Into the Wild: Chapter 17 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 will explore Chapter 17 of ''Into the Wild'' looking at the second part of the author's journey to where Chris McCandless died and his reflections on McCandless's death.


In the previous chapter, author Jon Krakauer began his journey to the site where Chris McCandless died, an abandoned bus off the Stampede Trail in Alaska. Krakauer not only begins walking the path that McCandless traveled, but also attempts to recreate Chris's psychological journey by reading and reflecting on the entries in the journal Chris left behind.

Crossing the River

A Group Prepares to Cross the Teklanika River
Crossing the Teklanika River

Chapter 17 picks up at the banks of the Teklanika River. What seals Chris McCandless's fate during his time in the Alaskan wilderness is his inability to cross this river and journey back to civilization. As Krakauer stands at the banks of the river a year after McCandless's death, he notes that its waters are raging. Krakauer believes there is no way that Chris could have crossed the river at this location in the spring of the previous year: 'to try to ford the river here, in thundering midsummer flood, is nevertheless unthinkable.'

However, Krakauer shares that there is a gauging station located a half mile downstream where a basket travel system strong enough to transport a person is available. When the author and his traveling companions cross using this system, he shares that had McCandless been willing to carry a map marking this location, he might have been able to cross the Teklanika and survived his trip.

However, Krakauer thinks Chris got rid of any maps he had to give a semblance of wildness in a well-documented world, 'In his own mind, if nowhere else, the terra would thereby remain incognita.'

After crossing the river, the travelers continue towards the abandoned bus. They have to bushwhack their way through the overgrown trail because it is so infrequently traveled in the spring and summer. As they work their way through the thick brush, Krakauer comments how dark and eerie these isolated woods are. Late that evening, they reach the clearing where the bus is located.

Criticism of McCandless

Upon arrival at the abandoned bus where Chris McCandless spent his last days, Krakauer walks through the vehicle noting Chris's presence even after his death. Articles of McCandless's clothing and personal effects remain in the bus as if their owner was about to return any minute.

As Krakauer walks through the bus, he reflects on some of the criticism of McCandless offered by native Alaskans following the discovery of his body. He notes that one of the most significant claims made against Chris was that he believed he killed a moose while living in the van when he had actually killed a caribou. This is used by many as evidence of Chris's ignorance of the wilderness and ill-preparedness to live in the wild.

Krakauer goes on to share that McCandless is even likened to Sir John Franklin a bold and arrogant explorer whose unwillingness to properly prepare led to the deaths of a large group of fellow travelers. Krakauer lays to rest the controversy about McCandless's identification of the moose/caribou by noting that Chris did, in fact, correctly identify the animal showing that while he was not thoroughly prepared for his journey, he did have enough sense to have survived.

The chapter concludes with Krakauer and friends Andrew Horowitz and Roman Dial discussing the circumstances of Chris McCandless's death. They conclude that Chris certainly exhibited youthful ignorance of the consequences of his actions and a bold drive to follow his own desires, but in this way, he is no different than any other young person.

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