Cal Swoager's Legacy
This is a look at his climbing life as told by his friends and family.
A Life Transformed by Jesus
by Kristin Anderson, a SRCFC Board Member, Spring 2016
My favorite memories of Cal Swoager are from a trip to Seneca Rocks (WV) one summer a few years back. I remember him enthusiastically yelling encouragement to me from the main wall (Southeast Face) of Seneca all the way across to the South Pillar where I was leading up a classic trad route. Back when Cal was pushing the limits and establishing new routes in the 1970s & 1980s, there weren't a lot of women leading trad, so he was always excited to encourage me in my climbing pursuits.
Cal pioneered some impressive routes that I will probably never try (such as The Bell, 5.12R/X), and many others that I still look forward to climbing. I really enjoyed hearing Cal's stories, and climbing with one of the legends that helped to establish areas that so many of us enjoy today.
On that same trip to WV, Cal gave me a brass nut to protect the cruxy start of a classic trad line I wanted to lead. I sent the route, and he told me to keep it, since it happened to be my birthday. It has remained on my rack ever since!
Cal was not only an encourager on the rock, but in life. His passion for Christ showed in the way he took interest in our lives and our stories, encouraged us with scripture, and prayed for us.
We first met Cal Swoager climbing at the Junkyard Buttress at the New River Gorge about five years ago. Jed Johnson, a fellow Solid Rocker, had struck up a conversation with him. At first I was unaware that Cal had actually put up a few of the routes we were climbing that day (New River Gunks & Team Jesus), among many others in the gorge.
Though I can't say I ever got to know Cal well, we did have the privilege of climbing, sharing devotions, and fellowshipping together a few times at the New River Gorge, Seneca Rocks, and the Red River Gorge. Cal was always eager to climb, share about the goodness of God, and offer up prayers and encouragement.
I was saddened to hear of Cal's recent passing, and I pulled out my New River Gorge Rock Climbs (Mike Williams, 2010) guidebook to search for one little sentence I remembered about him. It took me a while to find it, so I enjoyed reading about the history of climbing at the New, and reminiscing about what it would have been like to be among those developing this awesome area.
The guide attributes many first ascents to Cal, but my favorite is the first sentence of the description of the four star route, Leave it to Jesus, 5.11c, "The ascent of this route marked Cal Swoager's transformation from hard partier to born-again Christian. It's that good!" I love that Cal's testimony made it into the description of the route pictured on the opening page of the guidebook.
I have often wondered what Cal's peers in the climbing community thought of him when he chose to follow Christ in the mid-1980s. I hope that they learned a little about God from Cal's life; I know I did. I pray that I will show God's love to the climbers around me by taking genuine interest in their lives, encouraging them, and praying for them, as Cal did. May we all take his four star advice to worry a little less and, simply, leave it to Jesus.
By Calvin Landrus, SRCFC Executive Director
On Sunday, February 28th, 2016, we lost another member of the SRCFC community to a climbing accident. Cal Swoager, 66 years old, was a legendary climber for the East Coast back in the 70’s and 80’s. He, along with his wife Terry, had been Solid Rock members since 1990. Please pray for Terry and Cal’s sister, Melissa. (Cal did not have children.) I have spoken with Terry and she sends along her appreciation for your prayers and wants you to know that God is good even in the middle of the storm.
Read Details of the Accident posted by Rock and Ice.