Into death

deadliest book

The notes the late Chris McCandless left to provide the framework for what is probably Alaska’s deadliest book

The old school bus that has become a shrine to misguided and ill-fated adventurer Chris McCandless appears to have claimed another victim.

Alaska State Troopers say 24-year-old Veramika Maiamava died Thursday trying to cross the Teklanika River to get to the bus that featured in “Into the Wild,” a book by author John Krakauer later made into a movie.

Krakauer in 1996 constructed a story to explain how McCandless ended up dead by starvation in an abandoned bus along the overgrown Stampede Road just north of Denali National Park and Preserve.

The book eulogized McCandless as a young man on a quest to find the meaning of life.

Since the book was published, thousands of people – most of them young – have been compelled to make the hike to the bus. Two others have died trying to cross the Teklinka – a big, glacial river flowing north from the Cantwell Glacier in the Alaska Range mountains.

Both were women. Several more have had close calls but survived.

Many people ford the upper portion of the river while hiking the Stampede Trail (to the bus),” the Alaska Guide Co. notes. “Success and ease depends on time of year and weather at play. Heat can mean excessive glacial melt and high cold water. Rain obviously means more run off and higher waters.”

Late July temperatures into the 80s have had the river running high, and troopers reported the flow was boosted by rain on Wednesday and Thursday when Maikamava and her husband, Piotr Markielau, tried to make the ford.

A trooper statement said the agency got a call just before midnight Thursday from Markielau “reporting the death of his wife…at (the) river crossing on the Stampede Trail near Healy. The couple was hiking and attempting to cross the Teklanika River, which was running high and swift due to recent rains when Ms. Maikamava was swept under the water. Mr. Markielau reported that he was able to pull his wife out of the water some 75 to 100 feet downriver, but that she was by then deceased.”

A trooper based in Nenana, 35 miles north of the Stampede Trail, rushed to the scene to be met by the Tri-Valley Fire Department, troopers reported. They took ATVs to the river and recovered the body.

An investigation is being conducted.

“Hikers, rafters, and others are encouraged to enjoy Alaska’s outdoors and to come prepared for challenging weather, water, and geographical conditions,” troopers said in their dispatch.

Whether McCandless enjoyed his journey into the Alaska outdoors will never be known, but the jottings – there is too little to say it is a journal – he left to document his less than four-month-long life in the Alaska wilderness prior to his death leave one wondering.

Though he mainly wrote down descriptions of birds and animals he killed and ate in a failed bid to survive, there are also the words “misery,” “weakness,” and the now infamous line that gave Krakauer an idea for his book title: “TOO WEAK TO WALK OUT, HAVE LITERALLY BECOME TRAPPED IN THE WILD.”

The words were among McCandless’s last.




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15 replies »

  1. In a way, I like it that the McCandless story has become this grandiose thing.

    Many of us struggle with the general kinds of things that bothered Mr. McCandless. Civilization does suck, part of the time. Being human is short of perfection, and all those other humans don’t help.

    The surprise here isn’t really that this guy goes dead-ender, but that more of us don’t join him … before we figure out that being imperfect and having to share the world with imperfect others, isn’t exactly the worst of all possible outcomes.

    Thanks for the reminder, Chris!

  2. HIstory is FULL of bad decisions and outcomes.its easy to be an armchair quarterback.No risk sitting at home, risks must be evaluated and weighed for there rewards.
    Ego got Ernest Shackleton into trouble,LEADERSHIP and experience got him out.
    Unlike our current governor–ak

  3. What surprises me about this essay is that it does not include something about pink salmon. I surmise this can only be because they don’t go that far up the Teklanika. BUT! reading Medred, they are likely to in the not too distant future.

  4. I recall seeing Christopher’s remains when he arrived in his sleeping bag for autopsy at the State Crime Lab. I also saw his “diary” where he wrote “Many mushrooms”. I wondered if Krakauer got it wrong by assuming that McCandless was weakened by wild potato seeds. I thought that Christopher may have been poisoned by eating the wrong type of mushrooms, sealing his fate.

    • that always appeared a better guess than any of Krakauer’s many poisoning theories. there have been several since the potato seeds in case you haven’t kept up. one can only surmise that Krakauer decided death by mushrooms would make McCandless look foolish because almost everyone is aware of the dangers of mushrooms.

  5. Just thinking here: Smaller persons (light and short) are more likely to be swept off their feet in a water crossing as a greater portion of their weight is under water. I suppose you could also say that their smaller size presents less proportional area for the current to force against and less volume displacement of water weight (reducing flotation effect).
    Any real-life anecdotes?

  6. The rope across the river should be cut and removed…the bus should be “short- hauled” out and tossed in a hole.
    Leaving a shrine in the wilderness as a model of stupidity only acts as a magnet for more ignorance to follow.

    • What you say holds a lot of truth but perhaps you need a big hole if all shrines of stupidity were to be put into a hole. Be a big hole for k-2 not to mention Afghanistan the graveyard of empires . Perhaps letting people make their own sacrifices is par for course . No more rescue unless the person being rescued foots the bill .

    • Guess we have to get rid of the I’Rod, back country activities, climbing Denali, hiking in general, snow mobiling,
      Rock climbing, shooting guns, etc.. How many people die or need assistance/rescued in Alaska doing adventurous things? Stop sounding like a liberal who thinks they always know what is best for others.

  7. Hiking, camping and vacationing in the Alaska wilderness, no matter what time of year or season, is dangerous, period! End of story!
    What people do not get, is that you are taking your life in danger every time, you make a trek into Alaska. They will never learn, and nothing will ever change.

    Only comment here is: “another tragic outdoor wilderness accident in Alaska”.
    One of many and over the years, too numerous to count. People never learn the lessons and mistakes are continually made. Once again, misjudgment and incorrect decision making, lead to personal tragedy.
    My condolences to the family and husband/partner.

    • Well said Jame’s. My eldest daughter and I made it to the bus. Meant nothing to me per say, other than a new adventure. Although, I admit it was kind of “cool” once we got there. I sure wouldn’t have taken any extreme measures to have done it though. Just something different with a silly history. It did mean a lot to my daughter and made for some good pics. Maybe because she could identify with the whole “free spirit” thing. Not sure. I have no issues with the bus, nor it’s location, and if people want to hike to it then so be it. It’s location isn’t any more dangerous then a 1,000 other places in Alaska. At least they got off the couch. Condolences to the family as well. Tragic story.

    • moving water. probably the most underappreciated danger in the Alaska wild. even on the hottest day, it can be damn cold. if you’re not prepared for that, cold shock alone can get you in trouble. i’d guess from the description that might be what happened here.

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