In the glory days of eastern climbing—back in the 70’s and 80’s—Cal Swoager was a man on mission. His mission
was to climb every route he possibly could. He had fought hard in the Vietnam War, and returned with a burning passion that he applied in earnest to
Being from Western Pennsylvania, Cal didn’t have the opportunities for nearby rock like other climbers did, but he drove whatever the distance to the requisite
crags of the day like The Gunks, Seneca Rocks and nearby Cooper’s Rock. There he climbed countless established routes, but was more focused on pioneering
some of the most epic routes of the day. Poorly protected, bold and ballsy routes. New routes that would test his skills, and suck every drop of fortitude
out of him. Routes like Seneca Rock’s The Bell (5.12 X) and hidden northern West Virginia Woodland Wall’s classic Repent or Parish (5.11c/d
R/X). And there were stacks of routes where you’d have to man-up to have even the chance of success.
Yet perhaps Cal had his biggest influence at the then emerging New River Gorge, where he grabbed a field day of first ascents built on power, endurance
and sheer determination. Routes that would take every last bit of strength one could muster to make to the top without pumping out and melting down.
There he had the vision to pick classic line after line.
At Beauty Mountain he did the first ascent of a collection of superb, strenuous cracks like Chasin the Wind (5.11b), Into the Wind (5.11b) and his most classic routes at Beauty, Left Son of Thunder (5.11d) and Right Son of Thunder (5.11c). At the Bridge Buttress
Cal’s impact is also felt with ultra-classic routes like Angel’s Arête (5.10a R), Raptured (5.11a) and the aesthetic Left and Right Gemini Cracks, (5.10a) and (5.10c) respectively.
In the fall of 1985, just when the golden days of New River climbing was about to launch into its most robust chapter of first ascents, Cal began to have
second thoughts about climbing. Over the previous few years Cal had given up his partying ways to follow a Born Again Christian lifestyle. And he had
recently fallen in love with his fabulous bride, Terry.
But he mustered one last effort and grabbed perhaps his greatest prize of all: The Diamond Point classic Leave It to Jesus (5.11d). If there is
a route that sums up Cal’s climbing style, it is Leave It to Jesus. Looking up at the route from the ground you’d swear it was 5.13, but Cal
tackled it in his best style and it ended up being easier than it appeared. His vision for the unclimbed shined again.
the next 15 years Cal left his love for climbing and followed his spiritual path, training to become a Christian Minister. Yet his passion for climbing
never fully left him, and eventually he returned to climbing, having to lose over 100 pounds of weight he had gained. It was a no-brainer challenge
for Cal, climbing meant that much to him. And the majority of close friends he had climbed with over the years were there to share ropes with Cal.
It was like coming home.
In recent years Cal’s aging clock seemed to have stood frozen in time. He climbed with that old fervor and focus that had once lit up the climbing scene.
Cal was back in form, and his close climbing friends welcomed his return with open arms.
On February 28, Cal was soloing an easy route at Coll’s Cove, Pennsylvania in order to set up a top rope when his time came suddenly to an end. As he approached
the finish of the route a foothold broke, sending him to the ground. He never regained consciousness.
Having first met Cal in 1978, I am thankful for the many years of climbing we spent together. Grateful to have called him a friend and to have spent countless
days on the stone sharing a rope. Sharing the excitement of yet another runout, scary lead that would require us to show the core values that make
climbing what it is.
Cal is survived by his wife Terry, sister Melissa Swoager Egan of Chicago, and an outstanding group of climbers who have known and loved Cal for four decades.
I’ll see you on the other side of the hill my friend, Rest in Peace.
Cal Swoager Memorial Fund