September 6, 1992 in Denali, Alaska…
A hunter on the Stampede Trail sought the shelter of a 1946 International Harvester bus that had been abandoned in 1961. The bus had been temporary home to many hunters and campers over the years. Unfortunately for this hunter, when he entered the bus, he discovered that is was already occupied.
Chris McCandless was born February 12, 1968 in El Segundo, California to Walt and Billie McCandless.
The family moved to Virginia in 1976 and Walt went to work for NASA.
Chris graduated from high school in 1986 and from Emory University in 1990. He double majored in history and anthropology.
After college, Chris pursued a transient lifestyle. He donated almost all of his savings to charity and, in April 1992, he hitchhiked to Alaska.
Jim Gallien was the last person known to see Chris before he headed out onto the Stampede Trail. Jim noted that Chris wasn’t prepared for the dangers of the trail. He had very little food, clothing and equipment. Jim tried to dissuade Chris from going, but he was unsuccessful.
According to Chris’s writings, he found the bus and set up camp there. His plan was to hike to the Bering Sea, but the terrain was too rough, so he stayed at the bus.
Chris took pictures of himself during his adventure. He also hunted for small game and foraged for food. On June 9, he shot a moose, but he stored the meat improperly and wasn’t able to consume much of the animal.
He stayed on the Stampede Trail for just under 120 days. In July, he decided to leave the trail, but the Teklanika River had risen and he couldn’t cross back over it.
Chris had purposefully not taken a map of the area. If he had, he would have known there was a bridge along the river close to where he crossed the first time.
By then, Chris was weak and starving. He left a note on the bus asking for help, saying that he was near death.
There were 113 daily entries in Chris’s journal. They recounted his hunting successes and failures, the things he had eaten and the decline of his health. Days 108-113 were just lines.
One entry blamed his rapidly declining health on the potato seeds he was eating.
He may have been right. In 2013, Ronald Hamilton suggested that Chris was unable to hunt and scavenge because he had been crippled by lathyrism. A toxic amino acid in the seeds can cause paralysis in malnourished individuals.
Chris died in his sleeping bag aboard the bus on August 18, 1992. The official cause of death was starvation.
Seeds from Chris’s campsite were tested and there was enough of the amino acid in them to have caused lathyrism in someone in his condition.
In 2015, a reporter from Alaska also suggested that mushrooms in the area could have caused his death.
Follow up testing also concluded that the potato seeds contained other toxins that could have also contributed to Chris’s death.
In 1996, Jon Krakauer wrote Into the Wild based on the journals and pictures left behind by Chris. He has followed up his book with several news articles as new testing and theories have been introduced.
The book was made into a film in 2007.
There is debate as to how Chris’s actions should be viewed. He is romanticized by some as a dreamer, a wanderer, a poet and a wild soul. Others see his actions as reckless and attribute his death to negligence.
A video summary of this week’s post can be found at