Legendary Climber Cal Swoager Dies at 66Cal Swoager, 66, was killed in a free-soloing accident at Coll’s Cove, Pennsylvania on February 28, 2016.
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 rock climbing.
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.
Ryan Johnson, 34, died in the Mendenhall Towers, outside Juneau, Alaska, sometime in the days following March 5, 2018. He had just completed a first ascent on the North Face of the Main Tower with his partner, Marc-André Leclerc, who also died on the descent. Below, Samuel Johnson (unrelated) remembers his close friend and partner Ryan—his achievements, his passion, his warmth, his kindness.read more
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“I was completely detached from the world below. There was nothing but climbing. No goal, no future, no past. I was climbing in the here and now. One swing of the ice axe after the other, one step after the other.”read more