Into the Wild: Chapter 15 Summary

Instructor: Joelle Brummitt-Yale

Joelle has taught middle school Language Arts and college academic writing. She has a master's degree in education.

In this lesson, we explore Chapter 15 of 'Into the Wild', which continues to describe the author's dangerous climbing trip up Devil's Thumb and compares it to Chris McCandless' journey into the Alaskan wilderness.


In the previous chapter of Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer begins telling the story of his own youthful and seemingly reckless trip into the wilderness of Alaska. He describes realizing that scaling the Devil's Thumb peak, a craggy, ice covered mountain peak near the Alaska-Canada border, was not only something he wanted to do, but also something he felt he must do.

The author left his Colorado home, drove to Alaska and hitched a ride on a timber boat to the glacier nearest to the Devil's Thumb. He made his first attempt at climbing the Devil's Thumb but is forced back down the peak.

Krakauer's Father

Chapter 15 begins with Krakauer trapped in his tent for three days at base camp due to a snow storm. As the author waits for the weather to clear, he grows restless and decides to smoke the marijuana he brought to celebrate reaching the top of the mountain.

When he grows hungry after smoking, he attempts to make oatmeal, burning a hole in the expensive tent that provided a protective layer between him and the brutal weather outside. Though the tent survives, Krakauer is reminded that he borrowed this tent from his father and old feelings of inadequacy and disappointment surface.

As the author waits in his tent, he is reminded of the changes in his relationship with his father, Lewis Krakauer, over the course of his adolescence and early adulthood. He describes his father as a 'volatile, extremely complicated person, possessed by a brash demeanor that masked deep insecurities.'

Though Lewis introduced his son to climbing, which would become one of his life passions, he also pushed Jon Krakauer in directions the author was never comfortable with. Achievement was extremely important to his father, and he expected his five children to be just as driven and competitive as he was.

Jon was 'supposed' to become a doctor or lawyer and attend an ivy league university. When Jon instead attends a small, out of state college and returns home after graduation only to begin working in construction and rock climbing in his spare time, the distance between the two grows even larger. The author only realizes that his father's drive was an attempt to give his children a rich, comfortable life after Lewis succumbs to physical and mental deterioration due to post-polio syndrome.

A Second Attempt at Devil's Thumb

Devils Thumb peak
Devils Thumb, Alaska

When the weather lifts, Krakauer makes another attempt at climbing the north side of the Devil's Thumb. Snow again forces him to turn around, and after a harrowing trip back to his base camp, he resolves to instead climb the south side of the mountain, a route he previously had dismissed because it was not as challenging as the northern route.

After two days of smooth climbing, Krakauer hits a challenging point in his ascent and is forced to quickly problem solve. Eventually, he reaches the summit. He quickly takes pictures documenting his success and descends Devil's Thumb as another snow storm is approaching.

Young, Not Suicidal

When the author reaches the bottom of Devil's Thumb and then heads down the glacier, he catches a ride on Jim Freeman's boat back to Petersburg, Alaska. Freeman allows Krakauer to stay with him for a few days, during which he attempts to get others to praise his feat without success. Krakauer eventually makes his way back to Colorado and begins working in construction again.

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