A Wicklow Winter Wonderland At Lugnaquilla

Short, sharp and sweet was the clearance of fog at Lugnaquilla last weekend (2nd Feb, 2019).
Leaving my home at 4 am, I was a bit concerned about the roads due to most of Wicklow’s high roads being impassable because of lying snow and ice.
Not a problem, if you start your hike quite low!
The roads were fine (I was mostly using national roads) until I arrived at Knockanarrigan, where it was a bit icy with some snow on the road banks.
I parked up at around 05:00 I think, and I got home around 20:30, from memory.
Long day!
The forecast was for clear skies all day except around lunch time, when some low cloud was forecast, so probably a whiteout at Lug. Ironically, this was the only part of the day (after the sun rose) where Lugnaquilla was actually clear! Well, a weather forecast is just that – a forecast – NOT a statement of weather!

Such a perfectly clear morning, a bit of wind but not horrendous down here in the glen.
Already some lying snow here, at the 200 metre above sea level mark. Lugnaquilla is 925m asl.

I took a couple of night sky shots, because it was so clear. Looking over to Keadeen with some obvious light pollution behind, presumably from Baltinglass.
Keadeen Twilight copy.jpg

I  managed to catch a couple of meteors in the below shot as well (near top right).
Looking upto Lugnaquilla just before dawn.
Lug Twilight copy.jpg

Ascending Camarahill now, and the snow on the ground is getting heavier, and in places has collected into deep drifts. Taken during ‘blue hour’ – the hour before sunrise, you can see where the name came from!
Keadeen Twilight II copy.jpg

No joke getting up here this morning, tough work. Some of the drifting here is knee level, or higher. The fresh north-westerly winds of the previous day have left their mark in the patterns of the snow here. They were not light at this moment either!
Drifts Camarahill combined copy.jpg

Sunrise was soon, so at this point I pressed on up Camarahill a bit. It was tough going, the snow was deep and I was carrying heavy photography equipment (as always). I paused for quite a while for a breather (and some calories) at the top of Camarahill, where I was greeted by a (mostly) clear view up to Lugnaquilla.
Lug sunrise copy.jpg

Here I was overtaken by two hikers who found the tracks I left in the snow a great help on their ascent! You’re welcome chaps!
It was their turn to pioneer snow tracks now :).
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Just after this, I met a follower of my blog who figured out I was who I am! Hi Jan, if you are reading this. Nice to meet you!

Oh no!
The fog moved in, just as I was ascending Lower Corrig. It looked temporary, so I took a shot and pressed on. The sun pretty much up now, the snow on the ground getting deeper still.
Fog coming copy.jpg

The fog is getting thicker, and lower – Ballineddan is ensconced now (at left) and it looks as though Keadeen is about to become smothered too. Whiteout soon, I suspect.
Rock Drift copy.jpg

Just as I thought the whiteout was imminent, it cleared in an instant!

Here is a shot I took just after Upper Corrig (I took none there, because it was intermittently foggy). Pretty arctic looking up to Lug from this spot.
Arctic copy.jpg

I knew the fog could return at any moment though. It always does at Lugnaquilla!
And yep, it did! Just as I was ascending the final slope of Lug, it came in thick.
I decided to press on. Fortune favours the brave, I was thinking. It also favours the prepared. I had a map and a compass – and I know how to use them.
Whiteouts are extremely difficult to navigate in, impossible without navigational tools.

Here is the summit, I found it without difficulty in the whiteout ( a well rehearsed routine!).
Arctic Summit copy.jpg

Suffice it to say, it was quite a challenge to read the army information sign this day.
However, that was not my greatest challenge that day though!
You can just about make out the summit cairn in the background too, right of centre.

The snow here is less deep than on the way up, presumably the strong north westerly winds would have blown a lot of it off into the south prison (which is really south east facing). Still, it was pretty deep in parts where it had drifted.
Not much to see right now, but it’s probably about -14°C including wind chill at this point. I was not cold though, I had my winter gear on. Even still, I could not hang around here for many hours (as I do in summer!). It was about 10:45 when I got here. Operating camera gear with heavy winter gloves on is difficult, my hands and fingers are quite large, clumsy and inflexible. This was when I felt the cold, to remove the gloves to operate the camera settings. This is one of the reasons that touch screens don’t impress me!
I have a strategy for this though, I always pack a hand warmer in each glove, so that after putting the glove back on my hand heats back up fast.
Arctic Summit Cairn copy.jpg

Well, the fog showed some signs of clearing, so I headed over to a spot I love just above the south prison. Still in mostly whiteout conditions at this point.
Still very foggy.
Fog copy.jpg

I sat (I was wearing ski trousers) and ate my lunch now. I was hoping the fog would clear. The mountain tends to reward patience, in my experience.

Less than an hour later, it started to clear.
Fog Clearing copy.jpg

A winter Wicklow wonderland is revealed!
Winter copy.jpg

Looking south east to the pyramidal Croaghanmoira Mountain.
Croaghanmoira copy.jpg

And then further, to Croghan Kinsella, beyond the Ow river and valley.
Croghan Kinsella copy.jpg

A shot down over to Cloghernagh and Corrigasleggaun. To those who are not familiar with this view, that is a LOT of snow down there.Cloghernagh copy.jpg

Skirting around an interesting cornice at the south prison.South Prison Cornice copy.jpg

Pretty arctic up here, and I have a strong (and cold) wind to my back. You wouldn’t want to be up here without appropriate clothing.South Prison Cornice II copy.jpg

I was having a great time with some of these compositions. The landscape up here is remarkable right now, almost lunar.South Prison copy.jpg

My footprints above the south prison.
South Prison Footsteps copy.jpg

A (super) detailed shot of the tumbling cliffs of the south prison, taken with my 35mm Zeiss lens. The level of detail in this shot is pretty astonishing when viewed on a large monitor at high resolution.
South Prison Zeiss copy.jpg

So many interesting snow formations up here, I knew I didn’t have much time. I know how fast the fog rolls in up here. And I knew more would return.
South Prison Arctic copy.jpg

Another composition.
Cold at Lug copy.jpg

Aw shucks. Just as I had anticipated, the fog came back in. Thick, rapidly and heavy this time.
I headed back to the summit now, figuring that the fog would be here to stay now. I was correct in this assumption, Lugnaquilla remained in fog for the rest of the day. I still had to get down though.

Although I was not worried, it pays to respect the mountain. And whilst I have descended Lug in whiteouts a few times before, always respect the mountain. Navigation skills are a must here.
Frozen Post copy.jpg

Another world…
Frozen Rocks copy.jpg

Descending the final slope of Lug now, and out of the fog (almost) and I bump into someone I have not seen for five years or so! Fellow landscape photographer and mountain skills guide, Adrian Hendroff.
Hello Adrian!
Adrian copy.jpg

Photographer in action:
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Another one.Adrian copy.jpg

I continued the descent with Adrian for some time but I wanted to shoot some long range shots and some snow drifts in the Corrigs whilst he opted to continue down to Camarahill. I would catch up with him later to shoot the sunset over the Glen Of Imaal.

Looking down to the artillery range with Lobawn rising above.
Lobawn copy.jpg

Such a clear day at this point. Perfect atmospheric clarity, cold winter days are best for that. Taken using my manual focus Zeiss Milvus 100mm – the resolution is truly outstanding at 100% on my large monitor here.

Looking over to a snowy Keadeen:
Keadeen copy.jpg

Some of the drifts at Lower Corrig.
Drifts Of Corrig copy.jpg

The light started to get really interesting now, as the sun was dipping lower in the sky.
Drifts Of Corrig II copy.jpg

It enhanced the contrast on the drifts here.
Drifts Of Corrig III copy.jpg

The snow here started to take on a slight pinkish hue.
Drifts Of Corrig IV copy.jpg

A challenging shot to achieve, but the high dynamic range of my Nikon D810 helped me out a lot here. I had to push the shadows 2 and a third stops in lightroom here so that I could save the highlights of the sun at capture time. The latitude for pushing shadows on the D810 is wonderful and when you couple that with quality glass (such as the Ziess 35mm f/1.4 used here) you can capture shots that would be very challenging with other cameras (in a single exposure). The Nikon does this, with minimal/non existent noise or colour banding.Keadeen Sun copy.jpg

A glance back at Lug, before I look down to the Glen Of Imaal. Yep, still in fog.
Pink Lug copy.jpg

Beautiful colours in the sky above Mount Leinster in this long range shot.
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The shoulder of Keadeen and a snowy Glen Of Imaal.
Shoulder Of Keadeen copy.jpg

Looking over to Knocknamunnion. I captured the belt of Venus at the start of the day and at the end of the day this day!
Knocknamunnion copy.jpg

One last glance over to Lug.
Lug last glance copy.jpg

Now, for the descent of Camarahill. I always find this tough going after a long day at Lug. But at least I had some company this time! See you on the hills again sometime Adrian!
Adrian pointed out that I was the first on the hill this morning, and the last off it! Not unusual to be honest.

A beautiful day, but not without challenges :).

Fifteen and a half hours out on the hills (including driving) – time well spent if you ask me! It took about that much time to compose this blog post too!

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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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.