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 mountaingirl1961 » Sun Aug 15, 2010 4:54 pm

It broke my heart to get this news... Spence was one of the most special people in my life, and I know that he and Karen were so looking forward to spending her retirement together.

Every conversation with Spence was an adventure... a meandering journey through a maze of topics, some of them intensely personal, all held while under a haze of hypoxia. Spence listened to my heartbreak over my divorce, my trials and tribulations as a 40-something single woman, my excitement over my (now) new husband as we teetered along ridgelines or scrambled up peaks. Ken and I were married on Thursday, and Spence never got to meet him. I moved away... we were going to Patagonia in January with him and Karen, and I was so looking forward to watching those two special men get to know each other.

I remember the first time meeting Spence, on a CMC trip to the Grand Canyon. What a character... a 60-year-old with the body of a buff 40-year-old athlete and a 20-something sparkle in his eye. That was ten years ago now and I remember being blown away by how strong he was, jumping around from rock to rock to get the next best picture of the trip. He ate nothing but ramen... on that backpacking trip and on any of the others we shared.

My life is so much richer for having had the honor of knowing him. I will miss him terribly.

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Re: Spencer Swanger (events leading up to his death)

Postby donnagail » Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:05 pm

There are rumors floating around that are not factual on the events leading up to Spence's death. This trip was Spence and Karen's third Italy Via Ferrata trip, another climber's second trip and the first V.F. trip for the rest of the group. We had been climbing for one week when the accident occurred.

We would all like to find some justification and reasoning as to why this could happen to such a seasoned mountaineer. Those of us present on the mountain that fatal day are also trying to understand how this could have happened in an area the rest of us passed through safely (without Spencer's assistance), yet this same area is where he lost his life.

Via Ferratas are rated 1-5 (A-D) The via ferrata that we were on is rated a 2B. We were told by the SAR volunteer that rating might apply to perhaps September. He said It is a north facing route that retains snow most of the year, sometimes even in high summer resulting in buried cables. He said 2010 was a heavy snowfall year.

We were 2 nights into our 8 night hut to hut trip, hiking to the 3rd hut, along the Alpinisteig, (the 2B via ferrata). We kick stepped across several steep snow fields due to the cables being buried under the snow. The first 2 were short, so we did nothing more but kick stepped across. The 3rd and 4th were longer so Spence took out his rope, kick stepped across the snow field while one of the girls belayed him, and attached the rope to the opposite side. No problems. We all crossed safely.

The 5th snow field was also covering the cable, but there was a steep scree path running down along the side of the snow so once again Spence pulled out the rope and we all proceeded down the scree via rope. When we reached the bottom, we had to hike back up the opposite slope to locate the next via ferrata cable. The group waited in a small area while Spence threw the rope down to his wife Karen and proceeded down that same steep scree slope with his hiking poles. Incredible talent! When he safely reached the bottom, the rest of the group decided to move farther up the trail since the area we were standing was a small surface area, not a lot of room for Karen and Spence once they hiked up the slope to where we were standing. That was the last time most of us saw Spence.

To locate the next via ferrata, we walked between and over some small rocks and into an area that was between the rock wall and a small snow berm, (which had pulled away from the wall as it melted). To drop down into this safe area between the rock wall on our left, and the snow berm on our right, we had to get over a rock, 2-3 feet high that was between the wall and the snow. Most of us straddled the rock to get over it, and then began walking along the path between the wall and the snow. I was clipped into the end of the next section of the via ferrata, when Karen, Spence's wife reached me and asked me to put the rope in her backpack. Spence was about 8 to 10 feet behind us. Just as we started moving forward, Karen heard Spence make a short yelping sound. She turned her head back towards him, to witness him rolling three times toward the edge of the cliff.

The most likely scenario is that instead of straddling the rock that was at the entrance to the path, he stepped on top of it, with wet boots. The top of the rock touched the snow, so it probably was wet, and may have been icy, as well. Because he was rolling so fast when Karen looked around, he must have fallen backward and immediately started into a side roll, without knowing the precipice was near. The ground where Spence fell was not snowy or icy...just bare and downsloping toward the cliff. He fell approximately 150 meters. There was no other sound from Spence. He was gone.

This sequence of events was confirmed by the guides that recovered Spence and rescued us. After everyone was safely taken off the route, the guides flew back up to the scene of the accident. They found no slide marks on the snow or the ground, no evidence of a struggle, which upheld the account Karen gave them. They suggested that because Spence was probably thrown backwards off of the wet rock, he may have hit his head enough to be stunned, and unable to help arrest his fall. They were also able to confirm that Spence died instantly of massive head injuries.

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby TomPierce » Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:21 pm

Such a shame, what a real loss to the climbing community. Thanks for posting this, Donna.

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby susanjoypaul » Thu Aug 19, 2010 2:54 pm

If you are planning on attending the memorial for Spence next week, here are the details:

Where: Garden of the Gods Trading Post

When: Tuesday, August 24th, from 4:30 p.m -7:30 p.m.

Itinerary: 4:45 p.m. - 5:45 p.m. - Family members will share their memories of Spence, and anyone else who is interested in taking a brief moment to speak about him may do so at this time.

Dress: Casual to whatever level of formal wear you feel is appropriate. Keep in mind that Spencer liked red, and often carried a red handkerchief for his photographic subjects to don while out in the mountains. "Something red" would be a fitting tribute on this day.

The rest of the time will be for mingling with old friends, sharing memories together, and paying our respects to the family of Spencer Swanger.

There will be a second scrapbook of memories book, for anyone who would like to sign a card, or add a photo. There will also be a rolling presentation featuring some of Spencer's photographic works from the 1960s through the present.

Light snacks will be from Spence's favorite food group, the "orange food group." Doritos, Cheetos, Fritos... and of course, Cheez Whiz.

Beverages will also be available, as well as a cash bar. Bring a few dollars for a glass of wine or beer, and toast our dear friend.

Again, the family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the rescue squad that helped out Spencer's climbing team in the Dolomites. If you would like to make a donation, Spence's wife Karen has set up an account locally where you can submit a check for this fund. Make the check out to Karen Morris, and write on the memo section that it is a donation for Spencer Swanger, Account S-10. Donations should be sent to Harrison District 2 Federal Credit Union, 1060 Harrison Road, Colorado Springs, CO 80905. All contributions will go directly to support Sesto Alpine Rescue.

Finally, here is the weather forecast for Garden of the Gods. Please check and see if rain gear might be appropriate, as we may be spending some time outside enjoying the beautiful greenery and views of the park.

See you all there.

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby Tigerbear » Mon Aug 23, 2010 5:48 pm

Spence, In remberance of you I will always treasure what you taught me. First and foremost , in order to not be married to the mountains in this crazy addiction, you said to make sure I gave enough time to my husband! Because of you , I have that awareness :) The labor day weekend we spent together and climbed 13 13ers, you were so humble! I just had to tell each person we met that you where the first to summit the 100 highest! And then you finally gave in and ate a hot dog! It wasn't in the orange food group! I will carry on your tradition!
I remember trying to keep up with you to summit shavano and tab, you taught me to keep an even pace! We got to glissade down both that day.
That crazy incredibly windy day we tried to summit sherman from the east. We decided sherman wasn't worth it and turned around.
You taught me to stay off of new 5 to 6 inches of snow in the spring, so I turned our group around on Drift Peak.
Thank you Spence for the memories and sharing some of your knowledge with me. I will sadly miss you and wish I would have spent more time with you. :wink:
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 susanjoypaul » Tue Aug 24, 2010 8:53 pm

Thanks to all who attended the service this evening, "Spence Swanger, a Celebration of Life." It was a beautiful gathering with a lot of tears, and even more laughter, as we gathered to recall the best of times with our dear friend.

From the military honors, to the presentation of Spencer's photos from the 1960s to the present, to all the photo albums, collages, old books, newspapers, and classic gear, to the memories shared by those closest to Spence - his first wife, Susan, his daughters Heidi and Christina, and of course, his dear Karen - to the many stories we shared amongst ourselves, this was a wonderful tribute to a man who touched many hearts.

It was sad under the circumstances, yet still so heart-warming to see so many old friends, and to put faces with the names of new ones who've posted here, or sent personal emails over the past few weeks. Thanks to all for your kind words and all the hugs, too.

Heidi and Christina would like to name a Colorado mountain after their dad, and together we're working with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to make that happen. There is a five year wait period, but plenty of things to do in that time, such as selecting an appropriate peak. We have an ally in Dan Anderson, the C.M.C Toponymics Committee Chairman, to assist us in wading through the specifics of policy and procedure for this task.

In the meantime, we would like to get the word out that we're accepting "candidate unnamed peaks" for this tribute. Criteria includes that the mountain cannot be located in a wilderness area, and should not be located in an area that is likely to be designated as a wilderness area in the next five years. And, of course, it should be a handsome and rugged peak, like Spence. If you would like to nominate a peak, please post or email a photo, description, and location and we'll add it to our list of candidates.

Thanks again for all your support during the past month. I can't tell you how many people approached me tonight, to tell me how much all the photos, stories and comments on this thread - provided by many of you - have helped them cope with this tragedy. On their behalf, I thank you for taking the time and making the effort to share your thoughts and memories. It meant a lot, to a lot of people. If you weren't there tonight, give yourself a big hug, or two, or a hundred. I lost count. And, as Karen reminded us tonight, continue to honor this man, Spence Swanger, by going forward with life, laughter, and especially, love.

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby tmathews » Tue Aug 24, 2010 9:09 pm

Thanks, Susan. I would've liked to have attended, but I never met Spence so I figured I would leave more space for those who were a part of his life. He and everyone else were definitely in my thoughts tonight.

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby HunkyDunk » Wed Aug 25, 2010 7:45 am

Thank you Susan for helping get this all together. It was a very nice memorial and I saw a few friends while there also. It was good to see Karen again and to give her my condolences in person. I wish I would have met you too but, as you know, there were many there. Thanks again for your help and support.
I love to be in the mountain air, simply because I am happiest there!!,,,,www.ricksportraits.com

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby Adventurgal » Wed Aug 25, 2010 12:28 pm

Well said, Susan. What a great friend you've been in pulling everything together so all could honor him and share his life. Well done, Susan!

(Sorry to miss the service last night.)

I love the idea of a peak named after Spence.

Mt. Spencer....Spencer Peak.....Swanger Mtn....all are good. I'll be interested to follow the progress, and one day climb a peak in honor of him and his love of people and the mountains.


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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby d_baker » Wed Aug 25, 2010 12:41 pm

Susan, what about a star on Hollywood Blvd. too?! ;)
(after all, he worked in Hollywood! I didn't know that until last night.)

There's plenty of UN's out there that deserve names, hopefully something will work out.


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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby susanjoypaul » Wed Aug 25, 2010 8:08 pm

Aw, you should have come anyway, Terry. It was a friendly group. We would have made room.

It really was very nice, Rick - I wish I could have met you too. And yeah, Adventurgal, it will be pretty cool to see this thing through to fruition.

Darin, I think we've all learned something new about Spence over the past few weeks. I didn't know that he ran the Pikes Peak Marathon and Ascent, or that he served in the U.S. Army, or that he knew so much about gardening, and investing, and southwestern history. Or that he liked classical music so much. And Kurt Vonnegut. Or that he had so many amazing women in his life, and not just all those hiking partners, but his wonderful family. And yeah, Hollywood. Who knew? May we all be half as interesting at some point in our lives!

Since you seem to like doing those unnamed peaks, keep an eye out for us, will'ya? Thanks.

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Re: Spencer Swanger

Postby skidaddle » Wed Aug 25, 2010 9:19 pm

This is very sad. I have known Spence for many years, but never really well. Back in the 80's, Spence, Al B., and I climbed Mt. Elbert with our skis, then skied down. It was a 12 hour long event and Spence stopped a lot and took photographs. That is a very cool shot on Lou Dawson's 14er Vol. 2 book that Spence took. Also, I really enjoyed talking with Spence and Karen at the gym, hearing about his canyoneering, trips to the San Juans, and trips to the Dolomites. We will miss him.


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