Review: Tell it on the Mountain - Tales from the Pacific Crest Trail

The documentary, Tell it on the Mountain follows several hikers who are attempting to walk the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the western United States. The 2,663 mile long Pacific Crest Trail runs from the Mexican/US border in the south to the US/Canadian border in the north. Along the way the trail follows the spine of the westernmost US mountain ranges including the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades and travels through the states of California, Oregon and Washington.

Only about three hundred or so people a year attempt to hike the PCT, one of the three trails that make up the 'triple crown' of long distance hiking trails (the other two being the Appalachian Trail in the east and the Continental Divide Trail along the Rocky Mountains) and only a few of them complete the trail each year. The thru-hikers of the PCT cross a variety of terrains from the deserts of southern California to the high mountain passes and ridges in the north. In addition to the terrain, thru-hikers must face extreme temperatures, blisters, injuries, snow, river crossings, insects and more. Tell it on the Mountain, through its first-person stories from thru-hikers captures the essence of that journey.  A journey that is so challenging fewer people have completed the PCT than have climbed Mount Everest.

I went into this documentary not knowing all that much about the PCT, being much more familiar with the Appalachian Trail and its thru-hikers and Tell it on the Mountain did a good job at introducing the trail, its culture and the effort that is involved in thru-hiking the entire trail. I did find it to be lacking a bit on the history and story of the PCT itself. Being someone involved on both a volunteer level and a professional level with trails, I would have liked to be able to learn more about that side of things. That said, by the end of film, I had a good idea of the general areas that the trail travels through and what some of the challenges (and joys) were for people who were hiking the entire PCT.

The Film

Tell it on the Mountain looks at the people who hike the PCT. The documentary tell this story with a mix of hiker interviews and videos recorded by the hikers out on the trail that are brought together in the film.  In the film we learn some of the reasons these hikers have started the trip and then, as the film continues, we see the hikers' trips north from the Mexican border towards the Canadian border. Hikers that are profiled cover the spectrum of people who attempt the PCT, from hikers who have made multiple thru-hikers to first time international hikers.

Each hiker (or hiking couples, of which there are two) start hiking north and the story of their journey between Mexico and Canada (and in one case, back southward towards Mexico) is told. It is easy to get wrapped up in their trips and it really helps give you an understanding of the 2,600 or so miles of the trail that they must traverse to reach Canada. They each have their reasons for being on the trail and they all face challenges as they work on completing the entire PCT. Some of the stories are simply amazing, like Scott who “yo-yo'd” the PCT, hiking to north to Canada and then turning around and then heading south back to the Mexican border, or a German couple who's first attempt at finish the PCT ended due to medical complications, but two years later, they were able to come back and finish the entire thru-hike.

I found myself drawn into each of the stories, especially the German couple and the couple that was hiking north to their wedding. To me, I thought it was a unique window into their relationships and in both cases, the hike north made their bonds stronger and let them jointly experience something that they would both never forget. They also faced challenges that others didn't, including a medical emergency that took one couple out of their hike and for the other couple, losing their beloved dog at home before they had reached their wedding site, which required that they head home and skip a section of PCT before they went back for the wedding and to finish the hike. Beyond the stories of the individual hikers, I also enjoyed seeing how 'trail angels' helped hikers along the trail and what that meant to the thru-hikers, having been someone that has helped Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.

I thought the film was well shot and put together, especially considering much of the footage was taken with handheld cameras by the hikers themselves. The pacing of the film was done well and even though it is over two hours long, it did not feel that long while I was watching it. I really got drawn into the stories and as things progressed, really wanted to know how the hikes turned out for the different people that were profiled.

Extras

In addition to the main documentary, the DVD for Tell it on the Mountain includes a special features section with six different short features that include interviews, a look at gear, trail maintenance and the story of one special pair of trail angels. The extras range from just over a minute in length to almost twenty two minutes in length. They round out and answer some questions you may have had after you finished the film and were welcome additions to me on the DVD.

There is also a bio section that includes short biographies of each of the hikers who are included in the film along with Lisa Diener, the Director and Shaun Carrigan, the Producer and Director of Photography.

In the end

Like Carsten says in the film, “five months without worry, that's cool” and that really sums up a thru-hike of the PCT or any other trail. Your life is simplified and the distractions of everyday life just melt away mile after mile. Tell it on the Mountain lets you see that happen with these hikers.

It makes me wish my partner and I lacked the mortgage, car payments, obligations and everything else that seems to keep us away from just saying “we're going to hike this,” and spending almost a half a year on the trail, finding adventure, but more importantly, having the opportunity to find out more about ourselves and our relationship.

It is true, the PCT or any long distance trail really does purify a person. I'm glad I was able to see that in Tell it on the Mountain and it sure makes me want to lace up my hiking boots and get out there and experience it.

If you have ever wanted to know what a thru-hike is like, spend a few hours and watch Tell it on the Mountain.


For more information

You can learn more about the film, the filmmakers, and the PCT, as well as purchase the film at www.tellitonthemountain.com.

To learn about the Pacific Crest Trail, visit the Pacific Crest Trail Association's website.




We received a free copy of Tell it on the Mountain for review here at Adventures in the Outdoors.

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