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Movie Review: Tell it on the Mountain

Map of the PCT and hikers from Tell it on the Mountain

Map of the PCT and hikers from Tell it on the Mountain

The Pacific Crest Trail is one of three famously long trails in the National Scenic Trails system. It extends over 2,600 miles, from Mexico to Canada. Established in 1968, the trail itself was not completed until 1993 — just twenty years ago. And each year, about 300 hikers from all walks of life step out on the PCT with the goal of thru-hiking from one end to the other. It’s an epic trek that typically takes about five months of hiking 20 miles a day — through the deserts, mountains, forests, weather, blisters, aches, pains and temptations.

What drives people to devote five months of their lives to this trail? What kind of people attempt to thru-hike the PCT? What is it like to live on the trail for days, weeks and months? The film Tell it on the Mountain – Tales from the Pacific Crest Trail gives you a taste of PCT.

Tell it on the Mountain follows a diverse collection of PCT hikers, telling the story of the PCT through their experience. You meet Scott Williamson, who held the speed record for thru-hiking the PCT, and was the first to complete a yo-yo PCT hike (Mexico to Canada and back to Mexico again). Billygoat — 69 years young — who has spent time on the PCT every year for the past 17 years. There’s a couple who hike 2,000 miles to their own wedding. And several hikers from Europe, who marvel at our truly wild wilderness.

With the popularity of books like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, our curiosity with hiking long trails like the PCT has been piqued. While the PCT used to be known mainly among hard core hikers, now the general populace has at least some awareness of the trail. Tell it on the Mountain takes a close-up look what it’s like to hike the 2,600 mile trail.

Rather than tell about the Pacific Crest Trail, producer Shaun Carrigan focused on the experience of the trail. For that, he worked with specific couples and individuals with varied backgrounds and perspectives. You feel their nervous excitement as they start the trail at the Mexican border. The joy as they come across a desert water cache diligently hand-carried by caring trail angels. And you walk with them as they become accustomed to the rhythm of life on the trail.

The “Cast” of Hikers

I loved the varied characters of the film. I’ve read about Scott Williamson before, as he is well known in distance hiking, but I’d never met him. Seeing him on screen gave me insight into what makes him tick. He came across as a very humble, unassuming guy. Well-spoken, and yet driven to hike the PCT faster (and further) than anyone. And… he never filters his water anywhere along the trail. Yep, he’s in the “dip and sip” camp.

I met Billygoat at the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off  (better known as ADZPCTKO or simply, “the Kick-Off”) in Lake Morena earlier this year. He is a John Muir look alike who spends a good part of every year on the PCT, and has seen it change over the years. Case in point — his stand on those desert water caches might ruffle the feathers of a few other PCT thru-hikers.

The story of Saurkraut and his girlfriend Alina was bittersweet. Imagine saving, planning and preparing for a five month long trip of a lifetime. Saurkraut worked long hours in his home in Germany, while his girlfriend did the same in Spain, knowing that by prudently saving, preparing and planning, they would soon be spending every day together for five months on the PCT. And then… an injury that keeps one of them off the trail. Everyone hiking the PCT knows it could happen, but how do you adjust your plans to deal with it? Their story was a reminder that hiking the PCT requires flexibility. Hiking it is less about reaching a goal and more about the journey.

Tell it on the Mountain is a must-see film for anyone who loves the beauty of our wilderness, the excitement of epic adventure, and the stories of real people on a remarkable journey. The scenery is spectacular, and following the hikers as they make their way toward the Canadian border, you share in their experience, taking in the challenges, the beauty, the heartbreak and the joys along the PCT.

I give Tell it on the Mountain a thumbs up! Way up. 

Tell it on the Mountain — Tales from the Pacific Crest Trail
Director: Lisa Diener
Producer: Shaun Carrigan
Run Time: 119 minutes

DVD Available on Amazon or as a Digital Download via the official web site

Photo credits: Shaun Carrigan

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