Accomplished UNC student from Cary dies in rock climbing accident

kjahner@newsobserver.comJuly 10, 2012 

Eric Metcalf, 19, from Cary, died in a rock climbing accident in Hanging Rock Stae Park on July 8, 2012.

PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE METCALF

Many people have climbed mountains. Or played Bach on piano. Or earned a black belt in Taekwondo, edited 200 Wikipedia articles, become an Eagle Scout, studied five years of Latin, scored a near perfect SAT in one try or been admitted to an honors math program at a top-tier college.

Few have done them all. Eric Metcalf did each before he turned 20.

It was all the time he had. Sunday evening, the 19-year-old Cary native fell to his death in a rock climbing accident at Moore’s wall in Hanging Rock State Park, about 20 miles north of Winston-Salem. But as family members spoke of lost potential and a life tragically cut short, they all said he did more living in his limited time than most.

“Everything he touched turned to gold,” Steven, his brother said.

Rock climbing was a particular passion for a young man with many. He was an experienced climber and had won competitions at UNC Chapel Hill, where he was a sophomore honors student and math major. His athleticism blew away William Metcalf, who counts climbing Mount Elbert – the second tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S. – and the Grand Teton among his fondest memories with his son.

Eric Metcalf had climbed on Moore’s Wall many times, but Sunday around 7:30 p.m., he fell trying to rappel down it.

“It was what he loved to do. He told me numerous times, if he were to ever go out, he’d want it to be doing what he loved,” said Steven Metcalf, a graduate of Indiana University.

The brothers had planned a trip to drive from Cary to California this summer, where Steven would be attending graduate school, and then spend time exploring Yosemite National Park. Instead, their father drove to Bloomington Sunday night to personally break the news Monday morning.

“He was my best friend,” Steven said.

Eric’s parents called him inquisitive and a voracious learner. Asked why he bothered with the Wikipedia articles, he told his family: “Because they were wrong.”

He picked up things, often from his brother – Steven’s degree and graduate school revolves around playing classical music on double bass – and ran with them. Eric earned his black belt in middle school. He started playing piano late, around eighth grade according to his father. His brother said he was “obsessive compulsive” about Sebastian Bach, and a youtube video of him playing Liszt’s “Dreams of Love” has more than 120,000 hits.

“He hated it, he thought it didn’t show how good a player he was. Everyone who heard it was blown away,” his father said.

Kim Berthiaume, his mother, was devastated at the loss.

“He was extraordinary, he was phenomenal. He was a beautiful son,” she said. “The world will be at a loss, because I think he had so, so much more to offer.”

Jahner: 919-829-4822

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