(Greek: κρυπτεία / krupteía, from κρυπτός / kruptós, “hidden, secret things”)

The Cult Of Chris McCandless: Don’t Drink The Kool Aid Kids

with 21 comments


Back in 2006-7 I posted an article and commentary on “The Cult Of Chris McCandless”, an article in Men’s Journal. It was an article in advance of the premiere of “Into The Wild” by Sean Penn and the re-release of “Into The Wild” the book by John Krakauer. Recently, this WordPress blog has seen a lot more traffic on that particular post and it got me wondering as to why now? I mean, it’s been 2 years since the film came out so whats the deal?

Once beginning to look at my traffic here, and Googling a bit, I came across an interesting site: TerraIncognita Films which is the frontpiece for Ron Lamothe and his movie “The Call Of The Wild”, a documentary that retraces the steps of Chris McCandless and offers up some revelations of insight into his death, his life, and the mindset he had when he walked into the Alaskan wild and the Stampede Trail.

The biggest of these revelations is that some of the alleged “facts” that John Krakauer had put into his book, were in fact wrong and perhaps, post his books publishing, were obfuscated as to their existence in the text.

Here are the salient facts that this new (2007 film that will be on PBS in 2009) has brought to light:

1) Chris McCandless did indeed have all his ID, $300.00 in cash, and a map in a backpack that was found by a local resident Will Forsberg in the fall of 1992. These items were returned to the family by the police shortly thereafter. So when Krakauer says he had no money, no map, and no ID because he wanted to be “free” of them to live, he was either mistaken or letting the mystique grow around the “ideal” that he had perpetuated in his book about Chris.

2) The pathologist who performed the autopsy of Chris stated emphatically that there was no chemical evidence from tox-screens that Chris was in any way brought down by Alkaloid poisoning. He in fact stated for the record that he believed McCandless had simply “Starved to death”, no other cause was the harbinger of this other than his lack of food.

3) The note that Chris had left at the bus when he was foraging for food that asked for help stated that he was injured, but no real injury was reported in the pathology report. Nor was this fact covered thoroughly in the book nor the biopic in 2007. Lamothe postulates that perhaps the reasons why Chris could not make it out even to the park road that was only 5 miles away (and not have to cross the Teklanika river) was because he had injured his arm and shoulder. Lamothe goes on to say that perhaps even this injury may have been healing or near healed but painful and thus not something that would have been seen by the pathologist at the time of autopsy.

4) The starvation that was the eventual cause of death was in fact a natural process and nothing to do with fungus growths on food nor the wrong plant being ingested. What Lamothe brings to the table is a BMI (Body Mass Index) assessment of McCandless while he was at the bus. The BMI shows that with his hunter gatherer lifestyle and the amounts of food and types, that he cataloged in his diary, that he consistently lost weight until he reached a BMI of 13. At such a point, a BMI of 13 will be the final point at which an adult male will expire from starvation… Coincidentally, when tracked with the diary, his death and the BMI of 13 coincide. He simply could not get enough nourishment to sustain himself.

So there you have it… Much of the premise of the book by Krakauer has been shown to be incorrect. Motivations, actions, altruism, and final outcome are not what they have been put out as by this book. Just how did all this information not make it out to the public as the movie was released back in 07 I wonder? Was it perhaps that all of this information would dampen the sales of the book and the film? Perhaps lessen the ardor of those “Alexander Supertramp” wannabe’s out there?

Which brings me back to the reason that I wrote the post in the first place. I had been seeing all kinds of articles and postings by people who were in the “Cult Of McCandless”. They spoke of how he lived a life that they wished to emulate, that they saw him as a hero, ballads were being written and sung! And I, I was agitated by it all because I saw McCandless’ death as a silly end to a bright individuals life all because he was too stubborn and foolish to really do the homework and survive.

Of course, this point of view is rather unliked by the “Kool Aide” set and I got some hate mail as well as posts like a recent one saying “You just don’t get it” Well, enlighten me moonflower please? I mean, this all has become a transcendant experience to you all.. Please explain to me how it was so fantastic that McCandless ran away from home to wander and end up starving to death alone in a bus about 5 miles from possible rescue? If he had “really” gone “Into The Wild” he would have really gone out somewhere that required a 6 hour helo flight to get there or back would he not? He didn’t, he lived alone on a dirt road in a bus… That’s it.

It was foolish and not something that you make a central part of your life to emulate kids.

So let me channel Red Foreman a moment and say “Don’t be a dumbass! Dumbass” All of this adulation has literally made the Alaskans consider destroying the bus or dragging it out of the Stampede to stop you fools from going up there and trying to re-live the McCandless tragedy. Something you can hear in an Alaska Radio show that I downloaded and listened to today. In general, Alaskans have a very poor opinion of this whole story and now, all of its attendant use by the powers that be, to make money off of the tale. Hell, they even found certain travel agents trying to sell “McCandless Magic Bus” tours! Ironically, if McCandless’ actually had  half the ideals that Krakauer put into the book, he would be sickened himself by it all.

So, in the end, all you who find yourselves linked to this new article by google, think upon what I have said. Perhaps catch the documentary by Laomothe, and think twice before you too set out with a 10lb bag of rice to “live off the land” and you too end up starving to death, which, is a rather slow and painful process.. Dumbass.


Written by Krypt3ia

2009/08/18 at 02:15

21 Responses

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  1. Years ago I dated an Alaskan. She had some very strong feelings about McCandless. I’ll just quote her: “Only a dumbass walks into the woods without a plan for how his friends are going to carry him out.”

    She didn’t believe going into the Alaskan wilderness was stupid. She’d done it plenty of times, really enjoyed it. But every time she left, she left plans with her family for how they were going to come carry her out if things went wrong.

    Funny that McCandless decided to skip this bit of essential Alaskan wisdom.

    Rob Hansen

    2009/08/18 at 02:34

  2. Heh, EXACTLY! As I said, he’s pretty much reviled.


    2009/08/18 at 02:40

  3. wow people(especially alaskans) really hate this dead kid. i found this story ultimatly fascinating and the criticism even more interesting. I think the alaskan bush is really feared more than revered and that drives people to it. and people hate anyone that do not fear the same thing. i respect all aspects of this story , and it contributes to the human saga, if he really did just starve to death five miles from a public road then thats ironic, if he was trapped and poisoned then thats mysterious.

    Albert Wesker

    2009/08/24 at 16:54

  4. i totally agree! i just saw into the wild, and i hadn’t known anything about mccandless. i felt that the film really suffered from the two mutually exclusive narratives: boy craves freedom and eschews human contact vs boy eventually learns too late the value of human contact.

    if you the viewer don’t think mccandless is a hero at the outset, you just wonder how everyone around him can stand him, he’s such a misanthrope! and if you do think mccandless is a hero, the ending is just romantic and leaves the viewer with the notion that he could have survived, if he hadn’t made that single fatal error. it’s a terrible myth to promote if it’s not true.

    i’ve been trying to find the men’s health article to learn more. thanks for writing about this and linking the archived version!


    2009/09/11 at 18:49

  5. I’m from Alaska, and I wouldn’t have done it. It was still a good story, or embelishment…


    2009/11/15 at 17:27

  6. I’m the real dumbass here. So are all of you. Calling people names and talking bad of the dead is just showing how much you think of yourself. Some of you think you may be better than him and be able to survive the months he did alive. I dare all of you to try it. Alaskans are so full of it. The Eskimos are the real Alaskans.

    CoB- I’m a fat o’ fatty.


    2009/12/26 at 02:08

  7. Wow.. Just wow, you have humbled me sir! Your rhetoric and ability to compose a proper sentence has me speechless! Oh, wait, I seem to be clearly and cogently using the English language here and now to write this response. Ok, so maybe you are a hapless mouth breather who decided that my speaking “ill of the dead”, and that is the right way to write that in a sentence, was in poor taste. I can deal with that and accept it. It’s your opinion.

    However, your whole response just re-inforces my contention that you, and your ilk are morons.


    2009/12/26 at 13:18

  8. OK. Second post. I am one to pick up on the moment when it inspires me…

    With some reservation of getting lumped in with everyone else, I will say “You just don’t get it”. Typical of the sheep to capitalize whether to try and breath the same air to to make a buck. Both are shams. First you can’t live someone else’s journey.

    I don’t know how much of this story is truth or fiction. But the same can be said for most historical or mythical figures. Most of what we read about Thomas Jefferson, Jesus, Gandhi, Emelia Erhart (sp), Branjolina, etc. are embellishments. That is what we do. It doesn’t make those people any less great, ok maybe a little less. Now Chris didn’t help start a country, turn water to wine, fight a nation, fly across the pacific, or … I don’t know what the last amalgam is known for other than being beautiful, but what he did do you something I and others consider inspiring, he decided he was going to live. For those of you that don’t see it, don’t see the growing house and your material things, your powerpoint presentations and your lattes, don’t see those as the formation of an early coffin around you, well then your just not going to get why some of us are inspired by what Chris was attempting to do (before you criticize me as a hippie, on more days than I care to admit I embody the previous description, but still probably a hippie at heart). The story for me wasn’t Chris’ time on the bus in Alaska, it was his journey to get there.


    2010/03/22 at 02:03

  9. I just finished watching the Penn movies, reading websites and comments about Chris, and “Call of the Wild” documentary…. PPL… HELLLLO! People successfully live off the land because they depend on their CULTURE and SOCIETY and FAMILY to do so. This is why Alaskans can’t idealize his spiritual quest. Ancient Wisdom is such because people recognize their need to depend on other people for their survival… not to tough it out on their own. Chris should have hiked out WITH THE USE OF HIS MAP… in late July… I’m sure he would have made much of his life and been a great dad.


    2010/06/14 at 17:48

  10. Chris never asked for anything from you. And, by the way, you didn’t do a damn thing for him. He took risks to find his own answers and paid for his own mistakes. His reach exceeded his grasp. I like Chris, but I certainly don’t like some of the arrogant self righteous people who have posted here.

    Brian Keith O'Hara

    2010/06/24 at 07:44

  11. Brian,
    You are entitled to your opinion just as well as everyone else here including me. However, just because our opinions diverge from you and from what perhaps Mr. McCandless was striving for does not make us arrogant.

    Frankly, it is my opinion that anyone who thinks that he was some visionary or a latter day messiah should have their reasoning challenged…


    2010/06/24 at 17:32

  12. It’s funny how people pride yourself themselves in their excruciating vocabulary when nothing is actually being stated or claimed…. Anyhow, I’m on the other side of the fence on this one. There are a lot of critics out there that quite frankly don’t concur with the idea that a journey like the one Chris went on. Writers write from what they know best, and critics, well, there will always be critics. It was something Mr. McCandless wanted to do. It was his decision and no one else’s. He died in the process of experiencing something he loved. Being in nature- seeking the beauty all around that God gas laid so eagerly before us. I completely understand his intentions. And to those saying he was out of touch with society, abandoned his family, wanted nothing to do with anyone ever again- I believe are all false accusations. “Happiness is only real when shard”- one of the last things McCandless had wrote before his demise. I believe that had realized that there was much more to his life than the one of solitude isolation he had lived for hose years. Imagine someone close to you whom you loved very much uprooting themselves from society by one means or another and in an unfortunate accident they die. And then one day you come across blog where tyrants are picking over their remains, not understanding the importance of that person and they’re unique qualities and you are only left to see the evil that your loved one was really running from in the first place. I believe in Karma. Period. I’m not going to lecture or be lectured to or look like a big guy hiding behind my computer throwing out intelligent one-liners but I will say that….Anyway, Rest in peace Mr. McCandless.

    Zachary F.

    2010/11/16 at 16:03

  13. Why such a site was created in the first place….Because Chris was getting too much of the attention, I want people to know what I think and fell. You have nothing better to do with your life. Why don’t you go on a hike today, I know of this one trail that goes down Stampede Road in Fairbanks Alaska. You should check it out.

    Zachary F.

    2010/11/16 at 16:16

  14. Why such a site was created in the first place……”Because Chris was getting too much of the attention, I want people to know what I think and fell”. You have nothing better to do with your life. Why don’t you go on a hike today, I know of this one trail that goes down Stampede Road in Fairbanks Alaska. You should check it out.

    Zachary F.

    2010/11/16 at 16:17

  15. Ahh to be young, stupid, and illiterate.


    2010/11/16 at 19:10

  16. Gee zach, looking at your posts on the internet here.. Obsess much? Might I suggest a bag of rice and a .22? Maybe you can re-create the experience.


    2010/11/16 at 20:06

  17. As Albert Wesker said, “I respect all aspects of this story”. Sure I’m not idealizing that poor kiddo, and one of the interesting points of all this is what each person consider “The Wild”. Alaskans consider he was not enough into the wild, but for a DC fella it was indeed pretty wild environment. I agree Penn’s film is MTV-grunge affected, building a teen hero from few. But I’d like to defend Krakauer’s book. Ok, some of the facts proved to be wrong, but that happens when you write about something recent. Anyway, the book IS NOT about McCandless, is about that feeling that moves some people to run away from society and search for the real nature (a feeling that the author has experienced, in fact he uses McCandless story to write about this). I find really interesting the other stories in the book, like the Papar monks, McCunn, Gene Rosellini or Everett Ruess (in my opinion Ruess was the REAL into-the-wild guy). Very different stories that only have one thing in common: people looking for themselves in a way that may be considered pathetic, brave or just dumbass-crazy. It’s really interesting too that some people gets so angry with McCandless story. Why? Many many people die in more absurd and nonsense ways every day, and nobody blame them for it.


    2010/12/24 at 13:19

  18. Dumb kid thought he was doing something amazing and ended up losing his shit.

    I can respect his desire to do it, and his tenacity in going for it, but I can lament the stupidity of throwing it all away because you didn’t establish a back out plan.

    Or, as this post seems to hint, being too stupid to know how to use it.

    He died, makes a good story. Read it, think about your life, do something to make a difference, goto bed, wake up, fuck your wife and take your kids to school. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

    That’s what you do, you don’t just run off to live in the last American frontier with a book of clues and a head of ideas.

    113 days isn’t that fantastic, people. I’m not very impressed. You want impressive? Try that guy on PBS who moved to the wilderness in the ’60s and made a life. He did it right. This kid just done fucked up, and I don’t care that he’s dead, but his family appears to.


    2011/01/04 at 03:19

  19. It’s a fact that people are social beings, and that we NEED other people, and we need livestock too, if we want any sort of wealth that we could use to maintain ourselves. If you want to go try this, try just living off what you can eek out of the local landscape first, you’ll see it’s hard, and would be even more so in cold climates. For all our collective griping about gluten and carbs, when you try to go out into nature, it’s very hard to get the calories you need to maintain yourself with such an active lifestyle.
    We’ve worked for years towards self-sufficiency, and can only produce about 1/3 of our food. Damned if I’d take off in the woods.
    I did have a friend that did though. She went out for 40 days and 40 nights, because she wanted to be find her god like she said Jesus did. She came back skinny and claimed her new God was need. All she’s done since pretty much is fight the local government.

  20. “You want impressive? Try that guy on PBS who moved to the wilderness in the ’60s and made a life.”

    Totally agree with this, that guy built something amazing.

    I’m not indifferent to Chris but I don’t either idolize/revere what he did at all nor do I think he was just some dumb-ass but I do understand why people feel both of those ways. Just because someone doesn’t go off into the backwoods with just a bag of rice, a gun and lofty ideals/goals doesn’t mean the only other option is to be a ‘latte’-loving, SUV driving, corporate sell out…there is so much more in-between and to think otherwise is so incredibly short-sided.


    2014/12/07 at 10:18

  21. Rhyn,
    I am familiar with Dick Proenneke and his life. I stand firm on my opinions of McCandless and all the tools that go out unprepared and end up getting the S&R teams looking for them.


    2014/12/07 at 12:09

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