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The Chris McCandless Obsession Problem | Alaska |

Stashed in: Outdoors, Awesome, Out of Doors, Alaska, National Parks

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Every year, scores of Into the Wild fans tackle a dangerous river crossing to visit the last home of Alaska’s most famous adventure casualty. Why are so many people willing to risk injury, and even death, to pay homage to a controversial ascetic who perished so young?

Because it looks AMAZING there?

But it's dangerous.

UNFORTUNATELY, A LOT OF THESE people get into trouble, and almost always because of the Teklanika. In a recent story, writer Eva Holland reported that, in the summer of 2013 alone, a dozen people had been “lost, hurt or stranded by the rising river” on the Stampede Trail and had required rescue. When I was in the area in September, I heard similar numbers from the local authorities who run those operations. I also witnessed, and occasionally became involved in, some of the rescues.

In September, five employees of the Grand, a hotel near the entrance to Denali National Park, had been walking to the bus as a way to pass two days they had off. The cool weather often makes autumn a safer time for the hike, but a string of rainy days had swollen the Teklanika to flood stage. Two hikers, Matthew Grigg and Scott Wilkerson, crossed first, making it to the far shore. Then they watched as the other three slipped into the cold, gray water.

Elizabeth Kubik, the only woman in the group, swam to the far bank and reached for a willow branch, but it was dead and came out of the ground when she grabbed it. She reached for another branch and was able to secure a grip. Wilkerson lifted her and her pack out of the water before giving a hand to another of the swimmers, Jake Zyrek, who was also clutching a branch. When Zyrek made it to land, his lips were purple; he was shaking so violently he could hardly speak.

One last hiker, Rick Johnson, remained in the water, unable to get out. He was the farthest from either bank when he lost his footing and fell into the water, making his swim more arduous. Grigg chased him downstream, trying to keep one eye on his bobbing head, but because the bank rises into bluffs and cliffs, he sometimes couldn’t tell where Johnson was. A hunter riding an ATV on the far shore shouted over the rush of the river, directing Grigg to Johnson. Johnson stayed in the water, which lingers at temperatures just above freezing, for 15 minutes. Grigg was finally able to pull him out of the current just before he hit a stretch of Class V rapids.

It's like a beautiful Siren's song.

Hypnotic, inviting, but VERY dangerous.

You need a plan and lots of training to have a chance.

I love Alaska because Alaska is what it is: raw, wild and beautiful.  Used to be people were that way too.  Now most folks can be considered lucky if they jaywalk across a street safely, let alone ford the Teklanika.

The problem isn't the dangers of the wilds of Alaska or the Amazon.  It's that "civilization" has created a definition of humanity that depends upon the degradation and destruction of natural environments and the false sense of safety one can claim by being divorced from them and our own animal natures.

So we sacrifice our individual, natural survival skills in the world and instead embrace the simple caveat to never leave our paved, sanitized, packaged and sterilized landscapes, or safety zones, we've created and, as Chef said in Apocalypse Now, learn to "Never get off the boat!"


The implicit challenge to that injunction is that, like it or not on how we individually might embrace staying on any civilized boat, our collective humanity is still floating down the river of our natural world, and we're still wholly dependent upon and continuously vulnerable to it...  

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