For 10 years, the dream lingered, but the clutter of modern living pressed it into submission. Still clinging to a young man’s dreams, Fitz Cahall and his wife Becca revived their youthful vision of summits and faint trails by abandoning work and the city for the wilderness… The Love Letter follows a pair of climbers in search of new and classic routes along the difficult to reach stretches of the Sierra spine. It is a climbing film less focused on summits than the process of attaining them. In the clutter of the modern world, can wilderness still restore the human spirit? We would like to think so. This is our love letter to wild places.
By Becca Cahall via Outdoor Research
We planned to spend 45 days in the Sierra. Starting in Sequoia National Park, we would hike north, traversing along the Sierra spine, using portions of the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails. Our path took us through Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks, and the John Muir and Ansel Adams Wildernesses. We would reemerge through the Sawtooth Ridge near Bridgeport, California.
Though most days were dedicated to hiking, we would climb along the way. We wanted to visit routes that rarely saw yearly ascents. To explore new routes. Because of climbing, we delved into side canyons and alpine basins, exploring beyond a trail that is pounded by thousands of feet each year. We delicately balanced miles hiked and routes to climb with days to resupply food and rest. We set a start date, filled in where we would be, and sent the itinerary to our friends asking them to join us.
Of course, our itinerary was the ideal. On the first day, we didn’t hit the 15-mile mark that we were supposed to hike. Backpack straps ground into our soft bodies. New shoes and unusually hot weather caused blisters. The backpack weight was crushing. We didn’t speak of turning back, though the thought threatened to devour all others. We focused on moving forward. “Your body will adjust. Your body will adjust,” I pleadingly told myself.
At mile 9, we reached the first reasonable place to camp. We’d already readjusted our ideal schedule and made day 2 a hiking day rather than a climbing day. We could camp. Or we could continue up, gaining elevation for another 1.5 miles that had never seemed so daunting. I could see defeat leaking into Fitz’s eyes. I could feel it in mine. “We should probably keep going,” I said, unable to muster enthusiasm. I hoped Fitz would say, “No, let’s camp here.” We stared at the water tumbling over rocks in the creek. Felt the cooler air coming down the valley. “Okay,” he said.
Two nights later, the full moon rising over Hamilton Lakes rewarded our efforts. We slept outside, enjoying the warm night and light. When the alarm went off at 6 am, we ignored it. The winds had started to rail around midnight and we uncomfortably wrestled deeper into our bags. My eyes were crusted with dust. When light flooded the basin at 7, we debated whether it was worthwhile to try climbing. The hot temps and intense sun limited our options to north facing routes.
We had known the trip would test us. That there would be difficult moments. Mentally, we had accepted this reality. Now we knew it physically in the aches and pains that you never want to imagine when you’re planning. The ones that fade away so quickly when you return to tell your tale. We looked at the map and route description, spooning oatmeal into our mouths.
“Okay,” I said. We set out to cross the first ridge, unsure of the best approach, but committed to trying. We committed to being each other’s support. And most importantly, we committed to saying yes.
Follow The Love Letter here and via Outdoor Research for the upcoming release of The Love Letter, a project from Duct Tape Then Beer, featuring Fitz and Becca Cahall. The full-length film will be released April 12.