In To The Wild

Into The Wild is a book written by Jon Krakauer, a very credible and accomplished Mountaineer and author. It is a true life account of a young man named Christopher Johnson McCandless, who died young and alone in Alaska in 1992. I first read this book many years ago. My reaction was, as I recall, that of disdain for this young man, who was so unprepared to go into this wilderness that I knew as unforgiving, and that I had already put in a great deal of effort to educate myself about.

Book Cover

Just recently I went to the movie In To The Wild, a Sean Penn production. I sat through it with a completely different demeanor than when I had first read the book. I saw the struggle of a young idealistic man to free himself from the trappings of the life that others wished for him. I saw how he ran away from a lot of things, and that he sought out something that was more true, more basic, more fundamental in life. I was moved by the feeling that what McCandless did was actually quite profound, quite revolutionary, and not really as careless as I had passed it off when reading the book before. Like Krakauer I saw parallels between Chris McCandless and myself. Yes he seemed foolish to burn all his cash and leave himself with none, but he had an education and skills that could land him a good career at his whim and he knew it. No more foolish I thought, than when I quit college and ran away to Alaska with $50 I had borrowed, without a job and at a time they were saying it was foolish to do so.

Yes to me it was unthinkable to go out into a wild Alaskan country without even good map, one of the ironic blunders he made. Had he not made this one, it could have made his return almost trivial rather than tragic. But some of my adventures have been unthinkable to others as well, I have been told before by veteran climbers that the climb I was proposing to embark upon was certain death, and suicide to attempt. I have also learned many times that the line between success and failure in the mountains can be very thin, and even the well prepared can loose their entire safety margin in an instant. A single thinking error, a hesitation in decisiveness, lack of experience in an extraordinary situation, or just fate can undo everything, as it can in other walks of life.

There are of course major differences as well, mainly that I have always used the very best knowledge, preparedness, equipment and technique I could muster. Nevertheless the spirit of going in to the wild seems a common thread. One of escaping the trappings of society for a time, somehow making living amongst men of ambition tolerable. The act of running toward something, seeking an absolute truth through nature and toil and hardship is what mountaineering is about. To reach some place that may only exist in our minds, that is the quest.

I bought the book again and am re-reading it, more carefully this time. It has a lot in it about the young man who dared to go into the wilderness with few provisions, about the author, himself a contemplative and accomplished adventurer, about life, and about me.

The movie was excellent also I think, though I was never really a fan of Sean Penn, this work is extraordinary to me. I am glad I got to see it after age had given me the vision to see shades of grey rather than the more idealistic black and white of youth.

I did a photo search for the now famous Bus 142, where McCandless used as his base the last 16 weeks of his short life in 1992. I found some good pictures on Flickr taken by a photographer out of Fairbanks Alaska

Her name is Carol Falcetta

Her flickr page is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/43755981@N00/

Her photography site is here: http://www.athousandwords.us/

Photos of Bus 142 are posted here with her permission and she has the express copyrights. If you like good photography, her sites are worth checking out.

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I have a couple photos to share from my little treks into the wilds of Alaska as well

First a self portrait on a solo camping trip to Marshal Pass, which is about 4 miles off the Richardson Highway about 20 miles from Valdez. I did this in 1976 when I was 21 years old. This particular trip I shared the hillsides with a most enormous grizzly bear. We had several encounters, each time he let me pass in peace, I guess I wasn’t a threat to him.

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This next one is from a more recent trip I did with a buddy in 2005. It was a week long fly in trip to a remote cabin on the north coast of the Gulf of Alaska. We were the first ones to rent the public use cabin, which was new at the time. This was a truly wild place, may be I’ll do a blog about it sometime.

Steve-Bering-Glacier-2004

Behind me in the photo is the Bering Glacier and lake, named after the Danish Navigator and Explorer Vitus Bering. He died in December of 1741 exploring Alaska while on a 10 year expedition mapping the Siberian and American coasts, an enormous task at the time.

I will always seek the wilderness experience at some level, and I will always climb my mountain in Alaska, whether it be a true alpine experience or a photo shoot of nature. The spirit of youth is kept alive for me in these places, something I think is worth hanging on to. So that is why I go In To The Wild.

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12 Responses to In To The Wild

  1. Cindy says:

    I love the wilderness but only at temperatures of 70 degrees and above.
     

  2. Barb says:

    Interesting blog Steve.  I have read Into Thin Air by the same author but I\’m not familiar with this story.  It\’s amazing how your thoughts were altered after viewing the movie.  Sometimes we need to see events through the eyes of others to discover our own compassion.  Or perhaps you have just mellowed over the years. 🙂
     
    I love getting into Mother Nature.  It heals and restores a person.
     
    I went over to the soccer field tonight to get out of the street lights even though I\’ve been coughing up a lung all day.  Darn hubby brought another cold virus into the house.  Grrrrr   There were no lights in the sky but it is really clear.  Figures lol
     
    Have a great evening and hope you capture some more great shots of the lights.
    Hugs,
    Barb 🙂
     
     
     

  3. Vieille Ourse says:

    So splendid ! Your story reveals a lot about you and your "partnership" with Nature. Lionel Terray once described climbers as « Les conquérants de l\’inutile » : see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lionel_Terray .
    As a youth I sometimes also wished I could just leave everything for those far northern countries… but never realized the dream …
    Nevertheless I often ventured into the “soft” wild of our European Alps – keeping in mind that Nature must be respected and “complied with”… i.e. being well equipped … not just getting off “light hearted” without even having had a look at the weather forecast.…

  4. Sheila says:

    Living life on one\’s own terms.  Yes this is an ambition of a different sort. This is very well presented and a blog I will remember for quite some time. Thank you for sharing this Steve.hugs,Sheila

  5. Cindy says:

    I read the book a couple years ago and it really made an impact on me also.   I\’ve never seen the color pictures of the bus.  Thanks for sharing them and the links to the photographers site. 
     
    Be careful.

  6. Nessa says:

    An interesting blog and a book and film I would like to read / see.  It has always been a dream of mine to escape to the wilderness, away from people and spend some solitary time alone with Mother Nature, but have only managed to escape to the wilds of Wales or Scotland for a week or so and you are never that far from people.  But even those short escapes can be refreshing and restore the spirit.  Your communion with nature is part of what makes you the person you are and I just cannot imagine you being happy living in a more built up area – you need the wildness to keep your soul at peace.  Thanks for sharing these memories xx

  7. elizabeth says:

    wonderful blog steve, one of your best.
    another glimpse into what makes you the man you are.
    loved it.   hugs, bb. xx

  8. Passing says:

    Hello Steve, thanks for visiting my new sudden blog. I lost everything but
    starting over can be a good thing. I saw a show about Bus 142 maybe a whole
    15 minutes long but caught my interest very much. Was he running away or
    running to, yet maybe felt the truth in nature more real than the life he knew.
    You seem to be like our friend Al. He always seems to be on a quest. Very interesting
    and I so very much enjoyed the pictures as always. Nature to me is so peaceful the
    way it should be, not as how man made the cities with binding rules and deadlines.
    Toodie

  9. tressie says:

    This story captured my attention both when it really occurred and then when the movie was made – the photos are wonderful – I love the bottom photo – the colors are exquisite.  ttfn ~ tressie

  10. Kimmy says:

    Steve.. when I first saw this blog and the photos I thought OMG my man Steve has been to the bus! (you have no idea how many blogs I had about this when it came out but have yet to see the movie because it never came to our theaters) I will have to visit Carol\’s flickr page and view more photos because these are just wonderful to see. I too was captivated by the book. I was enthralled with the trailer to the movie first and couldn\’t wait to get my hands on the book. (thank you Cindy!) I couldn\’t put it down. I was so amazed by Chris\’ spirit and enthusiasm towards the great unknown. I wanted him to succeed so badly. Oprah did a special when the movie was released with Mr Krakauer, Sean Penn and Emile Hirsch. Like you I was not so much a fan of Penn\’s but I\’m so glad he pushed for this movie as hard as he did. We all need a little Christopher McCandless in us. 🙂

  11. Kimmy says:

    Almost forgot.. that cabin trip you mentioned? Please blog about it soon. I would love to hear your trip *into the wild*. 😉

  12. BH says:

    This is a brilliant entry.  I remember reading about McCandless in the early 90\’s after his journal was discovered when he had been missing for quite some time.  I remember feeling some of the same feelings you had – I thought he was a fool.  But at the same time I had to respect his desire to break away just for himself.  I\’m envious of your adventures.  The trip to the cabin on the Gulf of Alaska sounds very interesting.  A dream of mine is to take my dad on a fishing trip in Alaska.  The memories would be priceless and I can only imagine the photo opps!Cheers,BH

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