Into the Wild

“Happiness is only real when shared”

Those were some of the words Christopher McCandless wrote in his diary.

Made me think, when I arrived at the bus on Stampede Trail in Denali. I was glad to be in good company able to share this memorable moment. You can read the book, you can watch the movie, or you can listen to all the opinions on Chris’s life and adventures… Consider hiking to the bus yourself and get a real feel for what it takes to live out here. Amazingly enough the trail was put in by miners hunting for precious minerals and metals… They kept on going beyond the bus, off course. There were folks living in even more remote locations year-round with no road access. Lived in isolation for years, self sufficient, without any services to speak off. Living of the land. This is not to diminish Chris’s life. Just to put things in perspective, sort of.

The bus

The bus in which Christopher McCandless lived and died.

It’s no secret how to get there. Erik Halfacre maintains a detailed web site that contains all the information you need to get there. Information is a good start. You still need to master the hike. 20 miles of mud, snow, ice, water, mosquitoes, maybe a bear or two…, depending on the season and the weather it may be a breeze, or it could be simply suicide.

Standing at the banks of the Teklanika river certainly demands some respect. Haven’t crossed an Alaskan river before? Start at some other place. This river can be a death trap. It’s going to be a cold soaker no matter what, unless you are there in the midst of winter.

When we arrived at the Tek we saw a wet suit dangling in the wind and some size 15 sneakers on the ground. Is that the way you cross the river? I saw the wooden triangle on the other side. The water was moving swiftly, too high for my taste at that location.

We marched South for a half mile to find a spot, where the river is more braided. It took us maybe 2 minutes in the end to cross the frigid river. It seemed longer. Waist deep. Freezing cold. Knowing that Chris could not cross this river on his way back puts a voice in your head. I was relieved when we reached the other side. This river crossing is certainly the crux of the approach. The trail is pretty obvious, although under water in many places.

We were lucky with the weather. Mid September. No mosquitoes, freezing at night, wonderful day time temperatures. We even got a glimpse of Denali. Fall colors in the tundra. And then all of the sudden: the bus. Just like that.

A glimpse inside, just like in the movie. The chair outside…

We are here. No, it’ not just a bus, like the game warden said on the way back. It’s the bus, where Chris lived and died. The bus is disintegrating. It did and still offers shelter in the midst of nowhere. Why come here? Because it’s there, maybe.

We both wrote something in the visitors log. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote. It’s not important. Be kind to each other. Live your life. Something like that.

Even 21 years after his death he is revered by many, ridiculed by others. Interestingly enough the critics may have to reconsider their position, as a recent article by John Krakauer suggest a fatal connection between malnutrition and the poisonous effect of Hedysarum alpinum, a common plant in the Denali tundra that Chris may have consumed.


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