Naturalist quote of day: Krakauer on Devils Thumb

John Krakauer by

All that held me to the mountainside, all that held me to the world, were two thin spikes of chrome molybdenum stuck half an inch into a smear of frozen water, yet the higher I climbed, the more comfortable I became.  Early on a difficult climb, especially a difficult solo-climb, you constantly feel the abyss pulling at your back.  To resist takes a tremendous conscious effort; you don’t dare let your guard down for an instant.  The siren song of the void puts you on edge; it makes your movements tentative, clumsy, herky-jerky.  But as the climb goes on, you grow accustomed to the exposure, you get used to rubbing shoulders with doom, you come to believe in the reliability of your hands and feet and head.  You learn to trust your self-control.

Jon Krakauer, climb on Devils Thumb, Alaska, Into the Wild, p. 142 (1996)



Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild, concerns the wilderness trek of Christopher McCandless into the Alaskan back country, ending in his death.  Krakauer, in the quote I have excerpted above, juxtaposes his own experience on the side of Devils Thumb with that of McCandless.  Krakauer came out alive.  Unfortunately, McCandless did not.

Addendum, November 27, 2010:  If you have not clicked on the hyperlink to Devils Thumb, do so because it takes you to the Google map in Alaska.


Filed under Adventure, Nature Quote of the Day

9 responses to “Naturalist quote of day: Krakauer on Devils Thumb

  1. What a bird’s eye view of the thoughts that have gone through this brave adventurer’s head. Perfect for me on this day. Thank You, Jack.

  2. You are welcome, Teresa. I think there is much for us in this quote even if we are not rock climbers.

  3. Karen

    Just finished reading Into the Wild a few weeks ago after I destroyed a tendon hiking on the lower level of Pikes Peak and was in awe of his writing and accomplishments. Thanks for the quote, actually thanks for all of the quotes. It’s nice to have them ding my phone daily.

  4. One thing I’ve noticed about Krakauer is that he always, unexplainably, puts his own exploits into a novel even when it seems completely unrelated. Nevertheless a good writer.

    • In this piece of Krakauer, Into the Wild, I was thrown off the flow of his story by his account of climbing Devils Thumb. I will trail up the mountain, but ice climbing and using iron is beyond me and my desire for risk.

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  6. Kittie Howard

    Jack, I follow a blog I think you’d enjoy, One Thousand Mountains (centered in Japan). I love the majesty of mountains standing tall, touching the heavens, and sometimes wish I could tip-toe into the clouds and see what the climbers see. However, after I climbed Mount Sinai, I returned to flatter land and retired, happy for the expierence, but, whew, enough.

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