Nethermost Pike

Nethermost Pike is a fell situated in the English Lake District. It is the second highest and located close to the southern end of the ridge with Helvellyn in the north and High Crag and Dollywaggon Pike to the south. Nethermost Pike along with many of the Eastern Fells, lies between Thirlmere in the west and the Ullswater catchment area in the east.

The west slope of Nethermost Pike is grassy while the eastern side is mainly rock. Geologically, Nethermost Pike is a part of the Borrowdale Volcanic Group. Mining for lead has taken place on the eastern slopes and resulted in levels and open mines at a number of sites.

The eastern slopes are protected as part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest mainly due to the Pikes geological and biological features, including some of England’s best arctic-alpine and tall-herb vegetation.
Mountains are frequently classified in response to their heights. At 891 m Nethermost Pike is listed as a Nuttall, which needs an altitude of 610 m. However, with a prominence of only 22 m it is not counted as a Hewitt or Marilyn as to qualify requires prominences of 30 m and 150 m respectively.

Nethermost Pike is also known as a Wainwright due to it being given a chapter in Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. South of Nethermost Pike lies High Crag (2,900 ft), which has a very limited depression between High Crag and the main summit. Most guidebooks follow Alfred Wainwright and his Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells in nominating it as part of Nethermost Pike. This convention is not universally accepted however, with Bill Birkett preferring to differentiate between the two fells.

The Helvellyn range runs broadly north-south for around 7 miles, remaining above 2,000 ft (600 m) throughout its entire length. Nethermost Pike is towards the southern end of this ridge, with Helvellyn to the north and Dollywaggon Pike in the south. In common with much of the Helvellyn range there is a marked contrast between the western and eastern slopes of Nethermost Pike.

The west slopes drop smoothly to the head of Thirlmere reservoir, and the tiny church at Wythburn. There are rougher areas, High and Comb Crags particularly, but these do little to change the overall impression of high moorland.

The lower slopes are planted with conifers as part of the Thirlmere Forest, but above this is a sense of wide open space. Nethermost Pike’s base on the valley is shifted a little to the south, relative to its position on the ridge. This is because Whelpside and Birkside Gills, its boundary streams, both run in a south-west direction, rather than flowing straight down the slope.

On the east slope the first impression is all of rock. The long strath of Grisedale runs north eastward to Ullswater, cutting off a series of hanging valleys which drop from the Helvellyn range. South east of Nethermost Pike, below the summit of High Crag, is Ruthwaite Cove. Surrounded by crag on three sides, this corrie contains the small pool of Hard Tarn.

This is one of the most difficult mountain tarns to find, and its black algal bed and clear water combine to give the false impression of great depth. Ruthwaite Cove is now the site of Ruthwaite Lodge, a climbers hut. It used to be the setting for more industrious activity, with the remains of several levels and some shallow open mine workings being visible near the Lodge.

Between the two coves, Nethermost Pike yields a fine rocky ridge. This arĂȘte, whilst not as imposing as Striding Edge across Nethermost Cove, climbs by a series of rocky levels for three quarters of a mile, heading straight for the summit. It is from this angle, rather than from the west, that the fell earns the title of “Pike”, that is a peaked mountain.

Heading to the north from Nethermost Pike is the depression of Swallow Scarth above the head of Nethermost Cove. From here the ridge ascends again, turning to the west as the long plateau of Helvellyn top is reached. Southwards the ridge steps down over High Crag and reduces in width as it swings east around Ruthwaite Cove to Dollywaggon Pike. A heavily eroded route runs along the ridge, but actually bypasses the top of Nethermost Pike to the west. Most walkers on this route have nothing but Helvellyn in their sights.

From the west Nethermost Pike is ascended from the Wythburn car park, following the wide track to Helvellyn before branching off right at Swallow Scarth. Alternatives are possible on the smooth flanks of the fell, but all have no paths.

From the east the preferred route is the east ridge, reached either from the path to Eagle Crag Mine, or via Ruthwaite Lodge and Hard Tarn.
The summit area is triangular in plan as befits a fell with three ridges, the actual top being towards the north corner and set back a little from the fall to Nethermost Cove. There is a rash of stones on the summit although the surroundings are mostly clad in rough grass, and several small cairns have been constructed. Other than north, where the bulk of Helvellyn intervenes, the views are spctacular with much of the District in sight. Further ground can be seen from the summit of High Crag.

Ruthwaite Cove was the location for mining activity, with the remains of several levels and some shallow open mine workings visible near Ruthwaite Lodge. These excavations were made for lead bearing galena, and are believed to have been worked during the sixteenth century.

Further leases were taken out in 1784 and 1862, the last known operation carried out in 1880.
North east of the summit the scene is repeated in Nethermost Cove, containing Eagle Crag Mine which used to be mined for its lead and zinc. The vein mined forms a visible gully on Eagle Crag which was worked both above and under ground over an altitude of 300 m. The vein is surrounded by rocks from the Borrowdale Volcanic Group which dates back to the Ordovician. Large dumps of veinstone can be found in the area as a result of the mining. They contain, amongst other minerals, crystallised tetrahedrite which is not believed to be able to be seen or collected elsewhere in Britain. Eagle Crag Mine has a history of workings essentially similar to that of Ruthwaite Lodge.

The summit and surrounding areas of Nethermost Pike contain many species and communities which are of imense biological interest. In a north-east direction from the summit is Nethermost Cove which contains some of England’s best arctic-alpine and tall-herb vegetation, including one third of the English population of Downy Willow (Salix lapponum). Similarly Ruthwaite Cove contains Arctic-alpine and tall-herb communities while it is believed the cove may also contain very rare species of plants but in very small populations.The lower slopes are home to sheep which has a major effect on the type of vegetation which grows. Certain areas, such as Eagle Crag, are inaccessible to sheep due to their steepness of the slopes.

Overgrazing by sheep in Grisedale common saw the vegetation fall to an unacceptable condition. Since 2003 grazing has been limited to 1 ewe per hectare in summer and 0.6 ewe during the winter. In summer sheep are also flushed from the coves of Nethermost and Ruthwaite, as they contain vegetation which is susceptible to damage from summer grazing. The vegetation structure has begun to improve, however recovery is slowest on the higher slopes with the summit still being heavily grazed.

The summit continues to suffer erosion from the large number of walkers who climb Nethermost Pike. The use of fewer footpaths would have the affect of reducing the disturbance to the summit species.

Reference: Wikipedia – under the GNU Free Doc Licence