Into the Wild | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild | Chapter 14 : The Stikine Ice Cap | Summary



Chapter 14 details Krakauer's decision at age 23 to climb the Devil's Thumb Mountain on the Stikine Ice Cap in Alaska. Krakauer's goal was to summit the mountain's northwest face—the most treacherous side to climb. He drove to Gig Harbor, Washington, where he hitched a ride on a fishing boat for the five-day trip to Petersburg, Alaska. From there he grabbed a ride with some tree planters, crossing the 25-mile span between the island where Petersburg is located to mainland Alaska and the mountain.

After the planters dropped him off, Krakauer trudged across the glacier. When he reached the snow line, he switched to cross-country skis. Four days later, on May 6, he reached the plateau of the Stikine Ice Cap and set up camp. Because of a blizzard, the plane carrying Krakauer's supplies for his three- to four-week stay in the barren spot couldn't make the drop until May 10. The following day, Krakauer began his climb up the Devil's Thumb, making it to 3,700 feet before he hit rock and had to descend to his camp.


Krakauer's purpose in this chapter is to show the reasoning of youthful adventurers obsessed with high-risk activities by including an example from his own personal history. Krakauer has already attempted to provide parallel examples of men seeking adventure to explore Chris McCandless's actions and motivations. Now he offers himself as perhaps the ultimate example.

Krakauer describes his own reasoning as he attempts to climb the dangerous northwest face of the aptly named Devil's Thumb. The extreme danger involved in making the attempt was an essential part of its magnetism for Krakauer: "that it wouldn't be easy was the whole allure." If an adventurer decides to increase the risk by facing the challenge alone, by choosing to go light on supplies, or otherwise chancing death, it makes the experience that much more exciting and potentially fulfilling. Krakauer admits that much of this desire to confront their mortality comes from the confidence of youth who have yet to be victims of the whims of fate, and as a result, believe they are indestructible. The euphoria of triumph also plays a part in choosing recklessness over caution.

There are uncanny parallels between Krakauer and McCandless. In fact, when Krakauer risks his life climbing the Devil's Thumb, he is only one year younger than McCandless when he went "into the wild" in Alaska. In addition both men were raised by demanding, competitive fathers who expected their sons to pursue traditional, high-powered careers as doctors or lawyers. Both fathers also introduced their sons to mountain climbing as children, sparking a deep love of adventure in nature that deeply influenced the paths they took later in life. As a young man, Krakauer, like McCandless was "willful, self-absorbed," and capable of obsessive focus.

Krakauer's and McCandless's rebellion against their fathers is also eerily similar. Both rejected the paths their fathers had laid out for them. Instead, they asserted their independence and possibly took revenge against their fathers on some level by aggressively insisting on defining their own lives as intensely as possible against their fathers' wishes. Both chose to reject conventional paths to success and live solitary lives on the edge of society, far from a traditional definition of success. Instead, both pursued solitary, high-risk activities, mountain climbing in Krakauer's case, and going off the grid and "into the wild" in McCandless's.

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