Aron Ralston: the story of a climber who had to cut off his right arm to save his life

Aron Ralston inspiring story
Aron Ralston inspiring story

Toronto: Many outdoor enthusiasts are familiar with the distressing story of Aron Ralston, a young man who was trapped in a slot canyon in Utah’s Blue John Canyon for more than five days in April 2003 and was forced to amputate his own arm as a result.

He survived the incident and went on to write a book about it called Between a Rock and a Hard Place, which was later adapted into the feature film 127 Hours, starring James Franco as Ralston. Aron Ralston’s story is available for those who may have missed it.

Aron Ralston was an active outdoorsman from Colorado by way of Indianapolis before he became trapped and was forced to wonder if he’d ever make it out alive. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with a degree in mechanical engineering, he found work 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, with a goal of climbing all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot-and-higher peaks — a total of 53 peaks. Ralston had no idea what was in store for him along the way, a task that would be too difficult for most people to take on.

Ralston deftly scaled the walls and crevices of Blue John Canyon, a tributary of Horseshoe Canyon, on April 26, 2003, a beautiful spring day in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Ralston had only intended to be out for the day, so word of his plans reached no one. A multi-tool, a camera, climbing ropes, and carabiners were among the items in his backpack for the hike. A suspended boulder became dislodged and fell down the canyon, aimed directly at him, as he was descending a section of the canyon. Fortunately, the opening became narrow enough for the boulder to be re-lodged. Unfortunately, it had pinned his right arm and hand in the process.

Ralston, adamant about not losing his cool, devised a plan to lift or break the 800-pound boulder that had entrapped him in the canyon. He never gave up hope that someone would come to his rescue or that he would be able to extricate himself over the course of three days. He rationed the water he had when he became trapped — only 12 ounces. Dehydration set in, and he alternated between delirium and a sober realisation that he would most likely die. He considered severing his arm to free himself from the boulder, but gave up when he realised that the 2-inch dull blade on his multi-tool would not be able to cut through the tendons and bone. On the fifth day, when his water supply was completely depleted, he began filming goodbyes to his family and friends on his camera, and carved his name and presumed date of death in one of the sandstone walls that appeared to be his tomb. He assumed that night would be his last, and he fell into a restless sleep.

When Ralston awoke the next morning, he had a brilliant idea for getting himself out of the canyon: he could use torque to break his arm bones and the multi-tool to amputate the limb. Desperate to avoid death, he fashioned a tourniquet for his arm and began the unthinkable. He was finally free after more than an hour of cutting through the flesh.

With his only viable arm and the only known path to survival being his vehicle, which was parked 8 miles away, he rappelled down a 65-foot canyon wall and began the hike back through the canyon. A lucky break came when he was discovered in the canyon by a vacationing family, who gave him access to their water and alerted the authorities. Ralston was convinced that he would bleed to death before this chance meeting. He’d lost 25% of his blood volume and 40 pounds as a result of the amputation over the course of those dreadful five days.

Aron Ralston faced a death more imminent than most of us could ever imagine, but he continued to climb mountains and achieve his goal of summiting all of Colorado’s peaks above 14,000 feet. He is the first solo climber to complete all 53 of these ascents during the winter. He married and has a son, and they live in Boulder, Colorado, as of this writing.

Despite this agonising ordeal, Ralston has been quoted as saying, “I did not lose my arm, but I did regain my life.”

“At this point, I’m confident that if I put my mind to it, I can get through anything in my life,” Ralston said. “We all have a reason to keep living if it’s an act of survival. Surviving may not be pretty, but it is the pinnacle of grit and determination. I discovered that with the right motivation, I am capable of accomplishing far more than I previously imagined.”

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