The Story Behind The Photo: Lugnaquilla Summit Camp

This entry is part 7 of 19 in the series The Story Behind The Photo

The latest photo in our series ‘The Story Behind The Photo’ is a quite brilliant shot from Paul Daly. The shot was taken on a summit-camp on Lugnaquilla in the Wicklow Mountains during the cold-snap of 2010. Paul takes us through the experience of spending a night camping on the highest point in Leinster during the coldest winter in decades.

Camping on summit of Lugnaquilla

Myself and Tom O’Brien (the guy in the photograph) had decided to plan a trip to Scotland the following March (2011) with some winter mountaineering and winter camping in mind. When the chance arrived as a cold snap brought excellent snow conditions to Ireland, we decided to get out into the hills and work on our winter camp craft.

Experience had thought me that it’s a lot harsher and colder (obviously!)  when camping out in full winter conditions. This makes everything that bit more difficult so a little bit of practice wouldn’t go astray.

It was a last minute decision to head up for the summit of Lugnaquilla for an overnight camping trip. Everything seemed to fall into place. It was the weekend, the weather forecast was for dry and very cold weather with a slight breeze and we were chomping at the bit to get out in the great winter conditions we had been having for a number of weeks.

We had been up in the North Prison of Lugnaquilla the previous Sunday and climbed up one of the gullies in prefect winter conditions that would give a winter’s day in Scotland a run for its money!!

After we climbed up the gully from the North Prison and were having a bit to eat on the summit, the subject of “That would be a great flat spot to pitch a tent, what do you think……?” I don’t remember who brought up the subject of camping on the top of Lug but it was quickly forgotten as we started to cool down while having our lunch and we quickly packed up and headed back down Camara hill to Fenton’s.

During the week we kept an eye on the weather forecast and by Thursday we had a good idea that the weekend weather was going to be good.

So it was decided that we would leave Fenton’s at 2.30 and make out way slowly up Lug as we had fairly heavy packs full of everything for the conditions including 4 seasons down sleeping bags, down jackets as well as some luxuries like camera tripods to mp3 players.

As we made our way up we met loads of walkers making their way down from the summit of Lugnaquilla, all looking extremely happy and satisfied with a great day out in beautiful winter conditions.

It was tough going as there was lots of fresh deep snow but as we got higher I didn’t even think about the heavy pack and just stopped every now and again to enjoy the view and take some photographs.

We arrived on the summit just as it full darkness arrived but there was still a bit of an afterglow from the amazing sunset. The first thing we done was to get out our down jackets to keep warm as we tried to get the tent up as quick as we could to get in out of the cold. At this stage the temperature had dropped dramatically with the last of the sunlight.

The wind had picked up as well so the wind chill was really a factor as we didn’t want numb fingers and toes as it was going to be a long night.

As soon as the tent was up we got in out of the wind and started to get out warm gear sorted. Our first task was to blow up our Thermarests sleeping mats and then roll out our sleeping bags and get in to keep warm. Then we put our bots into a drybag and brought them into the tent to try and stop them from freezing during the night. It really isn’t much fun when ayou have to put on frozen boots first thing in the morning!

Next thing we did was put the stove on for a hot cuppa before relaxing for a while and listening to the wind hammer the tent. After a while we started to get hungry so we decided to have am early dinner. Chicken curry and rice never tasted so good followed by hot chocolate pudding, a cup of coffee and half a packet of jaffa cakes…..heaven!!

We soon settled down for the night as it was getting late….it was 8.30, probably the earliest I have ever been in bed.

I remember falling asleep to the sound of the wind and slept great until about 5am when I woke up and couldn’t believe what I heard (or didn’t hear). There was no wind and then when I looked out of the tent door I was amazed at the view. The weather was perfectly still and clear with not a cloud in the sky.

I reached over and shook Tom to wake him up to tell him to get his warm clothes on as we were getting out of the tent to take some photographs!! By the third time I had shook Tom he knew I wasn’t joking!

The temperature in the tent at the early hour was about minus -8 degrees C, when we were ready and climbed out of our “warm” tent it was like somebody slapped you in the face it was so cold!! We estimated that it was about -15 degrees because when we got home the next day the weather forecasters said that it was -12 at sea level.

We were out of the tent taking photographs for about a half an hour. As I had the camera set up on a tripod to take some time exposures (Slow shutter speed is used on the camera) so I ended up taking about 40 photographs at different exposures and compositions to try and get that one great image.

By the time we were done and back in the tent we were freezing. My feet were like blocks of ice from ass the standing around in the frozen snow and ice. As soon as we got into our sleeping bags we put the stove on again for a cup of hot chocolate before settling back down for another nap until 8.45.

When we looked out of the tent then the weather had closed in again with visibility down to a few meters and the wind had returned with a vengeance.  We waited around for another hour to see if the weather would improve which it didn’t so we packed up our gear and heading back home.

I know sometimes that it can be too much trouble, you are too tired or you are too comfortable to venture out onto the hills. On other occasions when on the hills, it becomes too much of an effort to take out your camera and use it. And what’s the point of bringing a camera and not using it?

One thing I have learned over the years is that sometimes the best photographs are the ones taken where I am tired, wet and cold. Sometimes, the best photos come when its dark and I’m not enjoying myself or I’m lost and under pressure.  Regardless of the conditions, don’t be afraid to take photos because where ever you see those photographs in the future whether they are good or bad they will bring the memories of that day flooding back and a smile to your face!!!