Northern Exposure
May 2, 2011 5:15 PM   Subscribe

Alone In The Wilderness "Documentary tells the story of Dick Proenneke who, in the late 1960s, built his own cabin in the wilderness at the base of the Aleutian Peninsula, in what is now Lake Clark National Park. Using color footage he shot himself, Proenneke traces how he came to this remote area, selected a homestead site and built his log cabin completely by himself. The documentary covers his first year in-country, showing his day-to-day activities and the passing of the seasons as he sought to scratch out a living alone in the wilderness." (Color, 57mins)
posted by puny human (62 comments total) 89 users marked this as a favorite

 
wiki, imdb
posted by puny human at 5:17 PM on May 2, 2011


As a huge fan, I am sad to say that we've done this before.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:20 PM on May 2, 2011


Either way, I have been watching this in five minute snatches it seems for years on every PBS station within a ninety mile radius of my house, never quite managing to be the right place and the right time to see the whole thing. So thanks!
posted by Diablevert at 5:39 PM on May 2, 2011


Yeah but this is the whole documentary irfh, unless I missed something in those last 2 posts, which just included a 3 minute clip of the film.
posted by puny human at 5:40 PM on May 2, 2011


My bad - I thought the last thread was the full movie. Sorry.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:48 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Excellent. Saw this a while back on PBS with my dad, after which both of us sort of wished Proenneke was our dad.

Also can't help but compare Dick Proenneke and Tim Treadwell, both seeking something intangible in the wild, but with such different methods and outcomes.
posted by serif at 5:51 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh man, fantastic. I too have caught this in snippets on PBS and never managed to catch the whole thing. There goes my evening! :)
posted by xedrik at 5:52 PM on May 2, 2011


Saw this a few years ago and if you ever needed inspiration to finally build anything at all this guy will definitely give it to you.
posted by artof.mulata at 5:58 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


He shaved every day?
posted by mikelieman at 5:59 PM on May 2, 2011


31:00 Oh, Thank G-d!
posted by mikelieman at 6:08 PM on May 2, 2011


He shaved every day?

The kind of man who shaves every day despite being the only person around for hundreds of miles is, of course, the same kind of man who can survive alone in the wilderness. I, myself, wear a beard.

love this film, love the man, love his book, thanks.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:10 PM on May 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've seen this as well... and interesting fellow, the life I wanted to live for many, many years.... but never had the guts that he had...
posted by tomswift at 6:11 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


To atone for my overly-hasty earlier comment, I offer this suggestion to serious Proenneke fans: As good as the movie is, and the first book, Alone in the Wilderness, I suggest reading this as well: More Readings From One Man's Wilderness: The Journals of Richard L. Proenneke, 1974-1980. Unlike Alone in the Wilderness, which was heavily edited (in ways that he complains about in More Readings) More Readings is pretty much straight from the horse's mouth. It's a big book, and covers a lot of time, but it's a very interesting read. It's political. It covers his celebrity and work for the parks. It covers his decling health, accidents, deaths of friends and strangers... man, I'm getting shivers just thinking about it.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:12 PM on May 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


Thanks for that recommendation, IRFH.
posted by briank at 6:16 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is hard not to compare him with Treadwell isn't it serif? It's Appollo vs. Dionysus. Treadwell: childlike, manic, silly and naive, self centered, bitter; but some of his bear footage, and his mad Kinskian rants are unforgettable. Proenneke: stoic, honest, old fashioned, self sufficient, craftsman, wise-elder, has a bit of a Popular Mechanics, grandfather vibe to him. His narration and film footage seem at first prosaic compared to Treadwell's wild, almost insane poetic visions, but win you over with their steady, factual accumulation of images. (Such a relief from the helicopter shots and HD overdrive of a modern nature documentary.)
posted by puny human at 6:33 PM on May 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


One thing that I didn't know for sure until I bought the movie and book myself, is that the narrator in the movie is just an actor reading from the script adapted from Proenneke's diary.

There are also a couple of other short outdoor Alaska movies shot by the same team that released Alone in the Wilderness that include additional footage of Proenneke (not a lot of Proenneke, though - for ultra serious, have to watch every frame available fans only). One of them includes footage of Proenneke actually speaking in his own voice. It's quite a jolt after hearing that Reaganesque drawl for years to suddenly hear his real voice. Wish I could remember which film it was in.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:47 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just watched the whole documentary. So much better than "Survivor."
posted by HeyAllie at 7:04 PM on May 2, 2011


I think a really good setup for a sustainability experiment would be to try and live a Proenneke-lifestyle on an island; the idea being you have a very limited ecosystem and try to make as much use of your resources as possible. You'd build a house, setup rainwater collection, grow food, and generate power among other things. In a sense, it would be like the Global Village Construction Set, but with an even greater emphasis on working towards a closed ecological system.

---

Also, there's no comparison between Proenneke and Treadwell.
posted by lemuring at 7:27 PM on May 2, 2011


Yeah - Proenneke was a tough old bird. Treadwell, on the other hand, was probably tender and delicious.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:34 PM on May 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


Treadwell was an idealistic idiot.

Proenneke was an idealistic genius.


The contrast should be definitional.
posted by yesster at 7:48 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was, and am, a huge fan of Jack London and his writings (his politics and beliefs aside.) This is exactly the thing he wrote about. I had seen parts of this before but having the whole thing is priceless to me. One day I will wander into the woods and make my way on my own. Wait, no I won't but I will always dream of it and hearing about people who have really done it - especially in modern times - will always bring a smile to my face. Thanks!

(and Treadwell was an idiot - that's why I'm not doing it. I KNOW I'm an idiot)
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 8:02 PM on May 2, 2011


Not knowing terribly much about Alaska, the most extraordinary thing to me would be surviving the winters there. just massive quantities of snow and cold I imagine.
posted by wilful at 8:03 PM on May 2, 2011


wilful: and darkness, don't forget the darkness.
posted by smcameron at 8:09 PM on May 2, 2011


Nice guns on this guy. I am wondering how he got enough calories every day. Am only 16 minutes in so maybe they tell me, but he is working his ass off and eating trout and salmon cannot be enough. Veggies are not ready yet.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:30 PM on May 2, 2011


Nice,I've always wanted to see this.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:46 PM on May 2, 2011


I haven't watched the video yet (looking forward to it), but why all the Treadwell comparisons and no mention of McCandless?

That's the first thing I thought of on reading this FPP.
posted by hippybear at 9:15 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do want to watch this later, but I have to drive up to the corner to get a burrito for dinner. Now where's my iPhone?
posted by Lukenlogs at 9:21 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Needs a minecraft soundtrack.
posted by dibblda at 9:22 PM on May 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I haven't watched the video yet (looking forward to it), but why all the Treadwell comparisons and no mention of McCandless?

Well this guy was certainly isolated, but people knew where he was. He was situated not all that far from another cabin he had borrowed while building his own, and a sea plane made semi regular deliveries. I also think I read that he had spent several summers in the wilderness before his first winter.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:38 PM on May 2, 2011


Or Thoreau?
posted by wilful at 10:15 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've also seen snippets of this documentary over the last few years on PBS. It's really quite hypnotic to watch all at once. His voice, the slow growth of the cabin, the ever-steady camera... not just hypnotic, but therapeutic even. Really considering getting those books.
posted by Corduroy at 11:48 PM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


In defense of Treadwell.
posted by puny human at 11:51 PM on May 2, 2011


The wolverine in that movie was hilarious.
posted by dibblda at 2:06 AM on May 3, 2011


Just watched it, and that's quite extraordinary. Check out the lock he makes at 28". Or the hinges at 20". Amazing artisanship.
posted by wilful at 5:06 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love this. I have the DVD. This guy is incredible. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Shike at 5:11 AM on May 3, 2011


Thoroughly enjoyable. I love the colors in the old film; it's like icing on a great cake.

It's also amazing that he didn't start his adventure until he was my age - I'm sore after I mow the grass.

Thanks for a great way to start the day.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:15 AM on May 3, 2011


So... was I the only one watching him spend most of each day using axes, saws and knives and constantly thinking: "What happens if he slips? or the log slips?"

I need to get out more.

But not yet.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 6:25 AM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


McCandless had a death wish. He wanted to find out how ill-prepared he could be in the face of nature before it killed him. He found out. I'm definitely in the McCandless as moron camp.

Proenneke seems not to be as interested in how much it would take to kill him, but what it would take to survive. A crucial difference.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:54 AM on May 3, 2011


If anybody wants some additional insight into Alaska I highly recommend John McPhee's Coming Into The Country which details Alaska's struggle with statehood, and the formation of a large national forest (among other adventures). It's classic McPhee, and a really wonderful read.
posted by ghostpony at 7:22 AM on May 3, 2011


IRFH said: As good as the movie is, and the first book, Alone in the Wilderness, I suggest reading this as well: More Readings From One Man's Wilderness: The Journals of Richard L. Proenneke, 1974-1980.

And I'll point out that the National Park Service has a pdf of More Readings as well:

More Readings

As a government publication put out by the National Park Service, it is in the public domain.
posted by billcicletta at 8:00 AM on May 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


McCandless had a death wish. He wanted to find out how ill-prepared he could be in the face of nature before it killed him. He found out. I'm definitely in the McCandless as moron camp.

"McCandless as moron" camp is an easy camp to be in. Into the wild, both a book and a movie, are great places to start to get a fuller picture.
posted by mooselini at 9:36 AM on May 3, 2011


The documentary covers his first year in-country, showing his day-to-day activities... as he sought to scratch out a living alone in the wilderness.

Liike waiting for the float plane bringing in supplies.
posted by y2karl at 9:38 AM on May 3, 2011


"You can't beat that!"
posted by y2karl at 9:40 AM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thanks for saving me $33.50, billcicletta!
posted by briank at 9:49 AM on May 3, 2011


Thanks for saving me $33.50, billcicletta!

You're welcome. More Readings is probably also available at a Library Near You. If, like me, you can't quite get your head around 500 pages worth of pdf, that is.
posted by billcicletta at 9:54 AM on May 3, 2011


Thank you for this post! I had never heard of this and had been looking for documentaries just like it! What this guy is doing is my daily pipedream...very inspirational.
posted by jnnla at 11:16 AM on May 3, 2011


Wow, thanks so much for posting this. This guy reminds me so much of my dad. He would have loved to do this, and I'm sure he could have if only he hadn't gotten married and had us kids instead, but he had a great big huge love of the outdoors all his life.
posted by marsha56 at 2:21 PM on May 3, 2011


thankyou! I caught part of this one late sleepless night on PBS. It didn't help the sleeplessness (as I watched what was on till the end), but it was a strange source of solace.
posted by inkytea at 8:27 PM on May 3, 2011


This was always on in the wee hours of the morning on PBS. Love him
posted by northxnorthwest at 1:41 AM on May 4, 2011


Thank you, I really enjoyed that. I wonder if somehow, someday, I can live that way.
posted by b33j at 5:31 AM on May 4, 2011


Can you imagine how tedious it was to film this footage? Like the scenes with him shoving off in his boat. He had to set up the shot, get the camera running, shove off in his boat, then stop, go back, and retrieve the camera, and THEN set off on his journey. (If he shot all this in sequence and didn't do a bunch of establishing action shots in a single day or something...)

I was thinking the same thing watching all the episodes of LionKing hiking the American Discovery Trail. Filming yourself doing things like hiking... has to be a bit of a drag.
posted by hippybear at 8:04 AM on May 4, 2011


"McCandless as moron" camp is an easy camp to be in. Into the wild, both a book and a movie, are great places to start to get a fuller picture.

I've neither read the book nor seen the fictionalization of the book into a movie.

But reading the book will not change the fundamental reality: CM, through sheer self-inflated ego, chose not to respect the survival-critical body of knowledge, tools, and fieldcraft that was available. He didn't have a compass or map and didn't take the basic steps to learn how to be survivally adequate in a survivally compromised situation.

The ancient Greeks called that unbearable kind of pride hubris, and it was the thing that the gods tended to reach down with a finger Olympian and flick the offending mortals against the wall till they went splat.

The best quote is from an Alaskan Park Ranger
I am exposed continually to what I will call the 'McCandless Phenomenon.' People, nearly always young men, come to Alaska to challenge themselves against an unforgiving wilderness landscape where convenience of access and possibility of rescue are practically nonexistent [...] When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate. First off, he spent very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived at the Stampede Trail without even a map of the area. If he [had] had a good map he could have walked out of his predicament [...] Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide.
The idea that a lone man who did not take the time nor effort to gather either mission-critical knowledge and tools when going into a survival-compromised situation is not romantic. It is not Thoreau-ian.

I point you in return to the book Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. THAT'S a book about survivors, and what it takes. A guy crossing the ocean alone gets his boat rammed in the night by a whale and it starts sinking.

He realizes that before he gets into the lifeboat, he has to dive into the sinking hull with a knife and cut free the bag of survival gear. It's a risk, but if he goes right into the lifeboat without supplies, his chances decrease even further, balanced by inside a sinking boat is a great way to drown. But he gets free his bag and survives all the way to Hawai'i. When the fishermen see him floating in to shore, his response is "Finish what you're doing. I'm enjoying the view"

McCandless didn't take the basic steps to become adequate to the demands of the environment he was entering. He thought that somehow, through sheer effort, like some Nitzchean Übermensch his inner Grizzley Adams would rise from somewhere deep in his soul just by the act of walking away from the society he rejected and into the arms of pure nature. That somehow the ability to survive out in the wild was some cthonic heritage stripped from us by society, but which exposure to the natural environment will restore to us

Nature fed him to the beasts and the worms.

No amount of romanticizing and hagiography by the misty-eyed who see a troubled young man looking for something clean and pure is likely to take my eyes off the fact that:
-Wilderness survival is a set of skills and tools and lore
-CM chose not to respect the body of knowledge, and instead relied on his Will To Power and his ego and knuckle-headed, romantic notions.

And he died because of it where a prepared boy scout could have walked out of.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:09 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, that's an awful long screed to write about someone you haven't done even the most basic research on beyond, what? Reading his Wikipedia page?

Not going to really argue your firmly-held beliefs, except to point out this one this: no boy scout could have walked out of where McCandless found himself trapped. He didn't realize the river he'd crossed some weeks before was going to end up a raging torrent by the time he attempted to make his way back to civilization, and not even the best-prepared wilderness survival person could have crossed back at that point in time. If memory serves, not even the zipline which may have been close-by was actually crossing the water at that point.
posted by hippybear at 8:15 AM on May 4, 2011


Fine, axe the boyscout crack.

He still didn't take the basic step to become survivally adequate in some very serious, unforgiving terrain, tried instead to rely on magical thinking and some sort of Unuiversal wish-fulfillment, and it killed him.

What exactly is it about doing that that says "Romanitc young soul" rather than "knucklehead walking blithely walking into death" to people? Why does the lack of any serious preparation, skill-development, or proper tool-having come across as admirable in people's eyes? He couldn't have bought a fucking proper area map & compass and $10 book on how to use them before he burned his credit cards? It's that sort of attitude that gets the finger Olympian.

I've been certified as a wilderness first responder and done a teeny, tiny bit of outdoorsing. I am a city boy. But I respect Nature's kung-fu enough that when I engage Nature, I do it on Natures terms and recognizing I need to do x, know y, and have z, or I could very well likely not survive.

Why do people celebrate a guy who willingly walking unprepared into a deadly situation and died?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:42 AM on May 4, 2011


I'm really not sure anyone is actually celebrating McCandless, actually. Unless you count examining what he did and how it ended up as a celebration, which I don't think it is.

And, well, he WAS a Romantic young soul. Perhaps foolish and unprepared for what he was hoping to actually do, but the call he heard was the same as the guy featured in this FPP, the same as the call to Walden Pond, the same as what drew Everett Ruess into his wanderings.

Sometimes people who wander into the wild end up successful, sometimes they end up dead.

But celebrating? I was asking the question and making the comparison because that's what first came to mind. After watching the video, it's clear that Proenneke wasn't McCandless on any level, beginning from his regular supply drops and ending with his skills and knowledge about how to live alone in the wilderness.

I think you're perhaps reading far too much into a (perhaps) naive comparison I made before I watched the video linked here, and being very aggressively dismissive of the examination of the excellent works which surround the McCandless case.

Take the time to actually read the book before you continue being so dismissive. It's far from a "celebration".
posted by hippybear at 10:12 AM on May 4, 2011


Gaaa. Writing in actual English helps. "...being very aggressively dismissive of the excellent works which examine the circumstances surrounding the McCandless case."
posted by hippybear at 10:14 AM on May 4, 2011


I'm really not sure anyone is actually celebrating McCandless, actually. Unless you count examining what he did and hit ended up as a celebration, which I don't think it is.

Maybe not Krakauer, but Sean Penn absolutely is, from what I've read him say about it. He's also been quite hostile to Peter Christian's commentary, dismissing the opinion of an experienced ranger as coming from some sort of fat, pseudo-cop tooling around in an SUV while CM was out there facing the harshness of Nature, blah, blah, blah. And according to some Alaskans (ond to their dismay), a fair number of people agree w/ Penn's hagiography

And, well, he WAS a Romantic young soul. Perhaps foolish and unprepared for what he was hoping to actually do, but the call he heard was the same as the guy featured in this FPP, the same as the call to Walden Pond, the same as what drew Everett Ruess into his wanderings.

Sometimes people who wander into the wild end up successful, sometimes they end up dead.


Yes, but it's not a fucking random crap-shoot, is it. The abjectly unprepared who don't take the most basic precautions tend to end up dead faster than the ones who respected basic survival skills.

If you hear a call, a summons, a drive, follow it. With all your heart.

But if your call is to fly and all you do is run off a cliff and start flapping your pure-hearted arms, people should look at you and think DEATH/FAIL.

Because the guys who developed the wingsuits took the time and effort to be adequate to the call they heard and followed.

Having been this snarky, I do now feel motivated to go to the library and read the damn book. But my prediction: my opinion will remain unchanged. Because I was raised to look at romantic knuckleheads who DEATH/FAIL due to being wholly unprepared for the path they choose as... honestly, as objects of scorn.

At 42, I'm working at not being scornful in general. But growing up, I was raised on how my grandfather & the men of his village took their families into the jungles of the Philippines and spent 4 years as insurgents against the Japanese, and brought their families down again intact when it was over.

Lesson one: Survive. Do what you need to do, know what you need to know, be adequate to the demands of survival. I was not raised to respect sacrificing survival in favor of romantic notions.

Because the man I'm named after, when he went into the hostile jungle, came out alive, with my grandmother and my dad and his siblings. He also wrote poetry during those years in the jungle.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2011


I think you'll find the book isn't really about what you think it is about.
posted by hippybear at 11:33 AM on May 4, 2011


Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey: If your point is that one shouldn't tackle a task without familiarizing oneself with the landscape and taking basic steps to be prepared (a point I agree with), perhaps your best tactic is not to do so on a subject - McCandless - about whom you acknowledge that you haven't done your research.

McCandless was not lost. His lack of a compass, while foolish, did not contribute to his death in any way. Whether a map might have helped him is debated in the book. It isn't clear if he had the strength or presence of mind to affect his own rescue when it was clear that he needed it, because he was suffering from food poisoning, which is probably what ultimately killed him. He had a guide to native plants with him, and from McCandless's journal, it is clear that he became violently ill, and was unable to retain what little food he had left at the time, or even water. In the journal, McCandless questions whether he may have misidentified a plant. The author of Into the Wild believes that he may have identified the plants correctly, but that the plants may have contained a toxic fungus native to the area that can cause the symptoms McCandless suffered from.

While underprepared beyond any question, McCandless did not enter the wilderness without research or resources. He had food, ammunition, fire, shelter, and water. All of the essentials. He had survival information. He knew where he was. He had been surviving off of the land on and off for years in other locations, so he was definitely not just some dumb, starry-eyed city kid who didn't know his head from his ass. He got trapped by a rising river and then he got sick. He made one or two fatal errors, and he paid the ultimate price.

There are definitely lessons to be learned from McCandless, but they aren't necessarily the ones you laid out, however good the advice. McCandless should have had a map. McCandless should have spent some time with a local to be absolutely sure he was correctly identifying the local edibles. And McCandless should have told somebody exactly where he was going, and when he was coming back. Those were his fatal mistakes, and they are exactly the same kinds of mistakes that experienced outdoorsmen make all the time, too. Their hubris comes from mistaking experience for indestructability, while his hubris may have included mistaking youthful romance with indestructability, but the result is the same. But risk takers take risks. Much of the book asks just what drove him to take risks. It's actually a very interesting read.

While there are plenty of examples out there of the totally unprepared committing suicide by ignorance, I would argue that the lesson to be learned from McCandless is that details matter. It's not enough to know your route. It's not enough to have survival gear. It's not even enough to be able to survive on your own in the wild. You have to have a backup plan and a contact who knows how and when to reach you. Because anyone can have an accident. The experienced Alaskan Park Ranger would be just as dead as McCandless if he became injured in the wild and no one knew how to reach him.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:45 AM on May 4, 2011


I'm much more interested in what Dick Proenneke can teach us than what this other dude can.
posted by wilful at 4:29 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, definitely. But I do find McCandless to be a much more interesting contrast to Proenneke than Treadwell. Treadwell was just a flake. But McCandless was almost the flipside to Proenneke.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:52 PM on May 4, 2011


This was awesome! Thanks. And I'll be searching out the books as well.
posted by OmieWise at 2:43 PM on May 6, 2011


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