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

Well done to all the guys and gals who climbed Lugnaquilla in the Wicklow mountains earlier today to catch the sunrise at 06.30,  to complete the Red Cross Sunrise Summit Challenge. 
Conditions were very difficult, fog, hail, rain and wind. 

Alas no sunrise to be seen, maybe next time.

DSC_1669

 

To become a competent navigator requires a specific set of skills. In this post we look at navigation training to learn some of the basic skills you will need to find your way when out and about in the hills and mountains – interpreting the map and relating it to the ground (topography).

Understanding the symbols on the map

Maps can have a bewildering array of symbols in various colours, and can initially confuse and alarm those unused to them.

However, help is at hand in the form of the legend, this is the key to the symbols and can be found at the bottom or side of the map sheet. Reassuringly, roads are consistently brown or green, rivers and lakes are blue and woods are invariably green.

A typical map legend

 

Tracks and trails are usually black dashed lines, though National Trails are often red, and individual buildings are small black squares.

It is important to remember those symbols that, as hikers, you will need most; cliffs, scree, paths and marshy ground being some examples. The remainder can be looked up on the legend when you need to identify them.

Understanding contours and relief

Contours are the thin lines drawn on a map, often approximately parallel to each other, in either brown or black. These lines represent points of equal height above sea level, and are labelled at intervals with the height in metres (altitude).

Contours are the standard way of depicting relief, (the shape and height of the landscape), and the patterns a series of contours describe give vital clues as to the relief and the topography of the ground.

Where contours come close together the ground will be very steep, and when well spaced the ground will be much flatter.  When contours form a continuous line, as in a circle, then they describe a top or summit.  Lines drawn at equal height intervals on a hill will appear as concentric circles on a map.

Recognising topographical features

Contour interpretation is a vital part of good navigation but can seem a daunting prospect at first, start by recognising the contour shapes for some of the common topographical features found in the mountain environment; for example, ridges, valleys, hills, saddles and corries.

Once you have learnt to interpret these commonly found features you will soon be able use the finer details to understand the true shape of the landscape from the map, often without ever having been there!

Here are two examples:

A saddle between two hills with spurs at either end
A uniformly steep sided valley

 

In the top illustration the spurs at either end of the hills have shallower gradients than the sides, and make for better ascent/descent routes. The steepest ground is to the north, below the saddle, and should be avoided if the ground if slippery or frozen.

The valley in the bottom illustration is uniformly steep on all sides, as the contours are approximately equidistant, there is no obvious preferable route in this instance.

Orientating (setting) the map

It is good practice to orientate the map before every navigation decision.

To orientate the map using the features you see in the landscape, align the recognisable features, such as hills, cols or rivers, on the map with their counterparts in your field of vision.  The map should be rotated until you have a line of sight from you, through the map feature, and onto the physical feature you see before you.

If you have limited visibility, or cannot locate a recognisable feature in the landscape, you can set the map using your compass.  Line up the edge of your compass with the north/south grid lines on the map.  Holding the compass firmly in place, rotate both compass and map until the magnetic needle also lines up with the north/south grid lines and the red, (north), end of the needle points towards the direction of travel arrow on the compass housing.

Orienting (setting) the map with a compass

The map is now orientated, but it is approximate, as we have made no allowance for magnetic variation.  However, it should suffice for feature recognition purposes

With the map oriented try to locate your position relative to the features you can see in the landscape. Once your approximate position is determined it is then possible to plan your next navigational move on the map, and to give yourself a direction to head in.

Do you see what you expect to see?

Do the topographical features you see on the ground match those on your map? If so, great! If not you need to stop and re-evaluate your position, do not press on blindly hoping that something will fit eventually, because it won’t.

If in doubt you should set the map and try to work out your location, if this doesn’t work and you are uncertain of your position then you should return to the last point where you did know your location, a hill top perhaps.

A good navigator will know where they are at all times, will constantly check their position and confirm their location by using tick features, points recognisable on the map that they might pass, like a stream junction or a forest edge, for example.

Do you see what you expect to see? – Identifying tick features, in this case the end of the Lough.

 

By mastering these techniques you will be on the way to becoming a competent navigator. To progress further you will need to get to grips with using a compass to take bearings, and be able to follow them; and to estimate distance travelled and time taken both on the map and on the ground.

If you wish to learn more about map interpretation and to take the next step, you can join one of our navigation courses held in the Wicklow mountains.

Check out our latest tripadvisor reviews: 
February 2015 – guided hiking in the snow covered Wicklow mountains of Ireland, an ascent of Lugnaquilla in arctic conditions with Chris from Brisbane – Well done Chris!
Lug 5

“Best activity to do in Ireland!! Do this first!”
5 of 5 starsReviewed 9 March 2015

I completed three separate guided hike days with Russ earlier this year (Lugnaquilla, Brockaghs and Djouce, War Hill and Tonduff) and I can’t say enough wonderful things about my experience. Russ has an undeniable passion for hiking and for the Wicklow Mountains, what Russ doesn’t know about these mountains isn’t worth knowing! I was in Ireland for a three week holiday and my days hiking the beautiful Wicklow Mountains with Russ were easily the highlight. Do yourself a favour a book a hike with Russ now and see these beautiful areas while having an expert guide you!

Visited February 2015

Wales is a small country whose landscape is dominated by the eroded ancient roots of vast mountains, some 450 million years old. In the north the mountains are higher and more rugged, here they are comprised mostly of volcanic ash, called tuff, interspersed with fine grained muds that have subsequently been metamorphosed to form slate.

The derelict remains of quarries and associated buildings can be seen throughout the area, a reminder of its industrial past. Today, tourism dominates the economy of North Wales, and the hub of this tourism industry is Snowdonia.

Snowdonia is the largest of three National Parks in Wales, it covers 2170 sq. kilometres (823 sq. miles), and is home to 26,000 people.

Hiking is the most popular activity, along with rock climbing and mountain biking, and the magnet that attracts so many here is a mountain, Snowdon. Mountaintrails run guiding hiking weekends to climb Snowdon and other mountains nearby.

Snowdon’s south ridge, rocky and narrow. March 2015

Snowdon (the name means snowy hill in old English); or to give it its Welsh name, Yr Wyddfa (meaning tumulus or cairn), is the highest mountain in England and Wales. It stands at 1085 metres (3560ft.) and is reputed to be the most climbed mountain in Britain.

There are a number of different ways up the mountain, some routes are harder and more exposed than others, but the easiest would probably be by the Snowdon Mountain Railway, a rack and pinion railway that was built in 1896 and runs from the village of Llanberis to the summit. It is here you will find the summit cafe, (yes, a cafe!).

With a railway and a cafe you would be forgiven for thinking that Snowdon was a very gentle mountain indeed, but this is not so. In the winter months the cafe and railway are closed, and the mountains’ proximity to the west coast of Britain means the weather can be changeable and harsh. Some routes up the mountain involve traversing narrow ridges, and accidents occur on a regular basis, with a number of fatalities in recent years. The local Mountain Rescue team is one of the busiest in Britain.

Snowdonia has three main mountain blocks, or massifs. The Snowdon massif, the Glyderau and the Carneddau.

Heading towards Carnedd Dafydd (1044m) in the Carneddau range. March 2015

The most northerly of these is the Carneddau, and here you will find two of the four mountains in Snowdonia over 1,000 metres, Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn.

The Carneddau hosts the largest area of land in the British Isles over 1,000m outside of Scotland, and here you might find rare alpine plants such as the dwarf willow. On the lower slopes you may come across the Carneddau wild ponies, a breed isolated on these mountains for at least several hundred years.

Looking back towards Crib Goch from Crib y Dysgl on Snowdon. May 2014.

Across the Ogwen valley, and south of the Carneddau, are the Glyders. A range of hills and mountains running east-west with Glyder Fawr it’s highest point at 1001 metres.

The northern slopes of this massif are precipitous and rocky, deeply cut by glaciers 10,000 years ago. Here you will find the iconic cwm of Llyn Idwal and the Devil’s Kitchen, home of rare alpine plants and visited by Charles Darwin when he was formulating his Origin of Species.

This is also the home of a small flock of feral goats, believed to be the distant offspring of goats kept here by neolithic settlers.

On these northern crags you will find a number of stunning mountaineering routes, and here too is the unmistakable mountain called Tryfan. Shaped like a sharks fin, rocky and intimidating, Tryfan boasts a number of classic mountaineering routes, as well as the scrambly ascent route most hikers take, the North Ridge.

Between the Glyderau and Snowdon lies the Llanberis pass, a narrow valley strewn with huge blocks of fallen rock, boulder fields and vertiginous crags. This is the home of rock climbers, who come here in large numbers to climb the cliffs. It was here that Hillary and Tenzing trained for the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953.

The Daear Ddu Ridge on Moel Siabod.

The Snowdon massif has been carved by great glaciers into narrow ridges and steep crags, the best known of these probably being Crib Goch, a knife edge ridge with great exposure. Many an unwary hiker has become crag fast here, ‘frozen’ with anxiety, and unable to continue.

Snowdonia, however, is bigger than these three mountain blocks.

To the east there are the Moelwyns, a much less frequented area that has the lovely mountain of Moel Siabod at it’s northern end. To the west is the outlying mountain Moel Hebog, and the adjoining group of hills that make up the Nantlle Ridge, part airy scramble and part ridge walk, one of the best hikes in Snowdonia. Further south can be found the remote Rhinogau, a low ridge of heathery and rocky hills running north-south.

The start of the Nantlle Ridge, not as tough as it looks!

In all, Snowdonia has a lot to offer the adventurous hiker. The terrain is rocky and progress can sometimes be slow, so plan accordingly and be wary of over extending yourself. Be prepared for changeable weather, pack suitable warm layers and waterproofs, and don’t forget your headtorch, just in case!

I have been hiking and climbing in Snowdonia for nearly 40 years, since I was a boy, and each time I return I am filled with the stark beauty, ruggedness and grandeur of these mountains, which are so accessible to anyone living in Britain and Ireland.

Mountaintrails run several weekend trips to Snowdonia each year, including an introduction to scrambling weekend.

There is a phrase, used often by mountain guides and trainers, that there is no such thing as winter hiking, only winter mountaineering. This applies particularly to Scotland, where the weather can change in an hour, turning a benign day into a snow blinding navigational nightmare, where bone chilling winds turn blizzarding snow to icy darts, stinging exposed flesh.

The iconic Buachaille Etive Mor, in Glen Coe, catching the first light of day.

Steep, and rocky descents in summer can become banked out with snow in winter, turning into smooth icy walls that demand careful down climbing. Transported snow, blown by the wind, can settle on the lee slopes of ridges, forming wide cornices that look like firm ground to the unwary, but which are too easy to fall through.

And there is the threat of avalanches, much greater after recent snow or a partial thaw, demanding great care when planning and undertaking a hike in the winter mountains.

Looking down Glen Etive from the flanks of  Beinn Mhic Chasgaig.

 

So in any plan to visit Scotland in the winter you need to be prepared. The right equipment is vital, winter boots with compatible crampons, ice axe, insulated gloves, goggles, warm and windproof clothing and possibly a rope, are among the things to be carried in this sometimes inhospitable and dangerous environment.

Creise, at the head of Glen Etive.

 

Experience in the use of an ice axe and crampons are essential, as is the ability to navigate in poor conditions with a map and compass. However, once proper preparations have been made, and the right skills gained, winter days in the mountains can be some of the most rewarding you will ever have. When the wind drops and the sun shines on that pristine white landscape your senses will tingle with the sheer wonder of it, and the memory of the day will stay with you forever.

Stob Dearg from the descent of Beinn Mhic Chasgaig.

 

On a recent trip to Scotland I headed again to the Western Highlands, to Glen Coe and Lochaber, always popular with hikers, climbers and mountaineers, home to many mighty mountains, including Ben Nevis, the highest in Britain. This would be my fifth time in the area, but only my second during winter, and I was here to gain more experience of hiking these high exposed ridges and peaks under a cover of snow and ice.

The weather forecast for the week was good, high pressure was set to dominate, and we anticipated cold, crisp sunny days in the mountains. But mountains are fickle places, often exhibiting their own weather, where one mountain can be in bright clear sunshine and it’s neighbour be swathed in  low cloud.

The summit of Sgor na h-Ulaidh.

 

And so it proved to be that week in February. Some fellow mountaineers I met reported clear summits with wonderful views of peaks poking through the cloud of temperature inversions. Meanwhile, on a nearby ridge, I would be swathed in chilling cloud all day.

On the summit ridge of Sgor na h-Ulaidh.

 

Temperatures in the valleys were several degrees above freezing, and a partial thaw was in progress. This did not effect the higher slopes, still icy with good neve snow, but lower on the flanks of the mountains a mottled pattern appeared, like the camouflaged fur of a big cat, as snow melted from the bumps and undulations but remained in the hollows. Higher on the mountains cornices began to slump, though the continuing subzero temperatures ensured they stayed put, for now.

The bulk of Buachaille Etive Mor

 

Winds remained moderate throughout the week, ensuring the wind chill stayed within comfortable levels. And despite the poor visibility, (which did allow for some worthwhile navigation practice though not great photography), I had a very worthwhile and enjoyable time in this mercurial, ever changing landscape of mountains.

Even before I left Scotland I was planning my trip for next year. Maybe the Cairngorms? Or Glen Sheil?

Looking down the Larrig Eilde from Buachaille Etive Beag.

 

Learn more about the hiking trips Russell leads by clicking here: mountaintrails.ie

Over the years, I have come across a bewildering array of foods that hikers take in to the hills, from bagels with peanut butter to pasta and red pepper salad.However, when quick, easy to eat, and energy packed food is required I have found that these oat and fruit flapjacks really fit the bill.
I have often been asked for the recipe, and so here it is.

One slice, (if the quantities below are used), contains an alpine ascent fuelling 440 calories, and two slices gets me through most days in the mountains.

They are quick and easy to make,and are moist and delicious. Conveniently easy to eat, there is no need to remove your awkward winter gloves, which is ideal in harsh winter conditions.
In addition, they keep for days, which makes them great for those multiday trips in the wilds.

Flapjack recipe

250 grams Porridge oats
150 grams Dried cranberries or other dried fruit
50 grams Sunflower seeds
60-80 grams Brown Sugar (use the higher figure for a sweeter mix)
180 grams Olive spread, or butter if you want it richer
4 tablespoons Golden Syrup
Half teaspoon cinnamon
Roasted crushed hazelnuts, (or more sunflower seeds)
Melt the olive spread, golden syrup and sugar in a large saucepan, then stir in the porridge oats, fruit, cinnamon and seeds. Mix thoroughly.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.
Remove from oven and leave to cool, after half an hour cut into eight portions and leave to cool completely.
Store in a sealed container until needed. Wrap portions in cling-film to take on your hike, each portion contains approximately 440 calories.
Bon appetite!

A hiker is ‘very lucky’ to be alive after he was rescued from Wales’s highest mountain, Snowdon, in winter conditions and winds gusting to more than 90mph.

…”This rescue highlights the importance of good navigation skills in the mountains, always carry a map and compass and know how to use them….”

See Grough article here.

— Join one of Mountaintrails navigation courses this spring and make your hiking in the mountains safer and more enjoyable. 

Check out our navigation and skills page for more details.. http://mountaintrails.ie/navigation-hill-skills/