greatest in importance or degree or significance
My reasoning, if one can call it that, was inflamed by the scattershot passions of youth and a literary diet overly rich in the works of Nietzsche, Kerouac, and John Menlove Edwards, the latter a deeply troubled writer and psychiatrist who, before putting an end to his life with a cyanide capsule in 1958, had been one of the
preeminent British rock climbers of the day.
influence or urge by gentle urging, caressing, or flattering
So I drove as far as Gig Harbor, Washington, abandoned the car, and
inveigled a ride on a northbound salmon seiner.
hard outer covering or case of certain organisms
Vast and labyrinthine, the ice cap rides the spine of the Boundary Ranges like a
carapace, from which the long blue tongues of numerous glaciers inch down toward the sea under the weight of the ages.
stupefied or excited by a chemical substance
To a self-possessed young man
inebriated with the unfolding drama of his own life, all of this held enormous appeal.
a constantly changing medley of real or imagined images
Here the glacier spills abruptly over the edge of a high plateau, dropping seaward through a gap between two mountains in a
phantasmagoria of shattered ice.
an unaccompanied partsong for several voices
madrigal of creaks and sharp reports—the sort of protest a large fir limb makes when it’s slowly bent to the breaking point—served as a reminder that it is the nature of glaciers to move
unbelievable gall; insolence; audacity
In solo climbing the whole enterprise is held together with little more than
chutzpah, not the most reliable adhesive.
be bossy towards
From elementary school through high school, my siblings and I were
hectored to excel in every class, to win medals in science fairs, to be chosen princess of the prom, to win election to student government.
mix up or confuse
To a greater and greater degree his life revolved around a self-administered pharmacopoeia of steroids, amphetamines, mood elevators, and painkillers, and the drugs
addled his once-formidable mind.
a feeling of great elation
euphoria, the overwhelming sense of relief, that had initially accompanied my return to Petersburg faded, and an unexpected melancholy took its place.
not produced by natural forces; artificial or fake
I wished to acquire the simplicity, native feelings, and virtues of savage life; to divest myself of the
factitious habits, prejudices and imperfections of civilization; ... and to find, amidst the solitude and grandeur of the western wilds, more correct views of human nature and of the true interests of man.
a long steep slope at the edge of a plateau or ridge
Just sixteen miles to the south, beyond an
escarpment of the Outer Range, hundreds of tourists rumble daily into Denali Park over a road patrolled by the National Park Service.
a gaping grimace
Overjoyed, the proud hunter took a photograph of himself kneeling over his trophy, rifle thrust triumphantly over-head, his features distorted in a
rictus of ecstasy and amazement, like some unemployed janitor who'd gone to Reno and won a million-dollar jackpot.
uncertain or unable to decide about what course to follow
Although McCandless was enough of a realist to know that hunting game was an unavoidable component of living off the land, he had always been
ambivalent about killing animals.
lack of sophistication or worldliness
But McCandless, in his
naivete, relied on the advice of hunters he’d consulted in South Dakota, who advised him to smoke his meat, not an easy task under the circumstances.
He seemed to have moved beyond his need to assert so
adamantly his autonomy, his need to separate himself from his parents.
peculiar to the individual
But Chris, with his
idiosyncratic logic, came up with an elegant solution to this dilemma: He simply got rid of the map.
unhealthy vapors rising from the ground or other sources
The beaver ponds are never more than chest deep, but the water is cold, and as we slosh forward, our feet churn the muck on the bottom into a foul-smelling
miasma of decomposing slime.
in an unambiguous manner
When I’d questioned Gordon Samel and Ken Thompson shortly after they’d discovered McCandless’s body, both men insisted—adamantly and
unequivocally—that the big skeleton was the remains of a caribou, and they derided the greenhorn’s ignorance in mistaking the animal he killed for a moose.
overbearing pride with a superior manner toward inferiors
Some critics have even drawn parallels between McCandless and the Arctic’s most infamous tragic figure, Sir John Franklin, a nineteenth-century British naval officer whose smugness and
hauteur contributed to some 140 deaths, including his own.
a familiar name for a person
He had been woefully unprepared to lead an Arctic expedition, and upon returning to England, he was known as the Man Who Ate His Shoes—yet the
sobriquet was uttered more often with awe than with ridicule.
ability of a material to return to its original shape
He was green, and he overestimated his
resilience, but he was sufficiently skilled to last for sixteen weeks on little more than his wits and ten pounds of rice.
feelings of anxiety that make you tense and irritable
disquietude he felt on Katahdin’s granite heights inspired some of his most powerful writing and profoundly colored the way he thought thereafter about the earth in its coarse, undomesticated state.
a calm, lengthy, intent consideration
The entries in McCandless’s journal contain few abstractions about wilderness or, for that matter, few
ruminations of any kind.
a small or moderate or token amount
It would be easy to stereotype Christopher McCandless as another boy who felt too much, a loopy young man who read too many books and lacked even a
modicum of common sense.
not fit to assume responsibility
McCandless wasn’t some
feckless slacker, adrift and confused, racked by existential despair.
the height of a standing person
Trying to explain McCandless’s unorthodox behavior, some people have made much of the fact that like John Waterman, he was small in
stature and may have suffered from a “short man's complex," a fundamental insecurity that drove him to prove his manhood by means of extreme physical challenges.
hinder or prevent the progress or accomplishment of
After his attempt to depart the wilderness was
stymied by the Teklanika’s high flow, McCandless arrived back at the bus on July 8.
capable of producing offspring or vegetation
It was the height of summer, the country was a
fecund riot of plant and animal life, and his food supply was adequate.
extremely annoying or displeasing
“And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness. . . . And this was most
vexing of all,” he noted, “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”
a leave usually taken every seventh year
It is tempting to regard this latter notation as further evidence that McCandless’s long, lonely
sabbatical had changed him in some significant way.
lacking in or deprived of strength or power
In order for McCandless to have been
incapacitated by potato seeds, he would have had to eat many, many pounds of them; and given the light weight of his pack when Gallien dropped him off, it is extremely unlikely that he carried more than a few grams of potato seeds, if he carried any at all.
a medicine that induces nausea and vomiting
Fortunately, it proved
emetic; and her stomach having rejected all that she had swallowed, she was restored to health, though her recovery was for some time doubtful.
admitting of no doubt or misunderstanding
Given the alarming,
unambiguous entry McCandless had scrawled in his journal on July 30, I found it hard to believe that the enormous quantity of seeds he’d eaten just prior to that date played no role in his death.
a difficult problem
Over a period of several years I doggedly sifted through the scientific literature, hoping to find a clue that would explain this
characterized by effort to the point of exhaustion
The damage wasn’t discovered until late July, when a wildlife biologist named Paul Atkinson made the
grueling ten-mile bush-whack over the Outer Range, from the road into Denali National Park to the Park Service shelter.
willful and malicious destruction of the property of others
This looked like somebody had gone at the cabins with a claw hammer and bashed everything in sight. From the size of the fireweed growing up through mattresses that had been tossed outside, it was clear that the
vandalism had occurred many weeks earlier.
a familiar name for a person
Recognizing the gravity of his predicament, he had abandoned the cocky
moniker he’d been using for years, Alexander Supertramp, in favor of the name given to him at birth by his parents.
resembling or befitting an angel or saint
One of his last acts was to take a picture of himself, standing near the bus under the high Alaska sky, one hand holding his final note toward the camera lens, the other raised in a brave,
an instrument that measures the height above ground
altimeter needle brushes five thousand feet, we crest a mud-colored ridge, the earth drops away, and a breathtaking sweep of taiga fills the Plexiglas wind-screen.