“Mile…Mile and a Half” follows a group of five friends as they tackle the 211 mile John Muir Trail (JMT) under extreme conditions after one of the biggest winter snowfalls in history, lugging many extra pounds of cameras, video and recording equipment. They set out to capture images of the ethereal beauty of this stretch of the Sierra Nevada, named for the famed naturalist, John Muir, who trod these lands before trails existed, and established the Sierra Club as part of his legacy.
“How much longer?”
“Oh, about a mile…mile and a half.”
Whether it’s truly a couple of miles or not this refrain is probably heard countless times on long-distance hikes, either because you want to motivate your hiking partner or you really don’t know and you’re sick of pulling out the map. A mile, mile and a half is a reasonable distance that isn’t overwhelming, and if you string a bunch of them together, voila, you’ve hiked 211 miles. Though they actually hiked 219 miles in 25 days because the official trail inexplicably ends on top of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S. at 14, 500 feet, and there is no way to get down but hike some more.
The troupe didn’t plan on the most challenging conditions in decades. They had their trip planned for 2011 and it just so happened that Mother Nature dumped epic quantities of snow all winter long in the Sierra, creating extraordinary skiing conditions, but come summer, made the annual Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and JMT trekkers’ lives miserable, post-holing through hip-deep snow over 11,000+ foot passes (seven of them on the JMT) and enduring waist deep, icy-cold, swift-water creek crossings.
They remained optimistic throughout the hike, infusing their confident, cheery humor on those around them. Collecting an ever-expanding group of hikers, their merry band numbered 14 when they summited Mt. Whitney. Inspiring stories included several who brought their artistic passions into the wilderness. Brother-sister duo, Tom & Kristen Stipanov, hauled 22 canvases, easels and oil paints to capture the rugged beauty of the mountains en plein air, while Paul Bessenbacher & Bernard Chadwick carried a ukulele and harmonica to blend harmonies that wafted pleasingly through the forest (Bessenbacher produced the music for the film). An older gentleman, Jim Slinger, was hiking an eight day stretch to commemorate his 50th anniversary of hiking the JMT, and Kazuyo Fukamachi, a Japanese solo hiker walking the PCT took a break from her solitude to hike with new friends, adding their poignant touches to the narrative. A fleeting moment with Kolby Kirk, a journal artist who was hiking northbound on the PCT, resulted in a valuable collaboration on the film when everyone returned home from their respective trails. The inclusion of these and other stories expanded the human dimension of the project, and demonstrated the power of human connectedness. Quotes from John Muir, scattered throughout the film, effectively connects us to the past.
This film is sure to find a permanent place among the “must-have” items for prospective JMT hikers, along with the Wenk guidebook, Tom Harrison and Eric the Black maps and the John Muir Trail forum on Yahoo Groups.
The “Mile…Mile and a Half” feature length film (87 minutes) was created by a collegial team of hikers, each sharing their special expertise. Released June 1, 2013, it is being screened at theaters around the country at this time. Check The Muir Project website for details and watch for DVD sales, coming soon. The upcoming screening in Emeryville at the Clif Headquarters is already sold out. The next available opportunity to see the documentary is on June 15 at 1 p.m. in Sacramento, with an acoustic performance from Opus Orange.
The Muir Project
Film: Mile…Mile and a Half
Feature length documentary: 87 minutes
Directed by: Jason Fitzpatrick and Ric Serena
Produced by: Jason Fitzpatrick, Ric Serena, Jen Serena, Durand Trench
Disclaimer: The author was a Kickstarter backer and received a special edition DVD.