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REVIEW: The High Sierra Trail

The High Sierra Trail - A Documentary

The High Sierra Trail is the thru-hike for people who can only spare a week of vacation. Unlike the longer John Muir Trail (JMT), which follows the Sierra Nevada north-to-south from Yosemite to Mount Whitney (or vice versa), The High Sierra Trail (HST) traverses the range from west-to-east. And unlike the JMT, the HST only takes about a week to hike from end-to-end.

The 72-mile trail begins at Crescent Meadow in Sequoia National Park, joins the JMT at Crabtree Meadow, continuing to the summit of Mount Whitney, then out to Whitney Portal. Avid backpacker Chris Smead and his friend John hiked the trail last September, creating what became the 39-minute backpacking film called The High Sierra Trail: A Documentary.

I first saw the film at its premiere at the Switchback Showcase back in May. The documentary has three key components: history, adventure, and the typical antics that occur when “trail delirium” kicks in.

The history of the HST sets the stage, told through the voice of retired ranger William Tweed. Tweed is a 30-year veteran of the national parks, and weaves in colorful background on how the HST came to be.

The adventures Chris and his friend John encountered on their HST thru-hike include a near-miss lightning strike, unpredictable weather, and culminates with their summit of Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states.

My initial takeaway from the film? The High Sierra Trail really captured the essence of the HST, and how much adventure you can squeeze into just one week. If you’ve ever thought about hiking the HST, you should see this film.

The High Sierra Trail:  Official Trailer

Where to See The High Sierra Trail

The documentary is not yet available to stream online, as it’s still being shown in a variety of film festivals around North America. Outmersive Films has held a number of their own screenings, including a multi-film event called the Switchback Showcase.

To find a screening near you, follow Outmersive Films on social media and subscribe to their email newsletter at

More on the High Sierra Trail

Ready to plan your own adventure on the High Sierra Trail?  Get our HST Guide!

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