Lugnaquilla hike – A gentle mountain with a mean streak

Lugnaquilla, (Log na Coille in the Irish), translates as ‘the hollow of the wood’, though the only trees on its flanks today are those of commercial forestry plantations, and are comprised mostly of Sitka spruce.

The mountain is 925m (3035 ft) in height, and is an Irish Munro, (Munro’s are Scottish mountains over 3,000ft; outside of Scotland they are known as Furths). It is the highest point in the Wicklow mountains, and lies approx 56 kilometres south of Dublin, in County Wicklow, on the east coast of Ireland.

 

Lugnaquilla mountain

Lugnaquilla is a broad and bulky mountain Sitting rather squarely in the landscape it has no soaring rocky aretes, no narrow exhilarating ridges and no needle like summit pointing to the sky, it’s summit cairn sits in a large open plateau, like a huge table top with a single salt cellar.

Like all mountains, Lug (as it is better known locally) owes it’s shape and very being to the geology of it’s rocks and the processes that formed them.

The Wicklow mountains are underlain by, and mostly comprised of, a vast area of granite, the largest in northwest Europe. This granite formed deep in the Earths crust, under a large mountain chain that was formed around 415 million years ago when two continents collided and buckled up the crustal rock.

As molten granite pushed up into the existing rock it exerted huge pressures and temperatures, baking and altering the rock into the other rock type that typifies the Wicklow mountains, mica-schist.

Over millions of years of erosion the overlying rock was eroded away to finally reveal the granite. The landscape owes its present shape to the processes of glacial erosion, the glaciers of the last ice age, which ended some 11,700 years ago, scouring out the deep valleys and corries, leaving a legacy of glacial lakes, huge boulders and moraine debris throughout the mountains.

Lug is predominantly composed of granite, and this gives it it’s broad shoulders and rounded ridges, though it is one of a few mountains in the range that is topped by the original overlying rock, the mica-schists.

Looking down on the mountain, in a plan view, it takes the form of a spoked wheel, with the summit plateau at the hub and five broad ridges radiating outward from it, north, east, west, southwest and southeast.

Between these ridges lie deep corries, the North Prison, South Prison, Lugueer, and long glacial valleys.

The broad bulk of Lugnaquilla mountain, seen from the north

 The lower flanks, where unforested, are covered in heathland, dominated by ling and bell heather, and also bilberries, locally know as fraughans, which give their name to one of the glens. Where there are hollows blanket bog is formed, a wet, quaking environment dominated by sphagnum mosses.

Hybrid Sika deer (top),  the descent to Glenmalure (bottom)

 Higher up the mountain and on it’s summit plateau, the vegetation becomes more sparse. Here you will find upland grassland species; sedges, deer grass and predominantly mat grass.

From these slopes you might catch a glimpse of the rare Merlin or Peregrine Falcon, but are more likely to see Skylarks, Red Grouse, Ravens and the ubiquitous Meadow Pipits. You may well see an Irish Hare up on the plateau, a subspecies of the Mountain Hare, or more rarely a fox.

Frogs are not uncommon,even on these higher slopes, but are increasingly under pressure due to habitat destruction.

Sika deer are more common, these parkland escapees have cross bred with the indigenous red deer to produce a hybrid that is found all over these mountains and much of upland Ireland.

There are a number of ways up Lug, most are centred on the ridges, which do not require any technical mountaineering skill, just a good general level of fitness.  However, Lugnaquilla mountain does have a meaner side.

The north ridge ascent in winter conditions.

 In poor visibility when cloud obscures the mountain top, route finding can be a challenge, particularly on the summit plateau which can appear pathless and uniform in all directions.

On these occasions, which occur all too often on Lug, an ability to navigate with a map and compass is essential. The North and South prisons are steep sided corries that lie close to the plateau, and poor route finding could result in a unwanted tumble.

In addition, the weather can change very quickly in these mountains. Ireland sits in the path of Atlantic storm systems and rain and wind can sweep in, making conditions difficult. This in turn can lead to a significant wind chill and a risk of hypothermia. The weather and temperatures experienced at the top of Lugnaquilla are often much harsher than those in the glens.

When venturing onto this mountain it is always prudent to be prepared for poor weather conditions.

 

The two most commonly used ascent routes are shown on the map above, I have marked them in black (A), and in blue (B), there are no route markings on the mountain.

The black route starts from Fenton’s pub in the Glen of Imaal.

The first point to note is that though this route is very popular, it also passes through the Irish Army artillery range, marked with the red outline and hashes on the map. This is usually not a problem at weekends when there is no firing, but if you plan to hike it in on a weekday you should check the firing times first. You can find this out directly from the army or the Mountaineering Ireland website:  http://www.mountaineering.ie/

It is unwise to stray from the prescribed route as there can be unexploded ordnance on the range.

The route follows the military access road southeast into the glen, and then follows a steepening grassy slope to Camara hill. You will see warning signs on your left, marking the firing range, stay to the right of these. From Camara the path becomes less steep, and a little muddy, as it follows the crest of a broad ascending ridge that finally flattens out at the summit plateau. The summit cairn lies ahead of you in an easterly direction and about 0.5 km across the plateau. From the summit, on a clear day, there are wonderful views of the surrounding hills to the south and west.

Descending the broad grassy ridge from Slievemaan

 A lot of hikers will return the way they came, but it is possible to return to the start via a different route. Return west to the edge of the plateau and look out for a poorly defined path descending southwest, follow the path to reach a saddle, before climbing again to the summit of Slievemaan (middle mountain). It is then possible to follow the ridge westwards, gradually descending on a pleasant grassy path over Ballineddan and down to the road at Ballinfoyle.

If there is no transport to meet you here there is a final arduous hike of around 5 km on roads to get to the start point.

The blue route, begins at the Baravore car park in Glenmalure, this marks the end of the public highway in this valley. The route follows a track up through a forestry plantation before emerging in the lovely Fraughan Rock Glen. A steep climb up the valley headwall on a rocky and sometimes muddy path follows.

From here the route continues at a more gentle angle westwards, over heath and grassland, to reach the north ridge below Cannow.

The ridge is followed upward, heading south, on a more clearly defined mountain path and eventually begins to level off as the summit plateau is reached. From here the path fades away, and you must make your way up slope, avoiding the North Prison to your right, until you see the summit cairn ahead.

Fraughan Rock Glen (above), and Art’s Lough (below)

 To descend you must head northeast initially, but be very aware of the steep sided South Prison to your right. Follow around the rim of the Prison until you see a broad and gently descending ridge heading east.  Soon a clearly defined path becomes visible, here be careful not to descend to the southeast ridge, but continue east on a clear path that leads to the top of Clohernagh.

The route now descends on a clear and badly eroded path. This path can be followed due east to drop down into the Glenmalure valley via the zig zags, a 3km walk up the valley on the narrow road will get you back to the start.

However, the route described here heads north on a poorly defined path, to drop to a small lake known as Art’s Lough, before descending a steep heathery and grass slope back into Fraughan Rock Glen. Here there is a tricky stream crossing to negotiate,  however there are stepping stones to help. (This crossing is not possible in wet weather, and an early decision must be made whether or not to use the zig zags route.)

From here follow the forestry track back to the start.

Mountaintrails has a regular program of hikes up Lugnaquilla using the blue route described above, if you are feeling adventurous and would like to try one of the many other routes up the mountain, we can arrange this on a private guiding basis.

 

Click the link if you would like to join us on a Mountaintrails guided ascent of Lugnaquilla.You can also email any enquiries to info@mountaintrails.ie

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Comments

September 19, 2016
Hi, Just did the blue route with a fried (except we went to check out Benelagh before Lugnaquilla. We made a mistake with the return path, so we had to make due with an extremely risky descent down to Art's Lough. We found the descent from the Lough even more dangerous as there was barbed wire and very inhospitable terrain. In fairness, it did rain the day before, so the ground was very much wet and dripping (even at the peaks) Could you maybe put up a disclaimer that the blue trail should be used by experienced mountaineers? Thank you for your blog post otherwise.

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