Swatte Team

John and I were out with a Falkirk Community Trust Winter Mountaineering group of Jim, Linda, Paul, Siobhan and Tom today. The choice of where to go was a hard one given weather and conditions. We ended up going to Coomb Craig Ridge on Swatte Fell near Moffat. This means after having not been there in winter since 2003 I’ve now been there twice this season.

Gearing up with Upper Coomb Craig behind

Gearing up with Upper Coomb Craig behind

The ridge faces North-East and we hoped we’d be sheltered from the winds and this proved to be the case. There was snow from the base of the ridge, but the turf was only frozen in places, so we opted to climb without crampons, but with an axe in case of a slip and for the occasional hold. We climbed the left side of the bottom buttress and then continued up the crest of the ridge. Care is required with loose rock, particularly on the bottom buttress; this can be bypassed on the left and would be better if well frozen.

Jim, Paul and Siobhan on the upper section of the ridge

Jim, Paul and Siobhan on the upper section of the ridge

Once on the plateau above the ridge, which is only just over 700m, we were exposed to winds of circa 40mph with gusts of 50mph, making us glad we weren’t any higher. We were back to the minibus before the rain/snow started in the afternoon, which made the day all the more pleasant.

There are sizable cornices above Nether Coomb. Strong South-Westerly winds during the day and as we drove back over Beattock there was sleet falling.

Swatte Fell

Nettle and I had a constraint of not being able to leave Edinburgh until 10:00 am this morning, so required somewhere that wasn’t a big drive or long walk in. We gambled on Swatte Fell near Moffat and put fell running gear in as well as axes and crampons in case the gamble didn’t pay off.

Nettle on a narrow ribbon of snow near the bottom of the crag

Nettle on a narrow ribbon of snow near the bottom of the crag

There was just enough white visible looking up Black Hope from the Moffat Dale road to encourage us to go with winter boots, axes and crampons. When we got up to the crags the ice on the steeper routes in Upper Coomb looked too thin, so we opted for the snow in the Grade I gullies on Nether Coomb Craig. We soloed up two and down one of these before heading out to the summit of Swatte Fell. The guidebook simply states that there are “a number of gully and buttress lines at Grade I”, so I don’t know if any of the ones we climbed have names, but they all gave good fun on the day.

Nettle higher up the gully

Nettle higher up the gully

We returned to the top of the craigs before removing crampons and descending the fine ridge separating the two Coombs. This was largely free of snow, but the turf was firm and required care.

Nettle in another of the gullies with the cornice visible above

Nettle in another of the gullies with the cornice visible above

There were the remains of a sizable cornices at the top of the crags in Nether Coomb. These were very firm today, but will be an issue in thawing conditions.

Nettle about to top out

Nettle about to top out

Turf was variable at the bottom of the crags, but firm higher up. The old snow in the gullies was firm and made for easy climbing. Quite a lot of ice around, but thin and undergoing a slow thaw. Broken cloud at about 700m, just above freezing at crag height in the afternoon and a light South-Westerly wind with no significant wind movement of snow.