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Into the Wild | Chapter 17 : The Stampede Trail | Summary

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Summary

In July 1993 Krakauer visits his subject's camp accompanied by three seasoned hikers: Roman Dial, Dan Solie, and Andrew Liske, a friend of Dial's. The river rages by them in a torrent similar to what McCandless faced. Krakauer notes that, unlike McCandless, he has a detailed map that shows the U.S. Geological Survey Gauging Station just a half mile downstream. The men find an aluminum basket hanging from a cable used to transport people across the river during the flooding season on the Bus 142 side of the river. Krakauer notes that "if [McCandless] had known about it" by looking at a detailed map, he could have crossed the river using the basket. He posits that McCandless wanted to feel as if were in an "uncharted country," one that was off any map. Using climbing gear, Krakauer pulls himself across the cable, unhooks the basket, and rides it over to the other side. The other men do the same, and they all hike to Bus 142 through what Krakauer labels a "disquieting ... landscape ... It feels more malevolent than other, more remote corners of the state." Krakauer also mentions how some readers of his Outside article scoffed that McCandless had killed a caribou rather than a moose, more proof of his incompetence. Krakauer thought so, too, but changes his mind when he and the other men find a moose skeleton by the bus.

Inside Bus 142 Krakauer finds the boots Gallien gave the young nomad, the machete sheath from Franz, and McCandless's other belongings. He wrote some graffiti on the walls, which visitors to the bus have added to. McCandless's journal is filled with entries about the plants and berries he found and the animals he shot but not much more. Liske says, "He wrote about hardly anything except food." That night, the men discuss whether McCandless had been too naïve and ignorant about living in the wild or whether he knew the risks and was overly confident about his abilities. Krakauer acknowledges that McCandless "tried to live entirely off the country ... without bothering to master beforehand the full repertoire of crucial skills" but that McCandless was also "sufficiently skilled to last sixteen weeks" on minimal supplies and that he knew the risks.

Analysis

Some of McCandless's critics assume he was an idiot because, unlike seasoned Alaskan hunters, he could not tell the difference between a caribou and a moose. Krakauer notes the moose skeleton outside Bus 142 that proves otherwise. Conclusions about other aspects of his life and death are harder to find evidence to support, fueling ongoing debates about McCandless's motivations and actions. Was he a careless dreamer, an arrogant fool, or, as Krakauer has suggested earlier in the book, "something else"?

Krakauer and Roman Dial offer some alternative ways to view McCandless's time in the wild. Roman Dial, who has had his own wilderness adventures, admits that he "can't help identifying" with McCandless and points to McCandless's youth being a factor in his idealism and overconfidence. He believes that as a young man he could have made similar mistakes and died the same way. "Sure, he screwed up," Roman says, "but I admire what he was trying to do." He also sees McCandless's time in the wild as demonstrating a degree of practical skill: "Living in the interior bush for an extended period ... most people have no idea how hard that actually is. And McCandless almost pulled it off."

Krakauer also feels that stereotyping McCandless as a goofy dreamer or ignorant fool is a mistake. His interpretation of McCandless, however, tends to lean more toward transcendentalism than Dial's does. For example, he questions the frequent comparison of McCandless to other adventurers, including Sir John Franklin, John Muir, and McCandless's hero, Thoreau, noting significant differences between them. "Unlike Muir and Thoreau, McCandless went into the wilderness not primarily to ponder nature or the world at large, but, rather, to explore the inner country of his own soul." Is Krakauer guilty of romanticizing McCandless? Does he identify with McCandless too much himself? Or is his argument defensible?

McCandless read Thoreau, London, and Tolstoy, men who champion the freedom of a simple life, and he rhapsodized about choosing to live in the wild, no matter the risks. He believed that overcoming adversity by using mental and physical skills allowed for a purer existence, and this is the life that he desired. The question stands regarding whether McCandless weighed the differences of theory and reality, or if he chose only what he believed matched his ideology. Krakauer states that McCandless understood the ramifications of his decisions, but there is no way to prove it.

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