Walking Mile… Mile & A Half through the John Muir Trail

Walking Mile… Mile & A Half through the John Muir Trail

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
— John Muir

I had to pull myself away from pressing play for the 4th time – such is the endearing quality of this documentary. Stunning, beautiful, breathtaking, remarkable – the litany of praise from viewers of this well-documented piece of art grows, as more and more people partake of this breathtaking voyage. I could watch Mile… a Mile & a Half again... and some more. This work of passion and fun doesn’t begin to fray as it proceeds; instead, it refreshes you and offers you that journey to the heart of the world, into your dreams.

Image courtesy © The Muir Project

Have you ever hiked with a group of friends? Or met strangers on a trail who walked into becoming friends… family? Mile… Mile & a Half is a project 5 friends put together to walk the historic John Muir Trail (JMT) – an artistic endeavour to showcase the JMT in its inspiring grandeur. The Muir Project crew worked 8 months planning this thru-hike. No seasoned trekker in the group, but a group of artists, fun & committed to the project in hand. So they set out to capture the pristine beauty of the JMT in a year that recorded twice the snow, with fuller and higher river-crossings and 10 snow-packed passes. Their recording of this journey of 211 miles is an ode to the beauty of the trail, the challenges, the joys and the ever-seeking ever-wondering & wandering human spirit.

Wander a whole summer if you can...time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.

— John Muir

John Muir Cane an American conservationist. By Francis M. Fritz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The legacy & essence of John Muir rambles through the film like the resplendent haven of light between the trees. John Muir is a legend, the father of the conservation movement. A naturalist, philosopher, hiker, activist and ardent advocate of environmental preservation, his books and essays are more relevant today than ever. This 211 miles (340km) hiking trail in the Sierra Nevada was named in his honour. Construction of the trail began in 1915 after Muir’s passing & was completed in 1938. The JMT stretches from the Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney, the contiguous United States’ highest peak (14, 500ft).

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.
— John Muir

Image courtesy © The Muir Project

In July 2011, 5 friends & fellow artists leave their regular lives behind & embark on a 25-day thru-hike through the Higher Sierras. They carry their heavy video, stills & sound recording equipment with their trekking gear. It must have been a mean task – to walk the miles and also try and document as much of the beauty of the journey as possible. I am grateful to The Muir Project crew that has invited us on their journey through the miles, through 10 passes, 14 days of post holing and hiking through snow, glissading or ass-path-ing down a snow cliff, of pickled ginger-looking blistered feet, painkillers to beat the pain, dips in the placid lakes (particularly impressive was the Thousand Island lake), awe-inspiring still photographs of pink silhouette skies, the nicknames, ramen & potato dinners, up stocking of food canisters, heart-gnawing video messages to daughter missed & all the camaraderie that shone from the episodes of silliness & goofing across those 25 days. The crew is joined by more travellers & friends along the way, at one point the group swelling to 12 members, sharing their stories around the fire.

By Peretz Partensky from San Francisco, USA (John Muir Trail-20) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Never while anything is left of me shall this... camp be forgotten. It has fairly grown into me, not merely as memory pictures, but as part and parcel of mind and body alike.
— John Muir

Full applause for the editing as it must not have been easy to wade through 32 hours of video, 5 hours of recorded audio & around 3000 photographs to stitch together this story, without missing any of the elements that make the trail so much fun.

Image courtesy © The Muir Project

The music score adds to the tempo & mood of the film. Opus Orange has scored the film’s soundtrack. The band’s members Paul Bessenbacher & Bernard Chadwick join The Muir Project crew close to the trail end. Armed with a ukulele and a glockenspiel, they make music on the trail. Out of the Shadows is the only song with lyrics in the 14-song album, the rest an eclectic instrumental mix of unobtrusive, lilting indie folk that carry the waft of the film. My personal favourite is Light Between the TreesMorning and ummm Guitar Lake too.

(You can buy the album on iTunes or stream it on Soundcloud)

A thru-hike gives one a window to sharing space, lives and conversations with people walking with you. It also gives one a window to sharing space with one’s own thoughts, as they ramble out of our inner world, glissading down the back of our minds.

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
— John Muir

I have often wondered how I’ve been so eloquently bare on a trek, perhaps got back to ‘civilization’ and felt much lighter – a lightness beyond the weight loss. How does one become so starkly unvarnished in Nature, so opposed to the rented guise of ‘regular life’ war-paint? That’s the thing about Nature – it strips us clean, washes over our Self & lets us humbly partake of the experience and let be moulded by it. That’s why this film and the crew are so endearing – they took on the project & walked through it with no pretensions or lofty air of pseudo-art exhibitionism. They are you and me, everyday people with everyday aspirations and ambitions, soaking in the pristine beauty, trying to make sense of something & letting go of things they cannot control. That is what will resound with the viewer. And ah, of course, the out-of-the-world incredible vistas. I will do this trail someday, soon.

Image courtesy © The Muir Project

Fear not to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous enthusiastic action. Even the sick should try these so-called dangerous passes because, for every unfortunate they kill, they cure a thousand.
— John Muir


More on the John Muir Trail

  • The official length of the John Muir Trail (JMT), as stated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is 210.4 miles (338.6 km)
  • The trailheads are Happy Isles (Yosemite Valley) or Whitney Portal
  • The elevation change is 80,000 feet (24,000m)
  • Ranked Best Hike in the World by “Backpacker Magazine” (Nov 2010)
  • You can also read: “John Muir Trail: The essential guide to hiking America’s most famous trail,” by Elizabeth Wenk and Kathy Morey (Goodreads).
  • For more details on the project.

Image courtesy © Backpacker Magazine

To watch the film, you can rent or buy the film from this website. I rented the film & am seriously considering buying it for repeat watches. You can also gift the film to friends & family. 

More details at IMdb (7.4) & Rotten Tomatoes (81%)

Challenge yourself, glide

Earn that view, the phoenix flew

Unshackled, walk free
— A haiku in honour of The Muir Project for all those who dare to take dirt roads ~ Sherpa Soul
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