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Spencer Swanger

Threads related to Colorado mountaineering accidents but please keep it civil and respectful. Friends and relatives of fallen climbers will be reading these posts.
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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby ClimbStewart » Thu Jul 19, 2012 11:10 pm

It's two years...July 20...since our friend Spence died tragically in a fall in the Dolomites. Crazy. Two years. I think about him often still, usually when I am up in the Rockies hiking or climbing and I remember different climbs we did years ago. I'm still upset at him for not living until August 2010 and doing the 40th anniversary ascent of our first ascent of Thunder Pyramid in 1970...anyway we miss you Spencer. You're irrevocably gone but not forgotten by your friends...see you on the other side of the mountain.

I was going through old magazine files a few days ago and found I still had a copy of Backpacker magazine from May 1991 with Spence's photo of the Paria River on the cover.

Here's a scan of it...
Swanger_BackpackerCover1991_3.jpg
Backpacker May 1991. Cover photo by Spencer Swanger.
Swanger_BackpackerCover1991_3.jpg (191.76 KiB) Viewed 1217 times

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby susanjoypaul » Fri Jul 20, 2012 5:49 am

ClimbStewart wrote:I was going through old magazine files a few days ago and found I still had a copy of Backpacker magazine from May 1991 with Spence's photo of the Paria River on the cover.

Beautiful! Spencer was quite the photographer, and the adventurer. Stewart, you should post the photo he took of you on Thunder Pyramid - now that is a classic shot!

Adventurgal wrote:I wonder if there is any movement on naming a peak in his honor. Hum.....

Adventuregal: There is, but I can't submit the paperwork until January 2015. Right now I'm doing research and collecting information for possible peaks. This will ramp up considerably over the next two years, once I complete another project that I'm working on. Then I'll be requesting support from a number of organizations in the mid-2014 timeframe. These things just take time...

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby Tigerbear » Fri Jul 20, 2012 7:13 am

Thanks for the memories.
Spencer was an incredible mountaineer!
He taught me lot about the mountains and took me many places I wold not have gone on my own.We all miss you...
people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel...

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby kaiman » Fri Jul 20, 2012 2:18 pm

Funny, I was just down in the Paria/Buckskin Gulch area a few months ago - what a place! Spencer's photo definitely does a lot to capture the spirit of the area which is pretty indescribable...
"I want to keep the mountains clean of racism, religion and politics. In the mountains this should play no role."

- Joe Stettner

"Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end."

- Edward Whymper

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby Adventurgal » Tue Aug 28, 2012 3:47 pm

Susan,

Keep me posted - I'm more than happy to write letters of support, etc.
Thanks for all of your leadership to make it happen!

Warm regards,
Debbie

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby uwe » Tue Aug 28, 2012 6:39 pm

Thank you for the kind reminder.
It is always good to remember a friend.
Spence and I knew each other for a brief moment.
He was awesome.
I miss him.

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby susanjoypaul » Wed Aug 29, 2012 7:24 am

Thanks Debbie and Uwe - I miss him too :(

The CMC is having a "Centennial Celebration" in October and they asked me to present an article that I wrote about Spence, for the Pikes Pique newsletter. I'll also be presenting a summary of a 1977 newspaper article written by George Gladney for the Colorado Springs Gazette, that features Spencer's accomplishment along with the first published map of the Centennials. I sure hope you both can make it.

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby susanjoypaul » Sat Oct 20, 2012 8:22 am

susanjoypaul wrote:Thanks Debbie and Uwe - I miss him too :(

The CMC is having a "Centennial Celebration" in October and they asked me to present an article that I wrote about Spence, for the Pikes Pique newsletter. I'll also be presenting a summary of a 1977 newspaper article written by George Gladney for the Colorado Springs Gazette, that features Spencer's accomplishment along with the first published map of the Centennials. I sure hope you both can make it.

This is today, if anyone is interested. The open house starts at 9 am with a slacklining demo on the front lawn of the Fine Arts Center, and concludes at 3 pm, after the museum tour. The details have been sketchy, but from what I understand the $20 fee is only for those wishing to eat lunch and drink beer. All the presentations are free and open to the public.

The "Centennial Man" presentation is at 1:30 in the Music Room. Local highpointer Steve Mueller will be showing photos of his climbs of Colorado's highest one hundred peaks, and I'll be sharing stories about Spencer, and how he went about becoming the first completer of the Centennial peaks. Stewart Green will also be there to share stories and photographs of the first ascent of Thunder Pyramid.

Last night we met at the Fine Arts Center to set up. Steve Mueller brought a copy of the original register from Thunder Pyramid. He had discovered it up there on the peak, in perfect condition, 30 years after it had been placed. On the first line was Spence's name, with Stewart's name just beneath, and then Carson Black. Stewart never thought he'd see that register again... what a cool surprise!

There will be mountaineering memorabilia there to check out also, provided by Spence's wife, Karen. I'll post my summary of the original newspaper article here at some point.

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby Adventurgal » Sat Oct 20, 2012 2:28 pm

Susan,

So nice to read your post. I would have loved being there today. It's so interesting when we were tent sharing in Bolivia, Spence never talked about all of this accomplishments. I'm sure I was working on the Centennials but didn't know he has so many first ascents and to think Thunder Pyramid was one of them. I'm sure the day was joyful and somewhat sad to know he's no longer with us.

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby susanjoypaul » Sun Oct 21, 2012 6:14 am

It saw a lot of folks yesterday who I hadn't seen in a long time, so thanks to those who showed up. Here's what I talked about.

The October 22, 1977 issue of the Gazette Telegraph Saturday Magazine featured an article called "Climbing Colorado’s 100 Highest Mountains," by George Gladney. It also featured the first published map of the Centennials, which had been created by Spence and some of his friends.

If you’re wondering about how long ago 1977 was, I looked through the paper and noticed that Jaws was playing at the Peak Theatre that week, and Star Wars was showing at the Citadel. I was starting my senior year in high school, and I know I wasn’t even thinking about climbing mountains back then.

There were no home computers, no Internet, no email, and no Google maps or Google Earth. No cell phones either – in fact, no wireless phones at all. No video games or VCRs, CDs, DVDs, DVRs, or digital downloads. We listened to music on vinyl or tape, watched whatever was on TV—including the commercials—and when we wanted to learn something we looked through the appropriate volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, or went to the library, or we picked up the phone and called somebody who might know, or we actually got out there and found out for ourselves.

If you wanted to know what the weather was going to be like for the weekend, you couldn’t just go to the NOAA site. If you wanted to know if the roads were open, you couldn’t just go to the CDOT site. And if you wanted beta on a peak, you couldn’t just click through thousands of trip reports, trailhead and peak updates, or ask somebody else on Summitpost, 14ers.com, or Lists of John. The Global Positioning System was in its infancy, and hand-held, personal GPSes were still decades away. For mountaineers, in 1977, research, land-navigation, and plain old discovery were critical skills necessary to get up a peak. Other than the already popular 14,000-foot peaks, not much else was being climbed in the state. It’s probably not surprising then that, as the article by Gladney notes, “until 1968 nobody had bothered to figure out what the 100 highest peaks were.”

The first list was developed by William A. Graves, a mechanical engineer, and published in the CMC’s Trail and Timberline. Spence saw the article and he picked up the phone and called Graves. The article notes that he was very excited about the prospect of climbing the 13ers, as he “noticed that the 14ers were becoming overcrowded.” Spence said, “Many of the base camps are generally overrun, and full of fire rings and run down by wear—with toilet paper under every rock.“

There were dangers with the crowds on 14ers, too. He had run into a group on North Maroon with their one-eyed german shepherd in tow. Upon his request, a few from the group abandoned the traverse and descended, with the dog, for the sake and safety of the other climbers.

Spence finished the 14ers in 1969 and started on the 13ers the following year.

Working from Graves’ list, and refining it along the way, Spencer Swanger climbed the highest 100. With what he learned, and with the help of some friends, he put together the first map of the one hundred highest Colorado peaks. It was first published in that 1977 issue of the Gazette.

Spencer did a lot of the peaks solo, and climbed through every season, including winter. He had trouble finding climbing partners. As Spence put it, “Finding someone you really get along with in the mountains is as difficult as finding a wife who can stand you.”

Spencer’s passion for climbing alone posed many dangers, but provided for growth, too. The mountains could be “lonely, frightening places sometimes. You have to figure out by yourself how to get out of the mess you’re in,” he said.

Spencer did have partners from time to time, including Ed Wallick, Bill Arnold, and occasionally, a couple of guys named Carson Black and Stewart Green. But he spent a lot of time alone on the peaks, too, and he had a number of close calls.

On Eolus, about 50 feet below the summit, an electrical storm moved in with “static so fierce it felt like my head was on fire.” Spence was hit by lightning that knocked him out. He came to a few minutes later, in a hailstorm, and with one of his hands temporarily paralyzed. He was obviously rattled, and it took him an hour and a half to get it together before he could finally descend, and his hand remained numb for another twelve hours.

He was hit by rock fall and rock slides, too, on Ice Mountain, South Maroon, Crestone Needle, and other peaks. Some were natural and others were caused by other climbers. Spence did the second ascent—and the first solo ascent—of Dallas Peak, and he claimed it was the toughest of all the Centennials. Coming down, he was hit with a flying rock that nearly scalped him.

In the winter, Spence went up Mount Sherman, one of the easiest 14ers. But the wind chill that day was 60 below zero, and he and his climbing partners thought they were going to get blown off the mountain. They reached the summit on hands and knees, in white-out conditions—and had to feel around in the wind and the snow to find the summit marker!

Spence was buried to his shoulders on one peak, by a slab avalanche. And another time, a spring blizzard moved in that stranded him and his partners, Ed Wallick and Bill Arnold, near the summit of Longs Peak. The three descended and took refuge in the Agnes Vaille stone shelter. Their water, clothes, and gear were all frozen solid as the temps dropped to 16 degrees, and they stayed warm—and alive—by exercising through the night, and resting occasionally, lying on top of each other to share body heat. I can only imagine what a long, cold night that must have been.

Spence ran into a storm on another peak, too, one that he did with Stewart Green, Carson Black, and three others. Spence noted that the peak was “the only one I can confirm being a first ascent.” He dubbed the mountain “Thunder Peak,” and the name was later construed to “Thunder Pyramid.”

Spencer Swanger hiked out to his final Centennial Peak with a group of friends. The weather was coming in and they all set up camp for the night, to rest up for an early morning climb of Culebra Peak. But Spencer didn’t wait for the next day. He went on by himself, and climbed Red Mountain instead, and finished the one hundred highest peaks solo.

After completing the Centennials, Spence abandoned lists. Instead, he just climbed mountains that he found interesting. His favorite places to climb were in the Grenadiers and the Needles. Of these areas he said, “it is probably the last of the true wilderness in Colorado. There are lots of trailless stretches over 13,000 feet. There is no crossing of the Animas River, and one has to ford or do a lot of route finding on Elk Creek. The peaks are all very interesting, technically challenging, and they really get you into mountaineering. Yet very little is written about the area. Even the names conjure up sharp-pointed heights: Jupiter, Arrow, Vestal, Jagged, Leviathon, Turret, Pigeon, the Trinities, Monitor, Storm King. All are peaks that fulfill my boyhood imagination of how peaks are supposed to look.”

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