Into the Wild | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild | Chapter 15 : The Stikine Ice Cap | Summary



In Chapter 15 Krakauer completes his story about his challenge of the northwest face of the Devil's Thumb. For three days after he called a halt to his first attempt to reach the summit, he was confined to his tent because of heavy snow and high winds. Shaken by the very real fact that he almost died on the mountain, he spent this time convincing himself why he must try again. Reaching the summit was much more appealing to his ego than facing his father or returning to his construction job in defeat. After making his decision, he wanted to eat and lit his stove to make his breakfast, accidentally setting fire to part of his tent and burning his hand. He was more upset about ruining part of his father's expensive tent than hurting his hand and became convinced that he must complete his mission.

Krakauer discusses his relationship with his father, Lewis, who he describes as "kind and generous" but also "autocratic" and highly competitive. Lewis had strong ambitions for his son, Jon, to become a doctor and made efforts to shape Jon's future in that direction from early childhood. This caused a rift to develop between father and son, and Jon chose not to go to medical school but to become "a carpenter and climbing bum." Two decades later, Jon watches his father suffer from extreme physical and mental illness, including a suicide attempt. Jon changes his mind about his father. He accepts Lewis's imperfections and admits that his own stubborn anger contributed to their estrangement.

Krakauer resumes his story about climbing the Devil's Thumb. The next day, he started to scale the northwest face of the Devil's Thumb again but had to descend because another blizzard smacked into the mountain. Whiteout conditions forced him to dig out a shallow hole, crawl under a ledge, and wrap himself in a protective covering until the storm ended and he could return to his camp. The next day he chose to climb the less demanding southeast face. This time, he reached the summit in triumph. A week later, he sprawled on the stone-covered beach as he waited for the boat to return him to Petersburg and civilization.


Krakauer parallels his obsession to win the challenge of the Devil's Thumb with his struggle to deal with his father's expectations. He mentions that although his father sparked his passion for mountain climbing when Krakauer was eight, the man probably wouldn't have done so if he had known that his son would build his life around climbing instead of earning a medical degree from Harvard. His father was a man with a plan for his son, a plan that he expected his son would obey. When Jon resisted, it created conflict and then an "unbridgeable gulf" between the two men as communication between them broke down.

Determined to follow his own dreams, Krakauer attended the college of his choice and then worked construction while he spent his spare time climbing mountains. Facing his fears by pushing himself to the edge of danger was his way of proving that he was as tough as his father but also his own man. Until he beat Devil's Thumb, he expressed his anger for his father by opposing him as often as he could.

Krakauer's point is that many parents have dreams for their children. Sometimes when sons and daughters want to spread their own wings to soar to their goals, though, they often interpret their parents as controlling, and revolt. When they realize that their parents are human and not perfect, the pedestals where they placed them crumble and the rebellion turns into total disillusionment. The author theorizes that he and McCandless both dealt with major father-son issues. He doesn't specifically say that these conflicts lead to each of their arrogant dances with death, but he certainly implies it.

One crucial difference between McCandless and Krakauer is that Krakauer lives long enough to change his mind about his father and recognize that he is only human. It took two decades and his father's facing major physical and mental illness for Krakauer to reach a more mature, balanced point of view. He admits that he came to understood how his own behavior was part of the problem: "I saw that I had been selfish and unbending and a giant pain in the ass. He'd built a bridge of privilege for me ... to the good life, and I repaid him by chopping it down ..."

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