Nethermost Pike

Nethermost Pike is a fell in the English Lake District. At 891 m it is the second highest Wainwright in the Helvellyn range to Helvellyn itself. It is located close to the southern end of the ridge with Helvellyn to 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 in the east.

The western slope of Nethermost Pike is grassy while the eastern side is predominantly rock. Geologically Nethermost Pike is part of the Borrowdale Volcanic Group. Mining for Lead has taken place on the eastern slopes, resulting in levels and open mines at a number of sites. The eastern slopes are protected as part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the Pikes geological and biological features, including some of England's best arctic-alpine and tall-herb vegetation.


Mountains are often classified in response to their heights. At 891 m Nethermost Pike is listed as a Nuttall, which requires an altitude of 610 m. However with a prominence of only 22 m it is not counted as a Hewitt or Marilyn which require prominences of 30 m and 150 m respectively. Nethermost Pike is also counted as a Wainwright due to it being given a chapter in Alfred Wainwright's Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. South of Nethermost Pike is 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 counting it as a part of Nethermost Pike. This convention is not universally followed however, with Bill Birkett preferring to differentiate between the two fells.


The Helvellyn range runs broadly north-south for about 7 miles, remaining above 2,000 ft (600 m) throughout its length. Nethermost Pike is toward the southern end of this ridge, with Helvellyn itself to the north and Dollywaggon Pike to the south. In common with much of the Helvellyn range there is a marked contrast between the western and eastern slopes of Nethermost Pike. In Wainwright's words "The grassy western slope trodden by the multitudes is of little interest, but the fell should not be judged accordingly: it is made of sterner stuff. From the east, Nethermost Pike is magnificent, hardly less so than Helvellyn".

Western slopes

The western slopes fall smoothly to the head of Thirlmere reservoir, and the tiny church at Wythburn. There are rougher areas, High and Comb Crags in particular, but these do little to change the overall impression of high moorland. The lower slopes have been planted with conifers as part of the Thirlmere Forest, but above this is a sense of wide open space. Nethermost Pike's toehold 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 south-west, rather than flowing straight down the slope.

Eastern slopes

On the east, 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 fall from the Helvellyn range. To the south east of Nethermost Pike, below the summit of High Crag, is Ruthwaite Cove. Surrounded by crag on three sides, this corrie contains Hard Tarn, a small pool on a rock shelf. This is one of the most difficult mountain tarns to locate, 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 climbing hut. It was formerly the setting for more industrious activity, with the remains of several levels and some shallow open mine working being visible near the Lodge.

Between the two coves, Nethermost Pike sends out a fine rocky ridge. This arête, whilst not as imposing as Striding Edge across Nethermost Cove, ascends by a series of rocky steps for three quarters of a mile, making straight for the summit. It is from this angle, rather than from the west, that the fell earns the sobriquet of "Pike", that is a peaked mountain. At the bottom of the ridge is Eagle Crag, standing above Grisedale Beck and forcing walkers to take a detour from the ridgeline.

Ridge routes

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

Ascents and Summit

From the west Nethermost Pike is climbed (more commonly merely traversed) 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 are pathless. From the east the route of choice 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 toward the northern corner and set back a little from the drop 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 built. Other than northward, where the bulk of Helvellyn intervenes, the view is impressive with much of the District in sight. Further ground is brought into view from the summit of High Crag.

Geology and mining

Geologically the summit of the fell forms part of the Deepdale Formation, (principally volcaniclastic sandstone) underlain by the dacitic lapilli-tuff of the Helvellyn Formation. The geology of much of the Lake District is the Borrowdale Volcanic Group, of which Nethermost Pike is part, and is late Ordovician in age. The Eastern cliffs of the range, including those of Nethermost Pike, are rich in base minerals. When these rocks weather they form areas of fertile soil which together with the areas inaccessibility and climate, provides conditions for plants of biological importance.

Ruthwaite Cove was the location of mining activity, with the remains of several levels and some shallow open mine working being visible near Ruthwaite Lodge. These excavations were made for lead bearing galena, and are believed to have been worked in the sixteenth century. Further leases were taken out in 1784 and 1862, the last known operation being in 1880.

North east of the summit the scene is repeated in Nethermost Cove, containing Eagle Crag Mine which was mined for its Lead and Zinc. The vein mined forms a visible gully on Eagle Crag which was worked both above and below ground over an altitude of 300 m. The vein is surrounded by rocks from the Borrowdale Volcanic Group which dates from the Ordovician. Large dumps of veinstone are found in the area as a result of the mining. They contain, among other minerals, crystallised tetrahedrite which is not believed to be able to be seen or collected anywhere else in Britain. Eagle Crag Mine has a history of working similar to that of Ruthwaite Lodge.

Biological interest

Flora and Fauna

The summit and surrounding areas of Nethermost Pike contains many species and communities which are of biological interest. North-east of 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 contain very rare species of plants but in very small, and therefore precarious, populations. The lower eastern slopes form Grisedale common, a large expanse of dwarf shrub heath. The lower slopes are grazed by 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 steep slopes.


The summit and eastern slopes of Nethermost Pike are part of the Helvellyn and Fairfield Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This SSSI covers 2,418.8 hectares (5,976.9 acres) centered on the Helvellyn range and Fairfield and was designated in 1975 due to the areas geological and biological features. Natural England, which is responsible for choosing SSSIs, tries to ensure that the management and use of the area is sustainable.

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

The summit suffers erosion from the large number of walkers who climb Nethermost Pike. The use of fewer footpaths would help reduce the disturbance to the summit species.


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