Video: The Love Letter

Apr 26, 2011
Outside Magazine

In case you missed it, Fitz Cahall and Bryan Smith put out another great video short about two weeks ago.

The film is called The Love Letter, and its message is simple. Every once in a while it's good to leave the monotony of your everyday life and go on an adventure, especially if it's with someone you love.

"We followed careers, now it's time to return to our decade old dream," Becca Cahall says at the start.

That sounds cheesy, but the resulting adventure was crammed with grime and grit.

The dream Fitz and Becca Cahall set off on was a 300-mile journey through the Sierra—losing weight, contracting giardia, suffering through shingles, and weathering a blizzard—all while chronicling their trip with the help of a few friends. They took pictures of themselves every day and turned the resulting galleries into two trailers for their movie. Their faces tracked the journey, from exhaustion to exhilaration. They strapped on helmet cams and packed tripods so they could stop and film as they scaled up thousands of feet of vertical rock.

Becca Cahall, courtesy of youtube
The end result was a 12-minute short that they've since shared with others, through just about every multimedia avenue available. And why not? It was a ton of work, and part of the fun of such an odyssey is sharing.

"This is our love letter," says Becca. "We've written it together. Etched it with footsteps and small acts of caring. Punctuated it with summits, and signed it with sweat."

We caught up with Fitz to get all the gritty details on the making of the film.

How long did it take you to shoot and edit this?
The majority of this film was shot over the course of 15 days spread out over the course of the 300-mile trip. Mikey Schaefer and Kate Rutherford (who did a lot of the exceptional rigging that made the high angle filming incredible) would meet Becca and I at resupply points and then hike in with us. We did four rounds of filming. I also carried a small HD camera the length of the range to capture the scenics and random moments.

In terms of editing and writing there was probably about 100 hours of work involved. When I add that all up, it kind of makes me cringe. It's pretty incredible that a couple hundred hours of people's time went into the creation of a 12-minute movie. video is evolving.

What was the toughest shot?
The second climbing sequence on Seven Gables Peak. To give a sense, during that leg of the trip Mikey, Kate, Becca and I hiked cameras, tripods,  two sets of climbing gear, and enough food for eight days 20 miles into the heart of the Sierra. It took two days just to see the peak. The second day was one of my low points on the trip, where I just felt like I had dragged everyone into a terrible idea. The route we wanted to do was about 2,000 feet of vertical rock climbing. We were pretty beat. We were at 12,000 feet. Climbing it seemed ambitious, but climbing and filming it seemed ridiculous at that moment. We needed to be up extra early to get the quality light. Most of the trip was pretty fun, but that was intimidating.

Fitz Cahall, courtesy of youtube
We did it though. Kate picked a route through some of the most dangerous rock of the trip, while Mikey filmed and Becca and I climbed beneath. We were back at camp by five that night. It's a testament to Mikey and Kate. There are really only a few people on the planet with the skills, fitness, and creative drive to pull that off and be back in time for dinner. This project owes a lot to their talents. The crazy thing is that we got about six minutes of really high quality footage. We used 45 seconds of it in the final project.

What was the initial spark that started this idea?
It was a trip I first got interested in about a decade ago when I first started doing routes in the Sierra, but mentally I wasn't ready for something so sustained. I was too scattered at 22 to pull something like this off. Through the years, I got busier, climbed less, but I kept thinking about a continuous climbing trip. I found out that Muir had taken similar trips. David Brower, the father of modern conservation and The Sierra Club, took a really similar trip as a young man. In 1934, he took an eight-week, south-to-north trip and did 54 peaks—which is just absolutely mind boggling to me. To put it in perspective, we did about 12 days of climbing covering the same amount of ground. Last year, I was cleaning out my grandparents house and finding all these old Sierra Club books with photos that seem to drip with that special Sierra light, and I just decided it was time to stop thinking about this trip and time to start making it happen. I bought some maps. Becca was super excited about it  Personally, at that time I was feeling pretty drained. I felt like I needed to hit a reset button on my life, to step back from my career.  I wasn't sleeping well. I was drinking too much. This trip just needed to happen. It worked. My passion for my work hasn't changed, but my perspective on it has.

What have some of the responses been?
I was pretty terrified in the days before the release. First off, the amount of support that Becca and I have  gotten from our closest circle of friends and family was overwhelming. Outdoor Research and Osprey, they supported a creative idea—this wasn't a marketing project—trusted my vision, didn't hover, and backed it with honest enthusiasm. I want creativity to thrive in the outdoor community, but that means it needs to work for sponsors. This was personal. I would have been crushed if it had fallen short.

I had no idea what was going to happen when we put this out. I just knew that I'd assembled a very talented group of people to help with the design, editing, filming, and music, but from a critical stand point I'd spent too much time with the project to really know any more. It just took off though. We ran a Facebook contest to support it. We asked people to write their own love letter to a place or person. Almost immediately, people began submitting these really incredible, really heart felt, photos and stories about their own life changing experiences in the outdoors.  It moved beyond a contest into the realm of community storytelling in the first day. People are visiting the Love Letter's Facebook page just to read other people's stories. That was the moment where I kind of sighed with relief. What we'd been trying to express in the film had resonated.

For more on The Love Letter and the work of Fitz Cahall and Bryan Smith, check out

--Joe Spring

Filed To: Adventure, Media, Climbing

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