Into the Wild | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild | Chapter 2 : The Stampede Trail | Summary



Chapter 2 details the geography of the Stampede Trail and the area surrounding Bus 142, where McCandless set up camp. Although the trail through the rough terrain was begun in the early 1930s, nothing was done to make it more passable until 1961. The Yutan Construction Company started to develop the marshy land, soggy from the overflow of the numerous rivers that crisscrossed the terrain. But in 1963 the company closed down their operation. Workers found it impossible to build heavy-duty roads and stable bridges across rivers that would overflow their banks every spring with snow thaw from the nearby Outer Range. The workers left Bus 142 by the Sushana River as a refuge for hunters and wanderers who might pass through the area.

On September 6, 1992, three moose hunters in trucks navigated the swollen Teklanika River and crossed the rugged land to Bus 142. There, Ken Thompson, Gordon Samel, and Ferdie Swenson found an Anchorage couple who reported a "bad smell" emanating from the bus. The couple had also found an SOS note signed "Chris McCandless" taped to the bus's door. The hunters peered through the windows and saw a body in a sleeping bag. A bit later, Butch Killian, an EMT, joined them and called the state police. The next morning the corpse was helicoptered to the medical examiner for an autopsy. The coroner weighed the body at 67 pounds and pronounced the cause of death—starvation.


This chapter opens with McCandless's alias, Alexander Supertramp, raving that his hero novelist, Jack London "is King." London (1876–1916) was a successful author whose novels and short stories, many about living in the wilds of Alaska, were highly popular. Krakauer follows McCandless's comment with an excerpt from London's White Fang. London describes a forbidding Alaskan wilderness that scoffs at adventurers who believe they can conquer it. London's choice of words, including "desolation," "a laughter cold as the frost," and "savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild" paint an image of a cruel and dangerous area that is uninhabitable by humans. McCandless's fate seems to prove the quotation is accurate.

Bus 142, where he finds paltry shelter against the elements in the harsh Alaskan wilds, figuratively becomes a symbol of McCandless's desire to live a life of simplicity in harmony with nature and literally becomes his coffin. The book mentions Bus 142 at key points, such as in the Epilogue when Chris's parents visit it to contemplate and memorialize their son's death.

When McCandless tramped into the area in April, the rivers had yet to become engorged with tons of melting snow and ice from the nearby mountains. The foot-and-a-half of slush that had kept Gallien from driving farther down the trail in Chapter 1 should have alerted McCandless to turn around. But even if McCandless had noticed this warning sign, it might not have been enough to persuade him to change his mind. Chapter 1 raises important questions that will inform the rest of Into to Wild. Who was Chris McCandless? What drove him to set off into the wild? McCandless's decision to enter the wild despite the warning signs haunts the people who knew him. It also haunts Jon Krakauer.

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