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.
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.
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!
The final stages of the approach, and here is my old friend – the ‘dice’ of Lugnaquilla. I rolled a 6 weather wise this day!
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.
Moving over to the South Prison area now, the heat of the sun has started to affect me now. I was cursing my thermals!
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
A portrait of the cliffs of the North Prison, with Keadeen looming beyond.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking over to Keadeen and Ballineddan.
Back at Lower Corrig now, and a quick glimpse back at Lugnaquilla.
A wider view, showing more of the route and the great hollow that is the North Prison.
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!
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.
A foggy morning indeed, at least here, in the valley.
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!
The Belt Of Venus above a fog enshrouded Glen Of Imaal and Ballyhook hill emerging above the fog.
A similar shot, with the shoulder of Spinan’s Hill at left. What a morning!
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.
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.
At the summit of Camara Hill now, a quick shot down to Mount Leinster was worthwhile I thought.
And here it is, basking in the morning light – the target for the day. Lugnaquilla.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The same, with my 35mm Zeiss. I particularly like the patterns of the water flows.
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.
A similar shot with the Zeiss 35mm.
The tumbling cliffs of the South Prison.
Walkers at Lugcoolmeen, with the peaks of East Wicklow beyond.
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.
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.
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.
A bit more granite.
Some more granite to chew on.
Almost off the steep slopes of Lugnaquilla now, and a shot towards the Glen Of Imaal.
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.
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.
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.
05:00 , twenty minutes before sunrise just below the final push up to Lugnaquilla. Yep, a nice rock formation!
First light over Keadeen.
Streaky clouds in the sky like this can be indicative of high winds in the upper atmosphere.
The first rays of sunlight strike the North Prison cliffs not long after sunrise.
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.
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.
The direction finder on the summit of Lugnaquilla.
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.
A wider view of the gully, showing some nice context.
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!”.
I loved this formation.
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.
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!
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!
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