Krakauer goes onto to relate the story of another young man who disappeared into the wild: Everett Ruess, a hitchhiker and photographer who pursued beauty and adventure throughout the American Southwest during the 1930s. During his journey, Ruess changes his name several times, until he wanders into Davis Gulch, where he inscribes his new name “Nemo,” Latin for “nobody,” into the sandstone, before disappearing.
Like Ruess, Chris changes his name, eventually dubbing himself “Alexander Supertramp.” Chris’ name is a triumphant claim on his new identity as a person who has cut himself free of the dependencies of society—home family, money. In contrast, Ruess’ final name, literally “nobody,” diminishes his sense of identity, showing that Chris comes into his own through his travels, instead of fading away.
It is widely held that Ruess fell to his death while climbing the region’s crumbly canyon walls, but no human remains are ever recovered. Some believe that Ruess continued to live in secret by assuming an alternate identity, while others theorize that cattle rustlers murdered Ruess for his belongings. A local river guide suggests that Ruess drowned while trying to swim across a river.
The theories that abound around Ruess’ death reflect the mystery surrounding McCandless’s death, but also point to the myriad of possibilities that could have befallen Chris, intensifying the sense that any number of factors and circumstances could have led to McCandless’ death, or even survival.
Ruess and McCandless’ lives, deaths and “hunger of the spirit,” remind Krakauer of the papar, ancient Irish monks who sailed to a remote island off the coast of Iceland in search of peace and solitude.
By relating Ruess and Chris’ to the papar, Krakauer again connects them to tradition and endows their travels with a sense of holiness, ennobling their journeys as quests for solitude.