Summary and Analysis
Chapter 14 - The Stikine Ice Cap
Based on his own experiences in Alaska when he was a stubborn, headstrong young man, author Jon Krakauer arrives at the conclusion that McCandless's death wasn't suicide or even the result of an unconscious death wish, but rather an accident. His conclusion is based on the evidence provided by McCandless's journals — as well as the author's personal experience.
The majority of this chapter is devoted to Krakauer's reminiscences about his own youthful obsession with mountain climbing. At 23, for reasons not dissimilar to those that drove McCandless to head into the wilderness, Krakauer decided to climb a rock formation called the Devils Thumb, on Alaska's Stikine Ice Cap.
Having reached Alaska on a fishing boat, Krakauer meets a woman who puts him up for the night before he sets out to scale the Devils Thumb. During his first two days of climbing, along a glacier at the base of the rock formation, Krakauer makes genuine progress. On his third day, however, high winds, stinging sheets of snow, and reduced visibility cause a series of dangerous mishaps. After almost falling into a glacial crevasse, Krakauer sets up camp on a plateau.
Krakauer has arranged ahead of time for supplies to be air-dropped to him so that he can continue his climb. But the pilot engaged to deliver the supplies misreads the altitude, almost entirely missing Krakauer's encampment. Krakauer continues to climb up the glacier. He can now see 3,700 feet below him. "The sour taste of panic rose in my throat," he recalls. "My eyesight blurred, I began to hyperventilate, my calves started to shake . . . Awkwardly, stiff with fear, I started working my way back down. The climb was over. The only place to go was down."
Up to this point in Into the Wild, author Jon Krakauer has maintained journalistic objectivity, or at least the appearance of objectivity. In this chapter he abandons that perspective. Note, however, that Krakauer's integrity as a journalist is not compromised, since he is entirely up-front about the experiences he shares in common with his subject, McCandless. In fact, it would be more ethically suspect if Krakauer did not divulge that he had his own "into the wild" experience as a young man. Because of his candor, readers are able to take this into account when the author views McCandless's activities with some sympathy.
And as a result of reading this chapter and the one that follows, the reader moves closer to McCandless and his perspective. Not only Rosselini, Waterman, McCunn, and Reuss (as well as the Irish monks described) have shared McCandless's impulses, but the author himself. Behavior that seemed utterly bizarre, at the start of Into the Wild, is becoming easier to conceive of with every successive chapter.