Wicklow Mountains National Park
Lugnaquilla is located in the Wicklow Mountains, and is the highest mountain in Ireland outside of County Kerry. Standing 925 metres-high with a prominence of 849 metres, Lugnaquilla qualifies as a furth and is the 63rd highest mountain (with a prominence of at least 600m) in the islands of Ireland and Great Britain, sitting just one place ahead of Galtymore. Lugnaquilla is also known as the 'Lug', but despite the name being the same as one of the most prominent gods in Irish mythology, it just means "hollow of the wood" (Irish: Log na Coille).There are many trails that lead to the peak of Lugnaquilla (elevation : 925m) with all of them having a difficulty of moderate or less. This entry describes the one that begins at Glenmalure Lodge , skims Kelly's Lough, passes through Corrigasleggaun (elevation : 794m), and then descends via the zig-zags. Without navigational aid such as a GPS device, however, the walk on the summit plateau can be a little tricky in poor weather or in poor visibility, as the trail tapers off at places and can be quite indistinct. There are also steep glacial corries that drop from the summit plateau that you need to be aware of, as well as the chance of strong winds that quite often buffet the area.
We began the hike by walking south-west and crossing the Avonbeg river via the Drumgoff Bridge. The bridge connected to a military road, where we turned right approximately half a kilometre in, and followed a wide dirt track that was fringed by forested areas on both sides. There was a junction at the half-way point of the Wicklow Way, where the left branch continued along the Wicklow Way, heading west at first before zig-zagging multiple times first southward, and then westward. The dirt track gradually ascended from around 200 metres at the Wicklow Way half-way point to about 1400 metres just after the sixth bend (3.5km mark). We passed a left turning just before the fourth bend which, had we taken it, would have looped us around the Carrawaystick summit (elevation : 728m) and to the junction just after the climb up from Kelly's Lough. This point could also have been accessed had we followed the military road at the beginning instead of starting from the Wicklow Way half-way point.
As the dirt track rounded the hill, it slowly curved westward once again, and ran alongside the slopes of Carrawaystick (elevation : 728m) towards the south. We began to approach Kelly's Lough soon after, as well as a fence that ran up the side of the hill. We veered left here (7.5km mark), and began to walk up the slopes using the fence as a handrail. We were now within the boundaries of the Wicklow National Park. At the top of the hill, we merged with the Corrigasleggaun-Carrawaystick trail (8.2km mark), and turned right to head westward once again.
The terrain here was completely dominated by blanket bog, which is essentially areas of peatland. Peat is formed in waterlogged areas when plants do not completely decompose. Rainfall causes minerals such as iron to be washed away to lower and lower depths, and they eventually form a layer that is known as an iron pan. This layer is impermeable and causes the soil above to become waterlogged as a result. Over time, the partially decomposed plants on the surface begin to accumulate and 'grow'. This growth can be up to one millimetre a year, but over long periods, can even reach depths of several metres.
Peatland is the most efficient carbon sink on the planet. This is because the growth of plants in the area exceeds the rate at which dead plants decompose. This means that the carbon dioxide that is naturally released from the peat is captured and essentially 'stored' within the living plants. There have been instances in the Wicklow mountains where blanket bogs are drained for the purpose of preparing land for commercial forests. This creates huge ecological changes to the area, as bog plants eventually disappear and release the stored carbon dioxide in the process.
Sphagnum mosses are easily the most important of all the bog plants. These highly-specialized plants have huge absorption capabilities, and are able to hold up to ten times their weight in water. Their sponge-like properties (as well as the aforementioned iron pan layers) is what makes blanket bog areas so waterlogged. Sphagnum mosses also acidify the water that runs through them by holding onto plant nutrients, which in turn further decreases the rates of decomposition. These mosses essentially 'float' upon the waterlogged, partially decomposed layer of plants beneath. This is what makes the ground feel bouncy as you walk upon it.
Once we had climbed out of the valley from Kelly's Lough and had merged with the Corrigasleggaun-Carrawaystick trail, the walk was basically a relaxing saunter up the eastern slopes of Corrigasleggaun (elevation : 794m). From there, the trail swung northward and continued along to the junction (located just under the 11km mark) where the trail continued west to Lugnaquilla, east to Cloghernagh, and south back to Corrigasleggaun.
The summit of Lugnaquilla (elevation : 925m) is fairly unique as it is a wide, flat, fairly bare plateau that is covered with wind-swept vegetation. The summit plateau is also known as 'Percy's Table', which was apparently derived from the lands' 18th–century owner, Colonel Percy. As we walked westward up the slopes towards the summit plateau, we were able to appreciate the two steep glacial corries on the north and south of the plateau, referred to as the North and South Prisons. The South Prison looked into the Glen of the River Ow, and the river itself could be seen meandering away in the distance towards the forests in the south. The North Prison, on the other hand, looked into the Glen of Imaal. This is the location of a military firing range, and as such, the valley is closed off to walkers due to the dangers of both the firing that takes place as well as possible unexploded ordnance. From there it was a straightforward walk to the trig pillar that marked the peak of Lugnaquilla (12km mark).
Descent to Glenmalure
After soaking in the magnificent views from the summit, we began to retrace our steps back to the Lugnaquilla-Cloghernagh-Corrigasleggaun junction, which was located approximately 1.5 kilometres from the summit. From the junction, we continued walking along the open slopes, but eastward towards the peak of Cloghernagh (elevation : 792m) instead. There was an alternative cairn-marked route that branched off northwards a few hundred metres past Cloghernagh's peak that descended to Art's Lough. If you do decide to take this route, there is a right turning just before the lake that will take you south and back to the road. We, on the other hand, continued walking eastward along the ridge line instead.
We came upon a precipitous cliff on our left not too long after. The trail continued alongside the edge of the cliff and became more and more eroded as we descended. Signs that had been erected next to the trail advised us to keep to the centre of the path in order to minimise further damage. The views of the Glenmalure Valley down below were absolutely magnificent from here--the sun was out in all its glory and puffy white clouds were casting rolling shadows across the valley.
The trail eventually brought us to the Zig-Zags, which was basically a switch-backing trail down the slopes of the hill. Right at the bottom of the Zig-Zags, we came across the Carrawaystick Waterfall to our right and the Carrawaystick Bridge right after. From there, it was just a short (under 3km) leisurely walk south-east back to Glenmalure Lodge.