Jon Krakauer Solves Mystery of Chris McCandless’ Death | “Into the Wild”

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Chris McCandless, 1992
Chris McCandless, 1992

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.
S.O.S.
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,
CHRIS McCANDLESS
AUGUST ?”

note attached to the door of the bus where Chris’ body was found

Chris McCandless
Chris McCandless

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.

Chris McCandless photo of wild potato plant and seeds in zip-lock bag
Chris McCandless photo of wild potato plant and seeds in zip-lock bag

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.  

Chris McCandless
Chris McCandless

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

Chris McCandless
Chris McCandless

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

 


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10 thoughts on “Jon Krakauer Solves Mystery of Chris McCandless’ Death | “Into the Wild”

    1. Actually, it was discovered – and used by the Nazi’s at their death camps – as a sick experiment on Jews to see the effects on humans when large amounts of this seed was ingested. It was mixed into horse feed they feed them.

      The kicker? They ALREADY knew what the effects would be, they just wanted to torture them. And they found that over a short period of time, the people who were fed this seed were in various states of paralysis, so this is a real toxin, it has been known about.

      I’m just sayin’…

  1. And this is breaking news today? Into the Wild was published in 2007. Within the book, Krakauer describes the neurotoxic effects of the mold on the seeds that likely took Chris McCandle’s life.

  2. Alaska’s back country is not a TV show nor is it to be treated with the excitement of a Jack London story. Clearly a hiker and camper must take responsibility for their actions in the back country. Even skilled survivalists can make this kind of mistake and die. I am not looking to harm the story of Chris Mccandless but something about him at this time was not exactly mentally sound. You drop your life for the life of a hobo for a time and then you head into the most challenging part of the world without supplies, with moderate skills and without fellow hikers or a plan. Sadly he was lucky he made it for as long as he did.

  3. The guy died from long-term starvation, period. Weakness, muscle-cramping inability to stand or walk, nausea, vomiting. hallucinations, irrational thinking, and eventual bowel and organ failure are ALL symptoms of starvation. Of course he got to the point where he couldn’t walk out. He looked anorexic, and he only weighed 67 lbs. Look at people who actually have anorexia who AREN’T living out in the wilderness…they suffer from many of the same ailments that McCandless was, and they don’t eat “eskimo peas” or “potato root peas.” It is very simple and clear how he died. He was not consuming enough calories to cover the amount of calories he had to burn in order to hunt &/or forage for his food, and everything he was consuming contained little to zero FAT. Something that is essential for survival in that scenario. Over less than 4 months, someone who had little body fat to begin with, he literally starved to death. There is no mystery to figure out, he documented it very well with his own photographs and diary. I don’t know why people feel more comforted by the idea that he was “poisoned” other than it seems to make them feel that he was somehow less ignorant about the way he died. If he was inadvertently poisoned then he comes off as less at-fault than if he was simply ignorant about outdoor living and waited too long before attempting to walk out because he was in denial about how bad a state he was in or something. That is, in fact, what happened; he didn’t understand anything about outdoor survival. If he did then the moose he shot would have kept him alive…no one tries to smoke big slabs of meat. He didn’t even know that it needed to be cut into thin strips, hanging on sticks. 90% of survival is the human brain. Having a book about edible berries, some rubber boots and a .22 rifle (another rookie mistake) the guy was dead before he even happened upon the bus and squatted in someone else’s camp to begin with.

    And thirteenburn – The Nazis fed captive Jew wild grass peas (cow peas) as was commonly done to cheaply feed large amounts of starving humans all over the world. It was not a “sick experiment,” it was common practice at the time to bulk up other feed. No one knew it had any kind of negative effect at the time & wouldn’t for years. The people who got sick were on a steady diet of only grass peas for over 3 months, much longer than McCandless was consuming them and in much larger quantities before any negative symptoms showed up. Besides, the negative effects only show up when people are already in severe starvation, something McCandless actually DID have in common with concentration camp victims. He certainly looked like one in those photos.

  4. Those damned Nazis. People can tie them into anything. It’s a widely known fact they caused the last ice age and now they’re causing global warming too! How dare they think it’s okay to put your country and folk above others. Only non-whites are allowed such ideologies.

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