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.