Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

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gore galore
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Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by gore galore »

SPENCER SWANGER BECOMES THE FIRST TO CLIMB COLORADO'S HUNDRED HIGHEST PEAKS, 1977
by gore galore

The recent trip report by d_baker “Chasing Centennials” in which he writes “In the bigger picture of mountaineering, accomplishing the Top 100 in Colorado may not seem like much of a big deal” takes me back in time when I remember it as a really big deal when Spencer Swanger became the first in 1977 to climb Colorado's Hundred Highest peaks as the list was then called.

WILLIAM GRAVES AND THE HUNDRED HIGHEST LIST
The original “100 Highest Summits In Colorado” list was compiled in 1968 by William Graves, a Colorado Mountain Club member and a Professor of Engineering at Colorado State University. Graves based his list on a pivotal article he had also published in 1968 in “Trail and Timberline” magazine in which he advocated a 300-foot concept of adjoining saddle to summit rise to determine an individual mountain.

Graves' 300-foot proposal was not original in thought as many think for the 300-foot criteria was first used in the White Mountains of New Hampshire by Nathaniel Goodrich of the Appalachian Mountain Club in 1931 to define the 4,000 footers where “there are a few humps and shoulders which hardly seem to rate as separate mountains” and in Colorado in the San Juans by the San Juan Mountaineers in 1933 to determine a peak from a summit. But there was little need to determine separate mountains except by name as the only relevant list of the time in Colorado was the list of 14,000 foot peaks which were tradition bound.

Graves' article sought to provide an answer to the question of “What is a mountain?” in order to establish an authoritative list of Fourteens in view of the then intense activity of the USGS in resurveying accepted 14,000 foot peaks and potential future ones in ranges like the Sangre de Cristos and Culebra ranges which had no topographic maps at that time. Graves concluded in his article that “a 300-foot cut-off is the only 'nice round number' that hits any sort of large gap on the list.”

The history of “What is a mountain?” in Colorado is a fascinating one of proposals and concepts based on visual observations, climbing difficulties, perceptions, physical characteristics and mathematical formulas that can be traced back to the Georgetown miners of the 1860's who debated whether Torreys was a point of Grays Peak or a separate peak itself. And within that history there are specific reasons why the Colorado Mountain Club considers North Maroon and El Diente as Fourteens, Cameron once was but is no longer and Challenger is not but yet is part of the list of 13,000 foot peaks.

SPENCER SWANGER CLIMBS THE HUNDRED HIGHEST LIST
Spencer Swanger was the 106th person according to the Colorado Mountain Club's list of “Men and Women Who Climbed Them All” to complete climbing the 14,000 foot peaks in 1969. He would write of the Graves list of 100 Highest Peaks that “perhaps because it was a goal that had never been attained and certainly because the pursuit of those 100 peaks would lead to new places, I undertook climbing them.”

It may be surprising today in an era of multi lists that nobody in the one hundred years of Colorado mountain climbing before 1968 had bothered to tabulate a continuing list of peaks beyond the Fourteens. This probably can be attributed to the fact that it took people in that era many years and into decades of time to complete climbing all of the 14,000 foot peaks.

But these “Big 13ers,” all of them less than 200 feet from the 14,000 foot mark were a new world of majestic peaks to be discovered. In a newspaper article Swanger noticed that “as hiking in the high country grew in popularity, spurred by a proliferation of literature about 14ers and an influx of young people to the state, the 14ers were becoming overcrowded.”

It may be somewhat difficult today to understand what Spencer Swanger faced when he set out to climb these “new” peaks on the list beyond the Fourteens. There was very little written about these peaks of which nine did not even have a name. Topographic maps were used not only to locate the peaks but also for roads and trails for access and approach and scrutiny of contour lines for climbing routes.

Spencer Swanger would relate those days to Susan Joy Paul in an article in the “Pikes Pique Newsletter.” “There were no trails, or cairns, or books that showed you where to go. It was a challenge. You had to figure it out and that was really the fun part.”

In a 12 year period from 1965 when he began climbing the Fourteens and until he completed the Hundred Highest in 1977 Spencer Swanger made 312 ascents on 164 different peaks. He returned to certain peaks many times such as making 20 climbs on the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak. He finished the list on Red Mountain when it cost $10 to enter the Taylor Ranch. The first published maps of the locations of Colorado's 100 Highest Mountains was prepared by Spencer Swanger for a newspaper article by George Gladney in the “Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph Saturday Magazine” in October of 1977.

In the beginning he was joined by members of the Colorado Mountain Club but as the peaks became more remote on the list a lack of climbing partners meant he went solo. He also had his share of close calls with rockfall, knocked out cold by lightning on Eolus and completing the cycle on Quandary Peak where he was pinned by a slab avalanche on its lower slopes.

On many of the high 13's he found very little evidence of climbing activity. Peaks like Fletcher, Pacific, Gladstone and Horseshoe had very few names in their registers when registers even existed.

Spencer Swanger made some memorable ascents on the list of Hundred Highest peaks. When he climbed Teakettle Peak there were only 35 names in the summit register. He signed the original register on Ice Mountain when he climbed it in 1970. When he climbed Vermillion Peak he also climbed a lower peak in Ice Lake Basin finding the Golden Horn as a “must” climb. He found the brass marker left in 1932 by the first ascent party wedged in the summit cairn.

As an aside I would later locate and correspond with a member of that first ascent party of 1932 from the Michigan School of Mines. When I climbed the Golden Horn in the late 1980's the brass marker was no longer there.

Spencer Swanger also found more reasons for climbing the Hundred Highest peaks than just reaching their summits. “There are also lakes, streams, and alpine basins which fill the mountaineer's heart with the joy of being in wild places,” he wrote.

Two of Spencer Swanger's climbs of the Hundred Highest peaks were historic in nature on Dallas Peak and Thunder Mountain now known as Thunder Pyramid.

THUNDER MOUNTAIN
On a Saturday and Sunday of August 1 and 2, 1970 the Pikes Peak Group of the CMC scheduled a climb of Peak 13,932 in the Elk Mountains with Spencer Swanger as trip leader. The trip announcement read:

Unnamed (13,932') south of Pyramid Peak
A challenging climb on the ridge south of Pyramid,
this requires a competent and relatively small party.
Rope will be taken. Round trip 10 miles,
elevation gain 4300 feet. Leader: Spencer Swanger.

The six man party included Stewart Green then a seventeen year old and now a noted photographer, author and climber, Gordon Blanz, Jack L. Harry, Bill Graves the originator of the Hundred Highest list and Carson Black whom Darin mentions and pictures in his trip report. Their route went up the loose rock of the west face to the summit where they found no cairn or register or other trace by anyone. It was probably the first time the peak had been climbed.

Various names were suggested for the peak until “finally the name Thunder Mountain was suggested and no sooner were the words uttered than the sky gave forth with a rumbling acquiescence of thunder. The name was accepted in the face of heavenly approval and inscribed in the register.” It was also sometimes called Thunder Peak but by 1979 climbers knew the mountain as Thunder Pyramid.

DALLAS PEAK
In July of 1976 Spencer Swanger made a true pioneering solo climb of the barely known Dallas Peak. Swanger wrote an article “Fascination and A Near Escape” in “Trail and Timberline” magazine which in my estimation is one of the finest articles of climbing and exploratory adventure written about a Colorado peak. Unable to find any information about the peak Swanger wrote, “if you can't find information on a climb from known sources, then there is just one thing to do – go and find the way by yourself.” Few people today will tackle a major Colorado climb in this manner.

Swanger approached from the north in the Blue Lakes Basin as he did not have a guidebook to tell him the southern approach from Telluride was easier. He made the difficult traverse of the ridge east of Dallas to the base of the mighty tower of the peak. He went left to traverse to the west side where he encountered the smooth wall that separates the two summits of Dallas.

At 4 p.m. he crossed the spine of the ridge to the east of Dallas and spied a route on the north face of vertical rotting snow banks where one's knees brushed the snow and ledges of loose rock and mossy goop that would disappear into retreat and rock pitches of cracks and chimneys all above 1500 feet of exposure. The last two hundred feet took him one and a half hours of intense concentration to reach the summit. “There was simply no room for even a small error – the exposure was always there.” He rated the crux pitch to the summit as 5.2 to 5.5.

Swanger's descent off the peak was just as harrowing. He had a rope but didn't trust the loose rock of the upper ledges for an anchor as he down climbed by lowering himself around corners and backing down the snow pitches and then finally to one rappel. At one point without warning a snow ledge broke away about 100 feet above him with a rock the size of half a picnic table hurling downward towards him. Swanger ducked left but the rock scraped his head scalping two round spots clean of flesh. With that near miss the worst seemed over now as he continued down from the peak he had wanted most.

Swanger recommended that Dallas not be tried as a solo climb and that crampons, ice axe, rope, hardware and hard hats should be used. As he wrote, “I left two hard hats in the car back at the trailhead and wished I had worn them both.” Although there probably have been subsequent solo climbs most everyone today that climbs Dallas Peak uses a rope and wears a hard hat.

Because of the difficulty of the climb and the absence of a cairn on this outstanding peak, Swanger thought he might be the first on its summit. Fascinated by reading his article I wrote Mr. Swanger a letter as I knew Dallas Peak had been climbed by Everett Long and Don McBride on the 1934 CMC Blue Lakes Outing. Everett Long who was still alive at the time also wrote about his earlier ascent. Swanger had climbed much of the route that Long and McBride did but they chose the south summit route as opposed to the north face route that Swanger climbed. Another note provided information that Stuart Krebs of Montrose climbed Dallas Peak in the 1950's from Yankee Boy Basin and traversed over the summit of Gilpin Peak enroute to Dallas. Spencer Swanger's climb of Dallas Peak in 1976 appears to be the third ascent. He considered it as “perhaps . . . the toughest.”

CENTENNIAL CLIMBERS
In 1987 the Colorado Mountain Club published a list of 22 Centennial Climbers who had climbed the Hundred Highest peaks. The name “Centennials” or “Centennial” peaks was probably first used by Earl Voight when he completed the list in 1983 as the 11th finisher. Among the climbers on that list were Mike Garrett in 1979 and Bob Martin in 1983 who published the book “Colorado's High Thirteeners” in 1984. Their book filled the void in information for climbing these peaks and standardized the 300-foot criteria proposed by Professor Graves in 1968 for the Hundred Highest and further lists to come.

Also on that list is Jane Koerner who became the first woman and 6th person with her then husband Bill Koerner to complete the Hundred Highest in 1981. In February of this year I attended a short presentation in Breckenridge by Jane Parnell (Koerner) regarding her recently published mountaineering memoir “Off Trail: Finding My Way Home in the Colorado Rockies.” I asked her how she came to climb the Hundred Highest peaks. “It was because of Spencer Swanger's article,” she said, “otherwise we would have never known. There were no guidebooks in those days. But we were going to do it.” When I asked her if they used a rope on Dallas she replied, “Oh, Yes!”

After completing the Hundred Highest list, Spencer Swanger abandoned climbing further lists “as the importance of checking off mountains on a prescribed list lost its charm.” He found that the best climbs were the ones he wanted to climb because they looked interesting especially in the Grenadiers and Needles. He would write of those mountains that “all are peaks that fulfill my boyhood imagination of how peaks are supposed to look.”

Spencer Swanger was a native of Reading, Pennsylvania and began climbing mountains in California in 1960. After a time in the Army he moved to Colorado Springs in 1965 where he worked in the Postal Service until his retirement in 1992. He joined the Colorado Mountain Club in 1966 where he was a trip leader for 40 years and climbed some 700 mountains. He also was an accomplished photographer with credits in several prominent publications. His travels took him to more than 30 countries on five continents. Spencer Swanger died in a fall while climbing in the Dolomites of Italy in 2010. He was 70 years old.

So in closing that is something of what I know about the history of Spencer Swanger becoming the first to climb the Hundred Highest peaks in Colorado. And when one knows something of the history of these peaks it really is a big deal to complete them although the fanfare may be more on a personal level now than the wider acclaim of those who finished the list in earlier years when these peaks were hardly known.

According to the latest Colorado Mountain Club list of finishers of the 100 Highest Peaks, Darin Baker joined Spencer Swanger as the 249th person when he climbed Dallas Peak on 7/9/17 as his final peak. So congrats Mr. Darin on a big deal and climb on to your next goal. And I note from your trip report and pictures that you had a partner, used a rope and wore a hard hat while climbing Dallas Peak just as Spencer Swanger advised some forty years ago.
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Re: Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by d_baker »

Thanks for the article, Gore Galore...fun read down memory lane on a Sunday morning while drinking my coffee!

I had written a trip report to honor Spence in 2010, but had recently taken it down due to the photos being linked to a site that no longer allows free 3rd party hosting. But here it is anyway: https://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=8591
Maybe I'll take the time today to put the photos back in the report by uploading to the site. [EDIT: report now has photos once again.]
Below is a sample of one of the missing photos...

HPIM4151.JPG
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Last edited by d_baker on Sun Mar 04, 2018 3:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by Mtnman200 »

This is from the original Dallas Peak summit register, which was actually placed on Dallas Peak in 1978 by Dick Dietz, Stan Laidlaw, and Chris Pizzo.

Dick Dietz backdated and signed in for Spencer Swanger and Dick Schohl.
03 - Dallas Peak Summit Register.jpg
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Last edited by Mtnman200 on Sun Mar 04, 2018 10:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by Mtnman200 »

Here's the first couple of pages from the original 1970 Thunder Pyramid summit register. Spencer wrote the peak name as "Thunder Mtn" and someone later changed the name on the cover to "Thunder Pyramid." (Thanks to Susan Joy Paul for sending me a scan of the entire register.)
Thunder Pyramid Register pages 1-2_Page_2.jpg
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Thunder Pyramid Register pages 1-2_Page_1.jpg
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Last edited by Mtnman200 on Sun Mar 04, 2018 10:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by seano »

A good piece of history, and thanks for posting photos of the original registers. Very few of those remain, especially in Colorado. If you find one, please photograph it.
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Re: Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by gore galore »

Thanks Darin for reposting your Maroon Peak trip report about Spencer Swanger which I looked for when writing the above. And also to Mtnman for the Thunder Mountain and Dallas Peak registers which show those pioneering climbers on these peaks. One thing I noticed on the Thunder Mountain register was the Pyramid Peak - Thunder Mtn. - East Maroon Pass traverse by the Swiss mountain guide Willy Oehrli in 1974. This predates the credit given to Earl Voight and Dave Anschicks for the ridge traverse in 1980 as noted in William Bueler's book "Roof of the Rockies." Another small instance of Colorado mountaineering history.
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Re: Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by Monster5 »

gore galore wrote:This predates the credit given to Earl Voight and Dave Anschicks for the ridge traverse in 1980 as noted in William Bueler's book "Roof of the Rockies." Another small instance of Colorado mountaineering history.
I really need to buy that book, but is there more info on their route? East Maroon Pass to Precarious, et al?

Again, great write up with some history.
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Re: Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by susanjoypaul »

Great post! Thanks for taking the time to write it up. Spencer's name still comes up often in conversations between us old folks.

On a side note, I've been bugging Stewart for over a year to do a trip report on that first climb of Thunder Pyramid. He has one of those crazy memories where he remembers everything he climbs (I do not, which is why I have to write everything down immediately). Maybe this will motivate him to get on the stick!

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Re: Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by docjohn »

Great historical article; I am delighted to see my name in the register, I climbed the peak with Bill and Jane Koerner in 1980 while I was a physician in Telluride. My fondest memory is keeping the crampons on for the mid 5th class summit pitch to learn that the front points work well on fingertip ledges!
Of interest is the name Dave O'Brien listed before us. He had done the peak by climbing the south face. A number of years later Dave died in a Telluride avalanche.
Also of interest to fans of history, in Telluride I received a visit from Bob Martin and Art Tauchen about the route. I clued them in on the approach hiking route that Bob wrote up in his first edition 13er book, which I had found by linking existing trails with elk paths into Mill Creek Basin to a camp at 10,300 ft. I recommend this peak in June as a snow climb. Faster over the volcanic scree!
...let me remind you of the pilgrim who asked for an audience with the Dalai Lama.
He was told he must first spend five years in contemplation. After the five years, he was ushered into the Dalai Lama's presence, who said, 'Well, my son, what do you wish to know?' So the pilgrim said, 'I wish to know the meaning of life, father.'
And the Dalai Lama smiled and said, 'Well my son, life is like a beanstalk, isn't it?'

procol harum
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Re: Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by gore galore »

docjohn's post about some of the names on the Dallas Peak register prompts me to add some additional history notes about some of those other Hundred Highest climbers on both registers.
Dallas Peak Register
Dick Dietz and Stan Laidlaw were the 2nd and 3rd finishers of the Hundred Highest in 1979. They climbed 112 summits plus 13,799' Organ Mountain becoming the first to climb all of the "13.8-ers." It took them nine years to complete their project. According to their trip report they felt it was only necessary to use a rope on Jagged and Dallas succeeding on the later on their third attempt. The hardest peak to reach for them was Peak 13,895' on a circuitous route from the Wheeler Geological Area.
R. J. Campbell was the 16th Hundred Highest finisher in 1984. He was among the six man party that made the first winter ascent of the Lizard Head in January of 1970.
Mike Garratt was the 4th finisher in 1979 and probably the first to climb the Hundred Highest peaks twice. He was also the first to climb all of the 636 peaks over 13,000 feet in 1987 and the second to climb the 676 peaks between 12,000 and 13,000 feet in 1994.
Jim Hoerlein was the 9th finisher of the Hundred Highest in 1983. He did the original work in compiling the list of Colorado peaks above 13,000 feet in 1977.
As noted Bill Koerner and Jane Koerner were the 5th and 6th finishers in 1981 with Jane Koerner as the first woman to complete the Hundred Highest which took them nearly a decade.
John Pelner was the 7th finisher completing the Hundred Highest with the Koerner's on Peak 13,803 in 1981.
Dave Anschicks was the 12th finisher in 1983.
Earl Voight, Jr. was the 11th finisher in 1983. He climbed 114 13,800+ "Centennial" peaks plus two 13,799's "out of fear that a subsequent official list might recognize these marginally qualified peaks," as he wrote in his trip note.
Thunder Mountain Register
Kathleen Brennan was the 26th finisher in 1988 and is the third woman finisher of the Hundred Highest after the second, Jean Aschenbrenner in 1983.
Mike Kent was the 51st finisher in 1991.
Ken Nolan was the 24th finisher in 1987 and is known for additional peak bagging lists and the Fourteener Grid.
Bob Alden was the 27th finisher in 1988.
Last edited by gore galore on Thu Mar 08, 2018 9:40 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by eskermo »

So much great history here. We need more of this on the forum! Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Spencer Swanger Becomes the First to Climb Colorado's Hundred Highest Peaks, 1977

Post by docjohn »

As regards Gore Galore's comments "As noted Bill Koerner and Jane Koerner were the 5th and 6th finishers in 1981 with Jane Koerner as the first woman to complete the Hundred Highest which took them nearly a decade.", please add my name, John Pelner, to the seventh finisher. Bill, Jane and I, finished the 100's, climbing 13803. we were accompanied by Kathleen Brennan, Larry and Bobby Arnold, and my brother Mark Pelner. The climb was miserable on a rainy, fog bound day, but we were not about to turn around. finished with a soak in Conundum.
...let me remind you of the pilgrim who asked for an audience with the Dalai Lama.
He was told he must first spend five years in contemplation. After the five years, he was ushered into the Dalai Lama's presence, who said, 'Well, my son, what do you wish to know?' So the pilgrim said, 'I wish to know the meaning of life, father.'
And the Dalai Lama smiled and said, 'Well my son, life is like a beanstalk, isn't it?'

procol harum
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