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.
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.
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.
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.
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.