Jon Krakauer believes he’s finally cracked the mystery surrounding the death of Christopher McCandless, whose four-month adventure into the Alaskan wilderness two decades ago became the subject of Krakauer’s bestselling book, ‘Into the Wild.’
Krakauer speculated in his book that the 24-year-old McCandless died after ingesting toxic alkaloids present in wild potato seeds.
Weighing just 67 pounds when he died, a medical examiner had ruled that the cause of McCandless’ death was starvation.
But Krakauer wouldn’t accept that ruling, pointing to the fact that McCandless himself blamed the potato seeds in a journal entry written just before he died in August of 1992.
From his journal: ‘EXTREMELY WEAK. FAULT OF POT[ATO] SEED. MUCH TROUBLE JUST TO STAND UP. STARVING. GREAT JEOPARDY.’
Krakauer explains that he recently came across the research of writer Ronald Hamilton, who concluded that a neurotoxin called ODAP was responsible for a degenerative disease, known as lathyrism, that slowly paralyzed him.
To prove Hamilton’s theory, Krakaeur last month had a batch of wild potato seeds tested for ODAP.
The chemist who conducted the test determined that the seeds contained a percentage of ODAP known to cause lathyrism in humans.
Krakauer writes, ‘Hamilton’s discovery that McCandless perished because he ate toxic seeds is unlikely to persuade many Alaskans to regard McCandless in a more sympathetic light, but it may prevent other backcountry foragers from accidentally poisoning themselves.
‘Had McCandless’s guidebook to edible plants warned that Hedysarum alpinum seeds contain a neurotoxin that can cause paralysis, he probably would have walked out of the wild in late August with no more difficulty than when he walked into the wild in April, and would still be alive today.
‘If that were the case, Chris McCandless would now be forty-five years old.’