Mar 10, 2008 at 5:44 pm #1227736
Last night I finally had the chance to watch the movie "Into the WIld", based on the book by Jon Krakauer. I've been wanting to watch the movie for quite some time now. From earlier comments by others I worried that it might be a Hollywood-ized version of what is really quite a harrowing story. What I saw, however, was a sensitive and unsentimental story of a young man with big dreams and a tragic end. And it was a very disturbing movie. I haven't been able to get certain images and reasonings of the protagonist Chistopher McCandless out of my head. Half the night I lay awake wondering about my own wanderlust and dissatisfaction with society. Many of the feeling he felt mirrored my own, such as during my month-long walk in the Alps last summer and during my six-month long bicycle journey around Europe with my wife in 1995.
I have never been in a place so isolated and wild as that Alaskan river basin where McCandless met his end, though I've often dreamed of at least visiting and spending time in such a place. I wouldn't know the first thing to do to survive in such a place without carried in supplies. I was very surprised that McCandless, who had experience walking the Pacific Crest Trail and kayaking down the Colorado RIver, wouldn't have better prepared himself for survival with knowledge about the local fauna and flora. Even I know that I could not survive long in such a place without proper preparation and knowledge. And he was a smart man.
I'm curious about three things:
1) When the river flooded and McCandless couldn't cross when he decided to return to civilization, would it really be impossible to find a way across the river? Couldn't he have scouted further up or down the river to find another way across? Or would such river just be too big and the floods last too long?
2) How did that bus get to where it was? It couldn't have crossed the river. So wasn't there a way that McCandless could have found to get back to the road?
3) Without all of the modern technology that we UL'ers rely on just how ultralight could we get? Is it even possible to be ultralight without a lot of modern-day, hi-tech equipment?
I've really got to read the book to get a better idea of what really happened.Mar 10, 2008 at 5:51 pm #1423790
Not far from where he was looking to cross, there was a cable used for crossing in high water. Roman Dial has been there. No one knows why he didn't scout it out further, or I don't.
The bus was probably put there to be used as a hunting shelter and moved in a month of low water. I don't even know if it had an engine in it. The shell may have been moved there some other way.
Read the book. This is all from the book.Mar 10, 2008 at 5:54 pm #1423791
@marti124Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
I have not seen the movie but listened to the unabridged audiobook in the last 3 weeks. The bus got there during the winter time when the water was frozen. Had McCandless spent $6 or so on a decent localized map, he'd have seen there was a crossing via a suspension wire about 6 miles south, that was his only escape route at that time of the year. That was his number one, fatal mistake. The book clears up that he died from something not documented in the literature that the seeds of the wild potato that he ate was toxic, which was not a documented fact, so him doing that was not a fault of poor research. It was the lack of a good map. He only had a $2 road map which was worthless for foot navigation. There was no justifiable excuse for the lack of that map, they were available. The thought of the author was that McCandless wanted to experience the "wild" and even though he was less than a 2 digit number of miles away from civilization, by having no good map, he did place himself in the "wild". There were places he could have hiked to less than 15 miles away throughout the year to escape endangerment had he had a good map to follow.Mar 10, 2008 at 6:53 pm #1423799
@maynard76Locale: New England
2) How did that bus get to where it was? It couldn't have crossed the river. So wasn't there a way that McCandless could have found to get back to the road?
– it was a broken down bus that hunters converted into a shelter. Ther are some funny articles Ive read different places about wannabe McCandlesses who saw the movie and went there to ape him. The town had meetings about removing the bus or bringing it closer to the highway so people wouldnt get themselves into trouble.
"3) Without all of the modern technology that we UL'ers rely on just how ultralight could we get? Is it even possible to be ultralight without a lot of modern-day, hi-tech equipment?"
– Most definitely, I know people who devote thier lives to learning and perserving traditional skills. It depends on the enviriment of coarse, but I know one well known bushcraft teacher who told me his summer pack was around 6 lbs.
Thier tools may be heavy by our standards but they carry less of it.
I cringed when I heard Penn was directing it. I was sure he would make him a romantic anti-hero, but was pleasantly surprised that it was a good movie. Thats not to say it always followed the book. Like the whole kayaking the grand canyon -never happened and he was not beat up by the train co. bull -just yelled at.
I would recommend reading the book since some of my favorite parts where the stories of other legends who went into the wilderness and it was more a philosophical book about the call to the wild than the movie.Mar 10, 2008 at 10:46 pm #1423825
I wouldn't neccessarily say he went into the wild as he was never very far from the highway, but then again up here the wild can be your backyard as wolves and bears regularly snatch our pets. Yes he could have walked down the river and crossed,though it didn't appear that he ever got very far from the bus, not sure why that is, he had no idea how to keep meat, and lastly anybody who spends time in the mountains up here knows rivers are low in late winter/early spring but that they return to life as summer settles in. There was some good outdoor scenery footage in the movie but the rest reminded me a whole bunch of Timothy Snackwell and his furry pals. Alaska will kill you with the quickness if you give it a chance!Mar 10, 2008 at 11:37 pm #1423830
"Without all of the modern technology that we UL'ers rely on just how ultralight could we get? Is it even possible to be ultralight without a lot of modern-day, hi-tech equipment?"
Completely depends on your environment. I read a very interesting book about disease and geography, and a very interesting point was made that if not for technology (i.e. fire, clothing, agriculture), mankind could only live within a 1000-mile strip on either side of the equator.
Thinking about this in terms of backpacking, it made me realize that if one limited one's backpacking to tropical regions, one could probably get by with very little gear. The opposite extreme of course is living near the poles (complete dependence on clothing and hunting tools). Where you live in between these will dramatically effect what gear (aka technology) one needs to 'survive.'
And of course, the whole concept of 'survival' is also completely dependent on how long one is talking about surviving. I used to enjoy watching Survivorman; until I realized he's not truly surviving, but rather sustaining until rescued. Technically he doesn't need to forage or hunt, since it shouldn't kill him to not eat for a week. On the other hand, if he had to be out there for a few years, I think he'd quickly suffer malnourishment and starvation eating the very little amount he eats while on the show. But one would expect that, after the first year, he would have built a more permanent shelter, grown some crops, traded tools with locals, etc. So long-term survival would depend more and more on 'technology' to survive. When does this cease to be survival and become adapting? Be forewarned, I have not read or seen Into the Wild, but I think if the main character really wanted a chance at his endeavor, he should have been thinking more about adapting than surviving.
Perhaps surviving, then, could be defined as sustaining one's life by oneself, with no help from anyone but yourself. In this case, UL technology is certainly not needed. But frankly, the types of places many of us enjoy backpacking are places that 'survivalists' would not choose to dwell. Therefore I don't think the tools required would be really the same. True survival tools would be an axe for chopping wood to make a cabin, and seeds for planting next year's harvest, for example. Think about how impractical the Pacific Crest Trail is; what 'survivalist' would build and try to survive on a route that follows the highest, most difficult terrain to get from one point to the other? Most of the food suitable for human consumption would be down in the valleys. No, we walk that route purely for recreation, and to survive — that is, survive until rescued by a SAR team, is dependent on the technology that allows us to journey on such unfit-for-sustaining-human-life routes.Mar 11, 2008 at 6:18 am #1423845
@splproductionsLocale: Salt Lake City, UT
Was it can Guns, Germs, and Steel? That's a very interesting book that talks about similar topics.Mar 11, 2008 at 7:23 am #1423850
you need to read the book. the movie was ok but it doesn't follow the true story. I think Penn tried to tell Chris' story but at the same time he was restricted to a movie and you just don't have the freedom with that format. The book is much much better, it will answer many more questions.
the bus was there because of a mining or logging operation from years before, that's why the trail was there as well. There was two buses orginally but when the operations shut down one bus was dragged out the other was left behind.
Like others have mentioned Chris was never that far from civilization. I think there was three cabins within a couple miles from him plus a town not far away.
Regardless of being unprepared or not he still did great out there for a long time. You don't get lucky and survive for 100 days in the wild. He made one mistake and that cost him his life. The wild is unforgiving and it doesn't allow mistakes.Mar 11, 2008 at 10:17 am #1423883
I realized when I posted the topic that it would sound like Guns, Germs, and Steel. I haven't read that book yet, but it's cued up in my audible.com wishlist. I plan on reading it soon.
The book I was referring to is "Survival of the Sickest," by Sharon Moalem and Jonathan Prince, a very, very interesting book about the origins of certain illnesses. This is also available unabridged from audible.com and I highly recommend it. One of those 'put what you thought you knew and turn it upside down' books.
I have also had Into the Wild cued up for some time now; now I know to read the book before watching the movie.Mar 11, 2008 at 4:45 pm #1423947
@maynard76Locale: New England
The best definition of survival Ive heard is staying alive under extreme stress, usually injury and/or exposure until self rescue is possible or until rescued.. Survival is temporary by definition. Living off the land or tradtional living (some say primitive living) is a whole other ball game and requires different skills. You can survive in a alien enviroment but you cannot live off the land without intimate knowlage of it.
Man is a technological creature. Even in a tropical enviroment we are helpless and unequipt. We have no claws, we cant chase many animals, we have a narrow range of comfort without shelter and clothing, and our teeth are fairly blunt. Yet with technology we have coloinized the poles. The question is if we need modern technology- the answer is easily no, we've lived in the deserts and the ice without it. But modern tech makes life easier and safer.
And I have a bone to pick with Guns,Germs and Steel
it gives a "Forest Gump" view of history.Mar 13, 2008 at 6:06 pm #1424234
@lushyLocale: Lake Mungo, Mutawintji NPs
Not sure what you mean by a "Forest Gump" view of world history, Brian. Diamond's book does have a few problems, but its central thesis is reasonably sound (IMHO!).
I agree with your summary of what technolgy has enabled us to do. Considering that our hominid ancestors evolved in tropical and subtropical Africa, our species' ability to adapt to other, often hostile environments, is impressive.
Not having body hair was a distinct advantage for early hominids as it allowed them to control core body temperature through a complex system of sweat glands. Hair would impede this cooling effect. This is fine for warm environments with plenty of available water. It starts to be a problem in both cold and hot, dry environments.
The evolutionary solution that our ancestors came up with was to think their way around the problem. Brain size increased, thereby allowing for ever more complex technology to be developed and deployed.
We have small generalist teeth, no claws, can't run fast etc. However you don't need any of these when you are armed with a spear or a bow and arrow or a rifle. What's more, so armed you can subdue and process large, dangerous animals without getting too close to them and thus avoiding possible injury or death to yourself.Mar 14, 2008 at 12:02 pm #1424340
Good points Brian, that survival is by definition temporary.
Given this definition, I think it is not possible to go UL survival without modern fabrics. Traditional survival would require a long fur coat (depending on time of year), thick wool blanket (quite heavy by UL standards), at least one steel or iron pot (probably much thicker than today's machine-pressed pots), sturdy knife (there were many more predatory animals in our wildernesses two centuries ago), leather boots or moccasins, and flint at the bare minimum. This is quite a bit of weight already, without including food, which was surely heavier without modern freeze-drying, or a canvas tent and thick rope (can't thread natural fabrics as thinly as Spectra!). This is probably why having a horse/goat/alpacka was such a valuable part of pioneer/fur trapping life; you really need a pack animal to carry more than just the bare traditional necessities.
I just watched Seraphim Falls last night, which I think highlights a lot of traditional survival requirements (the whole movie is Liam Neeson hunting down Pierce Brosnan in a wilderness survival situation). Pierce tries to steal a pioneer's horse, and the pioneer, after catching him, says "a man out here without a horse is a dead man."
Despite having a certain nostalgia for such traditional gear, I think we can marvel at the wonders of nylon and waterproof membranes, which allow us to survive with far less weight than just a few generations ago. Sure, I might be all neon-colored and shiny, but I can be safer for far less weight. It's like most modern technological achievements; they've vastly improved the quality of our lives, but reduced the aesthetic pleasure from them (think concrete buildings, economy cars, freeways, precision manufactured goods with no unique hand-made character, etc). And we have to remember that the more traditional gear was still technology ( you could even argue that riding a horse involves technology), so it's all relative, and you can't call one more 'natural' than the other. Made from natural materials, yes, but not more 'natural.'Mar 16, 2008 at 5:44 pm #1424560
I have to disagree with your statement regarding modern survival relying on modern equipment and materials. If you have read any of Tom Brown Jr.'s books, he demonstrates how it is possible to survive in the wild, even if you are thrown into the environment totally naked. With the use of debris shelters and rock knapping, he shows you how you can survive without all of the trimmings of the modern world. Very much worth looking at.
JimMar 16, 2008 at 7:16 pm #1424576
I agree with Jim,Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survial is excellent reading…Mar 17, 2008 at 11:45 am #1424652
I haven't read any of the above posts, but I just wanted to add my 2 cents and tell readers not to bother with watching the film. Read the book, though…Mar 17, 2008 at 12:48 pm #1424665
@robdevLocale: Pittsburgh, PA
When I read the book, I felt some empathy for McCandless. When I watched the movie, all of it evaporated. Seeing a depiction of him interacting with people made me dislike him. It made me reevaluate the book and realize that I felt empathy for Krakauer, not McCandless.
Both the book and film were interesting, but the film was also flawed. The music frequently took me out of the film, especially at the end. The happy music that played right after his death was really at odds with dying of starvation. It made it seem like his death was something good rather than a senseless waste.Mar 17, 2008 at 5:30 pm #1424688
I saw the movie a few nights ago. I think Sean Penn did a great job directing, and I don't think there could have been a better approach to how he presented Chris' story. Hollywood could have really botched it (like most things), but not this one. It's turned me on to the book, and I will pick up a copy next time I'm in town.
One of the lingering questions I had, and maybe this is answered in the book, is why he didn't turn to fishing. I mean, he had river access, fishing gear, etc. and preparing fish is not as much of a hassle as preparing game (recalling the moose scene). I love Alaska salmon and had I been in Chris' shoes I would have fished that river dry…Mar 17, 2008 at 6:06 pm #1424693
There is so much that doesn't make sense in the movie, and I take it the book, too. If, for instance, he had walked the PCT and taken the time to talk to a hunter before he headed up to Alaska, he must surely have been very aware of the need to know about available food sources. When, in the movie, he started starving, he was portrayed as suddenly realizing that he could eat local flora for sustenance, which just doesn't make sense. I mean, he had a edible plants field guide, no? That he might make a mistake with a poisonous plant, well, that could happen to anyone. Even the Inuit, with all their amazing bush skills, quite often starved to death.
But, like others have repeated several times, I need to read the book before I can ask too many questions.
By the way, I thought the "happy" music at the end of the movie was very appropriate. It's the very contrast of what you just experienced with McCandless with the light-heartedness of the song that makes what happened so much more tragic. McCandless didn't seem to die with regrets (in the movie) and it would have been inappropriate to influence his last words with our interpretation of his circumstances. Our reaction to the movie ought to, as was done, be left up to us, as any good sotryteller does.Mar 17, 2008 at 6:25 pm #1424695
@marti124Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Very interesting questions Miguel, especially about the fishing. The book does not answer that question and it should have. It does prove that McCandless did not make a mistake about the poisonous plant seeds he ate, he (the author) is convinced McCandless did correctly identify the Wild Potato but he shoes that nobody knew (even the books) that the seeds of that plant were toxic. Not so toxic as to immediately kill you but toxic enough to weaken you so much that you became so lethargic that you could not do anything else.
The key thing that killed McCandless was his desire to be in the Wild to the extent he did not buy a detailed local Map — his cheap highway map was worthless for showing him exactly where he was — had he had a good detailed map, he would be alive today, for he wanted to escape back to civilization weeks before he approached the hunger zone but the river was too high and he need to know that only 6 miles downstream was a cable strung across the river to enable hikers and hunters to cross the river. The author was convinced McCandless intentionally did not buy a detailed map because he wanted to feel like he was in the wild even though he was less than 20 miles away from civilization and that by only having the map he had, he was just as well truly in the wild.
His death was needless but understandably so due to the youthful urges so many have, which the author well identified with. But his death was not caused by stupidity of wild foods, for he was no more stupid about the Wild Potato than any published book about it at the time. It was caused by foolishness about not having a great localized map.Mar 17, 2008 at 8:17 pm #1424708
@fairweather8588Locale: The Desert
Hell I enjoyed the movie, because I thought of it as just that, a movie. I didn't really take every scene for his exact actions because I went into the theater not expecting an exact documentary, but rather Sean Penn and his crew's representation of his life. I even bought it on dvd the day it came out, however YMMVMar 17, 2008 at 8:29 pm #1424709
"The key thing that killed McCandless was his desire to be in the Wild to the extent he did not buy a detailed local Map. … It was caused by foolishness about not having a great localized map."
I'll agree with that, in as much that having a detailed map could have saved his life. However, so could have a satellite phone. (Sat phones may not have been available in the year our Supertramp made his journey, but that is besides the point)
Neither one of these would have been available to those who first explored the area. I believe that McCandless wished to experience that sense of wilderness exploration. Now that we have maps with details, are we required to take them? Is it foolishness if we don't? The only logical conclusion then is that we are also fools if we don't bring a satellite phone, or other technological breakthrough that comes along.
But many of us choose not to bring a GPS or cell phone. These things were invented during our lifetime, and are easily seen as high-tech extras. Detailed maps, however, are manditory, part of the 10 essentials don't ya know!!! And if you choose to turn back the clock to before the creation of the USGS then you will be viewed as a foolish idiot? Dismissed out of hand? I'm betting this was a very conscious decision by McCandless. Perhaps a decision that cost him his life, but not foolish.Mar 17, 2008 at 8:31 pm #1424710
I think he wasn't really ready for how Wild, Wild is. He had no help when he got really sick and did not have the energy to help him both mentally (alone)and physically to fish or find food, I think he gave up.Mar 18, 2008 at 12:54 am #1424731
Thanks for the tip off to the book; I haven't heard of that book before and will try to find a copy.Mar 18, 2008 at 2:16 am #1424733
I'm wondering if it is not so much a foolishness in not bringing a map, but the very way that we have come to live our lives where a lot of people feel the need to get away from where we live, if even for a weekend. 200,000 years ago there was no sense of living in civilization or apart from the natural world; there was probably not even a concept of "getting away from it all". The more modern our societies get, the safer everything is, the less directly connected we are to living things and what keeps us alive the more sense of dissatisfaction seems to grow, especially among the youth. We are designed, after all, physically and mentally, socially and spiritually, for the rigors of the natural world.
Ask yourself why it is that so many adventure and fantasy and animation stories and movies always end up in the wild. We must have some innate need for it. That is what must have motivated McCandless, and all of us, for that matter. Just some people take it more seriously than others.Mar 18, 2008 at 8:05 am #1424749
There was so many little things that could have saved him, that what makes it tragic, his death was preventable.
The book never mentions aything about fishing but that's cause Chris' journal does not mention it. Remember this whole story is told through a few words written down each day. We do not have a detailed account of what he went through out there. Maybe he tried fishing maybe not nobody knows.
i think his biggest mistake was with the moose. He talked to some redneck deer hunter on how to cure a whole moose by yourself in the wild. The guy had no idea what he was talking about and gave Chris horrible directions. If chris would have just researched that a little more he would've had a couple hundred lbs of meat, plenty to last him a long time.
Also his rifle was way to small for big game, I am in shock that he actually did kill a moose with a .22. In the book it says Chris took a shot at a bear near the end of his life but missed. i'm not so certain he missed, a .22 on a bear ain't going to do squat. I bet he hit the bear but the rifle was way to small and it didn't kill it. If he had a real rifle that's a dead bear and he could have feasted on all that meat. (all speculation of course)
Remember also that this guy lasted over 100 days alone in the wild, that is impressive no matter what. He made a few little mistakes but in the wild that's all it takes.
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