Trail Doc of the Month // June 2019 // 20 minutes // Vimeo, free
Welcome to TheStringbean’s Trail Doc of the Month winner, Unsupported!
Unsupported is an awesome compilation of footage from four individuals taking on the epic John Muir Trail in the High Sierras as fast as possible. After touring in various film festivals and events, Jason Fitzpatrick and Allen Currano’s film is finally made public. I was lucky enough to catch Unsupported during the Trail In Motion Film Festival international tour, and the documentary also showed at the Trail Running Film Festival held in Seattle in 2018.
An epic FKT
The John Muir Trail (JMT) is the OG Fastest Known Time (FKT). Climbing and descending over 46,000 ft in 218 miles, the JMT traverses epic mountain terrain, including the highest point in the lower 48, Mt. Whitney. In the High Sierra Wilderness, you must endure high exposure areas, temperamental weather, bears and high elevation.
The modern concept of FKTs was birthed by Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin. Beginning with a wild idea to trek the JMT faster than anyone alive in the early 90’s, the film storylines these two pioneers alongside modern day efforts to run the trail even faster. Currently, longer trails like the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail attract more attention in the world of FKTs. That being said, the JMT remains the premier trail for multi-day fast packing. The ultimate testing ground to prove your strength in the mountains.
The film’s title, Unsupported, is a certain type of FKT where an athlete is not able to accept support or aid from a crew. He or she must rely on what they carry in their bag and water stops alongside streams. A Supported FKT can utilize a full support crew to achieve the goal.
Meet the athletes
Brett Maune (2009), Andrew Bentz (2014), Gavin Woody (2015) and Allen Currano (2015) are the subjects for the movie’s modern unsupported attempts of the JMT. Interviews and self-footage from the trail offer unique insight into these incredibly personal, freakishly perseverant and borderline dumb athletic feats.
Maune is methodical, persistent, esoteric. He is a double finisher of the Barkley Marathons. Bentz is the only true thru-hiker of the bunch, having completed the triple crown (I met him on my supported PCT FKT in 2014). During his interviews, Woody is boisterous bullheaded, but the footage of his FKT attempt shows his sentimental side. Currano is a true veteran of the JMT, having attempted the record four separate times. The film does a beautiful job of compiling self-footage from each of their separate attempts.
Stringbean’s hot take
As someone who has set both short trail (Wicklow Round) and long trail (PCT, AT) record attempts, I mightily respect how each individual approaches the trail. Every single one is humble – the mountains are always grander than the hiker. Each individuals forges their own path in the wondrous wilderness. Each experience is personal and unique, and the ultimate outcome is much less important than the journey to get there.
“We definitely tried to include a ‘hike your own hike’ perspective and at least a little bit of what draws people to go for FKT’s,” Currano said of the documentary. While we don’t know how John Muir would feel about his namesake trail turning into an athletic competition, I think he would admire the dedication and passion for the outdoors that FKTs inspire in athletes and even in those who can watch behind a computer screen.
Other notable documentaries
Want more FKT action and bad ass wilderness adventures? Check out Salomen’s new documentary of Emilie Forsberg taking on the Kundeslegen trail in Sweden!
Comment below on who you favorite athlete in the movie was!