Your guide to the best adventure documentaries: Part 2

By Justin Walker 16 April 2020
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In Part 2 of this series, Aus Geo ADVENTURE Editor Justin Walker presents five more brilliant documentaries. From a solo foot-borne traverse of Australia and an epic canoe journey, through to one of history’s most famous survival stories and the birth of one of the wildest sports on two wheels, there’s something here for all adventure junkies.

A fantastic doco detailing filmmaker Nate Dappen’s recollection of his parents’ – and uncle’s – epic 1974 canoe journey through the Pacific Northwest’s magical Inside Passage, from the USA’s Washington State, along British Columbia’s coastline, to Juneau, Alaska. The journey was never quite finished (the 1974 team stopped at Ketchikan in Alaska, 300 nautical miles short of their goal), which gave Nate and his brother Ben – along with his father and uncle – the perfect excuse to restore the original canoes and, 43 years later, finish the final leg of the journey. Not just a paddling story, but also a story of reconnection, dreams and the strength of family ties. The best 25 minutes and 19 seconds you’ll spend watching a screen. Simply brilliant.

Legendary Australian Jon Muir has climbed Everest, visited both the north and south poles, paddled numerous oceans and rivers around the globe, and completed many more amazing adventures. This one, the first 2500km solo south-north traverse of Australia, surely ranks as one of his best. The journey was filmed by Muir as he and his faithful Jack Russell trekked from South Australia’s Port Augusta to Burketown in Queensland, without resupply along the way. It took a mammoth four months. The film is a true eye-opener, taking the viewer into the arid centre of this country and also into the mindset of one of Australia’s greatest adventurers.

This documentary from Sender Films traces the history of Yosemite National Park’s often volatile and always exciting climbing scene. It starts its coverage from the late 1950s when Royal Robbins and Warren Harding challenged each other and traded first ascents of such famous peaks as Half Dome and El Capitan. Follow through the 1960s and ’70s when free-climbing came into vogue and the “dirtbag” climber lifestyle defined itself, and then onto today’s ambitious climbers, and you’ll see why this film’s mix of archival and recent footage (plus interviews; Yvon Chouinard is one interviewee) makes it so highly regarded. The climbing feats are amazing, the footage Sender Films has compiled is even more so. 

THE ENDURANCE: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition
Directed by George Butler, this doco uses historical footage from Frank Hurley (the photographer for Shackleton’s 1914 expedition) and a mix of modern footage to tell this famous story of survival. Shackleton and his crew of 27 spent 10 lonely months trapped in pack ice. Then, the British explorer set off in a small lifeboat with five other crew members on an 800 nautical mile journey to find help from whaling stations on surrounding islands. Amazingly, Shackleton and all 27 of his crew survived. The combination of silent archival footage, Liam Neeson’s Irish brogue as narration, and interviews with descendants of the survivors works well to deliver a sense of high adventure and a memorable recounting of one of the world’s best survival stories. 

Darcy Turenne directs this cool documentary that recounts the birth of free-ride mountain biking in the British Columbia (Canada) backwoods. It uses archival footage from the late 1980s and early ’90s, combined with interviews with the key riders and personalities of that era – including Wade Simmons, Richie Schley and Brett Tippie – to showcase the crazy beginnings of this now hugely popular riding style. With riders launching off tall timber bridges they’d built high in the forests of Vancouver’s North Shore, or screaming flat-out down steep gravel cliff faces of inland BC, free-ride MTB was considered ‘too wild’ even by the wider MTB community, which was, at that point, very cross-country racing focus. Filled with laughs, fantastic archival footage and more, it’s a must-watch.