A Pike by any other name

Grisedale, view of Dollywagon and Nethermost Pikes by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerA Pike by any other name would still be a Pike but there are many people who are puzzled by Nethermost Pike's title, passing it on the way to Helvellyn it looks nothing like a pike. The truth was revealed when I approached it from a different direction and it became an exhilarating looking hill with an unexpectedly exposed arete at the top of its east ridge.

The day was just waking up when I got to the Patterdale Hotel car park, still good value at £2 for a full day's stay. It was light but the sun hadn't really decided whether it was going to shine or not as I walked towards Glenridding, passed the church and turned left at Grisedale Bridge. The road is tarmac at first with only a fragile wall between you and a steep drop through mature trees to Grisedale Beck.

There a couple of gates to go through but the track beyond them is still good enough for cars as far as Elmhow and even then it is good, if muddy in places. I had trouble finding a viable path the last time I tried this route so I stayed on the southern side of the beck to see if I could spot a more likely route up alongside Nethermostcove Beck. This is a great valley, rugged and beautiful with fine unexpected views of some well known fells. This morning the fell tops are illuminated by the sun and the view behind shows Patterdale under a bank of mist.

Eagle Crag and Nethermostcove Beck by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerAfter almost two miles, having passed a conifer plantation the path bends and starts to climb, across the valley is the bulky Eagle Crag. The crag is a prominent rock outcrop by the side of Nethermostcove Beck with Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike further back and either side of it. After a couple of bends where the path follows the contours the main path starts to climb but I followed a faint wet path, in the direction of a footbridge near a large sheepfold marked on the map. Looking upwards by the side of the beck I could see what seemed to be a path starting at a point higher up the intake wall from where I started from last time, there is no obvious path up to that point.

I crossed the footbridge and carried on until I reached the main path on the northern side of Grisedale Beck and turned right towards Nethermostcove Beck. Just across another footbridge I saw the path I wanted, muddy looking and steep it branched to the left in the direction of Nethermost Cove. It took a reasonably dry route to the intake wall, there was no obvious way across the wall except the longer stones that protruded either side of the wall. When dry the stones would be easy to climb over but at the time they were too slippery to trust.

Looking back along Grisedale by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI decided to follow the wall uphill to the right to see if there was a more reliable way to cross. I got to the point where I could see the path on the other side of the wall, there was one of those small holes built into the base of it and I decided to cross there. Getting to the top of the wall was easy enough but I had to wriggle around a bit whilst sitting astride it to find a good enough foothold on the other side. I got over safely and the path was a surprise, it wasn't just a worn trod over grass it was more of a causeway, an engineered path heading at an easy gradient up towards Nethermost Cove.

The path was obvious and quite straightforward but the many rocks had to be treated with caution, they were very slippery when walked on. Looking down to the valley the mist was having fun, playing games, ebbing, flowing and making curious shapes. The last time I was here I struggled through swampy grass and over slippery wet rocks so this path was a welcome find. The path lasted until it looked as though I might be able to cross the beck and there were signs of a path on the other side. However, the stream was deep, steep and fast flowing so I decided not to cross it just there.

Nethermost Pike by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe gradient was now steeper over wetter grass making me think that crossing the stream would have been a better idea but there is a faint path here and this is the way I went last time so it must be alright. Eventually I got to Nethermost Cove itself, a large area of glacial moraines in a large corrie that deserves to contain a substantial tarn. The true character of Nethermost Pike is now apparent, it looks steep, rugged and unclimbable from this direction, a direct assault is impractical but there is a handy ridge I can get on to.

This is a wonderful wild place, unspoilt and unvisited, a place of beauty and solitude with a rugged skyline all around, the faint voices of walkers on Striding Edge the only interruption to my train of thought. Of course that was apart from the two walkers I could see on the skyline descending from Nethermost Pike. After crossing the beck at a place where I was able to step over it I headed up the grass towards the lowest part of the ridge. The ridge is broad, grassy and tedious at first with a faint path, I don't know where the other two will get to following it downwards but I know where I will get to going up.

Nethermost Pike arete by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerBefore long the east ridge of Nethermost Pike rears up ahead, it looks truly impossible, I have been there before and I had one or two worrying moments on that occasion. The closer you get the more unlikely it seems that there is a way up until you reach a point where there does seem to be signs of disturbance, would you believe a path? The faint path through grass ends at the start of the steep ridge and an eroded stony path takes over, it's a shame that the mist has now come in. The path is steep and almost like gravel underfoot but there is no exposure, there are a couple of places where it is advisable to handle rocks to help yourself up but steepness is the only problem.

Then suddenly the steepness ends at an unexpected arete, it is a very sharp ridge, not really an arete, more of a rocky outcrop with upward pointing strata but the effect is the same. The rocks are very slippery and the gullies are very steep, now there is exposure if only I could see it through the mist, the top of the ridge is clear of mist. The short period of exhilaration ends abruptly at a more familiar Nethermost Pike, a large plateau, no path and no navigation clues. I carried on in a straight line and reached a shelter cairn that may be the summit where I could see the main path with ghostly figures of walkers moving back and forth.

Grisedale Tarn seen from Dollywagon Pike by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerRather than jump on the main path I decided to turn left and just follow my instincts, was I justified in finding the substantial cairn on the subsidiary summit of High Crag? I continued to follow my nose and it took me off the path again to the summit cairn of Dollywagon Pike, let's see if it will lead me back to the main path without having to refer to my map or compass. I suppose my familiarity with the place and not instinct found the path for me, although it is always reassuring to come across a familiar landmark such as the old metal gatepost.

The path down to Grisedale Tarn used to be the most eroded and awkward path in the Lake District, even with all of the work that has been done it is still not easy, although going down is still easier than going up. There is a small stream to cross at the bottom, the infant Grisedale Beck as it flows from the tarn, I should know better really but I tried to just get across a wet area. The mud was immediately over my ankles and would have filled my boots if it hadn't been for my ankle gaiters. It's a good job I have good leg muscles, I could easily have been in trouble if I hadn't been able to pull myself out of that quagmire.

Dollywagon Pike seen from Fairfield slopes by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI had thought about climbing Fairfield but it might take too long and I don't want another steep descent in the dark so I took the path to Deepdale Hause, a path I have never walked before. The interesting path takes you across the steep lower slopes of Fairfield with good views of Dollywagon Pike, another fell that deserves to be called Pike. At the hause it seems to be a simple climb to St Sunday Crag but it is a fell that teases more than most, a succession of climbs each seeming to be the summit only leads to another climb. Eventually at the broad rocky summit the sun is shining properly and a late afternoon in October is pleasantly warm.

I had intended to head down the ridge towards Birks but Gavel Pike looks quite interesting, there are no footpaths marked on the map but the contour lines are not too close together. It's quite an easy walk and there is a faint path from the summit of St Sunday Crag to the rocky crown of Gavel Pike, the descent is steeper but the path is more obvious where the ground is steep. Things get quite wet at the small col before the small peak of Lords Rake and the path just disappears, the only thing to do is make a beeline for Birks.

View of Ullswater from Thornhow End, Birks by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThere is a faint path at times over the wide grassy plateau but it wasn't as wet as I would have expected and I eventually got to the small path along the ridge of Birks. At the small summit cairn there were sunny mountain views all around except back to the dark mass of St Sunday Crag. I continued along the ridge looking for the cairn that would mark the start of the descent towards Trough Head and on to Arnison Crag. Too late I realised I was in the wrong direction and nowhere near Arnison Crag, I was trying to avoid the descent of Thornhow End.

The descent of Thornhow End was my first experience of a steep descent over grass, a badly eroded path and wet, slippery low level paths. It was exactly as I remembered it but with me being fitter now it didn't bother me as much as it did the first time. The path through Glenamara Park was wet and muddy through the trees and back at Patterdale it was still a nice sunny afternoon.

Andy Wallace 30th October 2004

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