Announcing Scuba Climbers

I have been searching for an intriguing topic for a long-form canyoneering documentary for awhile. Reviewing footage and reflecting back on events from my three-week roadtrip finally  aligned the tumbling Tetris pieces in my mind. The topic became clear: Class C Canyoneering, big water Canyoning. There are lots of intriguing, exciting, funny, and possibly heart-breaking stories all linked by the exploration of the wettest of canyons. My hope is to bring together several groups of canyoneers and filmmakers over the next 2-3 years and record those stories.

Why will it be called Scuba Climbers? As we exited Cascade Creek in Ouray, a woman pulled into the trailhead and stopped before us. “Are you guys climbers or SCUBA divers?” As popular as Canyoneering is becoming, it is still foreign to most people. Whether we call ourselves canyoneers or Scuba Climbers, our image is equally confusing to many people. But the main reason is because I am a smart-ass.

In the meantime, check out the teaser video above featuring some of the footage we acquired in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado.

You can keep up with the production at our website and join in the fun on instagram by posting your own Class C canyon photos and using the hashtag  #scubaclimbers.

Tolerate My Voice & Hear My Podcast

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I
t began as a video web-series a year ago. I thought it would be wise to further complicate my life so it has expanded into a podcast. What is it? G.O. Get Outside. And it is live. It is even on iTunes.

Expect a new episode every Thursday beginning September 10th. Season one will clock in at 21 installments (wrapping in early January). Three episodes are up now. What is it about? I’m glad you asked so I won’t feel so awkward telling you. This is what it says in iTunes and on the website:

G.O. Get Outside: The Podcast is a radio-style interview show for people who like to get outdoors or would like to get outdoors. Hell, it may even be a show for people who don’t know they want to get outdoors. Too busy? Think you don’t have time for frivolous outside crap? Poppycock! Each episode of G.O. delves into the outdoor lifestyle of some everyday schmo who probably has more in common with you than you think. Whether you are BASE jumping off a flying unicorn or hiking around your neighborhood in between diaper changes, you have a place here. Pop open your podcast machine and give it a listen. Maybe it will stoke some embers you didn’t know were burning.

Still unclear? Listen to episode one where it is explained in more detail or listen to all of them to really clarify your confusion. While you are there, want to do me a huge favor? You do?! How magnanimous of you! Subscribe, rate, and review it in iTunes. It will help more than you can imagine. Off to your podcast machine. Get. Go. Shoo.

Five Packed Weeks

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July 14 through August 19 is a bit of a blur. A convergence of events laid the groundwork for five weeks of productive travel. 35 days on the road split by 2.5 days at home. It began as a plan to attend a wedding in Puerto Morelos, Mexico (near Cancun). Erika and I decided it would be a good idea to do some additional exploration in the area since we would already be flying to the Yucatan. Thus, we visited Belize and Guatemala after leaving Mexico where we did a fair amount of diving, cave tubing, ruin touring, chicken bus riding, sweating, and swimming. We then returned to Los Angeles. I had been hoping to shoot some canyoneering footage in the Pacific Northwest and had made some loose plans with folks in the area. I also had begun recording several interviews for an outdoor podcast I was developing while simultaneously working on ways to bring more outdoor related video business to Butcher Bird Studios (that’s my business with some other dudes). The fates alerted me to the fact that the Outdoor Retailer Show and Ouray Canyoning Festival were occurring in succession this summer around the time I was hoping to go to Oregon. The idea for chinnyroad2015 was born. Upon returning from Central America, I would head out on a 4600 mile road trip 2 days later. I piled a large amount of gear into my car and left for San Francisco.

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Over 21 days, I travelled from Southern California to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. I ran 11 canyons (shooting several), recorded 6 podcast interviews, attended the Outdoor Retailer Show, Attended the Canyoning Festival, learned to line dance from elderly strangers in a park, visited many new places, slept in campgrounds, slept in my car, tried Airbnb for the first time, acquired my first smartphone, flooded my new instagram account with photos, made dozens of cool new friends and business contacts, won some prizes, saw a dog standing on a roof, visited a cool science museum, ate dinner at Twitter, spied a “Bigfoot Research Vehicle,” fought the smell of mildew from wet gear in my car with the urinal rich smell of a “new car scent” air freshener, reunited with many long-distance friends across the West, listened to every type of radio program available, slept in a murder motel, visited the shop in “The Middle of Nowhere,” appreciated my hammock, hoped rain wouldn’t turn into flash floods, watched Alden cut out his own stitches, shot footage of the no longer orange Animas River in Durango, watched fawns nursing at a campsite in Silverton, paid for a straight-razor shave, and never once got to climb any of the awesome rocks I saw.

The aftermath of these two trips will sporadically appear in this journal for some time I imagine. And often at chinnyroad2015flashback.

Leaving a Legacy

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As we age, our thoughts often drift to hopes of leaving the Earth a better place than we have found it—wistful dreams of establishing a legacy that cements our place in the masonry of history. Most find ourselves flitting through life seeking that purpose, searching for a grand reason. Few of us stumble upon the roots of that glorious edifice awaiting our illustrious direction. Today I unearthed that seed, I experienced a brief glimpse of my lasting legacy. I coined the term “fecollate.”

Fecollate | fee-koh-leyt | verb [ no obj. ] expel large unsavory quantities of feces from the body. similar to defecate, but more disgusting. predominately used as a tasteful way of describing a most distasteful excretion of solids and fluids.

Derivatives
fecollation   | fee-koh-ley-shen | noun
fecollator     | fee-koh-ley-tor | noun
fecollatory   | fee-koh-ley-tory | adj.

Origin
early 21st century, a neologism created to pompously describe the excretions of an elephant upon a fornicating couple used as an example while discussing the merits of censorship. No other term carried the appropriate gravitas.

Sample sentence
Donald Trump spat out his thoughts and verbally fecollated upon the audience.

My destiny has been discovered. I must assure that this most useful and delicate of terms become an integral part of the lexicon. It must find its way into the dictionary alongside other mellifluous neologisms such as “bling-bling”, “cray”, “selfie”, and “YOLO.” This is to be my indelible mark on history. Thus, I turn to you all. Become a part of history. Weave your fecollations into conversations, become a purveyor of fecollate. The Earth will thank you.

Canyons ‘n Climbs

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Post Red Rock Rendezvous, life has been a flurry of canyons, climbs, driving, tabletop war, jumping, riding in cars, camping, recording interviews, and work squeezed into the cracks. After learning our descent of the stellar San Jacinto was unfortunately illegal and thankfully avoiding any fines, we headed to Arizona where the Canyons Gods toyed with the weather. Rainy nights and occasional day-time drizzle did not impact us in the end and we were able to run Punchbowl, all of Waterslides, and Christopher Creek. The latter two I highly recommend if in the area. Highlights included stealth rappelling to avoid further scaring a baby mountain goat perched precariously on a ledge, superb natural slides, short rappels that transitioned into jumps, and a roadside sign for “Adult Cabaret” topped by a cow sculpture.

G.O. Get Outside is going to become more than just a video web-series and I am actively recording an audio podcast to accompany it. Ten interviews are currently in the can, the first was recorded in Yosemite’s famous Camp Four featuring a wacky Aussie traveler I met earlier this year in Red Rock. During our short stay in Yosemite, Jeff and I climbed The Grack on the apron of Glacier Point. It was a great confidence builder and a chance to test out the newish GoPro Hero 4.

I ran back to L.A., knocked out a bunch of work, squeezed in a few climbs and a few podcast interviews, then hopped back in the car for a long day of driving, canyoneering, and car shuttling (and a little bear spotting as well). Salmon Creek features a spectacular ~680 waterfall that can be rappelled in multiple stages. We tackled the wall by posting a man at the top of each stage, rigging each rap, then descending in sequence leaving the option to ascend and escape if necessary. This led to a fun-filled hour of standing on a small ledge watching each person rap past while entertaining myself by badly singing bad songs. Hanging 500 feet up on a wall while belting out “Hooked on a Feeling” is something you should all add to the Bucket List. Five stars. The unfortunate part of the canyon was the never-ending bushwhacking during the egress and the poison oak that covered my torso afterwards.

Early June brought a quick trip to one of my favorite climbing spots, Tahquitz, where Brian and I climbed Angel’s Fright and The Trough. The exposure on the last pitch of Angel’s Fright was exhilarating. Brian forgot his climbing shoes in the car and had to lead The Trough (and follow Angel’s Fright) in approach shoes. He does not recommend it. Climbing two multi-pitch routes (even easy ones) in a single day is exhausting, but good practice for my longer term goal to ascend El Cap’s 3000 foot Nose.

A week later brought me to the fabled Jump Trip. It wouldn’t be a true Scott Merrill trip if weather didn’t threaten to interfere. Thankfully, despite the forecast, skies were clear during the day and we were able to descend the upper Section on a Saturday, followed by the more intense lower section the next morning. The two-part Jump Trip is beloved in the canyoneering community for many reasons: gorgeous scenery, interesting wet rappels, copious jumps of varying heights, ample swimming, easy approaches and exits, and the occasional waterslide. Two features I particularly enjoyed in the upper canyon were a stemming section and a twisting, dark, and wet boulder tunnel. Jump is notorious for injuries. There are several down-climbs and traverses that can end in tragedy if the canyoneer doesn’t have the experience to navigate them or makes a mistake. Also, some of the jumps, slides, and rappells can be tricky. After my shake-up last year from my egregious error leading to a 50 foot fall, I was a little intimidated. It was odd seeing myself approaching many of the jumps without my trademark zeal, but with a little trepidation. It was a great prescription for rebuilding my courage and confidence. One in our group twisted his ankle a bit, but we otherwise descended without incident.

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Spring is nearing its close. Temperatures are rising. Summer is beckoning.

Ben Pelletier carried a camera through Jump Trip with us and got many quality photos. A few are featured in the second half of the gallery below.

Work Update – Life Aint All Rocks & Jumps

The video above is probably my favorite of all of the game trailers Luis and I have put together. The great background illustrations were done by Jennifer Whitney. Below are a few things I worked on earlier this year or late last year.

A couple of Nerdist projects where I handled effects and/or graphics:
DUO – Tinder for Superheroes
Dragonball Xenoverse – Going Super Saiyan in the office
Doogie Howser Rebooted – I put a bunch of graphics together

More Gamevil game trailers:
Dragon Blaze
Dungeon Link – We also did a few in-game animations for this in addition to this video.

A concept video for Brainitch – screen composites and other effects.

Also a thing for Ticketmaster:
Access Granted – A web-series. I handled the logo, open, and all graphics.

And finally, a trip back in time to clean up that holocaust mess:

Back on the Rocks

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One of the reasons I got actively involved in outdoor pursuits eight years ago was an interest in climbing. It was an online search for climbing lessons that led me to Karl’s Extreme Things Adventure Club. I know it sounds melodramatic, but that web search changed everything. Joining that club unlocked the gates of ignorance and doubt that were keeping me from chasing outdoor adventures. My life has been drastically different since. Oddly enough, it was another three years before I decided to get climbing training. That was almost exactly five years ago. I was progressing steadily and then I got distracted by canyoneering. I love canyoneering. It combines so many things I adore: remote places, water, heights, problem-solving, slides, jumps, rappels, etc. Unfortunately, running canyons all the time makes it difficult to also climb all of the time. I’ve given myself a goal—I want to climb all 31 pitches of the Nose on El Cap by 40. I have a lot to do before I am prepared for that. And so, this year I have decided to make sure I climb more frequently than I run canyons (the last couple of years those priorities have been swapped). The great news is that a lot of my canyoneering buddies are moving into climbing meaning finding good climbing partners has become much easier.

I’ve been hitting various crags fairly frequently so far and have gone on a few short climbing trips also. I returned to Joshua Tree in January with Mike and Moreno. We climbed a few routes including a repeat of the very first route I lead trad-style. It was a very different experience than the first time and a big confidence builder. The weekend went well despite Moreno’s ridiculous selfies. The image below is based-on-a-true-story.

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I also spent a couple of weekends at a great sport climbing area in the desert called New Jack City. Here I got to watch three separate friends lead their first single-pitch sport routes. It’s really cool to experience that.

The end of March saw the return of the Red Rock Rendezvous, a really enjoyable climbing festival in Nevada I’ve been attending for five years now. This is the place where I experienced my first multi-pitch route. I made sure to arrive early and stick around a couple of days after the festival. The festival was a good time as always, but the highlights were the 500 foot routes I climbed with friends the day before and after: Geronimo and Cat in the Hat. I lead every pitch on each. I felt very confident on Geronimo. Last year, I climbed the first pitch and had to bail afterwards because we started too late in the afternoon. It felt great to return this year and solidly lead the full route (even if I did manage to confuse the approach again and initially take us to the wrong rock). Cat in the Hat is rated the same as Geronimo, yet there were a few spots where I felt a little uncomfortable on lead. Psychologically I found it more difficult, but neither route is very hard technically. Cat in the Hat is just as busy as advertised: back-to-back climbing parties and the descent shares the same line as the ascent so there is a fair amount of dodging rappelers. Lots of featured rock with interesting cracks and a fun exposed traverse make it a good time.

One of the great things about climbing is all the awesome people you meet. I meet so many inspiring people on rocks and in primitive campgrounds. They may be filthy, stinky, and sleeping on the ground, but their zeal for life is unmatched.

Fifth Year of the Tiny Camera

It has been five years since I got that first HD GoPro. I’m not using that same model anymore (I just gave it away a few days ago), but I am still using these tiny cameras that keep getting tinier. At the end of 2010, I had decided to make a compilation using all of the footage from that year. Somehow I knew it was the beginning of a tradition because I named that video Year One. Now we are rolling into 2015 and the fifth of the series is live. This year the video is on YouTube because Vimeo’s new copyright algorithms didn’t let me upload it there. Oddly, YouTube did. The music is once again from First Aid Kit. I didn’t ask for their permission and hopefully if they ever stumble across this video or Year Four, they won’t hate me.

Banff School Days

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The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival is one of the most respected (if not the preeminent) adventure and outdoor film festival in existence. It is held for nine days every fall in Canada’s oldest national park, Banff. Afterwards, select films are screened in forty countries during their World Tour. I have been attending the World Tour in Pasadena for the last few years looking forward to a time when I could attend the festival itself (hopefully as a contributing filmmaker). With the release of G.O. Get Outside, this seemed like the ideal year to take that step.

While reviewing their site for submission information, I stumbled across their Adventure Filmmakers’ Workshop—an intensive 8-day program during the festival focused specifically on outdoor and adventure filmmaking. I decided to both submit G.O. to the festival and to apply for the workshop. The application process may have been more involved than my college applications and was the first time I have written a resume in several years. In the end, G.O. was not accepted to the festival largely because it was too rudimentary and instructional for the festival crowd. I was, although, one of the students selected for the workshop.

November 1st was a busy day. I woke early for a 12-hour shoot, went immediately to a Day of the Dead party afterwards, and then directly to the airport for my international flight to Alberta, Canada and the beginning of 10 long and fantastic days at the Banff Centre, an arts school situated in a national park. Each day there was as busy as that day before I arrived, packed full of some combination of classroom time, festival screenings, socializing and parties, and churning out a short movie. It was like being in college again—little sleep, lots of fun and productivity (and a little stress). I had been unsure about whether the workshop would be a valuable investment of time and money. In the end, it may have been one of the best decisions I have made in years. The instructors (Michael Brown and Keith Partridge) were extremely knowledgeable and all-around great people. My fellow students were also awesome people—everyone was eager to help each other and share knowledge. I hope to work with many (or all of them) in the future and I look forward to seeing what they all create. We also had access to facilities and festival events most attendees do not. I left with an inundation of pertinent information and valuable contacts it would have taken many years to accumulate.

As part of the program, we were broken into six groups and tasked with creating a short movie (everything from shooting to final post production and screening) within two days (while also finding time to party in town at night). Unbeknownst to us, a panel of judges incorporating festival filmmakers and employees of Red Bull and National Geographic were going to screen our shorts alongside of us and then choose their top three to play during the actual film festival. My group came in second place. G.O. didn’t make it into the festival, but our two-day student film did.

I’ve already started working on my submission for next year.

Canyon Complacency

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I
 am embarrassed to share this story, but I hope it will keep others from making the sort of egregious mistake I did.

I have been canyoneering for roughly four years without incident. I know many people with more intricate technical knowledge than I have, but overall I am recognized as a knowledgable and reliable person to have on a team. I have made multitudes of good decisions that have ensured the safety of others and my own. Yet, none of that matters if one critical error is made. Canyoneering is not a dangerous sport, per se, but it can have drastic consequences.

Last night, nine of us ran a short canyon in Big Tujunga with three rappels and minimal hiking. A cakewalk. As seems to often be the case, this is when mistakes are made, when things are so simple we let our brains shift into auto-pilot. The first rappel was roughly 50 feet down a sloping, slightly curving face. A baby rap. Hardly worth a second glance. I didn’t consciously think those things, but deep in my subconscious I had made that assessment and deactivated crucial brain mechanics. I was last man down. Before clipping in, I noticed what appeared to be a slack loop crossing through the carabiner and across the gate on the pull side of the rope. It looked to me like there was a potential for the pull line to pinch the carabiner against the rock and introduce a pull issue. I pulled the free end of the rope through the carabiner to remove this “extraneous” loop, tied a pull cord to the end, clipped the rope bag to my harness, and clipped my descender onto the rappel side. I leaned back to begin my descent.

Pop! Whiiiiiiiiiiizzzzzzzzzzz!

There was enough time for my brain to process what was about to occur, to think “so, this is going to happen, is it?”, but no time to react. Airborne. In my right hand, a non-tensioned rope swung free. The world in front of my eyes a blur. The curvature of the face and my backpack met. Next, my right arm kissed the face. The surface area of my body and backpack produced friction as it brushed down the sloping wall turning my immediate fall into a decelerating semi-vertical slide. Oddly, I was calm, my thoughts seeking a solution to stop my slide. I extended my arms, my body turned slightly and for a moment I halted. A tiny moment, long enough to think, “I stopped.” But. I was off again. Scraping down the rock, fighting to keep my body from rotating sideways. Unable to visually identify anything around me. Then I slowed to a halt. I was at the bottom, on a ledge above a five foot downclimb, the rope still attached to my descender. I had slid down onto my feet and I stood. I was befuddled. Members of the group called to me, asking if I was okay. I was. My left ankle was a little tight, my right knee was scraped and bleeding, my right elbow bruised, and the right arm of my jacket torn. But, that was all. I couldn’t believe my luck. Had I began the rappel further left, had I twisted backwards in space differently, had any number of tiny variables varied, the outcome could have been quite different. I pulled the rope. It fell, followed by a loose carabiner. I ran the rest of the canyon and here I sit typing the next day with no discomfort. I made a fatal error. Dumb luck saved me. I can’t expect to be so lucky a second time. None of us can expect to be so lucky a single time.

It took me some time to piece together what had happened. What had looked like a loose extraneous loop running through the carabiner was likely a loosened vital twist in the clove hitch holding the ‘biner block together. I should have inspected the knot after pulling the rope through. Better yet, I should have re-rigged the rope as soon I saw a potential pull issue. I should have tested the rope before weighting it. These are stupid, moronic mistakes. I know better. A beginner knows better. Hell, people who have never heard of canyoneering probably know better. I have never let another person rap down a line I’ve rigged that I haven’t inspected multiple times. Why was I so irresponsible with my own life? I assume it must have been complacency. We all suffer from this to some degree. We grow so accustomed to certain activities we stop thinking about them, we cruise through on auto-pilot. Sometimes this is fine, we don’t need to think about everything we do. This does not apply to canyoneering or any activity that can have substantial consequences. Learn from my mistake. Don’t let your brain slip into auto-pilot, treat every drop with respect, check everything you or someone else does multiple times. We all know this, but apparently I forgot. Don’t be like me.

I owe everyone in that canyon an apology. Our safety in a canyon doesn’t just affect us. It affects everyone in the group. My stupidity could have turned this into a rescue situation (or a body recovery). The group would have then become responsible for my evacuation. Because I didn’t take a few seconds to check a simple setup. If everyone in last night’s group said to me, “I still like you, but I don’t feel comfortable running canyons with you anymore,” I would understand. The decisions we make in a canyon affect everyone in the group. There is no room for selfish actions or complacency.

Thank goodness for friction.