Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

In Memory of Eric Metcalf…

This post was intended to be a trip report from our adventures at Moore’s Wall this past Sunday, but in light of the events that transpired after we left, the usual recounting of the routes we climbed hardly seemed relevant.  The North Carolina climbing community suffered a tragic loss Sunday evening.  Eric Metcalf, a 19 year old from Cary, NC, fell over 250 feet to his death in a rappelling accident in the Sentinel Buttress area of Moore’s Wall.  A lot of the details are still unknown, but I felt led to share my perspective.  My husband, son, and a friend of mine climbed at the North End of Moore’s on Sunday.  It was hot, and we’d been in Winston-Salem with family since Friday, so we cut our day short and got back to the car around 5:30.  A friend of mine works in the ER at the hospital closest to the crag, and around 8:00 one of my climbing partners got a text from her.  She said that she had just gotten word that paramedics were bringing in a young man who had fallen at Moore’s.  She had known that we were out there and was checking in to make sure that we were all okay.  She texted us again about 30 minutes later, telling us that he was pronounced dead on the scene.  

I didn’t find out who the climber was until Tuesday morning.  I recognized the name and was very saddened to realize that I did indeed know this young man.  I used to see him all the time at Triangle Rock Club back when we lived in Raleigh.  He was just in high-school back then, and I didn’t know him well, but enough to always say hi and make small talk.  In fact I have a vivid memory of a humorous exchange between he and I at one point when I was very pregnant with C.  It was getting near the end and the least bit of activity left me wildly out of breath.  I remember being lowered down from a route (probably one of the token vertical routes that I’d had memorized for weeks).  My feet touched the ground and I just stood there for a minute trying to catch my breath, when I looked up and saw Eric with a couple of his friends standing nearby.  This must have been quite a sight, as it’s not like the gym was overrun with many giant-bellied ladies still trying to climb. To be honest I felt a bit ridiculous in front of this high school kid, feeling rather vulnerable as I struggled with the logistics of bending down to take off my climbing shoes.   But to his credit, he was tactful enough to resist any chuckles or giggles.  Instead he just smiled at me and said, “That’s awesome,” and went back to bouldering with his buddies.  I’m not sure why that memory sticks out in my mind.  I’d completely forgotten about it until yesterday.  But regardless, it seemed an appropriate story to share at this time.

Even though I didn’t know Eric very well, there are many, many people who not only knew him well, but I’m sure loved him fiercely.  As I sat beside my son’s crib on Sunday night, holding his hand while he fell asleep, I couldn’t help but think about Eric’s mother and the fact that she’ll never get to hold her son’s hand again.  My heart aches for this boy’s family and friends.  This is truly a tragic event, and it’s been a struggle to organize my thoughts into a succinct post.  

Although it hasn’t been confirmed, as of right now it is believed that Eric failed to clip both strands of rope into his rappel device.  If this is true then that means this accident would have never happened had Eric test-weighted the rope to double-check the system before coming off of his personal anchor.  The idea that this tragedy was something that was completely preventable by a routine safety check that should be second nature to experienced climbers is heart-wrenching, to say the least.  For those of us that are out on the rock every weekend, it’s easy to forget that rock climbing is a sport where certain mistakes are not allowed, not even once.  Please, please, please don’t cut corners when it comes to safety, and don’t allow your climbing partners to do so either.

But rather than ending with a hollow word about safety, I’d prefer to let this post finish on a more positive note.  I know that many of you who are reading this knew Eric Metcalf in one capacity or another, so I’d like to ask that if you have a story/tribute to share in his memory, that you do so in the comment thread.  Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding his death, Eric was full of life, and was a bright spot in this world to many.  He deserves to be remembered as such…

And for those interested, here’s a link to an article in the Raleigh News and Observer, as well as 2 links showing Eric and two of his life’s passions – climbing and music.  There will be a memorial service on Sunday morning at 10:00 am at Triangle Rock Club.









12 Responses to “In Memory of Eric Metcalf…”

  1. Benito

    I didn’t know Eric, I have seen him around a few times, but we weren’t friends. However, I read the N & O article on him and wow…what a bright spot in humanity. I know he will be missed.


  2. Manuela Eilert

    I’ve been following the news and forums on this and it makes me incredibly sad… It is always tough when tragedy strikes but even tougher when it hits our own climbing community. I did not know Eric personally but everything I know of him now tells me this is a very sad loss for the world…


    • I know someone in Eric’s family and was asked to pass on that Eric’s memorial service will take place Sunday at 10am at Triangle Rock Club.

  3. Eric Zschiesche

    Sometimes,… the events we grapple with, seem too difficult for thoughts and words,…. yet, somehow we try to understand….. The tragic death of Eric Metcalf inverts much of what we understand to be the natural order of existence, insomuch that the young should live,… and that we are all able to arrive at old age, before death calls our name.
    Alas, this is not always the case,… and all we can do is try ( the best we can ) to deal with these most difficult of challenges. I did not know Eric personally,… though shared passions have a way of amplifying the common thread that connects us all. To his family and friends, my deep sympathies and condolences to you,… at this time of great loss and difficulty.


  4. Matthew Wall

    Eric was one of the first people I met when I joined my Boy Scout Troop five years ago. Being one of the older scouts, he helped me achieve my first rank. I was only 11 years old then and can clearly remember being quite scared to be talking to someone so much older and experienced than me. But he was very nice and patient with me. He always helped others and acted as a role model to me and my friends. He showed me how a Scout was supposed to act and I did and do strive to become more like him. Eric has made my Scouting experience and life so much better and I wish I could thank him for it properly.


  5. Millie

    I didn’t know Eric personally, but do remember seeing him around a few times when I’ve been out climbing. I do remember that every time I saw him, he had a smile on his face. His accomplishments are remarkable, and he seems to have touched a great deal many lives. It brings a great deal of sorrow to know that someone who had so much of a positive influence in so many people’s lives, was taken away so early, and I feel as if I’ve missed out in not knowing him personally. He’ll definitely be missed by many.


  6. Michele

    We are family members with Eric.We are all very sad and trying to understand why.? He was very compassionate and patient with my kids. So we know that he is in heaven teaching our son to rock climb and the many things that he mastered and had a passion for.We will miss him terribly.


    • Michele – my deepest condolences to your family on your loss. Your words left a beautiful picture in my mind, thank you for sharing! I hope your family finds some comfort in the shared memories of Eric that others have posted not only on here but on other forums and articles as well.

  7. so very sad. thank you for sharing your memories. praying for his family. xo


  8. jim metcalf

    Eric was my son. Thank you so much for such a wonderful remembrance. We are still struggling with the shock and grief of such a promising and high-potential life simply and so quickly….erased. Look up “wjmetcalf” on youtube for our summit of the Grand Teton. He was quite a wonderful, thoughtful and deeply inquisitive young man. It’s very difficult for me to write about him in past tense. He came in like a meteor and left as one, too. Sadness abounds. But….my…..what a life intensely and fully lived. Please write to me any stories you have of Eric. I would greatly appreciate what ever you can tell me of him from how you saw him.


  9. Kim B

    I am Eric’s mom and echo everything posted so eloquently by his dad about this tragic loss and Eric’s magnificent life. I’d like to ask that if you share any memories beyond posting on this page via email with Jim as he requested that you cc or forward the same to me at so that I can read your words as well. It is very hard for us to keep up with the overwhelming outflow from all who Eric touched, and your cc’s will make it easier. Know that everything you all have to say helps enormously in a painful but uplifting way. Thank you for caring about my beloved son.


  10. Erica

    Jim -Thank you for sharing the youtube link. I’m so glad that you have so many great family memories captured on camera – I’m sure you’ve watched them a million times over the past couple of weeks.

    To both Jim and Kim – As a mother of a 2 year old, I cannot possibly begin to imagine what you are going through. You all have been on my mind and in my prayers so much lately. Even though we haven’t met, I think that climbers and their families share a kinship. My prayer is that you all would be able to find comfort and closure in balance with preserving the wonderful memories you all have shared with Eric.


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN