Summary and Analysis
Chapter 15 - The Stikine Ice Cap
This chapter continues the author's description of his attempted ascent of the Devils Thumb as a young man. Krakauer is forced to remain inside his tent for three days due to high winds and snow. Though he still hasn't reached the summit — and because he may never do so — Krakauer decides to smoke a celebratory marijuana cigar he had been saving. In doing so, he almost burns down the tent, which has been borrowed from his father. Due to fire damage, the temperature inside the tent drops 30 degrees.
Next, the author reminisces about his autocratic but generous and loving father. A physician, Lewis Krakauer wanted his son to become a doctor, as well, and groomed him from the time he was a toddler for that profession. Father and son clashed as Jon entered his teens and then young adulthood. Victim of a childhood bout with polio, Lewis begins experiencing symptoms of the disease again in middle age. In medicating himself, he became addicted to a variety of painkillers and eventually attempted suicide. The author contemplates that the off-kilter ambition he inherited from his father is what prevented him "from admitting defeat on the Stikine Ice Cap after my initial attempt to climb the Thumb had failed, even after I nearly burned the tent down."
Prevented by a large storm from reaching the summit, Krakauer huddles inside a bivouac sack while avalanches bury the ledge he balances on. He tunnels out four times; the fifth time, he retreats. But the mountain has not defeated Krakauer yet. He decides to climb the Devils Thumb via another route, up the side he had planned on descending. Eventually he reaches the summit.
This chapter further develops the motif of fathers and sons, suggesting explicitly that sons often rebel against their fathers at the same time that they are powerless to resist paternal traits they have inherited. Clearly Krakauer believes that McCandless was driven to do what he did in large measure by his relationship with father Walt.
And this is only part of what Krakauer believes he shared with McCandless. They also shared hubris. "It is easy, when you are young," he writes, "to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it. When I decided to go to Alaska that April, like Chris McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic."
Which is not to say that Jon Krakauer believes his younger self to have been identical to Christopher McCandless in every respect. Krakauer says he wasn't as intelligent as McCandless and didn't possess his lofty ideals — but young Krakauer was also, crucially, a superior outdoorsman.