Review: Highline

As the idea of thru-hiking became more popular in the past decade, so has aspirational books and movies about this topic.

Many people dream of spending months hiking the Appalachian Trail or squirreling away hard-earned time bank funds to take off on something such as the 220 mile-long John Muir Trail.

Except, few people have the time and opportunity to take off of on their version of an extended wilderness pilgrimage.   Job pressures, family obligations, or other goals take precedence over months or even weeks spent on an extended backpacking vacation.

So people consume YouTube videos, look over Instagram photos, or watch other forms of media about places they dream about and wish to experience for themselves someday.

As such, shorter and more attainable thru-hikes for the working stiff are getting to be on the radar.

Finding myself in a similar position a few years ago, I researched the unofficially named “Unita Highline Trail” (UHT) as a vacation thru-hike for myself.

Viewing the Uintas from Dinosaur National Monument.

About 100 miles long, including a side-trip to Utah’s highpoint of Kings Peak, the UHT provides a set-goal for those who want a “plug and play” experience if with difficult shuttling options that changes from year to year. (You can read more about the logistics of this route here.)   

One of my more researched articles, it seems interest in this route sparked over the years.

And now you can experience some of the grandeur of the route via the new documentary HIGHLINE by Outmersive Films.

Outmersive is making a niche for itself with hiking based documentaries from the “every person’s” viewpoint.

And Highline proves to be no different. Though the hikers have differing amounts of experience, none of them are full-time hikers. They are primarily small business owners with families.  Taking off for months, or even weeks is not an option for them at this stage of their lives.

The average viewer of this film can relate to the story the documentary is telling.

Which makes a segue to how I felt about the film itself.

The documentary, in my opinion, easily divides into three distinct parts.

The local’s view

At McKee Draw outside of Vernal, UT

My favorite parts of the documentary invariably ended up the insights into history, geography, ethnography, and the overall background of the Unitas itself from archeologist Tom Flanigan. When I walk through an area, I enjoy knowing this type of information itself beyond the narrow route corridor. For me, this type of information adds to my overall enjoyment of an area.  Flanigan proved to be an engaging narrator for this info. Frankly, I’ve love to attend a lecture by him and learn more about greater Uinta region!

On a similar note, I appreciate avid trail worker and member of the local Uinta Backcountry Horseman member Gordon Hirschi giving his insights into maintaining this trail. Gordon and I correspond periodically, and he knows the Uintas on a very intimate level. People who put sweat equity into working within a backcountry area always seem to have insights beyond the raw statistics of a trail as well.

Additionally, other people such as USFS wilderness manager Ryan Buerkle give information on public land-use debate, proper etiquette in the backcountry, and additional information about the background of this area.  I enjoyed this part of the documentary quite a bit.

The personal view

My friend Andy (Garlic) on our UHT hike.

Of interest to many people who enjoy the aspirational aspects of these documentaries are the personal biographies of the hikers, be it on the UHT or such places at the Pacific Crest Trail.

I am an outlier in this regard as am I less interested in the personal biography of people and their motivations to hike a route or trail. As such, I felt the biographical profiles of the hikers ended up being too long for my tastes. I tend to subscribe to the Colin Fletcher view of writing (or documentaries in this case): I want to see or read about the wilderness or journey itself and let the personality and background of the person come through more organically. A little goes a long way for me or, perhaps, intersperse each of the profiles a bit over the documentary.

However, I realize many people enjoy this type of storytelling in our modern times.  Meaning,  the wild places as a backdrop to a personal journey rather than a journey through the wild places and then reflecting upon the places from a personal level.

Most people want to relate to the hikers on such a trek. Based on the popularity of similar documentaries, movies, and books (and the explosion of this type of “influencer” on social media such as YouTube), I suspect most people will enjoy the deeper dive into the personalities of the people and their background in this documentary.

The Unita Highline Trail itself

As with previous documentaries, I found the cinematography exquisite. I felt the desire to explore the Uintas in more detail after seeing this “highlight” reel of the wild places.  The mountains, streams, lakes, and even inclement weather all add to the beauty of this unique East to West range at the edge of the Colorado Plateau.

For anyone who desires to trek in the Uintas, much of the “eye candy” will further fuel your desire to see this area. And seeing backpackers that people can identify with on a personal level will only add to this appeal for many.

Overall

Most people will enjoy cinematography combined with natural and human history background presented by the local experts.   I suspect the majority of viewers will also find the more in-depth context and vignettes on the hikers of interest. If your taste runs more towards Colin Fletcher-esque storytelling, you might wish for more concise background vignettes on the hikers.

How to watch?

Highline is available for streaming on AmazoniTunesGoogle PlayMicrosoft VideoVimeo, and Vudu.  And available for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray.

Disclosure: Outmersive Films made the documentary available for my review at no cost.

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Gordon Hirschi
Gordon Hirschi
1 month ago

Thanks Paul for the great compliments it’s great to receive recognition such as this.

Jeff McWilliams
Jeff McWilliams
1 month ago

I’m confused. Here you say there are shuttle services available now which makes the logistics of doing the trail a lot easier.

But at your page for the trail, there are posts indicating Wilkins Bus is no longer in service. The only option left according to your page is a combination of hitchhiking and Greyhound bus hopping, which seems less than optimal.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago

Thank you for “The River” recommendation my library had an ebook copy. McPhee’s “Encounters with the Arch Druid” always stuck with me. I’ll check out the documentary, we have a lot of indoor time here in the East.