Ill-fated ‘Into the Wild’ adventurer victim of unfortunate timing, Oregon State study suggests

ELI FRANCOVICH The Spokesman-Review

Earlier this year, a hydrologist watched “Into The Wild” a movie, based on the eponymous nonfiction book about the life and death of an iconoclast adventurer. A pivotal scene, in both the book and movie, shows Chris McCandless trying to cross a swollen river and failing. Days later he died deep in the Alaskan backcountry.

The true story raises profound questions about belonging, the human-nature relationship, naïve arrogance, familial trauma and more. But after seeing that particular scene, David Hill, a professor at Oregon State University, was left with a very specific scientific question: What was going on, hydrologically speaking, with that river?

“I did some searching and didn’t come up with anything,” he said. “Then it became a little bit of a detective work, if you will.”

Months later that sleuthing culminated in a unique study, which was published in Frontiers In Earth Science earlier this month. The findings? Hill and water resources graduate student Christina Aragon of the OSU College of Engineering concluded that McCandless was thwarted by high flows in the Teklanika River because of an intense, short-lived runoff event.

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