Climbing Lugnaquilla is no easy task. The mountain stands at a mighty 925m in height. Lugnaquilla is the highest Irish mountain outside of Kerry, the 4th highest mountain in Ireland, and the highest in both Leinster and Wicklow. Impressive stats.
While planning this hike, my aim was to provide a detailed guide on how to tackle the summit. Climbing Lugnaquilla in early July I foolishly thought would give me the perfect opportunity. As is often the case in Ireland, the weather had other ideas. So this article now is a source of information about climbing Lugnaquilla but also tackles the topic of hiking in low visibility! Cloud covered pretty much most of the mountain for the entire day. Where there are clouds, there is always a good chance of rain….I saw a lot of that too. Another lesson, this time in the importance of proper rain gear.
Tips for Climbing Lugnaquilla
- Plan your route – There are a number of routes to climb Lugnaquilla. I detail one such route below from the eastern Glenmalure side of the Mountain. Other common trails are via Barravore or the Glen of Imaal.
- A map and compass are essential – Knowing your intended route is essential as none of the hiking options for climbing Luqnaquilla are marked. As such, it is essential to have a map and compass with you. It goes without saying that you need to have the navigational skills to use these correctly.
- Check the weather – You need to be an extremely experience hiker to tackle Lugnaquilla in these conditions. The mountain top is open and expansive and very easy to get disorientated. It’s not recommended to tackle this hike in poor visibility conditions.
- Be prepared and pack wisely – Towards the peak of Lugnaquilla is likely to be cloudier, windier, wetter and colder than the surrounding area. As mentioned above, it’s a wide open expanse at the top and the weather will be more extreme as a result. You need to pack accordingly with water proofs and extra layers essential. A hat and gloves even in summer are a good idea. The trails on Lugnaquilla are rough and uneven so good hiking boots are imperative. Plus enough food, water and sugary snacks to keep your energy levels up (there’s nothing better than a hot flask of tea and some chocolate when the weather is against you).
- Don’t hike it alone – Lugnaquilla is a tough climb. Unless you are a very experienced hiker, I strongly recommend you don’t take on this challenge alone. Preferably go with someone who knows the route and has done it before.
See the route I planned outlined in the map below. I’ve also uploaded this to alltrails.com if you want to take a closer look.
Starting out from Ballinafunshoge, through Bendoo Woods, then Art’s Lough Trail to Cloghernagh and then to Lugnaquilla itself. I doubled back on myself for the return and then kept on the the Zig Zag trail to get me back to the Glen Road. The total distance covered was just under 16km. It took me around 5 hours to complete going a good pace without stopping too often (due to the weather). You will need a good level of fitness to complete this climb of Lugnaquilla.
The start of this walk is from Ballinafunshoge (link to Google Maps location here) which is about 3.5km from the Glenmalure Lodge along the Glen Road . I parked at the barrier to the walkway where there is space for 4 or 5 cars (with other parking options nearby). The start of the hike is via a concrete bridge with lovely views on both sides over the Avonbeg River. I’ve crossed this river previously while completing the Wicklow Way and it always provides great images of the Glenmalure Valley
Then it’s on to some gravel paths that rise upwards. After about 10 minutes the rain started and this was to accompany me for the next 4 and half hours of the trek.
As you gain altitude the path beneath you goes from rough gravel to muck and then to mostly grass. I come across a fallen tree that I need to scramble under to continue on my route. Despite the rain and the minor obstacles I encounter I get that usual feeling of peace and tranquillity from being out in nature. Along the way I see a couple of deer cross the path in front of me. Plus a trip of wild goats bounding up the slope.
I’m aware that there is a turn I need to find around the 2.5km and I keep a close eye out for this. The junction is marked by a small stream that cuts a gap in the tree line as it trickles down the mountainside. (Note: if you do continue on the path, it circles around the forest and alongside Art’s Lough before re-joining this route higher up the slope).
There is a small track to the left of the streambed that you need to take. The path is clearly defined in places while barely decipherable in others. Essentially though you are moving upwards all the time following the gap that has been cut through the forest. Because of the rain, the vegetation is saturated and it’s a tough slog upwards. Despite this, whenever I stop to catch my breath I am hit by a wonderful sense of silence. The only audible sound being the odd chirp of a nearby bird.
Into the Clouds
After about 500m, you come to the end of the forest and should have a clear view in front of you. Indeed I was expecting to be able to catch a glimpse of Art’s Lough off to my right. The reality for me is different as I realise the full extent of the cloud cover. Visibility up here down to about 10-15m. I carefully think about whether I should abandon the climb at this stage given the reduced visibility.
After consulting my map I eventually decide to continue. The rationale being that the map shows marked trails that will be able to bring me the whole way to my destination. The initial stage of the trail skirts along side the boundary fence to the forest. I reason that this will give me an opportunity to test out how clearly the trail is defined. At the same time, the fence gives me a definite marker should I need to re-trace my steps.
The path seems navigable so I decided to continue onwards. My GPS is working well also so I check this regularly as I go.
The route winds upwards and on to Art’s Lough Trail. With no views to stop and admire, it’s a matter of sticking to the path and regularly checking my GPS to make sure I’m on track. The Art’s Lock Trail eventually meets up with the Zig Zag trail. To the left will be the path I will use on my descent. To the right brings me to the summit of Lugnaquilla’s sister mountain Cloghernagh. The small stone cairn at the top of Cloghernagh is a welcome sight as it is a physical reminder that I am on the right route. I’ve completed about 5.5km at this stage and it’s another 2.5km to the summit of Lugnaquilla. Cloghernagh stands at 800m so the distance to Lugnaquilla is upwards along a gently ascending slope.
While a gently ascending slope sounds easy, the infamous Lugnaquilla weather is the real difficulty here (you might need to turn down the sound on the below video as the wind is really howling).
In the end, I don’t stay very long at the top after climbing Lugnaquilla. The visibility is now between 5-10m. I’m almost at the stone cairn that marks the summit before I even realise it. So I’m on my way again after only a couple of minutes. Retreating my steps back towards Cloghernagh. Checking my GPS to make sure I haven’t lost my bearings.
My route down is slightly different shortly after Cloghernagh as I am returning via the Zig Zags. I descend down via a steep-in-parts rock trail for about 2km.
I try to imagine what would be stunning views over the steep rock face to my left as I make my way downwards. Today though, all I see is a foggy abyss.
A wooden stile marks the end of the rock trail.
From here the going is a lot easier. I follow an actual path again. Although quite gravelly and uneven it was better than scrambling down rocks. The path zig-zags (hence the name) down towards the Avonbeg river once more.
As I move downhill I get some nice glimpses of the Carrawaystick Waterfall. Then it’s on to a beautful wooden bridge to cross the Avonbeg.
On the way back to the Glen Road I pass by a lovely little farmhouse. With the Avonbeg rolling slowly by in front of the house and the Carrawaystick Waterfall in the background.
Turning left on reaching the Glen Road another 1km of walking brings me back to where I parked the car.
The weather conditions and poor visibility made this a tough walk but I still enjoyed my day’s hike. I still can’t tell if climbing Lugnaquilla is a beautiful walk. This means I will have to return in nicer weather to fully confirm this. I do know it is an enjoyable walk though so I look forward to my return to Wicklow’s highest mountain.