Twenty-seven year old, Aron Ralston was looking forward to a long weekend. He would not have to be back at work at his job in Colorado until Tuesday. He was going hiking and biking by himself in Blue John Canyon, one of the most remote canyons in southeast Utah. A seasoned mountain climber and canyoneer, hiking remote canyons was an activity Aron tackled whenever he had the opportunity.
Saturday, April 26, 2003 was a beautiful day for canyoneering. At 2:45 pm, Aron had hiked seven miles into Blue John Canyon and was working his way down a narrow corridor only as wide as his outstretched arms. In a few minutes he planned to head back to his truck and be out of the canyon before dark. Aron was climbing over an 8-foot boulder when it happened. The 1,000-pound rock suddenly shifted, pinning his right wrist between the rock and the canyon wall. He struggled for several minutes to yank his arm free, but the boulder held tight. He was trapped, literally, between a rock and a hard place.
As the reality of his dire situation sank in, Aron realized he was trapped at the bottom of a canyon about 8 miles from his truck. He was wedged between the rocks in such a way that he couldn’t even sit down because of the way the boulder had pinned his wrist against the canyon wall. How did this happen? How did he get his hand pinned by a damn boulder? No one knew where he was because he had violated a cardinal rule of wilderness travel and told no one of his specific travel plans. All he had told his close friends was that he was going canyoneering in Utah for the weekend. Aron quickly realized that it was not his hand that he needed to worry about – it was his life.
The boulder had Aron’s wrist pinned so tightly that there was no bleeding, and no risk of bleeding to death. In his backpack he had two bean burritos and only 22 ounces of water. He knew the average survival time in the desert without water was about 3 days. With 22 ounces of water, he figured he could survive until Tuesday or Wednesday. What were the chances that another hiker might find him? He figured that he would be more likely to win the lottery.
During the first hour of his entrapment, Aron thought about the option of amputating his arm at the wrist. In his backpack, he only had a utility tool with a dull knife blade. How would he saw through the bones? Would he bleed to death in the process? Did he have the courage to do it?
After 12 hours of standing, Aron figured out how to use his climbing ropes and carabiners to fashion a swing seat with his free hand. The swing took a little of the load off his legs. Sleeping was virtually impossible, though. As darkness descended, and with it temperatures into the low 50’s, he shivered through the long first night clad only in shorts and a tee shirt.
The Sunday morning sun brought hope. Maybe, just maybe, somebody would come along today. However, by late Monday afternoon, Aron’s hope was failing. He had been trapped for 52 hours, his water was gone, and he faced a third seemingly endless night alone and trapped in the canyon. He began to save his urine in the water bottle in order to have some form of liquid to drink. On Tuesday morning, believing it was his only chance for survival, Aron decided to try to cut his arm off. Using his dull knife he began the painful process, but after sawing for a few minutes, he realized he didn’t have the stomach to do it.
By Wednesday morning, any hope of being found alive was gone. After 96 hours of sleep deprivation and exposure, Aron was hallucinating and shivering uncontrollably from cold and fatigue. He carved his epitaph on the rock that had him trapped and hoped to die a natural death in the next 24 hours. The weather had gotten colder and he was confident he wouldn’t last another night.
However, Thursday morning dawned to find Aron Ralston still alive. He noticed insects were swarming at his wrist, drawn to the rotting flesh. Suddenly, a stark realization occurred to him. If he torqued his arm far enough he might be able to break the bones. Standing, he applied pressure to first snap the radius and finally the ulna bone, which broke with a sound like a rifle shot. Excited now that he could get out of his dilemma of entrapment, he used the short blade of the utility tool to cut through the flesh, ligaments, and tendons above his right wrist. The gory process took almost two hours.
At 11:32 am Thursday morning, Aron Ralston was finally free of the rock that had held him prisoner for almost five days. After applying a tourniquet, he started the long walk to his truck. Nearing the area where he had left his truck, he met three hikers who called for help. He was transported to a hospital by a helicopter and his life was saved.
After recovering and adjusting to a prosthetic arm, Aron Ralston returned to canyoneering and mountain climbing. According to Aron, “The tragedy inspired me to test myself. You’ll never find your limits until you’ve gone too far.” Today he has climbed 47 of the 59 Colorado mountain peaks taller than 14,000 feet, and he has climbed them during wintertime conditions. He plans to climb all 59 peaks.
“There was never a night or problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.” Bernard Williams