Lugnaquilla is the highest mountain in the Wicklow Mountains National Park, and at 925 metres it is the highest point in Ireland outside of Co. Kerry. It’s also classified as a ‘Furth’, a mountain over 3000ft outside of Scotland (where they are called Munro’s) and one of 13 Furth’s in Ireland.
Shaped rather like a large upturned Christmas pudding with 3 large bites taken out of it, there are a number of ways to climb this mountain, all of which lead to the large stone summit cairn, topped by a triangulation pillar.
The summit plateau is a bare undulating surface of short, wind swept vegetation. Paths are indistinct at best, and very hard to follow in low cloud, which often shrouds this mountain.
To the northwest of the summit is the ‘North Prison’, a large glacial cwm with steep sides, carved out during the last ice age. Frequented by winter climbers, it offers the best chance of winter climbing conditions in the east of Ireland.
Close to the summit to the southeast is the South Prison, another cwm formed by the ice, also steep sided this can be approached through the forests of Aughavannagh.
Finally, the third ‘bite’ is a much larger but less steep glacial valley to the northeast, variously known as the ‘Green Corner’ or the ‘Green Banks’. Lugnaquilla can be summited with relative ease from this side, but beware, there are no paths and in poor visibility it is so easy to get disoriented here.
The three most popular routes up the mountain follow the three ridges formed by the intersection of these glacial valleys, to the north, east and west. They are described below.
To the west of the mountain lies the Glen of Imaal, a military firing range owned by the defence forces. There are two permitted paths crossing the periphery of the range, but they are closed on most weekdays, when firing takes place. It is important to note that the valley here, the ground between Table Mountain and Camarahill (blue boundary on the map below), is out of bounds and potentially dangerous even when firing is not taking place as there may be unexploded ordance in the area.
1) Plan your route
There are a number of ways to climb Lugnaquilla mountain, some are more difficult than others. Ascents via any of the three glacial cwms require confident footwork and capable navigation. There is no access to the North Prison from the floor of the Glen of Imaal.
The most popular three routes to the summit are drawn on the map below.
Many climbers return by their outward path, but there are some route combinations that can give a superb horseshoe circuit and return you to your start point.
From Baravore (red route)
Starting at the Baravore car park (GR: T 066 942) this route crosses the Avonbeg river and then heads up into Fraughan Rock Glen via a forest track. This track ends at a steep headwall which has to be taken on directly.
A faint path now heads west across the upper valley, rising as it does so to reach the north ridge below Cannow mountain. Turning south the path becomes clearer as it ascends before reaching the undulating plateau. Here the path becomes very faint and difficult to follow in poor visibility, but continues to the summit of Lugnaquilla.
The Zig Zags (yellow route)
Named after a switchback miner’s path that rises from the valley at Carraway Stick waterfall (GR: T 087 921). There is very limited parking here and it is better to proceed 700m to a larger car park on the right.
This route is relatively easy to follow as it has been badly eroded to leave a scar on the hillside.
The path continues to the summit of Leohard (Clohernagh) before following the eastern spur of the mountain, gradually ascending towards the summit of Lugnaquilla. As it does so there are great views into the South Prison on the left. The path becomes faint as it crosses the plateau and is again hard to follow in poor visibility.
From Fenton’s (green route)
This is the shortest and arguably the easiest way to climb Lugnaquilla. Starting at Fenton’s pub car park in the Glen of Imaal (GR: S 973 935) the route follows an army access track before rising to Camarahill.
This route passes through the military range and it will be closed on weekdays when they are firing, you can check these dates on the Mountaineering Ireland website, or call the Army Information Centre at Seskin. It is almost always accessible at weekends.
From Camarahill the route continues on an easy to follow path to the plateau, where it becomes faint and hard to follow for the relatively short distance to the summit cairn.
2) Take the correct kit
Air cools with an increase in height (this is why mountains have snow on them), and it can often be several degrees cooler on Lugnaquilla’s wide plateau than it is in the valley.
There is also a considerable increase in wind speed from the valleys to the summit. These two factors in combination can make the conditions on Lugnaquilla much harsher than expected, and this often catches out those who are not properly prepared for it.
Make sure you have adequate clothing to deal with the weather, hiking trousers and not jeans, several warm layers of clothing (not cotton) and a warm and waterproof jacket, as well as waterproof overtrousers.
Good hat and gloves are essential, and should be carried year-round when climbing this mountain.
The paths on Lugnaquilla can also be very wet and slippery therefore it is important to have supportive and grippy footwear, hiking boots with a deep sole pattern are best.
Runners are not adequate and will result in wet uncomfortable feet, with the added risk of a slip or fall, which could potentially result in injury.
Finally make sure you have enough food and drink for the day, and don’t forget those sugary snacks, you have an excuse this time!
3) Brush up on your navigation
The ability to navigate with a map and compass is essential on Lugnaquilla. The weather here can be harsher than on adjacent mountains and it is often shrouded in mist. The plateau is likely to be cloudy with poor visibility, and this is where the routes are most difficult to follow.
Many climbers find their way to the summit but struggle to find their way off when the cloud descends.
Make sure your map and compass skills are up to scratch. If you use a GPS enabled phone app, ensure you have adequate charge and remember that rain and cold can have a drastic effect on the unit’s ability to work properly.
4) Check the weather forecast
Lugnaquilla is known for having unique weather, often cloudier, wetter, colder and windier than its neighbours. It has been known to get as cold as -15C with the windchill on the summit plateau.
Remember to check the weather forecast before you head out and be prepared for sudden changes in the conditions. If the weather looks unpleasant in the mountains, it will be much more so on Lug.
5) Don’t go it alone
Solo climbs of this mountain are for the experienced and well-equipped hiker only. Go with more experienced pals, maybe someone who is familiar with your chosen route.
Ultimately the safest way to have a successful and enjoyable day is to join a guided hike provided by experienced and qualified guides such as Mountaintrails.