‘Into the Wild’ lures the un­pre­pared to Alaska

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Rachel D’Oro

For nearly a quar­ter-cen­tury, the old bus aban­doned in Alaska’s pun­ish­ing wilder­ness has drawn ad­ven­tur­ers seek­ing to re­trace the steps of a young ide­al­ist who met a tragic death in the derelict ve­hi­cle.

For many, Christo­pher McCand­less’ leg­end was ce­mented in the 1996 “Into the Wild” book and later in the movie. But scores of trav­el­ers fol­low­ing his jour­ney along the Stam­pede Trail just out­side De­nali Na­tional Park have been res­cued and oth­ers have died in the harsh re­al­ity of back-coun­try ter­rain.

The area is marked by no cell phone ser­vice, un­pre­dictable weather and the rag­ing Teklanika River, whose swollen banks pre­vented the 24-year-old Vir­ginian from seek­ing help be­fore his 1992 star­va­tion death.

Now fam­i­lies of some of those who died are propos­ing look­ing at build­ing a foot­bridge over the Teklanika. The ef­fort is led by the hus­band of a 24-year-old new­ly­wed woman from Be­larus who died last year try­ing to reach the bus.

“Peo­ple keep go­ing there de­spite mul­ti­ple ac­ci­dents re­ported,” said Piotr Markielau, who was with his wife Veramika Maika­mava when she was swept away by the river. “Mak­ing the cross­ing safer is a so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity. It is also a con­struc­tive and hu­mane way to learn from peo­ple who died there.”

But some lo­cal of­fi­cials in De­nali Bor­ough in Healy, about 25 miles (40 kilo­me­ters) away, fear a foot­bridge could give peo­ple a false im­pres­sion of safety that doesn’t ex­ist. There are other haz­ards, in­clud­ing harsh weather and dan­ger­ous ter­rain. Some at­tempt­ing the trip are ill-pre­pared.

“It’ll only en­cour­age more peo­ple to go,” says De­nali Assem­bly mem­ber Jeff Stenger, who re­jects the bridge idea and would pre­fer to see warn­ing signs posted in the area.

Bor­ough Mayor Clay Walker wants to see the bus re­lo­cated to a safer lo­ca­tion on the other side of the Teklanika with the help of fed­eral and state agen­cies.

“This bus has mean­ing to a lot of peo­ple, and the chal­lenge will be to put to­gether a plan that works for all,” Walker said.

A bridge would not have made a dif­fer­ence in the lat­est res­cue. It in­volved five Ital­ian tourists — one with frost­bit­ten feet — who were res­cued Satur­day af­ter vis­it­ing the di­lap­i­dated bus.

The long-dis­carded bus sits in a clear­ing on state land roughly half a mile (0.8 kilo­me­ters) from the bound­ary of the De­nali Na­tional Park and Pre­serve.

Trav­el­ers of­ten tra­verse park land to get to the bus. It was left in the wilder­ness as a back­coun­try shel­ter for hun­ters and trap­pers af­ter it was used to house con­struc­tion crews work­ing to im­prove the trail so trucks could haul ore from a mine, ac­cord­ing to the book. It’s out­fit­ted with a bar­rel stove and bunks.

The bus was aban­doned when McCand­less en­coun­tered it and wrote in his jour­nal about liv­ing there for 114 days, right up un­til his death.

Au­thor Jon Krakauer, who wrote “Into the Wild,” said he is “sad­dened and hor­ri­fied” by the deaths of peo­ple try­ing to cross the Teklanika. He’s also skep

tical build­ing a bridge or mov­ing the bus will solve the prob­lem.

“I re­ally don’t know what can be done or should be done about the un­pre­pared ‘pil­grims’ who get into trou­ble and per­ish or need to be res­cued,” he said in an email to The As­so­ci­ated Press. “I have no ob­jec­tion to re­mov­ing the bus, or build­ing a bridge to it, if a per­sua­sive ar­gu­ment can be made that do­ing ei­ther of these things would solve the prob­lem. I am skep­ti­cal about the wis­dom of ei­ther of these pro­posed mea­sures, how­ever.”

McCand­less’ sis­ter agrees. Carine McCand­less be­lieves peo­ple will keep try­ing to reach the site, re­gard­less of what lo­cals de­cide. She said peo­ple send her mes­sages ev­ery day from all over the world, iden­ti­fy­ing with her brother’s story, and she un­der­stands why peo­ple con­tinue to make the trek.

“It is not Chris’s story they are fol­low­ing, it is their own, even if they don’t re­al­ize it at the time,” she said. “And as far as the lure of the bus — it’s not about the bus, ei­ther. If the bus is moved, peo­ple will sim­ply erect a me­mo­rial in its place and con­tinue to go there.”

JIL­LIAN ROGERS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

The aban­doned bus where Christo­pher McCand­less starved to death in 1992on Stam­pede Road near Healy, Alaska. For more than a quar­ter-cen­tury, the old bus aban­doned in Alaska’s pun­ish­ing wilder­ness has drawn ad­ven­tur­ers seek­ing to re­trace the steps of a young ide­al­ist who met a tragic death in the derelict ve­hi­cle. Scores of trav­el­ers fol­low­ing his jour­ney along the Stam­pede Trail have been res­cued and oth­ers have died in the harsh back-coun­try ter­rain. Now fam­i­lies of some of those who died are propos­ing look­ing at build­ing a foot­bridge over the Teklanika River.

MATT HAGE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

The Stam­pede Road be­comes a nar­row, rut­ted four-wheel drive trail af­ter eight miles from its in­ter­sec­tion with the Ge­orge Parks High­way in Healy, Alaska.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.