Jon Krakauer, author of the best selling book “Into the Wild,” recently wrote a piece for the New Yorker detailing how it is believed that Chris McCandless, in fact, died. It is now understood that the wild potato seeds he’d been eating contained a nuerotoxin that causes paralysis in humans. Therefore, Chris McCandless died of poisoning that left him unable to acquire food and he subsequently starved to death.
“ATTENTION POSSIBLE VISITORS.
I NEED YOUR HELP. I AM INJURED, NEAR DEATH, AND TOO WEAK TO HIKE OUT OF HERE. I AM ALL ALONE, THIS IS NO JOKE. IN THE NAME OF GOD, PLEASE REMAIN TO SAVE ME. I AM OUT COLLECTING BERRIES CLOSE BY AND SHALL RETURN THIS EVENING. THANK YOU,
note attached to the door of the bus where Chris’ body was found
After Chris’ body was discovered on September 6th, 1992, the Alaskan coroner’s report listed starvation as the probable cause of death. Krakauer disagreed and speculated that Chris’ death was caused by poisoning from eating the wild potato seed of plant known as Hedysarum alpinum. Krakauer believed that a toxic alkaloid from Hedysarum alpinum weakened Chris to the point where he was unable to seek help nor foodstuffs.
According to Chris’s diary, as of June 24th, 1992, the Hedysarum alpinum plant had become the staple in Chris’ diet. As of July 14th, 1992, Chris began eating the Hedysarum alpinum seeds as well. The photo below is one of Chris’ photos showing a zip-lock bag full of Hedysarum alpinum plants and seeds.
On July 30th, 1992 Chris wrote this in his diary:
“EXTREMELY WEAK. FAULT OF POT[ATO] SEED. MUCH TROUBLE JUST TO STAND UP. STARVING. GREAT JEOPARDY.”
Before this, his journal recorded no problems; he was surviving fine.
In December 2012, author Ronald Hamilton posted a paper on the internet showing a new possible cause of death for Chris McCandless: “The Silent Fire: ODAP and the Death of Christopher McCandless.” In this paper Ronald outlines how Hedysarum alpinum seeds contain a neurotoxin called ODAP that causes paralysis in humans. John Krakauer read this paper and was convinced.
“It’s been estimated that, in the twentieth century, more than a hundred thousand people worldwide were permanently paralyzed from eating grass pea. The injurious substance in the plant turned out to be a neurotoxin, beta-N-oxalyl-L-alpha-beta diaminoproprionic acid, a compound commonly referred to as beta-ODAP or, more often, just ODAP.” – John Krakauer/New Yorker
Ronald explains how Chris was affected by the ODAP toxin:
“It might be said that Christopher McCandless did indeed starve to death in the Alaskan wild, but this only because he’d been poisoned, and the poison had rendered him too weak to move about, to hunt or forage, and, toward the end, “extremely weak,” “too weak to walk out,” and, having “much trouble just to stand up.” He wasn’t truly starving in the most technical sense of that condition. He’d simply become slowly paralyzed. And it wasn’t arrogance that had killed him, it was ignorance. Also, it was ignorance which must be forgiven, for the facts underlying his death were to remain unrecognized to all, scientists and lay people alike, literally for decades.” – Ronald Hamilton