The High Sierra Trail, a west-east route through California’s southern Sierra Nevada, isn’t particularly long at only 49 miles from the western trailhead at Crescent Meadow to where it intersects with the John Muir Trail, but it’s spectacular along the entire route. Much of the trail is well above treeline, the horizon filled with soaring granitic peaks rendered with avalanche chutes and dotted with turquoise lakes. It’s called the High Sierra Trail for a reason, crossing the Great Western Divide at the lung-searing 10,700-foot Kaweah Gap. After the JMT junction, the trails merge and continue another 13 miles to the summit of Mt. Whitney at 14,505 (or so) feet. It can be done in a week, during which the hiker will gain some 13,000-feet in elevation.
It is truly one of the world’s greatest treks.
The trail itself was built in the 1920s, a planned hiking route connecting the Giant Sequoias near Kings Canyon with the summit of Whitney. There were no roads at the time, no known way over the Great Western Divide, so the NPS decided to carve this stunning trail. It took five years and some quick-thinking engineering to build the thing. Since it was a planned hiking route from day one, it purposely skirts ridges and valleys and winds beneath spectacular peaks for maximum alpine views.
A new short film from director and hiker Chris Smead called, honestly enough, “The High Sierra Trail,” is a charming ride-along as Smead and his buddy John haul themselves and 14 pounds of camera gear along the spine of the Sierra. Narrated to avuncular perfection by longtime National Park Service employee William Tweed, the film is equal parts travelogue and historical documentary. Did you know about the Kaweah Colony? The utopians from San Francisco who tried to carve out a back-to-the-land existence in the Sequoias in the 1880s? Or the bolometer experiments on Whitney’s flanks in the 1870s that tried to measure radiant heat from the sun? You will after this movie.
This isn’t a film about achieving some stupendous goal or overcoming terrific odds, though, Smead broke a toe the day before the hike began, and nevertheless hiked all 72 miles in good spirits. Instead, “The High Sierra Trail” is a celebration of the beauty of the trail itself, and a reminder of how deep in the backcountry, especially on long, isolated backpacking trips, relationships invariably deepen.
The film premiered earlier this year and has already taken home an armload of film festival awards. It’s currently on a multi-city tour, with lots of in-store screenings at REI locations, particularly in Northern California. Eventually, it will be made available online as well.
Watch the trailer below and continue scrolling down for a list of live screenings. Then get ready to plot your own thru-hike of one of America’s finest wilderness trails.
July 7th, 2018 Springfield, KY. The Springfield Opera House
July 19th, 2018 Campbell, CA. The Sports Basement
July 19-22, 2018 San Francisco, CA. San Francisco Frozen Film Festival
Aug 17th, 2018 Lincoln, CA. The Switchback Showcase, Starbright Theater
Sept 5th, 2018 Corte Madera, CA. REI Corte Madera
Sept 11th, 2018 Santa Rosa, CA. REI Santa Rosa
Sept 13th, 2018 San Carlos, CA. REI San Carlos
Sept 18th, 2018 Fremont, CA. REI Fremont
Sept 20th, 2018 Berkeley, CA. REI Berkeley
Sept 25th, 2018 San Jose, CA. REI Saratoga
Fall 2018 Southern, CA. The Switchback Showcase, location TBD.