Walking Mile… Mile & A Half through the John Muir Trail
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 Trees… Morning and ummm Guitar Lake too.
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 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.
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.