The hikers who died following ‘Into the Wild’

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The book and movie “Into the Wild” have become cult hits among an entire generation. In the story, one man Cristopher McCandless graduates from college, gives all of his possessions to charity, and sets off “Into the Wild”. It is based on a true story as before passing McCandless left behind his journal that told his story of living and surviving in nature.

McCandless’s story ends two years after he left college. His body was found in an abandoned bus in the middle of Alaska. McCandless had been living there for over 100 days before he passed away. It appears from the biopsy and his diary that he either died of starvation or poisoning by eating a plant that he should have avoided.

Today many people have been inspired by the book and movie to follow in McCandless’s footsteps. Our modern society has created an environment where everyone seeks more money and possessions in life. This greed that dominates so many people is something that others want to reject and explore an alternative approach. For some this means moving to plantations and living self-sufficiently as part of a small community, for others, this means traveling through Asia for a gap year, and for some, it means following the path that Cristopher McCandless set out and camping at his bus for a few nights. It has become like a pilgrimage for those who wish to reject modern society and for many they feel they are honoring his memory by taking the same path that he took.

For the majority of hikers, it ends with a night’s stay on the bus before returning home to their normal lives. However, there are some who are not so lucky. The reason McCandless starved to death on that bus was that he was stuck there. You have to cross a river to reach the area where the bus was found and during the summer when the ice melts, the river becomes too high to cross. If you crossed at the end of winter you may not be able to make it back during summer. This is what happens to McCandless and is what happens to countless other hikers. Today though, there is a search and rescue available and they have rescued many from the bus site who overstayed a little too long.

The journey to the bus is treacherous too. On July 25th, 2019 a woman died trying to make it to the bus. Veranika Nikanava (24 years old) and her husband had been married one month while they were making the trek. Veranika lost her footing while trying to cross the river and was swept away in the current. Her husband recovered her body downstream but it was too late. In 2010 a Swiss hiker, Claire Ackermann died in a similar way.

Clearly, this is not a stroll through the woods and authorities warn hikers not to attempt this hike as it is incredibly dangerous. Some locals are asking that the bus be removed to discourage hikers from trying the dangerous hike and risking their lives. However, there are others who feel that nature should not be censored and that while we should advise people of the dangers and tell them to exercise caution we can’t ban them from nature. The reality is that many people now go on this sudo-pilgrimage to ask a question of themselves and to find out what they truly want from life. Such a large question would likely not be stopped if the authorities removed a bus. If anything a small footbridge could be built over the dangerous river to allow hikers to cross without danger. This may encourage them to go on the path but at least it would eliminate the main danger.

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