Into the Wild

Based on a true story. After graduating from Emory University in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters who shape his life.

Update : More photographs of Chris can be found here :

http://lancastria.net/blog/?p=1341

And here :

http://lancastria.net/blog/?p=190

Into the Wild
Into the Wild

Christopher Johnson McCandless (12 February 1968 – 18 August 1992) was an American wanderer who hiked into the Alaskan wilderness with little food and little equipment, hoping to live a period of solitude. Less than five months later, he died of starvation near Denali National Park. In 1996, Jon Krakauer wrote a book about his life, Into the Wild, which inspired a 2007 film of the same name (directed by Sean Penn and starring Emile Hirsch as McCandless, soundtrack featuring Eddie Vedder).

Christopher johnson mccandless
Christopher johnson mccandless

McCandless grew up in Annandale, Virginia, located in affluent Fairfax County. His father, Walt McCandless, worked as an antenna specialist for NASA. His mother, Wilhelmina “Billie” Johnson, was his father’s secretary and later helped Walt establish and run a successful consulting company.

From early childhood, teachers noticed McCandless was unusually strong-willed. As he grew older, he coupled this with an intense idealism and physical endurance. In high school, he served as captain of the cross-country team, urging teammates to treat running as a spiritual exercise in which they were “running against the forces of darkness….all the evil in the world, all the hatred.

He graduated from W.T. Woodson High School in 1986 and from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1990, having majored in history and anthropology. His upper middle-class background and academic success masked growing contempt for what he saw as the empty materialism of American society. In his junior year, he declined membership in Phi Beta Kappa, on the basis that honors and titles were irrelevant. McCandless was strongly influenced by Jack London, Leo Tolstoy, and Henry David Thoreau, and he dreamed about leaving society for a Thoreau-like period of solitary contemplation.

chris mccandless
Chris mccandless

After graduating in 1990, he donated $24,000 of the $42,000 given to him by family friend for his last two years of college to Oxfam International, a charity, and began traveling under the name “Alexander Supertramp” (Krakauer notes the connection with WH Davies, Welsh author of ‘Autobiography of a Super-Tramp’ published in 1908). McCandless made his way through Arizona, California, and South Dakota, where he worked at a grain elevator. He alternated between having jobs and living with no money or human contact, sometimes successfully foraging for food. He survived a flash flood, but lost his car. He also paddled a canoe down remote stretches of the Colorado River to the Gulf of California. McCandless took pride in surviving with a minimum of gear and funds, and generally made little preparation.




For years, McCandless dreamed of an “Alaskan Odyssey” where he would live off the land, far away from civilization, and keep a journal describing his physical and spiritual progress as he faced the forces of nature. In April 1992 McCandless hitchhiked to Fairbanks, Alaska. He was last seen alive by James Gallien, who gave him a ride from Fairbanks to the Stampede Trail. Gallien was concerned about “Alex”, who had minimal supplies (not even a magnetic compass) and no experience of surviving in the Alaskan bush. Gallien repeatedly tried to persuade Alex to defer his trip, and even offered to drive him to Anchorage to buy suitable equipment and supplies. However, McCandless ignored Gallien’s warnings, refusing all assistance except for a pair of rubber boots, two tuna melts, and a bag of corn chips. Eventually, Gallien dropped him at the head of the Stampede Trail on Tuesday, April 28, 1992.

After hiking along the snow-covered Stampede Trail, McCandless found an abandoned bus used as a hunting shelter parked on an overgrown section of the trail near Denali National Park and began his attempt to live off the land. He had a 10-pound bag of rice, a Remington semi-automatic rifle, with plenty of .22LR hollowpoint ammunition, a book of local plant life, several other books, and some camping equipment. He assumed he could forage for plant food and hunt game. Despite his inexperience as a hunter, McCandless poached some small game such as porcupines and birds. Once he killed a caribou(he mistakenly called it a moose in his journal) however, he failed to preserve the meat properly and it spoiled. Rather than thinly slicing and air-drying the meat, like jerky, as is usually done in the Alaskan bush, he smoked it, following the advice of hunters he had met in South Dakota.

His journal contains entries covering a total of 189 days. These entries range from ecstatic to grim with McCandless’ changing fortunes. In July, after living in the bus for several months, he decided to leave, but found the trail back blocked by the Teklanika River, which was then considerably higher and swifter than when he crossed in April. There was a hand-operated tram that crossed the river 1/4 of a mile away from where he fell in. Unfortunately, McCandless was unaware of this because the only navigational aid in his possession was a tattered road map he had found at a gas station, which did not contain the type of detailed topographical information which could easily have saved his life.

On August 12, McCandless wrote what are assumed to be his final words in his journal “Beautiful Blueberries”. He tore the final page from Louis L’Amour’s memoir, Education of a Wandering Man, which contains an excerpt from a Robinson Jeffers poem entitled “Wise Men in Their Bad Hours”:

Death’s a fierce meadowlark: but to die having made
Something more equal to centuries
Than muscle and bone, is mostly to shed weakness.
The mountains are dead stone, the people
Admire or hate their stature, their insolent quietness,
The mountains are not softened or troubled
And a few dead men’s thoughts have the same temper.

On the other side of the page, McCandless added, “I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL!”

On September 6, 1992, two hikers and a group of moose hunters found this note on the door of the bus:

“S.O.S. I need your help. I am injured, near death, and too weak to hike out of here. I am all alone, this is no joke. In the name of God, please remain to save me. I am out collecting berries close by and shall return this evening. Thank you, Chris McCandless. August?”

His body was found in his sleeping bag inside the bus, weighing an estimated sixty-seven pounds. He had been dead for more than two weeks. His official cause of death was starvation.




Biographer Jon Krakauer suggests two factors may have contributed to McCandless’s death. First, he was running the risk of starvation due to increased activity, compared with the leanness of the game he was hunting. However, Krakauer insists starvation was not, as McCandless’ death certificate states, the primary cause of death. Initially, Krakauer claimed McCandless might have ingested toxic seeds (Hedysarum alpinum). However, extensive laboratory testing proves conclusively there was no alkaloid toxin present in McCandless’ food supplies. In later editions of the book, therefore, Krakauer has speculated a fungus Rhizoctonia leguminicola could have grown on the seeds McCandless ate. However, there remains no evidence to support Krakauer’s theory, and all forensic data suggest starvation.

Others have speculated that McCandless’ risk-taking and overconfident behavior which led to his death stemmed from an untreated mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

The magic bus
The magic bus

Krakauer’s book made Christopher McCandless a heroic figure to many. By 2002, the abandoned bus (No. 142) on the Stampede Trail where McCandless camped became a tourist destination.Sean Penn’s film Into the Wild, based on Jon Krakauer’s book, was released in September 2007. In October 2007, a documentary film on McCandless’s journey by independent filmmaker Ron Lamothe, The Call of the Wild, was released.McCandless’s story also inspired an episode of the TV series Millennium,the album Cirque by Biosphere, and folk songs by singers Ellis Paul, Eddie From Ohio,Harrod and Funck,and Eric Peters.

Unlike Krakauer and many readers, who have a largely sympathetic view of McCandless,some Alaskans have negative views about those who romanticize his fate.Because he chose not to buy a map and a compass (items which most people in the same situation would have considered essential) McCandless was completely unaware that a hand-operated tram crossed the impassable river ¼ mile from where he attempted to cross. Had McCandless known this, he could easily have saved his own life. Additionally, there were cabins stocked with emergency supplies within a few miles of the bus, although they had been vandalized and all the supplies were spoiled, possibly by McCandless, as detailed in Lamothe’s documentary. The most charitable view among McCandless’ detractors is that he was somewhat lacking in basic common-sense, i.e., venturing deep into an isolated wilderness area on his own without adequate planning, preparation and supplies was almost guaranteed to end in disaster.

Alaskan Park Ranger Peter Christian wrote: “I am exposed continually to what I will call the ‘McCandless Phenomenon.’ People, nearly always young men, come to Alaska to challenge themselves against an unforgiving wilderness landscape where convenience of access and possibility of rescue are practically nonexistent […] When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate. First off, he spent very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived at the Stampede Trail without even a map of the area. If he [had] had a good map he could have walked out of his predicament […] Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide.

4 Replies to “Into the Wild”

  1. If you saw Marc Paterson hiking in the woods or hitchhiking along a lonely back road, you might not think much of it. In fact you might not even notice. That suits Paterson just fine.

    The 29-year-old is on the journey of a lifetime … a journey that could cost him his life. And he couldn’t be happier.

    “I’m going to test my limits, I guess, to see what it’s like to be hungry. I’m trying to put myself in an environment where nothing’s spoon-fed. I mean, where I might have to go run around the woods for a bit, or go fishing for a few hours to catch a fish, catch my own dinner,” he said. “It’s really rewarding. In our society where you can just swipe a card or a debit card, it gets a little too easy some time. I’m challenging myself.”

    It is a challenge quietly taken up by hundreds around the world, all of them headed to Alaska, chasing a dream written down in the pages of a best-seller and now on screen in a movie called “Into the Wild.”

    “Into the Wild” is the true story of Chris McCandless, a 24-year-old honors graduate from a privileged East Coast family who died a lonely, painful death in the Alaskan bush. It is the story of how he got there and what he did along the way that has made McCandless an almost saintlike figure to his many devoted followers.

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