Weekend Warm-Up: The Last Hill

What makes a great adventure story?

Is it achieving something completely new? Is it capturing never-before-seen images? Or is it fellowship and grit overcoming adversity?

For my money, the answer is far simpler. Any story, adventurous or not, only works when it has a great storyteller. Luckily for The Last Hill — the latest outdoor documentary from Patagonia — it has Max Hammer to deliver the narrative goods.

Hammer’s poignant and personal narration holds together this story of three friends hitting the road with bikes and skis. Joined by Joel Oberly and Nick Russell, Hammer’s mission is both straightforward and brutal: to bikepack from Reno, Nevada to the base of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S.

bikepackers near the mountains

Biking down Highway 395. Photo: Screenshot


Backyard adventure

Hammer wanted to see if he could find adventure “out the back door,” and he certainly seems to get his desire. The journey starts with putting three skiers on bikes loaded with camping gear, then seeing if they can handle hundreds of kilometers of punishing riding down California’s Highway 395.

“With the crew sorted, bikes loaded, and total ignorance on our side, we hit the road,” Hammer says.

Veteran viewers of outdoor documentaries will see plenty of familiar elements, from cold beers and unkempt beards to impulsive plans and exhausting results. When 60-kph winds force the team to take a detour, they hike up the Dana Plateau, only to find snow “like boilerplate ice” for the ski descent.

It was worth the effort, Hammer says, but the cumulative exhaustion takes its toll.

“We left the Dana plateau feeling accomplished, but totally destroyed,” Hammer tells us. “What we didn’t realize at the time is that we were riding a delicate line between mind and body. Between the desire to ride every line and the reality that our bodies needed a break. Being pulled in both directions, we found ourselves lost in the middle, and it was here that things started to get weird.”

snowboarder riding above cyclists

Hijinks abound in ‘The Last Hill.’ Photo: Screenshot


Plenty of hijinks ensue, from ice ax-throwing competitions to snowboarding on icy ridges above the other cyclists. That’s before the crew makes the final push to reach Mount Whitney, a hike-a-bike approach involving thousands of meters of elevation gain before they ever strap on the skis.

Yet it’s Hammer’s brainchild and heartfelt reflections that drive this documentary to its natural conclusion.

“We were hardened by wind, bike seats, and cold-water plunges,” he says. “Altitude, sun, and lengthy approaches. We laughed with and at each other, and gave witness to the true beauty of the Sierra in a slow-paced, intimate way.”

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.