One of the goals on my bucket list is to hike the John Muir Trail, so when videographer Peter Bell got in touch with me to share his story about his time on the trail, I knew I had to share it with you.
In the summer of 2008, Peter hiked the John Muir Trail, but he didn’t just strap on a backpack and go. Instead, he hit the trail with nine other people … six of whom were boys in high school. Many of these boys were novices to backpacking, especially on something as intense as the John Muir Trail. In fact, even Peter had only ever backpacked for a couple nights at a time. Knowing what I know about high schoolers, this seems like quite the courageous endeavor and I give Peter huge kudos for introducing these kids to the California wilderness.
The other thing that made hiking the trail tougher than normal for Peter was the fact that he had to haul along video equipment. The purpose? To film the trip and create a documentary, which he has entered into the Sundance Film Festival, Mountain Film Festival and Wild and Scenic Film Festival. A trailer for the film is at the bottom of this post; I personally can’t wait to see the whole film!
Peter was kind enough to answer a few questions about his 2008 hike on the John Muir Trail. If you have other questions, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you hit him up on Twitter.
1. What was the catalyst for hiking the John Muir Trail with this group of high school students?
I came up with the idea to film the John Muir Trail while hiking in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia in college. We made a really bad hiking and camping TV show for college credit. We were hiking along the Appalachian Trail and some dudes were like, “You have to see the JMT out West. It is pretty much the best and most amazingly scenic hiking trail ever.” I took their word for it.
2. Can you tell me a little bit about the hike? What did you have to do to prep for it?
It’s 220 miles, starting in Yosemite Valley in California. It goes northeast for 20 miles then turns south for 200 miles, culminating atop Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48. There are limited resupply points and it is pretty remote … but totally doable. I definitely began training (mostly running) in late March—four months prior to setting off on the trail for 17 days. I tore my MCL in my knee about a month before the trip. Some time I’ll tell you about how I healed up with less than a week to spare.
Not a lot. It was pretty much what you would expect from a couple of 15-17 year olds. Hilarious mostly. We jived really well as a group.
4. Why did you decide to make a documentary of this experience? What do you hope people will take away from watching the film?
Two things: First, I hope folks are inspired to protect and preserve all wilderness areas, and secondly, I hope they are inspired to truly believe in themselves and to follow their dreams. We are much more capable than we can ever imagine. That is real talk.
5. Did you encounter any challenges while filming on the trail?
Yes. It was hard as shit. I was constantly having to catch up with the group. They would walk on by and I would be 300 yards behind. I had to really push myself and commit to shooting everything. I nearly ran out of camera power but really lucked out. I had a friend deliver three fresh batteries to me three days from the end of the trail. That saved my ass!
6. What tips do you have for people who would like to hike the John Muir Trail?
Go as light as absolutely possible. Wearing hiking sneakers instead of boots was a great decision for me. Follow the Leave No Trace principles. Mail a resupply to Vermilion. There is no store at Muir Trail Ranch. Hike your own hike.