Written By: LFG
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Chris McCandless Bus 142, Alaska
The mountains of Alaska have always left people in awe due to its wondrous beauty. Many people from all corners of the globe visit these places yearly—some have even made it a tradition. One of the most popular ones is Stampede Trail, located in Stampede Valley just by Denali National Park’s northern boundary. What made this trail controversial is that this was where the corpse of mountaineer Chris McCandless was found rotting inside a dilapidated bus.
A Backpacker’s Early Days
Christopher McCandless had a rough childhood growing up due to some family issues. As such, he developed a yearning to explore the wild outdoors as a form of escape from his current situation. After his college graduation, McCandless donated a huge chunk of his life savings to OXFAM, an umbrella of charities which focuses on alleviating poverty. It’s interesting how he chose this charity, considering he would be leading a vagabond lifestyle himself.
He spent many months traveling around the country, exploring what the wilderness could offer in California, South Dakota, and Arizona. At one time, he reportedly rode a canoe down the Colorado River. It wasn’t until April 1992 when he set foot in Alaska, which he did so by hitchhiking after his car got broken.
Alaskan Adventure Gone Wrong
There’s no doubt that the Alaskan trail would entice any hiker, be it for one who is experienced or not. For McCandless, it was a route that beckoned like no other. Despite his broken vehicle (which was caused by a storm), he persevered and managed to arrive at the trail with the help of a man named Jim Gallien. He was the last one who saw him alive before he disappeared into the woods.
Gallien shared how he was initially concerned to see McCandless bringing such a light load—with barely enough food and equipment. Not only that, but his lack of experience was apparent. Gallien tried to convince McCandless to at least postpone his trip till he got appropriate equipment. However, he was adamant at getting to the trail as soon as possible.
As he journeyed Stampede Trail, McCandless chanced upon an abandoned bus and decided to use it as a campsite. The bus had a number mark of 142, and it became his makeshift home for 113 days before he died of starvation. McCandless lived on the bus for over two months before attempting to return to civilization based on his journal entries. Unfortunately, he was unable to do so as the trail got blocked by the swollen Teklanika river. McCandless returned to the bus dismayed and left an S.O.S. note he hoped possible visitors would see.
How Bus 142 Became A Deadly Shrine for Hikers
Hunters found McCandless’s body approximately two weeks after his demise. The news broke out and became a topic of discussion amongst many, especially in the hiking community. It became a subject of many books, documentaries, and films, so many were curious to see the site for themselves. Additionally, Chris’ father, Walt McCandless, put up a plaque on the bus interior to honor his son’s short-lived life.
Bus 142, fondly nicknamed The Magic Bus, became some sort of a pilgrimage site for mountaineers, and most would camp around the vehicle. But before its popularity, it was merely an abandoned vehicle forgotten by a company that worked in the site back in the 1960s.
McCandless and his zest for the wildlife made him an inspiration to trekkers. Some go to extreme lengths to reach the famed bus, with one even dying after attempting to cross the Teklanika River. A couple from Belarus tried to cross the river in 2019 to get to the bus. However, the strong currents were too much and caused the woman to drown. Another woman died in 2010 for the same reason.
Aside from drowning incidents, the bus’s appeal left many people stranded, which resulted in rescue operations. In 2016, more than 20 people had to be rescued after having difficulty returning to civilization. Even professional hikers do not underestimate the trail taken by Chris McCandless, saying the state of the river will be the sole dictator whether or not you will make it in and out of bus 142’s location.
Those who are lucky enough to get to the McCandless bus say the campsite has a serene feel to it and would allow one to reflect about life itself.
The McCandless Bus Today
In June 2020, the bus was airlifted out of Stampede Trail with the Department of Natural Resources’ help. The decision was made in the interest of public safety after all the rescue operations and deaths surrounding the bus’s appeal.
Some were dismayed at the event and said it should have stayed in the memory of McCandless. But some agree it was the right thing to do to avoid accidents in the future.
We may never understand the full reason why McCandless and the countless people troop to the wild and brave the difficulty of living in solitude. Perhaps, it is indeed one way to seek yourself and realize how valuable life can be. In this case, the McCandless bus has become a symbol of just that.
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