Many outdoor enthusiasts have heard the sordid tale of Aron Ralston, the young man who was forced to amputate his own arm after becoming trapped in a slot canyon in Utah’s Blue John Canyon for more than five days in April 2003. He survived the incident, and went on to write a book about his ordeal, entitled Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and several years later, the feature film 127 Hours was made, starring James Franco as Ralston. For those who may have missed this intriguing tale, here is Aron Ralston’s story.
Before the fateful day that he became trapped and was compelled to wonder if he’d ever make it out alive, Aron Ralston was an active outdoorsman hailing from Colorado by way of Indianapolis. After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, he found employment as a mechanical engineer at Intel in Phoenix, Arizona, but that wasn’t his true calling. What he really wanted out of life was mountaineering, complete with a goal to to climb all of Colorado’s peaks that towered 14,000 feet and higher — a tally of 53 peaks in total. A task too daunting for most to attempt, Ralston had no inkling of the obstacle that would present itself along the way.
On April 26, 2003, a gorgeous spring day in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, Ralston deftly scaled the walls and crevices of Blue John Canyon, a tributary of Horseshoe Canyon. Equipped with a backpack of items that would be useful on his hike, including climbing ropes, carabiners, a camera, a water bottle, and a multi-tool, Ralston had only intended to be out for the day, and so word of his plans made it to no one. As he was descending a part of the canyon, a suspended boulder become dislodged and fell down through the canyon, aimed right at him. Fortunately, the opening narrowed enough that the boulder was re-lodged. Unfortunately, it had pinned his right arm and hand in the process.
Determined not to panic, Ralston busied himself with every possible idea and strategy to lift or break the 800 pound boulder that imprisoned him in the canyon. Over the course of three days, he never gave up hope that someone would happen along to come to his rescue, or that he would somehow be able to extricate himself. He rationed the water he had at the time he became trapped — a mere 12 ounces. Dehydration set in, and he vacillated between delirium and a sober acceptance that he would probably die. He entertained the possibility of severing his arm to free himself from the boulder, but despaired when he knew that the 2-inch dull blade on his multi-tool would not be sufficient to carve through the tendons and bone. On the fifth day when his water supply was totally exhausted, he began to record goodbyes to his family and friends on his camera, and carved his name and his presumed date of death in one of the sandstone walls that seemed his tomb. He thought for sure that night would be his last, and he drifted into a troubled sleep.
Upon waking the next morning, Ralston had an idea that could possibly see him out of the canyon: he could break his arm bones through the use of torque, and amputate the arm with the multi-tool. Desperate to not meet his end just yet, he fashioned a tourniquet for his arm and began the unthinkable. It took more than an hour to cut through the flesh before he was finally free.
The only known path to survival being his vehicle that was parked 8 miles away, he rappelled down a 65-foot canyon wall with his only viable arm, and began the hike back through the canyon. In a stroke of incredibly good fortune, a family on a vacation discovered him in the canyon, giving him their water supply and rushing to alert authorities. Before this chance meeting, Ralston was convinced that he would bleed to death. He had lost 25 percent of his blood volume from the amputation, and a staggering 40 pounds over the course of those horrific five days.
Aron Ralston faced a more imminent death than most of us could ever imagine, and went on to avidly climb mountains, and attain his goal of summitting all of Colorado’s peaks over 14,000 feet. He is the first person to make all 53 of these ascents during winter as a solo climber. He married and has a son, and they currently reside in Boulder, Colorado.
Despite this excruciating challenge, Ralston has been quoted as saying, “I did not lose my arm, but gained back my life.”