In The Backyard

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T
ujunga, California. When asked where I live, most people—even many born in Los Angeles—stare at me in confusion. Those who do recognize the name rarely know where it is located, but imagine it is “far away.” North of Burbank, East of Sunland, West of La Cañada, and South of the Big Tujunga section of the Angeles National Forest. That is where you will find Tujunga. And, yes, it is inside Los Angeles City limits. Half an hour from the heart of the city, ten minutes from the mountains and forest. Oh, and Elliott’s house from E.T. is found here.

Many canyon routes are located on the other side, the North Side, of the mountains behind my neighborhood. A few blocks away are a couple of trails that head up the South side. The peak of one of those mountains is Mt. Lukens, the highest peak located in Los Angeles city limits. One afternoon while jogging/hiking one of those trails, I got an idea. I should be able to start from a trail in the Big Tujunga Wilderness, ascend to Mt. Lukens, and descend to my neighborhood. Then, walk home. The idea of beginning a hike in the forest and ending it at my doorstep was really appealing to me. One Sunday morning I had Erika drive me into the forest and leave me at the Wildwood Picnic Area and the start of the Stone Canyon Trail. I’ve hiked a portion of this trail a couple of times because it is the approach to the technical canyon route Stone Plus One. This route ascends 3500 feet over a few miles and leads to Mt. Lukens, a peak covered in transmission towers. I popped in some earbuds, turned on a podcast, and made my way up the trail. Two and a half hours later, I stood atop the peak. Behind me were views of never-ending mountains and forest. Ahead of me, Los Angeles spread in all directions terminating at the ocean. I explored the peak and its towers for a bit, then joined the Rim of the Valley Trail heading down into Los Angeles. At 3:00 PM, I walked down my driveway. There was something satisfying and freeing about ending a hike at my door. So much so, that I had Erika drop me off at Wildwood again yesterday.

Take Me To Church

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The Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows (Yosemite) is a climb that has been on my list for a couple of years. At 5.6, it isn’t a particularly difficult climb, but it is further evidence that grades mean a lot more in the world of multi-pitch trad climbing. Route finding is rather straight forward as one can climb all over the face with success, but the climbing begins above 10,000 feet placing this in the realm of alpine climbing (although just barely).

The window to climb Cathedral Peak was shrinking as Tioga Pass is likely to close within a few weeks when the snowstorms begin (unless delayed by further hot temperatures). Regardless, campgrounds in the area are beginning to close and days are shortening. After returning from my road-trip, I began trying to find a good weekend to drive up to Tuolumne and climb this route. Finding available climbing partners was not fruitfull and I had almost given up when a serendipitous Facebook post from my friend John Gray opened up an opportunity. We climbed into my car Saturday morning and made the drive through the Mojave and Sierra to Tuolumne. Electricity was out for every town between Lone Pine and Bishop pushing us near empty on my gas tank, but we made it without incident. We grabbed a spot in Tuolumne Meadows Campground, hung our hammocks, and enjoyed a camp fire ranger program.

Up before the Sun and off to the trailhead. We began the three mile hike in and my body hadn’t entirely acclimatized to the altitude. I felt weary and had no appetite. Despite that, we arrived at the base of the rock in a reasonable amount of time and began our climb before the brunt of the crowds arrived. Cathedral Peak is notoriously crowded and that Sunday was no different. Be prepared to spend half of your time waiting around. Consider it an opportunity to make new friends, get to know the various soloists you’ll likely meet, soak in the view, snap photos, and entertain yourself with joyous songs (such as Rudolph’s “Jingle Jingle Jingle.”) Otherwise, you may get frustrated. Climbing at 10,000 feet is more difficult and I often found myself out of breath on a pitch. We were probably three pitches up by the time I felt normal again. The granite was great and the climbing styles needed varied. Protection was ample. John led pitches 1 and 5. I took 2 through 4 including the fun chimney with the awkward entrance at the start of pitch 4. Because of weird logistics and excessive crowding, it  became sensible for me to also lead the last 30 feet or so of the final pitch to the modest summit block where parties going up and down are funneled into a small area. I imagine it is the small scale Cathedral Peak equivalent of Everest’s Hillary Step.

Our hope was to continue down the ridge after summiting to ascend Eichorn’s Pinnacle. Unfortunately, it was too late in the day to do so without descending in the dark. Walking off Cathedral Peak is a bit tricky and not something we wanted to do under lamplight. As we headed down trail and the Sun began to sink, I had my first bites of food of the day.

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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.