an accurate method when shooting in the mountains. Using a more accurate digital spirit level shows the lay of the land much more truthfully.
Blue skies!
Summit copy.jpg

Moving over to the South Prison area now, the heat of the sun has started to affect me now. I was cursing my thermals!South Prison copy.jpg

A similar shot, this time using my Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 lens. I had to climb down a bit, on some steep ground, to get the composition I wanted here.
South Prison 35 copy.jpg

A few words about the Zeiss 35mm lens. It’s a lens I have not owned for long and I am still in the process of making my mind up about it. It has some distinct advantages over any other 35mm lens I have used before but it also has some caveats. Like anything I suppose! It’s heavy (over 1kg) and expensive (about £1700). It is also manual focus only – not an issue for me as I manual focus every single landscape photograph I take but some might not like that.
However, it has almost zero chromatic aberration which is a major, I repeat MAJOR advantage over any other 35mm lens I have ever used. The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 has very large amounts of lateral chromatic aberration in the edges. This is contrary to the reviews of many ‘experts’ online who only shoot test charts when reviewing new lenses.
I do encourage those who are looking for absolute image quality to research thoroughly before buying new lenses and try to seek out (multiple) honest opinions rather than just reading a lens review based purely on shooting test charts.
I prefer to shoot lenses in the real world and discover their characteristics in a method that is applicable to my own style of shooting. I don’t spend my free time photographing flat charts on walls, so why would I test a new lens that way? I am fairly certain that I am not in the minority here…
Photographing test charts in a studio can only reveal so much about a lens and while it can be worthwhile in some cases, I think it sort of misses the point a bit.
Also, quite often these ‘expert reviews’ do not state on which camera body (and thus how many megapixels) they are testing the lens with. A good performance from a lens on a 20 megapixel camera might be a totally different story when shot on a 36 megapixel (or higher) camera.
A high contrast scene such as the above would totally reveal the chromatic aberration limitations of the Sigma 35mm. This can be removed in Photoshop of course, but at the loss of sharpness, acuity and contrast – and that loss can be significant. The Zeiss has no CA that is perceptible to my very critical eye.
Don’t get me wrong, the Sigma is a good lens – but there is a vast league between the performance of it and the Zeiss Milvus in the edges of the frame. Why shoot a high resolution camera if only the middle pixels are worth keeping?
Well, as always – my honest opinions are my own and based purely on my own findings.
And of course, I am just an amateur photographer in my spare time so I am not sponsored or endorsed by any companies – thus, you can trust my opinion! I own both lenses.
I come from a software engineering background – so I am a very technical photographer and maximising image quality is important to me.

Back to the walk!
There were a few areas I wanted to visit this day on the mountain, and I ended up walking 21.49 kms according to my step counter.
the views of the South Prison are covered in the two images above, but my main area of focus for this walk was an area above a location marked as the ‘Green Corner’ on my map. Reading the contours on the map suggested that this was an area of very steep ground, on the north east face of Lugnaquilla. I suspected the views from here over to Fraughan Rock Glen and Benleagh would be quite dramatic.
Looking North East copy.jpg

And again, trust me – the horizon is straight. At left of the image, in the distance – are the higher mountains in Wicklow, and the hills gradually wane in height as we look more eastwards (to the right in the photo) towards the sea.
A large number of the hills of Wicklow are on display here! The rocky area directly beneath my feet (foreground) is an area of steep, shelving ground. A great place to explore I imagine. Just beyond that is an area known as Lugueer. I don’t actually know how this translates to English but I suggest the ‘Lug’ prefix means ‘hollow’. Perhaps someone can let me know in the comments section!
The steep rock face at left is that of Benleagh, with Bendoo opposite, casting strong shadows. I will leave it to readers of this post to identify other areas/hills here! To regular walkers, it should be easy enough!

One of the reasons I get up so early for my visits to the mountain is that in spring/summer there are often warm, bright days with lovely sunshine but shooting around midday is really not the best for landscape photographs. Early morning and late evening is better.
When the sun is directly overhead, the light is harsh and the angle of shadows can be problematic. When you add heat shimmer/atmospheric lensing into the mix – shooting satisfactory images can be difficult. I took this one at 09:46. Already there was some atmospheric lensing at play here but it’s barely perceptible in the photograph. This is caused by temperature differential. I must get here earlier next time!

Another, detail shot of the cliffs of Benleagh. I used my 85mm f/1.8g Nikon for this shot. A lovely lens, and light! Lens weight is a big deal when you hike 20+ kilometres!
Benleagh 85 copy.jpg

I don’t tend to process my photographs much really but sometimes a tool is required for a certain situation.
So I added a small amount of saturation to this photograph, and used a small of amount of a ‘de-haze’ method I employ. The sunshine was a little hazy but I wanted to get as much detail as I could.

A wide angle lens of the same scene now, taken with my 20mm f/1.8g Nikon. Lovely blue skies. Amazing view here, much of the Wicklow uplands on display, including Tonelagee and Mullaghcleevaun.
That white patch at the right is a small patch of snow. It was due to be 20°C + in Dublin this day, so I don’t suspect it will last long (though it would be about 14°C here).
Looking North East 20 copy.jpg

A fine lens indeed, and light! I appreciate Nikon’s strategy of light, plastic lenses.
Heavy metal lenses might seem more durable, but drop a plastic lens – it bounces. Drop a metal one, something has to give. And as mentioned before, weight is a consideration when hiking.
F/11 – f/13 sees to be the optimal apertures for the 20mm lens, when there are close foreground subjects and detail in the distance. Choice of focus area is far more important though, and this is a point often overlooked by many photographers I speak to. Focus stacking is an option of course, but in Ireland the wind would be an enemy here and to be honest – I am not the gentlest touch when it comes to moving focus rings! For focus stacking, you need zero movement in the camera.

My new favourite trio of lenses for walks is the 20mm f/1.8g Nikon, 35mm f/1.4 Zeiss Milvus and the unrivalled (my favourite lens) 100mm f/2 Zeiss Milvus. But, the Zeiss lenses are not light.

After a snack (a banana), I opted to head out to the next location before midday struck. This location was about 500 meters to the west of my position here, at the rim of the North Prison.
North Prison copy.jpg

A portrait of the cliffs of the North Prison, with Keadeen looming beyond.
North Prison 85 copy.jpg

An unobstructed view now, looking down from the heights of the North Prison to Lugatroch and onward to Glen Imaal. Still some large snow patches here. North Prison 35 copy.jpg

The mountain is truly more than a summit indeed.
A lot of work done this day, From here I then climbed back to the summit and decided to have lunch at the rim of the South Prison.

A view that I have shared here on my blog before, but a favourite of mine – looking over to Lugcoolmeen from the South Prison of Lugnaquilla.
Lugcoolmeen copy.jpg

A wider shot of Lugcoolmeen, with the foreground falling away below. I do like to shoot a scene with different focal lengths (and thus different fields of view), I find that it’s nice to have options later and also it can provide a lot of context about a place.
Lugcoolmeen 20 copy.jpg

And now, a narrower field of view using a portrait lens. You might be able to make out the small figures of people near the middle of the image! I wish I could upload higher resolution images but WordPress does not allow this unless you pay.
Lugcoolmeen 85 copy.jpg

Crikey, this is going to be a long post. Sixteen photographs in and I am still talking about the first of three walks!

Still above the South Prison here, this is one of my favourite lunch spots. Looking down to Aughavannagh now – a hazy view but pleasant nonetheless. Croghan Kinsella sits at the rear at distance with what appears to be the smoke from a (presumably) gorse fire at right of the image. Also visible here, at bottom right – is the forest track I took when I took A Stroll To The South Prison Of Lugnaquilla.
Aughavannagh copy.jpg

Time to start heading back to the car now, I had done a lot of work already this day and there was more yet to do!
I headed back to the summit then took a track above the North Prison heading south west to start the descent of Lugnaquilla.
I tend to prefer to descend slightly nearer the cliffs than most people do. It’s not easier, but the view is superb down to the Glen Of Imaal. It is quieter!
I’d like to mention here, all of the areas I have visited at Lugnaquilla I have done so ONLY after talking to the warden in the Glen Imaal Army Headquarters (near Fenton’s Pub). I have had many conversations with various Army Sergeants in here, so I am well aware of where I can and can’t go.
Please do not stray off of the approved routes when walking at or near Lugnaquilla/the artillery range.
From North Prison copy.jpg

Looking over to Keadeen and Ballineddan.
Keadeen copy.jpg

Back at Lower Corrig now, and a quick glimpse back at Lugnaquilla.
Lug copy.jpg

A wider view, showing more of the route and the great hollow that is the North Prison.
Lug 20 copy.jpg

The last stretch now, after the descent of Camara Hill. This is always torture. At this point in the walk – I am always exhausted and this rocky/potholed army road is killer!
Last Stretch copy.jpg

Until next time, Lug…
Little did I know, that in the next few weeks I would get two more visits to this place!

The 6th of May was my second visit this year, and the day before my 34th birthday. I am getting way too old for this.
Another early start indeed! And another glorious day. Very hot though. Tough work this day.
05:12 am, and this was my view partway up the army road, at Camara Crossroad. A calm, humid and foggy morning, no wind at all.
Moon copy.jpg

A foggy morning indeed, at least here, in the valley.
Fog copy.jpg

Gaining height now, as the sun also begins to rise. As I ascend Camara Hill, it becomes apparent that the fog is hanging in the valleys/lowlands and that the hills are clear. I had suspected this might be the case because I have seen similar conditions before. Cool!
Fog Keadeen copy.jpg

The Belt Of Venus above a fog enshrouded Glen Of Imaal and Ballyhook hill emerging above the fog.
Belt of Venus copy.jpg

A similar shot, with the shoulder of Spinan’s Hill at left. What a morning!
Belt of Venus II copy.jpg

For this walk, I thought it might be a good idea to take the triple threat lenses of my Nikon 20mm, Zeiss 35mm and Zeiss 100mm. These are my favourite lenses and the above five photographs were taken with the 100mm. A flexible lens indeed, and my all time favourite.

A familiar tree to myself. This is where the real work begins – on open hillside now and the 20 minutes of purgatory that is the ascent of Camara Hill awaits.
Tree copy.jpg

Well, it took a LOT longer than twenty minutes to get up here on this morning. I was constantly pausing for photographs. It should be understood, that as a precise landscape photographer – the phrase ‘pausing for photographs’ for me means removing my heavy back pack, unstrapping my heavy tripod, setting up the tripod and possibly even taking out my metal lens case to switch a lens and then carefully composing my shot, dialling in my settings and taking an image. It is not a simple process of ‘point and shoot’. If life was that simple!
The Sugarloaf Of Imaal rising above the sea of fog. At right just beyond the tree is the command and control tower for the artillery range peaking above the fog.
Sugarloaf Of Imaal copy.jpg

At the summit of Camara Hill now, a quick shot down to Mount Leinster was worthwhile I thought.
Mount Leinster copy.jpg

And here it is, basking in the morning light – the target for the day. Lugnaquilla.
Lug copy.jpg

The fog did not last long, the May sun too potent. It started to break up at 07:45. A view back to the summit of Camara hill.
Camara copy.jpg

Ascending Lugnaquilla now, and the view south shows some fog still in the lowlands, and the Moon in the sky (near top right).
This photograph is interesting because it shows the nature of the final slope up to Lugnaquilla – a rock strewn affair. South copy.jpg

I did not pause much for photographs until I reached the point of interest – I had wanted to return to the location above the ‘Green Corner’. I was happy with the image I previously took here but I wanted to see it in earlier morning light. The atmosphere was much clearer. I was right to press on.Benleagh copy.jpg

My plan for this day was much the same as my previous visit two weeks prior. From here, I headed to the North Prison and then on to the South Prison.

The North Prison, on another beautiful day!
North Prison copy.jpg

The same, with my 35mm Zeiss. I particularly like the patterns of the water flows.
North Prison 35 copy.jpg

At the South Prison now, and my usual lunch spot facilitates. Miraculously, there is still a small patch of snow! Very hot at this moment in time.
Lugcoolmeen copy.jpg

A similar shot with the Zeiss 35mm.
Lugcoolmeen 35 copy.jpg

The tumbling cliffs of the South Prison.
Cliff copy.jpg

Walkers at Lugcoolmeen, with the peaks of East Wicklow beyond.
Walkers copy.jpg

Whew. What a day. Super hot too. It was around this time (about 11:00) that I was wondering why I had left my sun cream in the car. I know why. It’s because I am an idiot.
Luckily for me, I don’t burn too much – being of slightly dark complexion – but leaving the sun cream in the car was not cool.
Heading back now, usual descent route besides the North Prison and I paused for this almost aerial shot of Lugatroch.
Lugatroch copy.jpg

Inside the North Prison. I did a bit of scrambling to get this shot.
I always forget ‘arm day’!
Whew, getting really hot now in the midday sun. No shelter at all from it’s intense rays.
Inside North Prison copy.jpg

I enjoy rock formations, and rocks/boulders in general actually. I am not sure why. But I think it’s a metaphorical reason. I dislike change, certainly changes that are impactful that appear suddenly. I suppose that to me, rocks symbolize at least the implication of permanence – of course, nothing is permanent, including rocks. But within a persons short lifetime, rocks do not visibly change.
Rocks II copy.jpg

More granite.
Rocks copy.jpg

A bit more granite.
Rocks III copy.jpg

Some more granite to chew on.
Granite copy.jpg

Almost off the steep slopes of Lugnaquilla now, and a shot towards the Glen Of Imaal.
Glen Imaal copy.jpg

What? How is it now 15:00? I was having so much fun scrambling around the North Prison that I completely lost track of it!

Back at Camara Hill now, I always take one last glance back at Lugnaquilla.
Lug-2 copy.jpg

22.40 kms later! Time to stop off in the Glen Imaal store and buy myself a pre birthday treat of a giant cornetto! I believed that I had earned it!

P.S. I like trees too.
Tree-3 copy.jpg

May 19th was the date of my third visit.
A very early start. 01:30, to be precise. Yep, I am mad.
A beautiful clear night, and light winds. This would change as the day progressed – gales were forecast past noon. I always forget (living in the city) how clear the milky way can be seen out in the countryside away from light pollution. Even in this shot, light pollution is evident.
The planet Jupiter and (I can make out four) some of it’s moons above Keadeen mountain.
Jupiter copy.jpg

05:00 , twenty minutes before sunrise just below the final push up to Lugnaquilla. Yep, a nice rock formation!
Rock copy.jpg

First light over Keadeen.
Streaky clouds in the sky like this can be indicative of high winds in the upper atmosphere.
Keadeen copy.jpg

The first rays of sunlight strike the North Prison cliffs not long after sunrise.
Sunrise copy.jpg

Already starting to get windy now, glad I brought my windproof jacket (not optional in Wicklow!). The forecast for the day was warm, with clear skies in the morning but increasing cloud and wind by noon. I had intended to be off the mountain by that time anyway – due to my 01:30 am start!
Climbing up beside the North Prison, I had no real targets in mind this day. I just wanted to visit Lugnaquilla. I reached the summit just after 06:00, 41 minutes after sunrise. Somewhat surprisingly, I was the only one here! <joke>.

I decided to potter about near Lugcoolmeen, to over look the great cliffs of the South Prison.
South Prison copy.jpg

It was here, that I decided it might be a good idea to check out the great gully, labelled ‘The Big Troch’ on my map. Some scrambling awaited!

Winds picking up already, and it’s only 08:00. The beginnings of what appear to be lenticular clouds forming above Lugcoolmeen.
Lugcoolmeen copy.jpg

The direction finder on the summit of Lugnaquilla.
Direction Finder copy.jpg

To find the gully from here, the summit – is not that hard actually, though most visitors to the mountain never see it. Head south, gently descending until you meet a large granite outcrop. From here, strike out south east and the ground starts to descend steeply. The gully will be clear in front of you. This is a dangerous area, the ground is exceedingly steep and falls away abruptly. Care required and bring a map, always.Gully copy.jpg

A wider view of the gully, showing some nice context.
Gully 20 copy.jpg

I wanted to do some detail shots of the gully, using my Zeiss 100mm, but this meant doing a small bit of scrambling so I took this shot as a precautionary warning.
It’s called “Don’t Slip!”.
Don't slip copy.jpg

Lovely rocks.
Gully 100 copy.jpg

I loved this formation.
Gully 35 copy.jpg

Getting very hazy now, and super windy. It felt strange, contemplating the walk back to the car at only 10:00. but it must be remembered, I started the walk before 03:00 am!

Heading back to my descent route beside the North Prison now, yep – this means climbing back up Lug to head down the other side. Easier than the alternative, which would be to contour around the southern slope itself. This is covered with small mica-schist rocks and progress can be slow and awkward (I found this out the hard way, of course).
Very hazy now, long range photographs are not going to work at all now – as the below shot of Glen Imaal demonstrates.
Sugar Loaf copy.jpg

A final glance over to Lugnaquilla (as usual) from the top of Camara Hill, taken at 12:20 noon. It did feel strange to be leaving so early but at this stage I had spent 9 hours out here and still had an hour or so to go!
Lugnaquilla copy.jpg

This shot is interesting because it shows a large part of the journey between Camara Hill (behind me, not in photo) and Lower Corrig, Upper Corrig and Lugnaquilla itself – along with the rough track that expires at the top of Lugnaquilla (when you are likely to need it most in fog!).

Another hot day, another 22.32 kms!

So, see you in two weeks, Lugnaquilla?

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here!

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

A White Lugnaquilla – Episode II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brrr…..
Brrr copy.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love winter.
Winter copy.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here!

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

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.

Lough Ouler Via The Brockaghs

A long walk planned this day.
It has been a while since I overlooked the heart shaped lake ‘Lough Ouler’ that sits below the cliffs of Tonelagee. I had been wanting to return but I just never got around to it. I have been spending too much time at Lugnaquilla I think!

Due to the increasing (worryingly so) lack of car safety in the Wicklow Mountains (break ins/vandalism) the best bet is to park at a paid car park that has security. But it does mean that to get to different places, you have to walk further. This can pose a problem for me, because I have many niggling injuries that can be flared up if I push too hard (due to Ankylosing Spondylitis). I also carry a lot of heavy camera equipment. Tonelagee summit was the secondary (optional) target for the day, but the primary target was the view from the gap between the summit proper and the Tonelagee North East Top. The view of the lake is superior here than at the summit area, and the summit of Tonelagee itself was of little interest to me as I have been plenty of times.
The secondary objective was aborted due to time constraints (and mileage constraints!) but the primary objective was fulfilled!

It really is about time the authorities did something more to tackle the pillaging that is on going in the Wicklow Mountains car parks. On my drive home this day, I saw 11 freshly broken car windows glass littered at various car parks. A couple of weeks before there were no less than 7 cars broken into at another single car park (http://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/seven-cars-broken-into-at-popular-spot-in-wicklow-mountains-795329.html). What times do we live in that a person cannot take a simple stroll around the hills without worrying about coming back to a vandalised car?
This was one of the reasons that I was worried about the increased popularity of hill walking in Wicklow (and tourism). Increased crime.
I don’t think the problem of catching the scourge would be too difficult. The authorities need only plant a car with dashcam/surveillance at any one of numerous car parks for a few hours on a sunny weekend afternoon and bang. Caught on camera. Now, I am not educated in the complicated nuances of the law but is this not feasible?
Rant over, on with the walk!

Wicklow is verdant at the moment – lots of rain and a fair bit of sunshine will do that! Plenty of colours about, lots of green indeed. But also purple from the poisonous foxgloves. At the time I took this, I was amusing myself with the idea of a husband fox asking his wife fox which gloves she’d like as a present.
Foxgloves copy.jpg

The plan was to head up to the Brockagh summits from the lower lake car park of Glendalough and head over each Brockagh summit towards Tonelagee south east top. From there I’d head up to the col between Tonelagee and Tonelagee north east top to obtain my view of Lough Ouler. Yeah, a long walk and a reasonable amount of navigation work required. I had to go back the same way and I had not been this way before. So I was excited!

The weather forecast was for dry, sunny intervals but partly cloudy. Well, it was mostly cloudy until the late afternoon but at that stage I had been in the hills for about 10 hours. So, yeah, I was tired.

The start of the walk follows The Wicklow Way up the slopes of Brockagh, I describe this route a bit more in my post A Circuit Of Brockagh East Top. This time however, I took a photograph of the gate lock which snapped down on my thumb on my previous visit. Villain! This did not happen again! Be careful with this device, there is no way of knowing who it will target next time and it could be anyone!
Gate copy.jpg

Ahh, the lush greens of Wicklow. Looking over to the face of Camaderry here.Camaderry copy.jpg

The Bracken was high here – above waist height. I would have been worried about obtaining a few unwanted friends in the form of ticks but I was prepared for this. I was not surprised about the bracken height and had anticipated it. Preparations to safeguard against tick attachments and the like included spraying myself (and parts of clothing) with bug spray containing deet and also ensuring that no exposed skin touched the vegetation. Lyme disease is no joke. Warm climbing up here with a jumper on. Must fight the urge to remove the jumper! Ticks are worse than a bit of heat!

More greenery, this time from a bit higher up the slopes of Brockagh south east top. Looking down to the forests of Glendalough.
Greens copy.jpg

Moving on, as the sky darkens with cloud, I reach the summit of Brockagh proper. Not a large amount of interest here – the actual summit of Brockagh is overshadowed by its smaller sibling (Brockagh south east top) as far as views go. I am sure there are good views to be had away from the summit area here – but I did not have time to explore this at the time. I wanted to head for the low point (the col) between the two summits ahead – just above centre in the below photograph. Two more hills in the way yet though, Brockagh north west top (at right) and Tonelagee south east top (almost dead centre). Brockagh Summit copy.jpg

Clouds thickening still. Looks like it might rain. I was hoping for sun this day! The heather is starting to turn shades of purple now. Usually August is a great month for purple heather – parts of Wicklow are just a purple carpet!
Scarr mountain is visible in the distance at right.Purple Heather copy.jpg

Onto the next summit now, I did not take many photographs here because I was in new territory beyond this point – I had not visited beyond this before. I wanted to scope the area out and look for potential shots for when the light is a bit more friendly.
A curious view of Turlough Hill Power Station and Lough Nahanagan is rewarded from here. Though dark and foreboding this day. The control tower above the cliffs has the appearance of some form of all powerful dark sorcerers fortress, reigning over his dominion. Imagination aside, this is not one of my favourite sights in Wicklow.
Turlough Hill copy.jpg

Quite a lonely place up here at Tonelagee south east top. I dare say it gets very few visitors. Not much of a track to follow and map reading skills are a must here. If the fog comes down, there are only a few navigational aids. Coincidentally, the only other walkers I saw the whole day were a small group who were undergoing a navigation training course. A great spot for it. Lots of feature recognition and contour identification opportunities here and the lack of a formal path would be useful (no cheating on the navigation course!). Here is a shot looking up to Tonelagee itself, as seen from the south east top. Yes, looks like the clouds are here to stay alright.
From Tonelagee SE copy.jpg

It looks like there is still some distance to cover – I wanted to be just below the large summit (Tonelagee) at left. I concentrated on the walk at this stage, so I did not take many photographs until I reached the primary objective. The col between Tonelagee and its north east top. From here, a remarkable view is revealed of the lovely Lough Ouler.

The nature of the ground changes when I reach this point – instead of just heather there are large peat hags on a rough stoney surface. Well, it wouldn’t be a walk in Wicklow without peat hags taller than a human now would it?! Peat Hag copy.jpg

Lough Ouler is not a name I know (or could find out) how to translate. From my research, I believe it may be an adaptation of the Irish ‘Loch Iolar’ which would translate to ‘Eagles Lake’ but I am really not certain about this so I would love to be corrected in the comments section below. Now, this is one of my favourite sights in Wicklow!
Lough Ouler copy.jpg

I have been here a number of times, but it’s always a treat. The heart shape is no photoshop trickery – get the right angle photographically and the lake is a true heart!
What a romantic place. It is, of course, even more beautiful if the sun is shining and the waters below are reflecting the light like little dancing diamonds.

Lunch time! Smoky chicken sambo. Nice. Some grapes (as usual) as well!
I wanted to sit here for a while, and ponder the view. Many of Wicklow’s humps & bumps on display here. I’ve been to them all :-).

Time to start thinking about the return journey. Always tricky to head back, especially if covering the same ground as the outward journey. However, the sun has moved and the sky is changing – opening up new possibilities.
Descending, back to the Tonelagee south east top. Some re-entrants to avoid here, so as to reduce the number of minor ups and downs. No point in wasting energy and effort when you are hiking about 30km with a heavy rucksack!

Here is a shot of Tonelagee SE top with Brockagh north west top beyond, followed by Brockagh proper. That was my return trip on this day. Cloudy skies and flat light did little to help my photograph here but it was great to be out!
Humps copy.jpg

There is a curious plateau-type area known as Aska just east of Tonelagee south east top.
Aska copy.jpg

Very marshy looking and it holds a small pond – ‘Aska Pond’ according to my map. Again, I am not sure about the translation but it may be from the actual Irish ‘An Easca’ – ‘The Easy’, or just ‘Easy’. I am not so sure about the ground there being easy, as I say – it looks very marshy. But it is flat enough so no ups & downs! I stand to be corrected on the translation again here. Aska Pond copy.jpg

Scarr stands proud beyond the rocks in the distance and the sun appears to be revealing itself for a fleeting moment.

Back at Tonelagee SE top now, and I noticed on my way up that the ground here is quite interesting in some ways. I made a mental note to explore this on my return journey. There are many scattered granite boulders, some with quite curious features.
Rock face copy.jpg

Another interesting one here:
Rock face II copy.jpg

I hope I am not the only one who sees the faces in the photographs above, if I am then I am obviously suffering from a case of pareidolia!

Another very curious feature, were the multiple tree trunks and roots I encountered here.
Tree root copy.jpg

In an area totally devoid of trees, I was surprised to find these. My guess is that these were very old ones brought up from beneath the bog (the whole area is an area of upland bog) by the elements of nature – erosion. It’s odd to see so many concentrated in one area. I had not seen any elsewhere in Wicklow, except on the plains between Knocknacloghoge and the Military Road.
Tree root II copy.jpg

Curious indeed!

Almost back at Brockagh NW top now and there is small cliff section nearby that affords a nice view over to Scarr (at right) and some ‘silver pines’. I think these are diseased and/or dead, as they have no needles. Look! The sun is making an appearance! At last!Scarr copy.jpg

Turning round, a long lens shot at Tonelagee. The light looks to be improving at last. Photographers will always complain about the ‘light’ and the ‘light not being right’. I am one of these people!
But I try to see it this way: I will work with what light I have at the time I am on location. I don’t have the luxury of picking my days of visits to these places (I work full time) so I only get to shoot one full day a week really. I sometimes get chance to head out after work, but my job is mentally tiring so I do not always have the energy. Upshot is : work with what I have.
Tonelagee copy.jpg

Back at Brockagh summit itself now, and yeah the light is improving alright. But I am so tired! Living with an inflammatory condition means that sometimes I can get bouts of exhaustion. And I think it’s fair to say that most people would have been tired at this stage of the day – condition or no condition! I had done over 20km at this point!
Wonderful view over Camaderry from here. Another good mountain lies further away – the triangular Croaghanmoira. At far distance at left is Croghan Kinsella. Camaderry-2 copy.jpg

Another shot, looking over beyond the Spinc to Mullacor. This one I took as I was descending Brockagh south east top. I prefered this one in black and white because it really shows the contrast in the light. Trees copy.jpg

Having battled through the waist high bracken again, I was now back on the forest track ready to rejoin the Wicklow Way. I was very tired at this point but I liked the colours of the trail here – in particular the foxgloves.
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I have been increasing the distances I hike a fair bit recently. And there has been pain during the week after this, so I need to tone it down a small bit I think or I shall injure myself again. No thanks to that!

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 Green Lugnaquilla

Well, I did a blog post about a White Lugnaquilla in winter, and now that it is summer and the ‘Emerald Isle’ is particularly green at the moment, I thought I’d do a post about a green Lugnaquilla!
This would be my ninth visit to this wonderful place in the last 9 months. I had visited four times prior to that, but I had to skip it for a year whilst my injuries healed and I built up my strength/fitness. I’d like to try to continue my monthly visits, so injuries – stay away!
The usual drill, early start (before 3am), park at Fentons (who were locking up as I was also locking up my car, coincidentally) and then off I go, up Camara Hill and onwards to the highest point in the east of Ireland.

Readers of my blog will know that I prefer the winter months for photography. I like the snow and the ice, and the subdued hues of winter. The light can be better too, with the sun lower in the sky. I less prefer the vibrancy of spring/summer. But every season has its positives. In summer, the days are long and on a fine day, the colours are very, well colourful!

New things this day. I have never hiked to Lugnaquilla when the forecast was for 27°C! So, that was new. Also, my old 66 litre rucksack was damaged (I had used it for years) so that needed replacing, and I also treated myself to new hiking poles! I do spoil myself…. You can see me showing off my new pack in the cover image above. You will need a monitor at least 1920 pixels wide, mind. My photographs are intended to be viewed on larger screens (not tablets or phones). Here is a smaller version, hopefully it might be more ‘phone friendly’. I am overlooking the north prison here, and I checked with the Army Warden Service (near Fenton’s Pub) if I was clear to go here, and permission was given. Always check with the warden when doing this walk, the artillery range is extremely dangerous and has unexploded ordnance.
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Some may wonder why I revisit this place again and again. It’s different each time, and there are many things to see here. The light is always different, the atmosphere always different. I try not to replicate photographs that I have previously taken (unless I am comparing the seasons), and this creates a challenge that I enjoy. It helps creativity and pushes me to explore just that bit further.

Near the start of the day, just as I had arrived at the first summit of Camara Hill. The sun had just started to rise.Deer copy.jpg

Many deer this morning! Even at this low resolution, you should be able to see them in the foreground.
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My plan for this day was to skirt the north prison cliffs on my ascent, head to the summit and then enter the very head of the north prison itself. I then wanted to head over to the great gully of the south prison and finally make my return journey via the ascent route near the north prison cliffs. I cannot stress enough the importance of communicating your plans with the Glen Imaal Defence Forces Information Centre. There is a phone number on the Mountaineering Ireland website that you can call for information, or you can do what I prefer to do and that is – pop in and show them your plans on a map. I’d like to add that I cleared my plans for this day with the warden in the office. If you plan to do a similar (or a slight deviation of this) route then you must check in with the warden. I am not responsible if you do this route, then end up straying into the impact zone – that is your responsibility. All I can do is advise you that you must check in with the warden!

6.21 am, and I am nearing the final push up to Lug itself alongside the north prison rim. The sun is quite high already, it rose over an hour ago at this stage. The angle will soon be perfect for the shot I had in mind for the north prison. I had better bust-a-move on!
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Beside the great cliffs of the north prison now, and in my peripheral vision I sense movement on the cliffs. A hare! I have never seen this before!
Super fast reflexes on my part to manually focus my (manual focus only) Zeiss 100mm lens and I managed to get a shot. Wow, a rare sight. It looked as if s/he was enjoying the view as much as I was!Hare copy.jpg

From here, the view down the glen to the Sugar Loaf of West Wicklow is green, green, green!
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A very clear atmosphere this morning, I can pick out tiny details on the rocks of the glen floor, several kilometers away. Quite rare, especially at this time of year (winter often provides a less turbulent and clearer atmosphere).

More animals, this time – sheep – on the summit plateau – also known as “Percy’s Table”. Sheep copy.jpg

The view slightly west of north from where I leave the summit area to descend into the north prison (I only descended a small bit into the prison itself). Many of Wicklow’s summits can be seen from here. Tonelagee, Turlough Hill and Djouce are particularly prominent.
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Found my spot in the prison, time for a sarnie I think. Ham & lettuce (my usual), followed by some grapes. Good snack!
This is the spot where I took the cover image, and below are a couple more shots (minus me) of the area. Expansive view here!
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Look at that clear sky!
One might wish for clouds, for a bit of drama – but, Gah! Who cares. Sometimes it’s nice to be out in nice weather! It is quite rare to get such a nice day on a weekend day in Ireland. Especially at Lugnaquilla.
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Tough work though, such a hot day and I carry so much gear. But great fun.
Heading back up now, and the next plan for the day is actioned. Hop on over to the great gully of the south prison.
But I took a short detour towards Cloghernagh mountain before this, I always enjoy the view back over to Lug from here.
Hanging off the cliffs near Lugcoolmeen here, a wide view of the south prison is revealed. To get a shot like this with a wide angle lens, you need to be at the precipice, proper. I got some funny looks when coming back up from here, let me tell you haha!
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A long range view now, looking down beyond the forested slopes of Corrigasleggaun, and over to Croghan Kinsella. Crogan Kinsella copy.jpg

Next location – the great gully (also known as “McAlpine’s Back Passage” of the south prison. Autobots, roll out!
I always pause and take this shot, it’s one of my personal favourite views up here. Looking over to Cloghernagh (at left) and Corrigasleggaun (right). I wish my wordpress account allowed higher resolution photographs to be uploaded, but I believe you have to pay for that facility. But at the higher resolution version I have of this, the detail is outstanding. You can pick out every rock very clearly, and zoom right in for crazy details.
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A close up of one of the jagged rocks near the summit area.Jagged copy.jpg

At my spot now, peering down the great gully.
It’s possible to climb up here, very steep terrain though and not something you ought to be doing as a solo hiker (as I am).
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A wider shot of the gully, with the surrounding mountains to the east on show.
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I sat here for a while, contemplating the views and drinking my third litre of water! I had brought 5 litres this day. And drank it all! It was super hot.
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After a while, I decided to head back towards the north prison, and begin my descent.
I had been on the mountains for six hours at this stage.
Passing the familiar ‘dice’ of Lugnaquilla, I paused for a shot. I always shoot this rocky outcrop!
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Descending now, and the view down to Glen of Imaal and the surrounding area is amazing from here. As the day is pressing on, the colours are coming alive a bit more.
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Look! Another animal! Bertie the beetle :-D. Enjoying a snack I see. Eating Lugnaquilla! hold up mate, don’t eat it all – I plan to come back here!
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My last photograph of the day – over 12 hours from the start of my day I might add! Yes, I was tired and hot and at this point I was CRAVING an ice cream. I must have needed the sugar and electrolytes. You have no idea how grateful I was when I stopped at the Glen Imaal store (I think there is only one shop in the glen) and they had my favourite – Cornetto King Cone! Words cannot express how heavenly it was. I think that hiking over 27 km’s in 20°C+ temperatures earns it!
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Please do remember what I said about checking in with the Army Warden when planning to approach (or walk in the vicinity of) Lugnaquilla or in the Glen of Imaal.

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 Circuit Of Brockagh East Top

I decided to leave the bigger hills alone this week, and instead opted to visit a much smaller hill, but a hill with very fine views of some of Wicklow’s beautiful valleys.

Brockagh South East Top is a hill I have visited many times, but I have not written a blog post about this place before, so I shall rectify that now!

Weather forecast was for light winds (westerly) and rain showers, some of which might turn thundery. Better pack the waterproofs (you should always pack these when walking in Ireland)!

According to Mountain Views, Brockagh translates to ‘mountain of Brocach or place of badgers’. I have never seen a badger here, mind.

My plan for the day was not to actually visit Brockagh Mountain ‘proper’, I opted instead to visit the South East Top only. The reason for this is that actual summit of Brockagh Mountain does not offer the wonderful views that Brockagh SE Top offers and I have often been disappointed by the views at Brockagh proper after the extra effort to get there. Instead I had wanted to spend more time at the superior SE top.

Anyway, starting at the car park at the lower lake of Glendalough (you have to pay in summer) I followed the Wicklow Way as it zig – zags its way up through Brockagh forest. After a short stretch, the Wicklow Way path heads south east, I departed ways with it here. Instead, I followed a forest track that heads north west. Forest Track copy.jpg

I had not taken this route to Brockagh South East Top before – usually I park in Glenmacnass or near the Brockagh Resource Centre, so I was curious to see how the views would be from this approach.

Just beyond the forest track in the photograph above, the forestry ends and a closed (closed when I was there) gate greets you along with a sign that says no mountain bikes/motor vehicles beyond this point. Walkers were welcome though. Walker code is to leave gates as they were found, so I closed the gate after passing through. It had a strange upward lifting bolt mechanism – one which I was not familiar with – I should have taken a photograph, actually. But, as I say, it was a mechanism I had not seen before and an unfortunate event occurred whereby as I closed the gate, the heavy bolt snapped down on my thumb. Ouch! Live and learn!

Leaving behind the gate, and its angry guardian, the route I had planned hits open hillside. Climbing gently, views over to the rugged north-eastern face of Camaderry are revealed.
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From this spot there are also fine views looking up to Derrybawn Ridge. This is an angle I had not viewed the ridge from before.
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Climbing a bit further now, and turning back reveals a pleasant view down to the lower lake of Glendalough and the surrounding hills. I knew there was a better to view to come so I did not want to wait for the sun to totally illuminate the view here. Time is always against you as a photographer! The clouds were building as well.
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A small bit further up and I took the opportunity to take a longer range shot of the lower lake with my 100mm lens. I really enjoy using this focal length for landscapes because it compresses the perspective only a small amount but allows closer views of details and interesting compositions.
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Nearing the summit of Brockagh SE Top now, and a curious perspective of Wicklow’s third highest summit come into view, here is Tonelagee (‘backside to the wind’). I must visit this mountain again soon, it has been a long time since I was up there, and it’s great! Tonelagee copy.jpg

Getting much cloudier now, as shown in the above photograph, and I think I can see rain in the distance. Better waterproof up!

Lego Batman always comes prepared, and he was ready for any rain. It rains in Gotham too! He did mention that he prefers the greens of Wicklow to the dark hues of the city of Gotham.
He was very grateful of the outing, but in the back of his mind, he was always aware that; should the signal be lit, he would have to return to fight criminals in the dark city. Jeez, talk about tortured soul… Can’t even enjoy a relaxing day out on the hills!Lego Batman copy.jpg

Coincidentally (or perhaps a little bit deliberately!), I saw the Lego Batman movie on the same day as this walk. It’s great fun and highly recommended. The same applies to the movie!

Back to the walk, a nice piece of sunlight illuminates the floor of the beautiful valley of Glenmacnass here, with the Glenmacnass waterfall at distance. The Military Road is also prominent on the valley floor itself, and on the right is a shoulder of Scarr Mountain known as ‘Kanturch’ I believe, or Scarr North West Top. This is the view from the northern slopes of the summit area of Brockagh SE Top. You do have to descend quite a bit to get an unobstructed view, as shown here.Glenmacnass copy.jpg

A wider shot of the valley taken a few minutes later. Woah! Everything got much darker all of a sudden! Yep, rain is definitely on the way! One angry looking sky….
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And the sky darkened further…
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Heavy rain shower now. I hope it will pass soon, but Batman and myself (and more importantly my expensive camera gear!) are waterproofed up. Batman and I fear no rain!

Heading over to the south side of the summit now, back to complete my compact and scenic loop and a wonderful view of the lower lake and the Spinc is revealed.  Lower Lake and Spinc.jpg

Some rain fog moving past my favourite trees of Camaderry, with the great cliffs of the spinc beyond. Plus a partially fog covered Lugnaquilla lurking behind.Cover Image copy2.jpg

Sometimes poor weather can help photographs I think. And the images above are very representative of the climate in Ireland. It rains a lot and it is totally overcast a lot of the time. Don’t be fooled by ‘postcard’ photographs!
I have been to this place in many weather conditions (still waiting for snow though). I would say 75% of the time I have been here, it has been completely overcast! Many mornings I have sat up here at sunrise, after a very early start, only to be disappointed by the clouds.

Here is the beautiful ‘Valley Of The Two Lakes’ – Glendalough. The lower lake at left and the upper lake peeping behind the shoulder of Camaderry. Even on rainy, cloudy days it’s a wonderful sight and this is one of the best views of it I think.Lakes 50 copy.jpg

Descending further, almost back to the forest line. A bit of light creates some drama on this boulder here. Look at the moody sky! Another downpour imminent, I think.Drama copy.jpg

I was right. Boy, did it RAIN! I did have some shelter from the forestry but wow!

Almost back at the car park, and the ‘Little Yellow Man’ of The Wicklow Way reassuringly points the way!LYM 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!

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.