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Famous American Trails

The Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail hike runs approximately 2,200 miles (3,500km) through 14 states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

The Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2,660 miles (4,280km) from the Mexican border northwards through California, Oregon and finally Washington, as far as the Canadian border.

The Continental Divide Trail

The Continental Divide Trail runs 3,100 miles (5,000 km) between Mexico and Canada. It follows the watershed along the Rocky Mountains traversing five American states – Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.

These three trails form part of the so called “Triple Crown” for hikers who complete all three.

The John Muir Trail CA

The John Muir Trail (JMT) is a long-distance trail from Yosemite to Mount Whitney passing through Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. The Trail is 210.4 miles (338.6 km) long, with an elevation gain of approximately 47,000 feet (14,000 m)

Films 🎬

“127 Hours” directed by Danny Boyle (2010).

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Described on Wikipedia as a biographical survival film, the title 127 hours refers to the duration of the events of the film as described in canyoneer Aron Ralston’s autobiography “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” (2004). This true story illustrates how a  highly experienced climber and canyoneer encountered serious problems whilst out exploring the remarkable Canyonlands National Park in Utah, America.

Aron, played by James Franco, sets off on a solo day out in territory which was very familiar to him, feeling exhilarated and full of confidence. Danny Boyle examines the near fatal accident which occurred that day, changing Aron’s fate and the tone and pace of the film in an instant. Boyle concentrates on the painstakingly minute details of Aron’s survival techniques, thought processes and decision making on which his survival depended. In some ways the story is made more tragic by the ease with which the outcome could have been prevented.

In summary, the film explores the small details on which our fate sometimes depends in the achingly beautiful scenery of Canyonlands in Utah. It contains scenes which are not for the squeamish.

“Into the Wild” directed by Sean Penn (2007).

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Based on a book by Jon Krakauer, this film tells the sad, true story of Christopher McCandless, and his attempt to leave civilisation behind to explore the American backcountry. After graduating, he destroyed all his credit cards, donated his savings to Oxfam, and set out across America intending to support himself with casual work. Inspired by the ideals of writers such as Thoreaux, McCandless works and backpacks his way across America. During this time he is portrayed as quite happy, in spite of some rough encounters along the way.

After a settled period of work, he feels compelled to continue on his travels to Alaska. There he sets up camp on a remote abandoned bus in Denali National Park, where he lives for four months hunting and foraging, until his body is found by hunters on the bus. This moving film attempts to recreate this journey from his leaving home until his death. It is a story of survival, and in some ways a parable about the dangers of the wild, which will resonate with many people with experience of wild areas.

“Koyaanisqatsi” directed by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass (1982).

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This experimental film with a soundtrack by Philip Glass was made in the formative years of the American environmental movement in the early eighties. The word ‘koyaanisqatsi” apparently means unbalanced life in the language of the native American Hopi tribe. Using only Philip Glass’s striking soundtrack and Ron Frickes powerful cinematography, this cult film explores the factors which have contributed to life on earth becoming unbalanced from the perspective of the indigenous peoples.

I realise that most of our viewing now takes place on small screens such as televisions and computer devices, but if you get a chance to see this epic film on a large screen with a good sound system grab it, because that is how it was always intended to be seen, heard and experienced. It is unique, hard hitting and special, employing few of todays arsenal of visual effects.

“Mile, mile and a half” directed by Jason Fitzpatrick and Ric Serena (2013).

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This feature length documentary is co-produced by a group of media friends with an ambition to document their thru hike of this famous 210 mile trail through the Sierra Nevada mountain range from Yosemite to Mount Whitney in California. The result is a revealing documentary which will appeal to anyone with an interest in both the setting and the technical processes involved in producing a wilderness documentary, rather like the extras included with some TV programmes and films. Whether by chance or by design, their group gradually attracts a tribe of hikers, artists and musicians as they progress along the trail. Although the crew try to incorporate them into the documentary, I personally felt that this decision produced mixed results.

“The River Wild” directed by Curtis Hanson (1994). 

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This film tells the story of a couple who take their son on a birthday rafting trip in Idaho in order to resolve some of their marital difficulties. This film is a refreshing repost to John Boorman’s “Deliverance” (1972), which focuses entirely on men to the exclusion of female characters. Like this film, the journey along the river becomes a dangerous battle when the family become involved with a couple of fugitive criminals. They turn to Gail, who is a former park ranger and water rafting expert, to facilitate their escape by guiding them through a closed off section of dangerous rapids known as the gauntlet. The tension between the characters becomes amplified by their isolation as they travel along the river, with Gail’s family held as captive passengers on their nightmarish journey.

It is great to see an adventure film of this calibre with a very skilled woman dealing with family issues at it’s centre. The film was largely shot in the magnificent surroundings of Glacier National Park in Montana. Meryl Streep’s performance as Gail, who performs some of her own stunts on the river, is excellent and many faceted. She is ably assisted by a good supporting cast and impressive technical crew and support.

“Walking Out” directed by Andrew and Alex Smith (2018).

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This film explores classic American rites of passage through the relationship between a father and his estranged teenage son from the city. It is set in the remote mountains of Montana during a winter trip, which follows the precedents established by the father’s own father. At the start we see the father pass on his father’s gun to his son, before taking him out into the mountains for his first ‘big game kill’. The film examines themes of masculinity, rites of passage, back country ethics and gunlore, pitting the established methods of the father against the son’s wit and inexperience in this well trodden genre.

The circumstances of an unlucky accident transforms the movie into a battle for survival which has all the key ingredients of the genre. The young city kid, who arrives clutching his iphone, thwarts expectations by turning in a credible attempt to survive in the outback, without his modern tech to help him. Although the film doesn’t do much to challenge or modernise the archetypes, Matt Bromer and Josh Wiggins develop a reasonably convincing on screen relationship with a Freudian denouement.

“Wild” directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (2014).

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I read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed (reviewed in Books) some time ago, and have been looking forward to this film adaptation of her journey along part of the Pacific Crest Trail. This gritty adaptation is a blisters and all portrayal of her life up to and during the hike. It is spliced with flashbacks of the events which led to her attempt to radically transform her life and to become the daughter her deceased mother would have wanted her to be. To achieve this she abandons her ex-husband, her waitress job, her promiscuity and her experimentation with drugs, in favour of a completely new lifestyle.

Her struggles at the beginning of the trail will be recognisable to many hikers. However she gradually manages to get the better of more experienced hikers, and to deal with some of the dubious male characters she meets along the way. The central relationship between Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed and Laura Dern as her mother is well performed by both actors, and Strayed’s grief for her mother is movingly portrayed.

Unfortunately we don’t see much of the actual PCT, but it has been pointed out by the production company that filming in the wilderness a long way from civilisation would have been too tricky. Compared with the films and vlogs I have seen which are shot on the PCT, there is little of the magical scenery.

Sitting in a packed cinema, I couldn’t help hoping that not all of the people present end up on the PCT.

I paid the normal price for the above films.