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.

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Tranquility And Changing Seasons At Lugnaquilla

After many weekends of grey skies and wet walks – finally; a break in the misery.
Saturday 25th March was set to be a fantastic day judging by the forecasts. And fantastic it was.
So….. Where did I go? Well, I think readers of this blog will know where I went!

Many kilometers to hike, lots of boot sucking bog to tackle, many views to see. Rock strewn slopes to dodge through, gullies to sit atop and a ‘loaner’ lens to test. A loaner lens because the brand new Zeiss Milvus 135mm lens I purchased revealed itself to have a very soft corner on one side. Even at f/8. Not acceptable really. So, back to the shop it went.

In the last couple of months I have been trying to obtain a decent 135mm prime lens for landscape work. I enjoy shooting longer lenses for landscapes, more so than wide angle lenses actually. I think photography can be an ‘art of exclusion’, so with a long lens, you can exclude easier!

Only a few simple criteria needed to be met by the lens I was searching for. The lens needed to be sharp, and it needed to sharp across the entire image frame. Not just sharp in the center – sharp across the entire image. Not an unreasonable expectation for a prime (non zoomable) lens I don’t think?
Well, after 3 different samples of 135mm lenses (2 Samyang/Rokinon and 1 Zeiss Milvus) – it would appear so. Buying new lenses for a high resolution camera is, well, a bit stressful if I am honest. I am quite experienced with testing lenses and I have very high demands/expectations of new equipment. New equipment is very expensive, so I have every right to be picky I believe.

High resolution imagery places large demands on glass (lenses) placed in front of the sensor and lens flaws will be revealed, certainly. Similarly, flaws that originate from behind the sensor will be revealed equally. By that – I mean photographer flaws. Nobody, and nothing is perfect.

I will talk about this more later.
But for now, the journey begins!

Up bright and early as per usual for me. I took this one at 7am whilst walking up the forest path toward good old Camara Hill. The mountain Keadeen looms beyond this row of trees. The lens I was borrowing from my favourite local camera shop (Conns Cameras – by the way, wonderful customer service guys.) was a 100mm Makro Planar f/2 Zeiss lens. This was my first shot with the lens, shot wide open at f/2, manually focussed in live view on the trees. What a delightful little lens, almost zero field curvature (nearly flat zone of focus/depth of field). This meant that if I was parallel with the row of trees, I could get all of the trees in the same zone of focus with f/2. So that’s what I did!Keadeen Trees copy.jpg

Now, I always manually focus my lenses for landscape photography. With the Zeiss 100mm, it has no autofocus, so there is no choice. But I am happy with this. Manual focus gives much better results than autofocus (unless I mess up – this is not unknown, I am human after all. Plus I do suffer from terrible short sightedness and astigmatism – like certain wide angle lenses I might add!). Besides, I also find manual focus is a much more intimate way to connect with and capture nature, it forces me to think about what the subject really is, in the above case – the trees. Everything else in the shot is ‘contextual background’.

As this is my favourite walk, I have become intimately familiar with it over the last 6 months or so. More than twenty five times I have done at least part of this walk in the past half year. It never gets old, it always looks different. Below is shown the final stretch of forest track that leads you up to the slopes of Camara Hill. From here the journey gets a little tougher. Up onto open hillside and the gradient steepens. My father describes the ascent of Camara as ‘Twenty minutes of purgatory’! Well, it was a humid day when I took him and my mother up there, so the description was warranted!Track to Camara copy.jpg

Well, winter is over now here in Ireland. Much to my dismay! I do enjoy clear days in winter, but with spring comes new opportunities. The gorse has already started it’s luminous and coconut-fragranced return! Bokeh!Gorse.jpg

Depth of field (zone of focus) is minimal in the above shot. Only the very tip of the gorse bud is in sharp focus. A tricky enough photograph to capture, by the time focus is spot on – the bud could have been moved by the wind, and thus thrown out of the zone of focus. I won’t lie, I did not get this focussed exactly how I wanted it first time (see note above about flaws behind the sensor!).

At the top of Camara now, and a familiar view to myself is revealed. Also a familiar view to Michael Dwyer (the United Irishmen leader in the 1798 rebellion against the English). I believe he was born near the foot of this hill and fought for freedom for Ireland from within these secluded glens.

The sky was like a painting at this time of day, not too long after sunrise with the sun beyond Lugnaquilla itself. The last patches of snow are resisting the slow thaw. But their time is coming to an end.Lugnaquilla Sky copy.jpg

Looking at smaller views now, using the Macro lens I am borrowing. A lone grass blade shooting through the tortured and weathered surface of the peat.I stand alone copy.jpg

A few rest breaks required, Camara Hill ascent was tough this day. Lack of sleep the night before and a hectic week at work. But these breaks offered the chance to try the macro capabilities of the Milvus 100mm. Added bonus : I got to lie down for a little rest taking these shots!

Another close up, this time further up the mountain. Hitting the snow patches now, probably the last of the snow until autumn/winter 2017. Spring breaks through!
Blade copy.jpg

Again, an admirable performance from the lens. Depth of field/zone of focus is so shallow at close range on a 36 megapixel camera. Only the little orange ‘knot’ almost halfway up the grass blade is in perfect focus at f/2.8.

A quick stroll to the summit now, with a snow patched Gravale, Carrigvore and Kippure mountain chain in the distance beyond. Summit copy.jpg

Amazing weather and not a soul to be seen! Never have I experienced such beautiful and calm (almost no wind) conditions at my favourite place outdoors. Often it is foggy, cold, wet and windy! By the time I had got to the summit this day, I had taken all of my outer torso layers off and I was just in my thermal T-shirt. Amazing, only a month ago I was in my full winter gear (see A White Lugnaquilla).

A beautiful day indeed.
But don’t worry, I can always find something to complain about! There was some mild ‘atmospheric lensing’, or heat shimmer (temperature differential) occurring. This was hampering long range views. This will get worse as spring progresses to summer. Winter is the best season for a clear atmosphere, and it shall be missed by myself. Photographs are affected greatly by this mirage-like effect, and sharpness and resolution is reduced. Long lenses suffer more because they amplify the effect. There is little that can be done in this case, except shoot earlier in the morning or later in the day when the atmosphere is more stable. Also, it can help to be above your subject (such as, on a mountain). Anyway, I was having such a great day that I really didn’t care that much! Enjoy the moment, if the photographs come, they come – if they don’t then there is always next time!

As always, a short detour to the south prison cliffs was the next item on the agenda. I swore that I was not going to do this on this day, and instead do something else – but I lied to myself. I love it here. A quick stop for a shot and a small bite to eat (Lion bar, yum), then I planned to sit above the Great Gully of the south prison itself (also known as McAlpines Back Passage). Cloghernagh copy.jpg

Descending sharply here to reach my resting spot above the Great Gully. Lunchtime!Selfie_1 copy.jpg

I didn’t enjoy my sandwich much this day to be honest. I opted for chicken tikka, lettuce and sweetcorn. But, it sort of dawned on me here as I was chomping away that perhaps I’d have been better off with just plain chicken and that I did not enjoy tikka sandwich as much as I thought I would. However, I had some amazing raspberries for dessert. They were incredible!

Another shot at the head of the Great Gully, this time minus me.Great Gully copy.jpg

I shot this image and the ‘selfie’ type image above it with my Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art lens. A wonderful wide angle lens, but not perfect. The lens can suffer from sharpness reducing lateral chromatic aberration (AKA transverse CA) in the edges of the image frame due to an inverted ‘V’ (think of ‘^’) shaped field curvature that favours the foreground so that peripheries in the background can become less sharp if not focussed appropriately (hence the use of manual focus!). Software (such as Lightroom, Raw Therapee) can help this effect to some degree, and the colour fringing but there is a small loss of sharpness as a result (but software cannot fix out of focus areas). So careful focus placement is required. Tripod a necessity. But I am looking at the image at pixel level size – even a very, very large print would not reveal this problem! Like I said, I am picky! But like I also said, nothing is perfect and as far as wide angle lenses go, this one is extraordinary.

From here, looking to the south (and shooting with the Milvus 100mm f/2), we can see (beyond the peat hags of Lybagh and Slievemaan mountains) the richly cultivated farmlands of South Wicklow, Carlow & Wexford and a hazy, though prominent Mount Leinster and his cohort of jumbled hills that form the Blackstairs Mountains range.Mount Leinster copy.jpg

I was remarking to myself how quiet Lugnaquilla was on such a wonderful Saturday. It is a popular mountain to climb so this was a great surprise to me. But then as I detoured nearby the summit over towards the north prison, a glimpse of the summit cairn told me that the party was there, and I had not been invited! I thought the party was over at the gully! In all seriousness though, it’s amazing how many people climb this mountain, head straight for the summit then head back the same way. As I’ve often said, there is so much more to explore on the mountain – in the gullies, the prisons and on the quieter slopes. I enjoy the quieter areas personally, never really been one for crowds, or parties for that matter.Summit Party copy.jpg

Another long range (ish) shot as I made my way across the summit from the south prison to the north prison. This shot showing the beautiful (and heavily forested) townland of Aughavannagh with Croghan Kinsella rearing above in the distance. Aughavannagh has been described in books I have read as ‘the last place God made’ – because it is so remote. Saving the best for last? Well, I am not sure it’s the best place on Earth, but the views up to Lugnaquilla and its imposing south prison from there are truly beautiful.Aughavannagh and Croghan Kinsella copy.jpg

Just above the north prison corrie rim now, and I took a quick glance (and photograph) northwards over the Wicklow Mountain range. An assorted jumble of lumps and bumps:Wicklow Mountain Range copy.jpg

The above was taken with the Milvus 100mm f/2, the loaner lens. Proving itself to be sharp edge to edge for distance work as well as a brilliant performance for close range work – an exemplary performance and what I was expecting from the Milvus 135mm (and also the Samyang 135mm, and all prime lenses for that matter). After evaluating the images from this walk and other test samples I shot and carefully examined, I decided that this lens was definitely a ‘keeper’. A truly wonderful little lens. The great guys over at Conns Cameras sorted me out and I did a simple exchange (and a small refund for me, this was slightly cheaper than the Zeiss 135mm I had originally bought from them) and I am keeping this lens. Brilliant customer service, and that’s one of the reasons I shop with them, not to mention the fact that they were willing to lend me the (very expensive) lens on a loan basis whilst my brand new 135mm (2 weeks old) lens went in for servicing. A bitter pill to swallow indeed after spending a large amount of money on it.

Whilst the 100mm is not exactly the focal length I wanted (it is 35mm shorter), the performance is so good, I simply could not bear to part with it. There are also no guarantees that a lens sent in for ‘servicing’ will come back better than when it went in. I’ve said it before, I do not like to gamble.

Anyway, enough of my techy/nerdy ramblings – here is the north prison.The North Prison copy.jpg

More sun light illuminating the tumbling cliffs than the last time I was here, the sun’s transit through the sky has been revised and the seasons are indeed changing. What an amazing day.

Me again! Boy! Do I need a haircut! Resting above the north prison, contemplating the view and the return journey to my car. Time, as always, was pressing on at this point.Me & The North Prison copy.jpg

Hard to tear myself from the view I had here. I took a shot of it (below) but in my experience great views do not translate to great photographs a lot of the time. Looking down to the Sugar Loaf of West Wicklow, Glen Imaal and the artillery/anti tank range and the forested area of Stranahely. There is a tremendous view over to Lugnaquilla and the north prison to be had from a gentle stroll around the Stranahely forest tracks (in a freshly felled area of the plantations). One of the things I love about shooting with sharp lenses and a high resolution camera is the ability to zoom right in on an image and view details with high clarity that I (or anybody else, for that matter) could not have possibly seen with the eyes.Sugar Loaf copy.jpg

Descending my favourite slope now, views beyond the navigation aid cairn (for the track to Slievemaan) reveal a weather beaten labyrinth of peat hags on Lybagh/Slievemaan.Slievemaan Navigation Cairn copy.jpg

Contrasty light. Most landscapes are better during the ‘golden hours’ around sunrise and sunset but I do like to shoot landscapes at all times of the day. It’s representative of what people who might visit the area would likely see, so I suppose it’s more true to the scene.

Back at Camara Hill now, fittingly I took a shot showing the same view I had near the start of this day’s journey over to Lugnaquilla itself. Much more pleasing late afternoon light at this stage.Lug copy.jpg

There is a memorial statue at the side of Fenton’s Pub of Micheal Dwyer, near where my car was parked. Being an Englishman myself, the history of this area is fascinating to me regarding the 1798 rebellion against the English. There is an excellent OPW (Office of Public Works) museum on the slopes of Keadeen mountain with a fascinating history of Dwyer himself (The Dwyer McAllister Cottage). I won’t tell the story here, but I most definitely recommend a visit and I class it as one of Wicklow’s many hidden gems.Dwyer copy.jpg

Back at my car now, and what a great day. The sunset looked promising but I was just simply too tired this day! So here is one I caught one night after work the week before with the Milvus 100mm.Sunset copy.jpg

I actually visited Lugnaquilla again on the sunday just gone (2nd April). Another wonderful day and I found a great new route down besides the cliffs of the north prison (after checking in with the Army Warden Office of course). I might write a blog about that trip soon but for now the hamstring pain is too fresh! It’s too soon! I have to learn to walk a little less on the weekends and a little more in the week – try to balance it. I’ve become a bit of a ‘weekend warrior’ whereby in the week I am quite docile (I have a desk job as a software engineer) but on the weekend I end up doing about 20km or so. This causes pain!

After discovering the #VantagePoint project by Light.co, I wanted to join in on the conversation and share my favorite locations to shoot. And Lugnaquilla is most certainly one of my absolute favourite locations to shoot. It’s a challenging location and because I carry so much heavy gear, perhaps a smaller, more compact set-up might be beneficial for me! Something to think about!

Thank you for reading!

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

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