It started out as a simple hike in the Utah canyonlands on a warm Saturday afternoon. For Aron Ralston, a twenty-seven-year-old mountaineer and outdoorsman, a walk into the remote Blue John Canyon was a chance to get a break from a winter of solo climbing Colorado's highest and toughest peaks. He'd earned this weekend vacation, and though he met two charming women along the way, by early afternoon he finally found himself in his element: alone, with just the beauty of the natural world all around him.
It was 2:41 P.M. Eight miles from his truck, in a deep and narrow slot canyon, Aron was climbing down off a wedged boulder when the rock suddenly, and terrifyingly, came loose. Before he could get out of the way, the falling stone pinned his right hand and wrist against the canyon wall.
And so began six days of hell for Aron Ralston. With scant water and little food, no jacket for the painfully cold nights, and the terrible knowledge that he'd told no one where he was headed, he found himself facing a lingering death -- trapped by an 800-pound boulder 100 feet down in the bottom of a canyon. As he eliminated his escape options one by one through the days, Aron faced the full horror of his predicament: By the time any possible search and rescue effort would begin, he'd most probably have died of dehydration, if a flash flood didn't drown him before that.
What does one do in the face of almost certain death? Using the video camera from his pack, Aron began recording his grateful good-byes to his family and friends all over the country, thinking back over a life filled with adventure, and documenting a last will and testament with the hope that someone would find it. (For their part, his family and friends had instigated a major search for Aron, the amazing details of which are also documented here for the first time.) The knowledge of their love kept Aron Ralston alive, until a divine inspiration on Thursday morning solved the riddle of the boulder. Aron then committed the most extreme act imaginable to save himself.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place -- a brilliantly written, funny, honest, inspiring, and downright astonishing report from the line where death meets life -- will surely take its place in the annals of classic adventure stories.
About the Author
Aron Ralston, a native of the Midwest, retired from a career as a mechanical engineer at age twenty-six before moving to Aspen, Colorado. Since his accident, he has completed his unprecedented project to climb the fifty-nine Colorado peaks of more than 14,000 feet, alone, in winter. His first book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, was a New York Times bestseller and was adapted into the major motion picture 127 Hours by Danny Boyle. Today, as a father of an infant daughter and four-year-old son, Aron lives in Boulder, Colorado. He continues to travel the world for both adventure and to share his story. Follow his journey at AronRalstonSpeaker.com.
Read an Excerpt
Fraying contrails streak another bluebird sky above the red desert plateau, and I wonder how many sunburnt days these badlands have seen since their creation. It's Saturday morning, April 26, 2003, and I am mountain biking by myself on a scraped dirt road in the far southeastern corner of Emery County, in central-eastern Utah. An hour ago, I left my truck at the dirt trailhead parking area for Horseshoe Canyon, the isolated geographic window of Canyonlands National Park that sits fifteen air miles northwest of the
legendary Maze District, forty miles southeast of the great razorback uplift of the San Rafael Swell, twenty miles west of the Green River, and some forty miles south of I-70, that corridor of commerce and last chances (next services: 110 miles). With open tablelands to cover for a hundred miles between the snowcapped ranges of the Henrys to the southwest -- the last range in the U.S. to be named, explored, and mapped -- and the La Sals to the east, a strong wind is blowing hard from the south, the direction I'm heading. Besides slowing my progress to a crawl -- I'm in my lowest gear and pumping hard on a flat grade just to move forward -- the wind has blown shallow drifts of maroon sand onto the washboarded road. I try to avoid the drifts, but occasionally, they blanket the entire road, and my bike founders. Three times already I've had to walk through particularly long sand bogs.
The going would be much easier if I didn't have this heavy pack on my back. I wouldn't normally carry twenty-five pounds of supplies and equipment on a bike ride, but I'm journeying out on a thirty-mile-long circuit of biking and canyoneering -- traversing the bottom of a deep and narrow canyon system -- and it will take me most of the day. Besides a gallon of water stored in an insulated three-liter CamelBak hydration pouch and a one-liter Lexan bottle, I have five chocolate bars, two burritos, and a chocolate muffin in a plastic grocery sack in my pack. I'll be hungry by the time I get back to my truck, for certain, but I have enough for the day.
The truly burdensome weight comes from my full stock of rappelling gear: three locking carabiners, two regular carabiners, a lightweight combination belay and rappel device, two tied slings of half-inch webbing, a longer length of half-inch webbing with ten prestitched loops called a daisy chain, my climbing harness, a sixty-meter-long and ten-and-a-half-millimeter-thick dynamic climbing rope, twenty-five feet of one-inch tubular webbing, and my rarely used Leatherman-knockoff multi-tool (with two pocketknife blades and a pair of pliers) that I carry in case I need to cut the webbing to build anchors. Also in my backpack are my headlamp, headphones, CD player and several Phish CDs, extra AA batteries, digital camera and mini digital video camcorder, and their batteries and protective cloth sacks.
It adds up, but I deem it all necessary, even the camera gear. I enjoy photographing the otherworldly colors and shapes presented in the convoluted depths of slot canyons and the prehistoric artwork preserved in their alcoves. This trip will have the added bonus of taking me past four archaeological sites in Horseshoe Canyon that are home to hundreds of petroglyphs and pictographs. The U.S. Congress added the isolated canyon to the otherwise contiguous Canyonlands National Park specifically to protect the five-thousand-year-old etchings and paintings found along the Barrier Creek watercourse at the bottom of Horseshoe, a silent record of an ancient people's presence. At the Great Gallery, dozens of eight-to-ten-foot-high superhumans hover en echelon over groups of indistinct animals, dominating beasts and onlookers alike with their long, dark bodies, broad shoulders, and haunting eyes. The superbly massive apparitions are the oldest and best examples of their design type in the world, such preeminent specimens that anthropologists have named the heavy and somewhat sinister artistic mode of their creators the "Barrier Creek style." Though there is no written record to help us decipher the artists' meaning, a few of the figures appear to be hunters with spears and clubs; most of them, legless, armless, and horned, seem to float like nightmarish demons. Whatever their intended significance, the mysterious forms are remarkable for their ability to carry a declaration of ego across the millennia and confront the modern observer with the fact that the panels have survived longer and are in better condition than all but the oldest golden artifacts of Western civilization. This provokes the question: What will remain of today's ostensibly advanced societies five thousand years hence? Probably not our artwork. Nor any evidence of our record amounts of leisure time (if for no other reason than most of us fritter away this luxury in front of our television sets).
In anticipation of the wet and muddy conditions in the canyon, I'm wearing a pair of beat-up running shoes and thick wool-blend socks. Thus insulated, my feet sweat as they pump on my bike pedals. My legs sweat, too, compressed by the Lycra biking shorts I'm wearing beneath my beige nylon shorts. Even through double-thick padding, my bike seat pummels my rear end. Up top, I have on a favorite Phish T-shirt and a blue baseball cap. I left my waterproof jacket back at my truck; the day is going to be warm and dry, just like it was yesterday when I biked the twelve-mile loop of the Slick Rock Trail over east of Moab. If it were going to be rainy, a slot canyon would be the last place I'd be headed, jacket or no.
Lightweight travel is a pleasure to me, and I've figured how to do more with less so I can go farther in a given amount of time. Yesterday I had just my small CamelBak with a few bike-repair items and my cameras, a measly ten-pound load for the four-hour loop ride. In the evening, paring out the bike gear, I hiked five miles on an out-and-back visit to a natural arch out toward Castle Valley, carrying only six pounds total of water and camera equipment. The day before, Thursday, with my friend Brad Yule from Aspen, I had climbed and skied Mount Sopris, the 12,995-foot monarch of western Colorado, and had carried a few extra clothes and backcountry avalanche rescue gear, but I still kept my load under fifteen pounds.
My five-day road trip will culminate on Sunday night with an unsupported solo attempt to mountain bike the 108-mile White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. If I carried the supplies I'd used over the three days it took me the first time I rode that trail in 2000, I'd have a sixty-pound pack and a sore back before I went ten miles. In my planning estimates this time around, I am hoping to carry fifteen pounds and complete the loop in under twenty-four hours. It will mean following a precision-charted water-management plan to capitalize on the scarce refilling opportunities, no sleeping, and only the bare minimum of stopping. My biggest worry isn't that my legs will get tired -- I know they will, and I know how to handle it -- but rather that my, uh, undercarriage will become too sensitive to allow me to ride. "Crotch coma," as I've heard it called, comes from the desensitizing overstimulation of the perineum. As I haven't ridden my bike any extended distance since last summer, my bike-saddle tolerance is disconcertingly low. Had I anticipated this trip prior to two nights ago I would have gone out for at least one long ride in the Aspen area beforehand. As it happened, some friends and I called off a mountaineering trip at the last moment on Wednesday; the cancellation freed me for a hajj to the desert, a pilgrimage for warmth to reacquaint myself with a landscape other than wintry mountains. Usually, I would leave a detailed schedule of my plans with my roommates, but since I left my home in Aspen without knowing what I was going to do, the only word of my destination I gave was "Utah." I briefly researched my trip options by consulting my guidebooks as I drove from Mount Sopris to Utah Thursday night. The result has been a capriciously impromptu vacation, one that will even incorporate dropping in on a big campout party near Goblin Valley State Park tonight.
It's nearing ten-thirty a.m. as I pedal into the shade of a very lonesome juniper and survey my sunbaked surroundings. The rolling scrub desert gradually drops away into a region of painted rock domes, hidden cliffs, weathered and warped bluffs, tilted and tortured canyons, and broken monoliths. This is hoodoo country; this is voodoo country. This is Abbey's country, the red wasteland beyond the end of the roads. Since I arrived after dark last night, I wasn't able to see much of the landscape on my drive in to the trailhead. As I scan the middle ground to the east for any sign of my destination canyon, I take out my chocolate muffin from the Moab grocery's bakery and have to practically choke it down; both the muffin and my mouth have dried out from exposure to the arid wind. There are copious signs of meandering cattle from a rancher's ongoing attempt to make his living against the odds of the desert. The herds trample sinuous tracks through the indigenous life that spreads out in the ample space: a lace of grasses, foot-tall hedgehog cacti, and black microbiotic crust cloak the red earth. I wash down the rest of the muffin, except for a few crumbs in the wrapper, with several pulls from the CamelBak's hydration tube fastened to my shoulder strap.
Remounting, I roll down the road in the wind-protected lee of the ridgeline in front of me, but at the top of the next hill, I'm thrust into battle against the gusts once more. After another twenty minutes pistoning my legs along this blast furnace of a road, I see a group of motorbikers passing me on their way to the Maze District of Canyonlands. The dust from the motorbikes blows straight into my face, clogging my nose, my eyes, my tear ducts, even gluing itself to my teeth. I grimace at the grit pasted on my lips, lick my teeth clean, and press on, thinking about where those bikers would be headed.
I've visited the Maze only once myself, for about half an hour, nearly ten years ago. When our Cataract Canyon rafting party pulled over in the afternoon to set up camp along the Colorado River at a beach called Spanish Bottom, I hiked a thousand feet up over the rim rock into a place known as the Doll's House. Fifty-to-one-hundred-foot-tall hoodoo rock formations towered above me as I scrambled around the sandstone and granite like a Lilliputian. When I finally turned around to look back at the river, I jerked to a halt and sat on the nearest boulder with a view. It was the first time the features and formative processes of the desert had made me pause and absorb just how small and brave we are, we the human race.
Down behind the boats at Spanish Bottom, a furious river churned; suddenly, I perceived in its auburn flow that it was, even at that exact moment, carving that very canyon from a thousand square miles of desert tablelands. From the Doll's House, I had the unexpected impression that I was watching the ongoing birth of an entire landscape, as if I were standing on the rim of an exploding caldera. The vista held for me a feeling of the dawn of time, that primordial epoch before life when there was only desolate land. Like looking through a telescope into the Milky Way and wondering if we're alone in the universe, it made me realize with the glaring clarity of desert light how scarce and delicate life is, how insignificant we are when compared with the forces of nature and the dimensions of space. Were my group to board those two rafts a mile in the distance and depart, I would be as cut off from human contact as a person could be. In fifteen to thirty days' time, I would starve in a lonely death as I hiked the meanders back upriver to Moab, never again to see the sign or skin of another human. Yet beyond the paucity and the solitude of the surrounding desert, it was an exultant thought that peeled back the veneer of our self-important delusions. We are not grand because we are at the top of the food chain or because we can alter our environment -- the environment will outlast us with its unfathomable forces and unyielding powers. But rather than be bound and defeated by our insignificance, we are bold because we exercise our will anyway, despite the ephemeral and delicate presence we have in this desert, on this planet, in this universe. I sat for another ten minutes, then, with my perspective as widened as the view from that bluff, I returned to camp and made extra-short work of dinner.
Riding down the road past the metal culvert that marks the dried-up source of the West Fork of Blue John Canyon, I pass through a signed intersection where a branch of the dirt road splits off toward Hanks-
ville, a small town an hour to the west at the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park. Hanksville is the closest settlement to the Robbers Roost and the Maze District, and home to the nearest landline public telephone in the region. Just a half mile farther, I pass a slanting grassy plain that was an airstrip until whatever minor catastrophe forced whoever was flying there to head back to more tenable ground. It's an indication of how small planes and helicopters are typically the only efficient means of getting from here to there in this country. Some of the time, though, it's not financially worth leaving here to get there, even if you can fly. Better just to stay at home.
The Mormons gave their best efforts to transect this part of the country with road grades, but they, too, retreated to the established towns of Green River and Moab. Today most of those Mormon trails have been abandoned and replaced by still barely passable roads whose access by vehicle is, ironically, more sparse than it was by horse or wagon a hundred years ago. Last night I drove fifty-seven miles down the only dirt road in the eastern half of two counties to arrive at my embarkation point -- it was two and a half hours of washboard driving during which I didn't pass a single light or a house. Frontier ranchers, rustlers, uranium miners, and oil drillers each left a mark on this land but have folded their hands in deference to the stacked deck of desert livelihood.
Those seekers of prosperity weren't the first to cross the threshold into this country, only to abandon the region as a barren wasteland: Progressive waves of ancient communities came into being and vanished over the ages in the area's canyon bottoms. Usually, it would be a significant drought or an incursion by hostile bands that made life in the high country and the deserts farther south seem more hospitable. But sometimes there are no defensible answers to explain the sudden evacuation of an entire culture from a particular place. Five thousand years ago, the people of Barrier Creek left their pictographs and petroglyphs at the Great Gallery and Alcove Gallery; then they disappeared. Since they left no written record, why they departed is both a mystery and a springboard for the imagination. Looking at their paintings and standing in their homes, gardens, and trash heaps, I feel connected to the aboriginal pioneers who inhabited these canyons so long ago.
As I grind my way out onto the open mesa, the wind slaps at my face, and I find myself already looking forward to the final hike through Horseshoe Canyon, where I will finish my tour. I can't wait to get out of this demeaning wind.
To judge from what I've seen on my ride, there are few significant differences in this area between Blue John Griffith's day and the present. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has graded the century-old horse trail and added scattered signposts, but even the ubiquitous fences that partition the rest of the West are noticeably absent. Perhaps it's the lack of barbed wire that makes this place feel so terrifically remote. I spend a lot of time in out-of-the-way areas -- two or three days a week in designated wildernesses, even through the winter -- but most of them don't feel half as isolated as this back road. As I consider this, abruptly, my solitude changes to loneliness and seems somehow more tenacious. While the region's towns may have simmered since those raucous days when the Robbers Roost was earning its name, the outlying desert is still just as wild.
A mile past Burr Pass, my torturous ride into the thirty-mile-an-hour headwind finally comes to an end. I dismount and walk my bike over to a juniper tree and fasten a U-lock through the rear tire. I have little worry that anyone will tamper with my ride out here, but as my dad says, "There's no sense in tempting honest people." I drop the U-lock's keys into my left pocket and turn toward the main attraction, Blue John Canyon. I follow a deer path on an overland shortcut, listening to some of my favorite music on my CD player now that the wind isn't blowing so obnoxiously in my ears. After I've hiked through some dunes of pulverized red sandstone, I come to a sandy gully and see that I've found my way to the nascent canyon. "Good, I'm on the right route," I think, and then I notice two people walking out of view thirty yards downcanyon. I leap down the dune into the shallow wash, and once I'm around the dune's far corner, I spot the hikers, who look from this distance to be two young women.
"What are the odds?" I think, surprised to find anyone else this far out in the desert. Having been inside my head for three hours, and perhaps wanting to shake that feeling of loneliness picked up out on the road, I pause to take off my headphones, then spur myself to catch up. They're moving almost as quickly as I can manage without jogging, and it takes a minute before I can tell that I'm making any distance on them at all. I'd been fully expecting a solo descent in the Main Fork of Blue John Canyon, but meeting like-minded people in far-flung places is usually a fun addition to the experience for me, especially if they can keep a fast pace. In any case, I can hardly avoid them at this point. At another bend, they look back and see me but don't wait up. Finally, I catch up with them but can't really pass them unless they stop, which they don't.
Realizing that we're going to be hiking together for a while, I figure I should initiate a conversation. "Howdy," I begin, "how's it goin'?" I'm not sure if they're open to meeting a stranger in the backcountry. They answer with a pair of unadorned hi's.
Hoping for something a little more engaging, I try again. "I wasn't expecting to see anyone in the canyon today."
Even though it is a Saturday, this place is remote, and so obscure I couldn't even tell it was here from the Robbers Roost dirt access road, despite my map that definitively shows the canyon's presence.
"Yeah, you surprised us, sneaking up like that," the brown-haired woman replies, but then she smiles.
"Oh, sorry. I was listening to my headphones, kind of wrapped up in my thoughts," I explain. Returning the smile, I extend an introduction: "My name's Aron."
They relax noticeably and share their names -- they are Megan, the brunette who spoke to me and who seems to be the more outgoing one of the pair, and Kristi. Megan's shoulder-length hair whirls attractively around her hazel eyes and rosy-cheeked face. She's wearing a blue zip-neck long-sleeved shirt and blue track pants and carries a blue backpack -- if I had to guess, I'd say she likes the color blue. Kristi's blond hair is pulled back in a ponytail that reveals the sunny freckles on her forehead and her deep grayish-blue eyes. Besides her clothes -- a plain white short-sleeved T-shirt with blue shorts over black long underwear -- I notice that Kristi has accessorized for the day, wearing small silver hoop earrings and dark sunglasses with faux tortoiseshell frames and a snakeskin-pattern retaining strap. Unusual to have earrings on in a canyon, but I'm hardly dressed to kill, so I skip issuing a fashion citation. Both women are in their mid-twenties, and I learn in response to my first question that they both hail from Moab. I briefly work on memorizing their names, and which one is which, so I don't goof it up later.
Megan doesn't seem to mind joining me in conversation. She fires off a story about how she and Kristi overshot the Granary Spring Trailhead and got lost in the desert for an hour before they found the start of the canyon. I say I think it is easier to navigate on a bike than in a vehicle because the landscape passes more slowly.
"Oh my God, if we'd been on bikes, we'd have dried up in the wind before we got here," Megan cracks, and it serves to break the ice.
The canyon is still just a shallow arroyo -- a dry sandy gulch -- nestled between two sets of thirty-foot-tall sand dunes. Before the terrain becomes more technical, we ease into a friendly exchange, chatting about our lives in the polarized resort communities of Moab and Aspen. I learn that they, like me, work in the outdoor recreation industry. As logistics managers for Outward Bound, they outfit expeditions from the company's supply warehouse in Moab. I tell them I'm a sales and shop worker at the Ute Mountaineer, an outdoor gear store in Aspen.
There's a mostly unspoken acknowledgment among the voluntarily impoverished dues-payers of our towns that it's better to be fiscally poor yet rich in experience -- living the dream -- than to be traditionally wealthy but live separate from one's passions. There is an undercurrent of attitude among the high-country proletariat that to buy one's way back into the experience of resort life is a shameful scarlet letter. Better to be the penniless local than the affluent visitor. (But the locals depend on the visitors to survive, so the implied elitism is less than fair.) We understand our mutual membership on the same side of the equation.
The same is true of our environmental sensibilities. We each hold Edward Abbey -- combative conservationist; anti-development, anti-tourism, and anti-mining essayist; beer swiller; militant ecoterrorist; lover of the wilderness and women (preferably wilderness women, though those are unfortunately rare) -- as a sage of environmentalism. Remembering an oddball quote of his, I say how he delighted in taking things to the extreme. "I think there was an essay where he wrote, 'Of course, we're all hypocrites. The only true act of an environmentalist would be to shoot himself in the head. Otherwise he's still contaminating the place by his mere presence.' That's a paraphrase, but it's effectively what he said."
"That's kind of morbid," Megan replies, putting on a face of sham guilt for not shooting herself.
Moving on from Ed Abbey, we discover that we're each experienced in slot canyoneering. Kristi asks me what my favorite slot canyon is, and without hesitation, I recount my experience in Neon Canyon, an unofficially named branch of the Escalante River system in south-central Utah. I wax poetic about its five rappels, the keeper pothole (a deep, steep, and smooth-walled hole in the canyon floor that will "keep" you there if you don't have a partner to boost out first), and the Golden Cathedral: a bizarre rappel through a sandstone tunnel in the roof of an alcove the size of Saint Peter's that leaves you hanging free from the walls for almost sixty feet until you land in a large pool of water and then swim to the shore.
"It's phenomenal, you have to go," I conclude.
Kristi tells me about her favorite slot, which is just across the dirt road from the Granary Spring Trailhead. It's one of the upper forks of the Robbers Roost drainage, nicknamed "Mindbender" by her Outward Bound friends. She describes a passage in that slot where you traverse the canyon wedged between the walls some fifteen feet off the ground, the V-shaped slot tapering to a few inches wide at your feet, and even narrower below that.
I mentally add that one to my to-do list.
A few minutes later, just before noon, we arrive at a steep, smooth slide down a rock face, which heralds the first slot and the deeper, narrower sections that have drawn us to Blue John Canyon. I slide fifteen feet down the rock embankment, skidding on the soles of my sneakers, leaving a pair of black streaks on the pink sandstone and spilling forward into the sand at the bottom of the wall. Hearing the noise as she comes around the corner, Kristi sees me squatting in the dirt and assumes I have fallen. "Oh my gosh, are you OK?" she asks.
"Oh yeah, I'm fine. I did that on purpose," I tell her in earnest, as the skid truly had been intentional. I catch her glance, a good-natured shot that tells me she believes me but thinks I'm silly for not finding an easier way down. I look around and, seeing an obviously less risky access route that would have avoided the slide, I feel slightly foolish.
Five minutes later, we come to the first section of difficult downclimbing, a steep descent where it's best to turn in and face the rock, reversing moves that one would usually use for climbing up. I go down first, then swing my backpack around to retrieve my video camera and tape Megan and Kristi. Kristi pulls a fifteen-foot-long piece of red webbing out of her matching red climber's backpack and threads it through a metal ring that previous canyoneering parties have suspended on another loop of webbing tied around a rock. The rock is securely wedged in a depression behind the lip of the drop-off, and the webbing system easily holds a person's weight. Grasping the webbing, Megan backs herself down over the drop-off. She has to maneuver around an overhanging chockstone -- a boulder suspended between the walls of the canyon -- that blocks an otherwise easy scramble down into the deepening slot. Once Megan is down, Kristi follows skittishly, as she doesn't completely trust the webbing system. After she's down, I climb back up to retrieve Kristi's webbing.
We walk thirty feet and come to another drop-off. The walls are much closer now, only two to three feet apart. Megan throws her backpack over the drop before shimmying down between the walls, while Kristi takes a few pictures. I watch Megan descend and help her by pointing out the best handholds and footholds. When Megan is at the bottom of the drop, she discovers that her pack is soaking wet. It turns out her hydration-system hose lost its nozzle when she tossed the pack over the ledge, and was leaking water into the sand. She quickly finds the blue plastic nozzle and stops the water's hemorrhage, saving her from having to return to the trailhead. While it's not a big deal that her pack is wet, she has lost precious water. I descend last, my pack on my back and my delicate cameras causing
me to get stuck briefly between the walls at several constrictions. Squirming my way over small chockstones, I stem my body across the gap between the walls to follow the plunging canyon floor. There is a log wedged in the slot at one point, and I use it like a ladder on a smooth section of the skinny-people-only descent.
While the day up above the rim rock is getting warmer, the air down in the canyon becomes cooler as we enter a four-hundred-yard-long section of the canyon where the walls are over two hundred feet high but only fifteen feet apart. Sunlight never reaches the bottom of this slot. We pick up some raven's feathers, stick them in our hats, and pause for photographs.
A half mile later, several side canyons drop into the Main Fork where we are walking, as the walls open up to reveal the sky and a more distant perspective of the cliffs downcanyon. In the sun once again, we stop to share two of my melting chocolate bars. Kristi offers some to Megan, who declines, and Kristi says, "I really can't eat all this chocolate by myself...Never mind, yes I can," and we laugh together.
We come to an uncertain consensus that this last significant tributary off to the left of the Main Fork is the West Fork, which means it's the turnoff for Kristi and Megan to finish their circuit back to the main dirt road about four miles away. We get hung up on saying our goodbyes when Kristi suggests, "Come on, Aron, hike out with us -- we'll go get your truck, hang out, and have a beer."
I'm dedicated to finishing my planned tour, so I counter, "How about this? -- you guys have your harnesses, I have a rope -- you should come with me down through the lower slot and do the Big Drop rappel. We can hike out...see the Great Gallery...I'll give you a lift back to your truck."
"How far is it?" asks Megan.
"Another eight miles or so, I think."
"What? You won't get out before dark! Come on, come with us."
"I really have my heart set on doing the rappel and seeing the petroglyphs. But I'll come around to the Granary Spring Trailhead to meet you when I'm done."
This they agree to. We sit and look at the maps one more time, confirming our location on the Blue John map from the canyoneering guidebook we'd each used to find this remote slot. In my newest copy of Michael Kelsey's Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau, there are over a hundred canyons described, each with its own hand-sketched map. Drawn by Kelsey from his personal experience in each canyon, the technical maps and route descriptions are works of art. With cross sections of tricky slots, identifications of hard-to-find petroglyphs and artifact sites, and details of required rappelling equipment, anchor points, and deep-water holes, the book offers enough information for you to sleuth your way through a decision or figure out where you are, but not a single item extra. After we put away the maps, we stand up, and Kristi says, "That picture in the book makes those paintings look like ghosts; they're kind of spooky. What kind of energy do you think you'll find at the Gallery?"
"Hmm." I pause to consider her question. "I dunno. I've felt pretty connected looking at petroglyphs before; it's a good feeling. I'm excited to see them."
Megan double-checks: "You're sure you won't come with us?" But I'm as set on my choice as they are on theirs.
A few minutes before they go, we solidify our plan to meet up around dusk at their campsite back by Granary Spring. There's going to be a Scooby party tonight of some friends of friends of mine from Aspen, about fifty miles away, just north of Goblin Valley State Park, and we agree to caravan there together. Most groups use paper plates as improvised road signs to an out-of-the-way rendezvous site; my friends have a large stuffed Scooby-Doo to designate the turnoff. After what I'll have completed -- an all-day adventure tour, fifteen miles of mountain biking and fifteen miles of canyoneering -- I'll have earned a little relaxation and hopefully a cold beer. It will be good to see these two lovely ladies of the desert again so soon, too. We seal the deal by adding a short hike of Little Wild Horse Canyon, a nontechnical slot in Goblin Valley, to the plan for tomorrow morning. New friends, we part ways at two P.M. with smiles and waves.
Alone once again, I walk downcanyon, continuing on my itinerary. Along the way, I think through the remainder of my vacation time. Now that I have a solid plan for Sunday to hike Little Wild Horse, I speculate that I'll get back to Moab around seven o'clock that evening. I'll have just enough time to get my gear and food and water prepared for my bike ride on the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park and catch a nap before starting around midnight. By doing the first thirty miles of the White Rim by headlamp and starlight, I should be able to finish the 108-mile ride late Monday afternoon, in time for a house party my roommates and I have planned for Monday night.
Without warning, my feet stumble in a pile of loose pebbles deposited from the last flash flood, and I swing my arms out to catch my balance. Instantly, my full attention returns to Blue John Canyon.
My raven feather is still tucked in the band at the back of my blue ball cap, and I can see its shadow in the sand. It looks goofy -- I stop in the open canyon and take a picture of my shadow with the feather. Without breaking stride, I unclip my pack's waist belt and chest strap, flip my pack around to my chest, and root around inside the mesh outer pouch until I can push play on my portable CD player. Audience cheers give way to a slow lilting guitar intro and then soft lyrics:
How is it I never see / The waves that bring her words to me?
I'm listening to the second set of the February 15 Phish show that I attended three months ago in Las Vegas. After a moment of absorbing the music, I smile. I'm glad at the world: This is my happy place. Great tunes, solitude, wilderness, empty mind. The invigoration of hiking alone, moving at my own pace, clears out my thoughts. A sense of mindless happiness -- not being happy because of something in particular but being happy because I'm happy -- is one of the reasons why I go to the lengths I do to have some focused time to myself. Feeling aligned in my body and head rejuvenates my spirit. Sometimes, when I get high-minded about it, I think solo hiking is my own method of attaining a transcendental state, a kind of walking meditation. I don't get there when I sit and try to meditate, om-style; it happens only when I'm walking by myself. Unfortunately, as soon as I recognize that I'm having such a moment, the feeling ebbs, thoughts return, the transcendence evaporates. I work hard to set myself up for that fleeting sense of being wholly pleased, but my judgments about the feeling displace the feeling itself. Although it's ephemeral, the general well-being that accompanies such a moment will boost my temperament for hours or even days.
It's two-fifteen P.M., and in the balance of sunshine and thin stratus layers, the day's weather is poised at equilibrium. In the open section of the canyon, the temperature is about fifteen degrees warmer than it was at the bottom of the deep slot. There are a few full-fledged cumulus clouds listing like lost clipper ships, but no shade. I come upon a wide yellow arroyo entering from the right, and I check my map. This is the East Fork. Kristi and Megan definitely chose the correct fork to return. The choice seemed obvious then, but even obvious decisions need to be double-checked in the backcountry. Navigating in a deep canyon can be deceptively complex. Occasionally, I'm tempted to think that there's nothing to it; I just keep going straight. With three-hundred-foot walls fencing me in five feet to either side, I can't really lose the bottom of the canyon, like I can lose the route on a mountainside. But I've gotten disoriented before.
A forty-mile solo trip in Paria Canyon comes to mind. There was a stretch about a third of the way into the canyon when I completely lost track of where I was. I hiked roughly five miles downstream before I found a landmark that indicated an exact position on my map. This became critical, because I needed to find the exit trail before night fell. When you're looking for an entry/exit, sometimes being fifty yards off-route can hide the way. So now I pay close attention to my map. When I'm navigating well in the canyons, I check my map even more frequently than when I'm on a mountain, maybe every two hundred yards.
If we could see the many waves / That float through clouds and sunken caves / She'd sense at least the words that sought her / On the wind and underwater.
The song blends into something atonally sweet but unattended as I pass another shallow wash coming in from the right. On the map, the arroyo seems to correspond with what Kelsey has named Little East Fork, dropping from a higher tableland he labels Goat Park.
The elevated benches and rolling juniper-covered highlands of Goat Park to my right are up above the 170-million-year-old Carmel Formation, a sloping capstone of interlayered purple, red, and brown siltstone, limestone, and shale strata deposit. The capstone is more resistant to erosion than the older wind-deposited Navajo sandstone that forms the smooth ruddy-hued cliffs of the scenic slot canyons. In places, this differential erosion creates hoodoos, freestanding rock towers and tepees, and tall dunes of colored stone that dot the upper reaches of the canyon's cliffs. The juxtaposed textures, colors, and shapes of the Carmel and Navajo rock layers reflect the polarized landscapes that formed them -- the early Jurassic Period sea and the late Triassic Period desert. Settling out from a great sea, the Carmel Formation sediments look like solidified mud that dried up last month. On the other hand, cross-bedded patterns in the Navajo sandstone reveal its ancestry from shifting sand dunes: One fifteen-foot-high band in the cliffs displays inlaid lines slanting to the right; the next band's layers slant to the left; and above that, the stratification lines lie perfectly horizontal. Over the eons, the dunes repeatedly changed shape under the prevailing force of wind blowing across an ancient Sahara-like desert, devoid of vegetation. Depending if the sandstone shapes left behind are beat upon more by wind or by water, they look like either rough-hewn sand domes or polished cliffs. All this beauty keeps a smile on my face.
I estimate that the distance I have left to cover is about a half mile until I reach the narrow slot above the sixty-five-foot-high Big Drop rappel. This two-hundred-yard-long slot marks the midpoint of my descent in Blue John and Horseshoe canyons. I've come about seven miles from where I left my bike, and I have about eight miles to get to my truck. Once I reach the narrow slot, there will be some short sections of downclimbing, maneuvering over and under a series of chockstones, then 125 yards of very tight slot, some of it only eigh-
teen inches wide, to get to the platform where two bolt-and-hanger sets provide an anchor for the rappel. Rappel bolts are typically three-inch-long, three-eighths-inch-diameter expansion bolts set in either hand- or cordless-drilled holes that secure a disc of flat metal bent into an L-shape called a hanger. The hangers have two holes, one in the flush section for the bolt to hold it to the wall, and one in the bent lip that can be clipped by a carabiner, a screw-gate chain link, or threaded with a length of webbing. When the bolt is properly installed in solid rock, you can load several thousand pounds on it without concern, but in slot canyons, the rock often rots around the bolt shaft due to frequent flooding events. It's reassuring when there are two bolt/hangers that can be used in tandem, in case one unexpectedly fails.
I have my climbing rope, harness, belay device, and webbing with me for the rappel, and I have my headlamp along to search crevices for snakes before putting my hands in them. I'm already thinking ahead to the hike after the rappel, especially the Great Gallery. Kelsey's guidebook calls it the best pictograph panel on the Colorado Plateau -- and the Barrier Creek style, "the style against which all others are compared" -- which has piqued my interest since I read about it on my drive to Utah two days ago.
Gold in my hair / In a country pool / Standing and waving / The rain, wind on the runway.
I'm caught up in another song and barely notice the canyon walls closing in, forming the beginning of the slot, this one more like a back alley between a couple of self-storage warehouses than the skyscrapers of the upper slot. An anthemic guitar riff accompanies me as my stride turns into more of a strut and I pump my right fist in the air. Then I reach the first drop-off in the floor of the canyon, a dryfall. Were there water in the canyon, this would be a waterfall. A harder layer embedded in the sandstone has proved more resistant to erosion by the floods, and this dark conglomerate forms the lip at the drop. From the ledge where I'm standing to the continuing canyon bottom is about ten feet. About twenty feet downcanyon, an S-shaped log is jammed between the walls. It would provide an easier descent path if I could get to it, but it seems more difficult to access via the shallow and sloping conglomerate shelf on my right than by the ten-foot drop to the canyon floor over the lip in front of me.
I use a few good in-cut handholds on my left to lower myself around the overhang, gripping the sandstone huecos -- water-hollowed holes in the wall -- like jug handles. At full extension, my legs dangle two, maybe three feet off the floor. I let go and drop off the dryfall, landing in a sandy concavity carved deeper than the surrounding floor by the impact of floodwaters dropping over the lip. My feet hit the dried mud, which cracks and crumbles like plaster; I sink up to my shoe tops in the powdery platelets. It's not a difficult maneuver, but I couldn't climb directly up the drop-off from below. I'm committed to my course; there's no going back.
A new song starts up in my headphones as I walk under the S-log, and the canyon deepens to thirty feet below the tops of the sand domes overhead.
I fear I never told you the story of the ghost / That I once knew and talked to, of whom I never boast.
The pale sky is still visible above this ten-foot-wide gash in the earth's surface. In my path are two van-sized chockstones a hundred feet apart. One is just a foot off the sandy canyon bottom; the next sits square on the corridor floor. I scramble over both blockages. The canyon narrows to four feet wide, with undulating and twisting walls that lead me to the left then back to the right, through a straight passage, then left and right again, all the while deepening.
Colossal flood action has scooped out beach balls of rock from the sandstone walls and wedged logs thirty feet overhead. Slot canyons are the last place you want to be during a desert thunderstorm. The sky directly above the canyon might be clear, but a cloudburst in the watershed even ten or twenty miles away can maul and drown unwary canyoneers. In a flood, the rain falls faster than the ground can absorb it. In the eastern United States, it might take the ground days or weeks to reach saturation and for rivers to flood after many inches or even feet of rain. In the desert, the hard sunbaked earth acts like fired clay-tile shingles, and a flood can start from a fraction of an inch of rain that might come in five minutes from a single storm cloud. Chased off the impermeable hardscrabble, the downpour creates a surging deluge. Runoff gathers from converging drainages and quickly becomes a foot of water in a forty-foot-wide section of the canyon. That same amount of water becomes a catastrophic torrent in a confined space. Where the walls narrow to four feet, the flood turns into a ten-foot-high chaos of churning mud and debris that moves boulders, sculpts canyons, lodges drift material in constrictions, and kills anything that can't climb to safety.
In this meandering section of the narrow canyon, silt residue from the most recent flood coats the walls to a height of twelve feet above the beachlike floor, and decades of scour marks overlay the rosy and purplish striations of exposed rock. The undulating walls distort the flat lines of the strata and grab my attention in one spot where the opposing walls dive in front of each other at a double-hairpin meander. I stop to take a few photographs. I note that the time stamp is a minute slow compared to my watch: The digital camera's screen says it is 2:41 P.M., Saturday afternoon, April 26, 2003.
I bob my head to the music as I walk another twenty yards and come to a series of three chockstones and scramble over them. Then I see another five chockstones, all the size of large refrigerators, wedged at varying heights off the canyon floor like a boulder gauntlet. It's unusual to see so many chockstones lined up in such evenly spaced proximity. With two feet of clearance under the first suspended chockstone, I have to crawl under it on my belly -- the only time I've ever had to get this low in a canyon -- but there is no alternative. The next chockstone is wedged a little higher off the ground. I stand and brush myself off, then squat and duck to pass under. A crawl on all fours and two more squat-and-duck maneuvers, and I've passed the remaining chockstones. The defile is over sixty feet deep at this point, having dropped fifty feet below the sand domes in two hundred feet of linear distance.
I come to another drop-off. This one is maybe eleven or twelve feet high, a foot higher and of a different geometry than the overhang I descended ten minutes ago. Another refrigerator chockstone is wedged between the walls, ten feet downstream from and at the same height as the ledge. It gives the space below the drop-off the claustrophobic feel of a short tunnel. Instead of the walls widening after the drop-off, or opening into a bowl at the bottom of the canyon, here the slot narrows to a consistent three feet across at the lip of the drop-off and continues at that width for fifty feet down the canyon. Sometimes in narrow passages like this one, it's possible for me to stem my body across the slot, with my feet and back pushing out in opposite directions against the walls. Controlling this counterpressure by switching my hands and feet on the opposing walls, I can move up or down the shoulder-width crevice fairly easily as long as the friction contact stays solid between the walls and my hands, feet, and back. This technique is known as stemming or chimneying; you can imagine using it to climb up the inside of a chimney.
Just below the ledge where I'm standing is a chockstone the size of a large bus tire, stuck fast in the channel between the walls, a few feet out from the lip. If I can step onto it, then I'll have a nine-foot height to descend, less than that of the first overhang. I'll dangle off the chockstone, then take a short fall onto the rounded rocks piled on the canyon floor. Stemming across the canyon at the lip of the drop-off, with one foot and one hand on each of the walls, I traverse out to the chockstone. I press my back against the south wall and lock my left knee, which pushes my foot tight against the north wall. With my right foot, I kick at the boulder to test how stuck it is. It's jammed tightly enough to hold my weight. I lower myself from the chimneying position and step onto the chockstone. It supports me but teeters slightly. After confirming that I don't want to chimney down from the chockstone's height, I squat and grip the rear of the lodged boulder, turning to face back upcanyon. Sliding my belly over the front edge, I can lower myself and hang from my fully extended arms, akin to climbing down from the roof of a house.
As I dangle, I feel the stone respond to my adjusting grip with a scraping quake as my body's weight applies enough torque to disturb it from its position. Instantly, I know this is trouble, and instinctively, I let go of the rotating boulder to land on the round rocks below. When I look up, the backlit chockstone falling toward my head consumes the sky. Fear shoots my hands over my head. I can't move backward or I'll fall over a small ledge. My only hope is to push off the falling rock and get my head out of its way.
The next three seconds play out at a tenth of their normal speed. Time dilates, as if I'm dreaming, and my reactions decelerate. In slow motion: The rock smashes my left hand against the south wall; my eyes register the collision, and I yank my left arm back as the rock ricochets; the boulder then crushes my right hand and ensnares my right arm at the wrist, palm in, thumb up, fingers extended; the rock slides another foot down the wall with my arm in tow, tearing the skin off the lateral side of my forearm. Then silence.
My disbelief paralyzes me temporarily as I stare at the sight of my arm vanishing into an implausibly small gap between the fallen boulder and the canyon wall. Within moments, my nervous system's pain response overcomes the initial shock. Good Christ, my hand. The flaring agony throws me into a panic. I grimace and growl a sharp "Fuck!" My mind commands my body, "Get your hand out of there!" I yank my arm three times in a naive attempt to pull it out. But I'm stuck.
Anxiety has my brain tweaking; searing-hot pain shoots from my wrist up my arm. I'm frantic, and I cry out, "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!" My desperate brain conjures up a probably apocryphal story in which an adrenaline-stoked mom lifts an overturned car to free her baby. I'd give it even odds that it's made up, but I do know for certain that right now, while my body's chemicals are raging at full flood, is the best chance I'll have to free myself with brute force. I shove against the large boulder, heaving against it, pushing with my left hand, lifting with my knees pressed under the rock. I get good leverage with the aid of a twelve-inch shelf in front of my feet. Standing on that, I brace my thighs under the boulder and thrust upward repeatedly, grunting, "Come on...move!" Nothing.
I rest, and then I surge again against the rock. Again nothing. I replant my feet. Feeling around for a better grip on the bottom of the chockstone, I reposition my upturned left hand on a handle of rock, take a deep breath, and slam into the boulder, harder than any of my previous attempts. "Yeearrgg...unnnhhh," the exertion forces the air from my lungs, all but masking the quiet, hollow sound of the boulder tottering. The stone's movement is imperceptible; all I get is a spike in the already extravagant pain, and I gasp, "Ow! Fuck!"
I've shifted the boulder a fraction of an inch, and it's settled onto my wrist a bit more. This thing weighs a lot more than I do -- it's a testament to how amped I am that I moved it at all -- and now all I want is to move it back. I get into position again, pulling with my left hand on top of the stone, and budge the rock back ever so slightly, reversing what I just did. The pain eases a little. In the process, I've lacerated and bruised the skin over my left quadriceps above the knee. I'm sweating hard. With my left hand, I lift my right shirtsleeve off my shoulder and wipe my forehead. My chest heaves. I need a drink, but when I suck on my hydration-system hose, I find my water reservoir is empty.
I have a liter of water in a Lexan bottle in my backpack, but it takes me a few seconds to realize I won't be able to sling my pack off my right arm. I remove my camera from my neck and put it on the boulder. Once I have my left arm free of the pack strap, I expand the right strap, tuck my head inside the loop, and pull the strap over my left shoulder so it encompasses my torso. The weight of the rappelling equipment, video camera, and water bottle tugs the pack down to my feet, and then I step out of the strap loop. Extracting the dark gray water bottle from the bottom of my pack, I unscrew the top, and before I realize the significance of what I'm doing, I gulp three large mouthfuls of water and halt to pant for breath. Then it hits me: In five seconds, I've guzzled a third of my entire remaining water supply.
"Oh, damn, dude, cap that and put it away. No more water." I screw down the lid tight, drop the bottle into the pack resting at my knees, and take three deep breaths.
"OK, time to relax. The adrenaline's not going to get you out of here. Let's look this over, see what we got." Amazingly, it's been half an hour since the accident. The decision to get objective with my situation and stop rushing from one brutish attempt to the next allows my energy to settle down. This isn't going to be over quickly, so I need to start thinking. To do that, I need to be calm.
The first thing I decide to do is examine the area where the boulder has my wrist pinned. Gravity and friction have wedged the chockstone, now suspended about four feet above the canyon floor, into a new set of constriction points. At three spots, the opposing walls secure the rock. On the downcanyon side of the boulder, my hand and wrist form a fourth support where they are caught in the grip of this horrific handshake. I think, "My hand isn't just stuck in there, it's actually holding this boulder off the wall. Oh, man, I'm fucked."
I reach my left fingers down to my right hand where it is visible along the north wall of the canyon. Poking down into the small gap above the catch point, I touch my thumb, which is already a sickly gray color. It's cocked sideways in the space and looks terribly unnatural. I straighten my thumb with the fore and middle fingers of my left hand. There is no feeling in any part of my right hand at all. I accept this with a sense of detachment, as if I'm diagnosing someone else's problem. This clinical objectivity calms me. Without sensation, it doesn't seem as much my hand -- if it were my hand, I could feel it when I touched it. The farthest part of my arm I can feel is my wrist, where the boulder is pinning it. Judging by appearances, the lack of any bone-splitting noises during the accident, and how it all feels to my left hand, I probably don't have any broken bones. From the nature of the accident, though, there is very likely substantial soft-tissue damage at the least, and for all I know, something could be broken in the middle of my hand. Either way, not good.
Investigating the underside of the boulder, I can touch the little finger on my right hand and feel its position with my left hand. It's twisted up inside my palm, in a partial fist; my muscles seem to be in a state of forced contraction. I can't relax my hand or extend any of my fingers. I try to wiggle each one independently. There's no movement whatsoever. I try flexing my muscles to make a tighter fist, but there isn't even the slightest twitch. Double that on the "not good."
Nearer to my chest along the wall, I can't quite get my left forefinger up to where it can touch my right wrist from below. My little finger can barely slide into the space between the boulder and the wall, brushing my arm at a spot on the lateral side of the knob of my wrist. I withdraw from prodding around and look at my left wrist and estimate that it is three inches thick. My right wrist is being compressed to one sixth its normal thickness. If not for the bones, the weight of the boulder would squeeze my arm flat. Judging from the paleness of my right hand, and the fact that there's no blood loss from a traumatic injury, it's probable that I have no circulation getting to or from my trapped hand. The lack of sensation or movement probably means my nerves are damaged. Whatever injuries are present, my right hand seems to be entirely isolated from my body's circulatory, nervous, and motor-control systems. That's three-for-three on the "not good" checklist.
An inner voice explodes into expletives at the prognosis: "Shit! How did this happen? What the fuck? How the fuck did you get your hand trapped by a fucking boulder? Look at this! Your hand is crushed; it's dying, man, and there's nothing you can do about it. If you don't get blood flow back within a couple hours, it's gone."
"No, it's not. I'll get out. I mean, if I don't get out, I'm going to lose more than my hand. I have to get out!" Reason answers, but reason is not in control here; the adrenaline isn't wholly dissipated yet.
"You're stuck, fucked, and out of luck." I don't like to be pessimistic, but the devil on my left shoulder knows better than to keep up any pretenses. The little rhyming bastard is right: My outlook is bleak. But it's way too early to dwell on despair.
"No! Shut up, that's not helpful." Better to keep investigating, see what I learn. Whoever is arguing from my right shoulder makes a good point -- it's not my hand I need to worry about. There's a bigger issue. Stressing over the superficial problem will only consume my resources. Right now, I need to focus on gathering more information. With that decision made, a feeling of acceptance settles over me.
Looking up to my right, a foot above the top of the boulder on the north wall, I see tiny wads of my flesh, pieces of my arm hair, and stains of my blood streaked on the sandstone. In dragging my arm down the wall, the boulder and smooth Navajo sandstone acted like a grater, scraping off my skin's outer layers in thin strips. Peering at the bottom of my arm, I check for more blood, but there is none, not even a lone drip.
As I bring my head back up, I bump the bill of my hat, and my sunglasses fall onto my pack at my feet. Picking them up, I see they've gotten scratched at some point since I had them on in the open sunny part of the canyon an hour ago. "Not like that's important," I tell myself, but still I take care to put them on top of the boulder, off to the left side.
My headphones have gotten knocked off my ears, but now, and in my calm, I hear the crowd on the live CD cheering. The noise evaporates as the disc winds to a stop, and the sudden silence reinforces my situation. I am irreversibly trapped, standing in the dimly lit bottom of a canyon, unable to move more than a few inches up or down or side to side. Compounding my physical circumstances, no one who will suspect I am missing knows where I am. I violated the prime directive of wilderness travel in failing to leave a detailed trip plan with a responsible person. Still eight miles from my truck, I am alone in an infrequently visited place with no means to contact anyone outside the fifty-yard throw of my voice.
Alone in a situation that could very shortly prove to be fatal.
My watch says it's 3:28 P.M., nearly forty-five minutes since the boulder fell on my arm. I take an inventory of what I have with me, emptying my pack with my left hand, item by item. In my plastic grocery bag, beside the chocolate-bar wrappers and bakery bag with the crumbs of the chocolate muffin, I have two small bean burritos, about five hundred calories total. In the outside mesh pouch, I have my CD player, CDs, extra AA batteries, mini digital video camcorder. My multi-use tool and three-LED headlamp are also in the pouch. I sort through the electronics and pull out the knife tool and the headlamp, setting them on top of the boulder next to my sunglasses.
I put my camera into the cloth goggles bag I'd been using to keep the grit out of the components, and drop it in the mesh pouch with the other gadgets. Except for the Lexan water bottle and my empty hydration pack, the remaining contents of my pack are my green and yellow climbing rope in its black zippered rope bag; my rock-climbing harness; and the small wad of rappelling equipment I'd brought to use at the Big Drop rappel.
My next thought is to brainstorm every means possible that could get me out of here. The easy ideas come first, although some of them are more wishful than realistic. Maybe other canyoneers will traverse this section of slot and find me -- they might be able to help free me, or even give me clothes, food, and water and go for help. Maybe Megan and Kristi will think something's wrong when I don't meet them like I said I would, and they'll go look for my truck or notify the Park Service. Maybe my Aspen friends Brad and Leah Yule will do the same when I don't show up for the big Scooby-Doo desert party tonight. But they don't know for sure that I'm coming, because I didn't call them when I was in Moab yesterday. Tomorrow, Sunday, is still the weekend -- maybe someone will come this way on his or her day off. If I'm not out by Monday night, my roommates will miss me for sure; they might even notify the police. Or my manager at the shop where I work will call my mom when I don't turn up on Tuesday. It might take people a few days to figure out where I went, but there could be a search out by Wednesday, and if they find my truck, it wouldn't be long after that.
The major preclusion to rescue is that I don't have enough water to wait that long -- twenty-two ounces total after my chug a few minutes ago. The average survival time in the desert without water is between two and three days, sometimes as little as a day if you're exerting yourself in 100-degree heat. I figure I'll make it to Monday night. If a rescue comes along before then, it will be an unlikely chance encounter with a fellow canyoneer, not an organized effort of trained personnel. In other words, rescue seems about as probable as winning the lottery.
By nature I'm an impatient person; when a situation requires me to wait, I need to be doing something to make the time pass. Call me a child of the instant-gratification generation, or maybe my imagination was stunted from too much television, but I don't sit still well. In my present situation, that's probably a good thing. I have a problem to solve -- I have to get out of here -- so I put my mind to what I can do to escape my entrapment. Eliminating a couple ideas that are too dumb (like cracking open my extra AA batteries on the boulder and hoping the acid erodes the chockstone but doesn't eat into my arm), I organize my other options in order of preference: Excavate the rock around my hand with my multi-tool; rig ropes and an anchor above me to lift the boulder off my hand; or amputate my arm. Quickly, each option seems impossible: I don't have the tools to remove enough rock to free my hand; I don't have the hauling power needed, even with a pulley system, to move the boulder; and even though it seems my best option, I don't have the tools, know-how, or emotional gumption to sever my own arm.
Perhaps more as a tactic to delay thinking about self-amputation and less as a truly productive effort, I decide to work on an easier option -- chipping away the rock to free my arm. Drawing my multi-tool from its perch above the boulder, I extract the longer of the two blades. I'm suddenly very glad I decided to add it to my supplies.
Picking an easily accessed spot on the boulder in front of my chest and a few inches from my right wrist, I scratch the tip across the boulder in a four-inch line. If I can remove the stone below this line and back toward my fingers about six inches, I will be able to free my hand. But with the demarcated part of the stone being three inches thick in places, I'll have to remove about seventy cubic inches of the boulder. It's a lot of rock, and I know the sandstone is going to make the chipping tedious work.
My first attempt to saw down into the boulder along the faint line I've marked barely scuffs the rock. I try again, pressing harder this time, but the backside of the knife handle indents my forefinger more readily than the cutting edge scores the rock. Changing my grip on the tool, I hold it like Norman Bates and stab at the rock in the same spot. There is no noticeable effect. I try to identify a fracture line, a weakness in the boulder, something I can exploit, but there is nothing. Even if I focus on a small crystalline protuberance in the rock above my wrist where I might be able to break out a chunk, it will be many hours of work before I can remove even that tiny mineralized section.
I hit the rock with the butt of my hand, still holding the knife, and ask out loud in an exasperated whine, "Why is this sandstone so hard?" It seems like every time I've ever gone climbing on a sandstone formation, I break off a handhold, yet I can't put a dent in this boulder. I settle on a quick experiment to test the relative hardness of the wall. Holding my knife like a pen, I easily etch a capital "G" on the tableau of the canyon's north side, about a foot above my right arm. Slowly, I make a few more printed letters in lowercase, "e-o-l-o-g-i-c," and then pause to measure the space with my eyes and lay out the rest of the letters in my mind. Within five minutes, I scratch out three more words, then touch them up, until I can read the phrase "Geologic Time Includes Now."
I have quoted mountaineer and Colorado Thirteeners guidebook author Gerry Roach, from his "Classic Commandments of Mountaineering." It's an elegant way of saying "Watch out for falling rocks." As most people who live on fault lines are well aware, the processes shaping and forming the earth's crust are current events. Fault lines slip, long-dormant volcanoes explode, mountainsides turn to mud and slide.
I remember trekking with my friend Mark Van Eeckhout through a field of boulders and coming upon a house-sized rock. We said to each other, "Wow, look at the size of this one!" We'd imagined what a spectacle it would be to see something that size separate from a cliff a thousand feet above and fall, spawning rock slides right and left, crashing with apocalyptic force.
But cliffs don't just form in the middle of the night when no one's watching. I've seen riverbanks collapse, glaciers calve and let loose tremendous icefalls, and boulders plummet from their lofty perches. Gerry Roach's commandment reminds climbers that rocks fall all the time. Sometimes they spontaneously break away; sometimes they get knocked loose. Sometimes they fall when you're so far off you can't even see them, you only hear a clatter; sometimes they fall when you or your partners are climbing below them. Sometimes one will pull loose even though you barely touched it; and sometimes one will fall after you've already stood on top of it...when you're using it for a handhold and it shifts...when your head is right in the way and you put your hands up to save yourself...
It's rare. But it happens. Has happened.
This chockstone pinning my wrist was stuck for a long time before I came along. And then it not only fell on me, it trapped my arm. I'm baffled. It was like the boulder had been put there, set like a hunter's trap, waiting for me. This was supposed to be an easy trip, few risks, well within my abilities. I'm not out trying to climb a high peak in the middle of winter, I'm just taking a vacation. Why didn't the last person who came along dislodge the chockstone? They would've had to make the same maneuvers I did to traverse the canyon. What kind of luck do I have that this boulder, wedged here for untold ages, freed itself at the split second that my hands were in the way? Despite obvious evidence to the contrary, it seems astronomically infeasible that this happened.
I mean, what are the odds?
Copyright © 2004 by Aron Ralston
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for 127 Hours includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Environmentalist and writer Edward Abbey is something of a hero to Aron Ralston, as Ralston states right near the beginning of his book. “We each hold Edward Abbey—combative conservationist; anti-development; anti-tourism, and anti-mining essayist . . . as a sage of environmentalism [and who said]: ‘Of course, we’re all hypocrites. The only true act of an environmentalist would be to shoot himself in the head. Otherwise he’s still contaminating the place by his mere presence.’” (pp. 11–12) Where does Aron stand on this particular philosophy? Do you agree with Abbey that we ruin the natural environment by our mere presence within it?
2. How do the two girls, Megan and Kristi, respond to meeting Aron Ralston? What are their initial reactions to him? Why does he refuse their invitation to attend their gathering? What must he do first?
3. In Aron’s confrontation with the black bear, we see evidence of extraordinary bravery. “All I could do was keep hiking, hope I didn’t founder in the snow, and pray that the bear would leave me alone . . . I imagined he was sitting there grinning as I struggled to escape him.” (p. 49) What does this action say about Aron Ralston as a man and about his outlook on life?
4. Betty Darr, a family friend, suffered from polio, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. When Aron Ralston and his family went to the Grand Canyon, it was Aron’s responsibility to push her ‘Pony,’ as they called her electric wheelchair. As sunrise neared, Aron had a revelation: “I had never before sat and watched a sunrise for the sake of it, and I wasn’t at all prepared for how majestic it would be.” (p. 60) What changes occur inside Aron during this experience? How does this event alter his future?
5. Aron freely admits: “…I developed a passion and urgency to experience and discover the world that borders on obsession.” (p. 60) Do you believe that an “obsession” like this is necessarily a dangerous thing, or is it what pushes you to enjoy life most fully and intensely? Just how far would you go to experience the natural world and all of its wonders? Are there some places and events you are content to witness via a television or movie screen, or do you feel a strong desire to immerse yourself and have all your senses engaged?
6. As Aron chips away at the boulder that has locked his right hand, he can’t help but reflect on his life before he found himself in this dire predicament, facing starvation and death. What memories from his past occur to him as the days grow longer and his water runs out? How does he cope with facing his own mortality? Can you imagine how you would react in such circumstances?
7. Finding himself in precarious situations is nothing new for Aron Ralston. During the winter of 2000 while on a solo expedition to the Kit Carson Mountain and Blanca Peak, a rock shifted under the snow and pinned his leg. With some minor adjustments, he narrowly escaped: “Shrugging off the accident as a brief delay, I nevertheless avoided two other shallowly buried boulder fields during the remainder of the descent.” (p. 94) Did these experiences in some way prepare Aron for the fate that awaited him at Blue John Canyon? If so, how?
8. What does Aron mean by the term “deep play?” What is this philosophy? He writes, “Without any potential for any real or perceived external gain—fortune, glory, fame—a person puts himself into scenarios of real risk and consequence purely for internal benefit.” (p. 94) What is gained by the practice of “deep play?” Do you feel a greater admiration for people who undertake dangerous or grueling activities without any expectation of reward? Or is your appreciation of the activity the same no matter what the person’s motivation was?
9. Mark Twight, a writer mentioned in 127 Hours, has written two books about alpine mountaineering called Kiss or Kill—Confessions of a Serial Climber and Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, Fast and High.” Aron Ralston quotes him as saying “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.” (p.94) What do you think this means? Is such a sentiment the mark of a brave adventurer or a sign of something more ambiguous? Do you think most people feel this way?
10. “Just after three P.M., I decide to video myself for the first time.” (p. 109) What propels Aron to do this? Is he at the point of giving up? For whom is he making this video? Or is it in some ways for himself?
11. As the hours pass and he considers his choices, Aron concludes that he has only four options left. What are they? What is the option he ultimately chooses? Could you make a choice like this or would you continue trying to find another alternative?
12. Aron’s camcorder eventually acts like a small digital confessional. What are some of the things Aron begins to confess into his video camera? If you were to make a recording in similarly dire circumstances, what kinds of things would you choose to talk about?
13. Aron’s actual cutting of his arm is a visceral and heart-wrenching part of his story. But once he frees himself, he is overwhelmed by a sense of freedom: “This is the most intense feeling of my life. I fear I might explode from the exhilarating shock and ecstasy that paralyze my body for a long moment as I lean against the wall.” (p. 285) This is truly a moment of mind over matter. What feelings did you experience as you read Aron’s description of his escape from near certain death?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Aron Ralston obviously admires and is inspired by the memoir Desert Solitaire (1968) by Edward Abbey. The book centers on Abbey’s experiences as a park ranger at the Arches National Monument. He discusses, among many other topics, the dangers of hiking alone.
Pick up Desert Solitaire and find out why, more than thirty-five years later, Aron Ralston was still drawn to the writing of this iconic American environmentalist, and compare Abbey’s own experiences and philosophies to those of Aron.
2. Aron Ralston makes reference to another fearless traveler, Christopher McCandless, whose story was chronicled in the nonfiction account Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. Sadly, Mr. McCandless did not survive his trek into the Alaskan wilderness. Compare McCandless and Ralston’s journeys and the impulses that propelled them to go into such dangerous and beautiful landscapes alone.
Reading Group Guide
Aron Ralston's Between a Rock and a Hard Place
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1) Ralston mentions his many moments at near certain death yet he continued to participate in activities with potential danger. Do you believe Ralston felt he was taking risks? What is it about his personality that drove him to these pursuits?
2) Americans enjoy several extreme sports, not to mention the pastimes of sky diving, bungie cord jumping, and white water rafting. Do you think this is unique to our culture, or can you think of examples in other countries?
3) How did Ralston's previous near death encounters change him? Did theycause him to crave more or increase his carelessness? Was he aware of the hazards? Did he take all the necessary precautions?
4) In one near fatal incident, he and two of his friends were caught in an avalanche. After this incident Ralston explains he never heard from those friends again. What did you think of Ralston's reaction? Why do you think he mentions this story? Was there a lesson from this situation that he didn't take away at the time?
5) Compare Ralston's many stories of his numerous near deadly excursionsand his mountaineering and skiing adventures. Besides physically, explain how these adventures prepared him for this awful experience mentally and spiritually.
6) Ralston was very detailed in the accounts of his survival, including the amputation. Were there sections you weren't able to read? Were there methods you learned? What effect did this have on you? Do you feel he needed to be so specific?
7) Although Ralston chastises himself for not thinking of it sooner, do you think he needed those six days tocome to the realization that amputating his arm was his only hope of survival?
8) Is Ralston's story a symbol of hope or a cautionary tale for thrill seekers? Ralston affirms that he wouldn't change anything about hisexperience and would actually live through it again if given the choice.Why? What did he take away from this? Why do you think he needed to tell his story? Was there anything that you learned which surprised you?
9) What are the most significant lessons Ralston learns over the course of this book?
10) What are Ralston's feelings about nature? How has his opinion changed after this experience?
11) Hindsight is 20/20. Ralston is an experienced outdoorsman. What did he need to do to prevent this accident? Do you think his probability of disaster was increasing with the number of risks he took? Are some activities ever safe? Or safe only to a certain degree?
12) Many people have expressed that they don't think themselves capable of doing what Ralston did. How does he answer them?
Aron Ralston grew up in the Midwest before moving to Colorado when he was twelve, a place where he became an avid outdoorsman. In 2002, he gave up a career as a mechanical engineer in New Mexico and moved to Aspen, Colorado, where among other things he continued his attempt to climb the fifty-nine Colorado peaks of more than 14,000 feet solo in winter (he's more than three-quarters through). Since his accident, he has resumed his life of adventure and discovery. This is his first book.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This three hundred and fifty two page autobiography by Aron Ralston, is about a near fatal climbing accident. Aron Ralston was an outdoor enthusiast, who moved to Colorado as a young boy and fell in love with it slowly after. His love for the outdoors followed him all over the world. From mountains in Colorado and Washington, to the dessert of Arizona, the beautiful national parks in the U.S, to Japan's Mount Fiji. Aron was known for his reckless behavior through out his trekking adventures, he thought nothing of his behavior, and he claimed it was all part of the experience, until one mistake could have cost him his life. Between a Rock and a Hard Place, goes through Aron's life starting from a little boy, to graduating college at the prestigious Cargnie University, and his engineering career. The book switches from his present situation to the past. Slowly Aron runs out of food and water and stays three nights in cold unbearable desert nights, till he finally realizes what is needed to be done to save his life. The theme of this autobiography is survival, determination, and passion. Whether you're in a life or death situation, or how to survive just in the world. In Aron's case it was how to survive in a horrible situation. Having the determination to cut your own arm off, yet still not is afraid to go out and do what you love. After Aron's accident he is still determine to climb fourteners. His determination and passion for climbing and the outdoors, proves the themes of the book. Personally this book was over rated, and nothing how critics claimed it to be. The best part of the book is the pictures. The entire book was a whirlwind of unnecessary information about, rocks, scenery, climbing gear, and outdoor conditions. Readers do yourself a favor and get to the juicy part of the book; skip all unimportant chapters and read chapters involving Aron trapped with his arm in the boulder. All other chapters are boring and put you to sleep. This is a book one must read sitting upwards. If you think this book is filled with juicy disgusting bits of how Aron sawed his arm off layer by layer, you are defiantly wrong and will be highly disappointed by this book. If you're an outdoor enthusiast like the author Aron Ralston, you would otherwise highly enjoy this book, and his descriptions of the places he has ventured to! On a scale from one to ten this book would get a whopping rating of a three. It doesn't keep readers hooked. I found myself skipping chapters just to get through with the book. There is no doubt in my mind that what Aron did was admirable, but his writing style took a long time to get to the best part of the book. Hopefully this is the first and only book from this author.
After reading this book,the original from 2006 "BaRaaHP", I didn't think of Aron as just another "unprepared" or "rank amateur" outdoors-man. The guy knows his stuff and was just a victim of fate/bad luck/karma... Here it is, another gripe about e-book prices: $11.99 for nookbook is ridiculous. Get the paperback.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. The journey he went through with his accident was really inspiring. The detailed descriptions of Aron's past treks became a little monotonous so I skimmed over them. --K--
A lot of people write in their reviews that they are amazed at how Aaron was able to survive this 'ACCIDENT'. I question the term accident because it was inevitable that Aaron was going to get himself into ANOTHER life or death situation. The book actually lists the prior near death experiences he had in the wilderness. And what infuriates me even more is that he almost boasts about these events. And even worse it's almost like he still doesn't see how he not only endangers himself but people who do value their lives, which are the rescue workers. It's definitely an interesting book but I have a hard time with the fact that I paid money for this book, which will in turn allow him to continue his foolish ways. It will not surprise me in the least to hear about his tragic death in the near future. A book that really explains the mentality of people like Aaron is Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. This is a must read book for outdoor people, extreme sports people or anyone who is interested in why people live and die in difficult circumstances. Enjoy!
This book Between a Rock and a Hard Place is about an outdoorsman Aron Ralston. While Hiking in Blue John Canyon Ralston was trapped under a rock for five days. This book shows how Ralston was fighting to free himself from his entrapment, he tried chipping down the rock, and sawing off his arm, both without success. He waited, hoping for someone to come along and rescue him or until he was reported as a missing person from friends and family. On the edge of death, Ralston receives a premonition with a three year old boy, who he knows is his. This premonition revives his will to live and he stabs his knife into his arm, and cuts it off. He then escapes the canyon he was trapped in and hikes for six miles back towards his truck when he comes across some hikers. He is then rescued. I liked how he described the way he felt in this predicament, also how descriptive he was while writing about the situation. I did not like, however, how the book would continuously bounce back and forth from an expedition to his past, and how he was trapped under the rock. The first few stories were nice because it gave a general background of who he was, but I wanted to read his situation trapped under the rock. I believe everyone should read this, so they understand what Ralston was put through, and how he got out. It would show them that life is precious, and you cannot waste it away. Ralston refers to the book Into the Wild, which I would suggest others to read as well as this book, because Ralston explains how it inspired him to become an outdoorsman. I would give this book a four out of five stars because although it was a great book to read, there were some parts that I wanted to skip through to get to the good part.
Trapped alone in a canyon, miles away from civilization, with little food and water; this is the fate that befalls Aron Ralston, an avid outdoorsman, in Between a Rock and a Hard Place. The novel is a first person account of Aron's entrapment in the Blue John Canyon in Utah, and his subsequent narrow escape and rescue. The story begins with Aron biking in Utah on his way to the canyon. Once there, he takes his meager supplies and begins exploring the fissure. After navigating some treacherous terrain, he reaches a large boulder blocking a narrow passage in the canyon. Attempting to climb over the obstruction, Aron accidentally dislodges the boulder and causes it to fall and trap his right arm. He immediately tries to free his arm, but to no avail. Throughout the rest of the book the narrative transitions from his present day predicament, to flashing back throughout his life. Aron is a passionate adventurer, and has done many diverse activities as climbing all of the fourteeners in Colorado during the winter, to narrowly drowning in a river, and other near escapes from death. After failing to free his arm through various means, such as chipping away the boulder and attempting to lift it, Aron resorts to trying to survive as long as possible. He depletes his meager water supplies in only a few short days however, and has to resort to drinking his urine to survive. After his friends and coworkers notice that he has been missing for several days, the police are notified and a search is mounted. Nearing what he believes is the end of his life; Aron uses his video camera to record his final thoughts in hopes that his family and friends will someday find his last message. In a final stroke of desperation he severs his crushed arm and manages to escape to civilization. The major theme in the story is that hope can overcome any obstacle, which is demonstrated by Aron's refusal to give up and die while in the canyon. The strong points of this novel were the fascinating story of survival, the inspiring dedication of Aron, and the message of hope. There were some annoyances found in the book however; Aron often comes across as an egomaniac as he recounts his many adventures and near death experiences, and he often makes obscure climbing references. These aspects of the book can become frustrating, but do not detract significantly from the overall read. Taken as a whole however, this book comes recommended, with a final rating of four out of five stars. Between a Rock and a Hard Place is an enjoyable read, but not one without its faults.
Aaron Ralston showed the world that in a life and death situation, people are capable of going through amazing feats to survive. It starts off with him going on a typical solo trip through the Horseshoe Canyon in Arizona. He meets two girls along the way, but they end up splitting off onto their own ways, planning to meet at a bar later. He finishes his trip by completing the Blue John Canyon solo. He has a boulder dislodge on the way, crushing his right arm, and his six-day entrapment begins. I found half of the book quite interesting. The other half, however, I felt shouldn't have been put there. He splits off between him being stuck and past adventures, which I feel are probably highly over exaggerated. One of his passages describes how a bear followed him for a day. He described the bear following at a 20 ft distance, him falling in the snow, the bear gets to close, he throws a rock at it, the bear climbs up the tree, he gets up to walk away, the bear climbs back down and the process repeats. I feel like he is throwing in hyped up stories (possibly lies) to prolong the book. Without these stories, I think the book would be much better and more fun to read. I enjoyed reading about him being stuck, the thoughts that went through his mind, how he made due with what little supplies he had, and ultimately escaped what he thought was certain death. Simply reading this made me think about how I might have dealt with the situation, my ultimate solution was to avoid falling boulders, which made me keep on reading to compare ourselves. While he is undoubtedly not the best writer, he did a good job at describing his ordeal. While at times it can get slow, when he starts cutting his arm, it's hard to put the book down. If you like survival books, this book is well worth your time. Even though his tangent stories of bears and avalanches can seem far-fetched, they are still all tales of adventures and are often kind of comical. If you have a weak stomach, however, I wouldn't recommend reading his book. At times it can be quite graphic and burns unforgettable images into your mind. I would rate this book a hardy 4/5. He gave me what I wanted to read, and while I didn't enjoy the side stories as much, it's mostly because I felt that all this seems a little too extravagant to be true. If they happen to be true, more power to this guy, even after this accident he keeps on going with his adventures. I would recommend books similar to "Into the Wild" or "Hatchet", both good adventure/survival stories. I would also recommend trying a nice hike of your own, possibly one of Colorado's fourteeners for a adventure of your own rather than a tale of another's.
While I cannot, and will not condone the author's actions I must say this was a fascintating read. Use it as primer of what NOT to do in the wild. Mountains, like the sea, and aviation are extremely unforgiving of mistakes. The author made a reckless practice of pushing the edge of the envelope in his many endeavors. He delineates many, many occasions wherein the only reason he survived was pure stroke of chance. It was unfortuitous that he be caught, as he says, between a rock and a hard place but as you read about his (mis)adventures and the poor judgement he exercised it appears inevitible that if not here (in this slot canyon in Utah) then somewhere else. It would appear that he's not learned from his mistakes as from the tone of bragadoccio evidenced in this book. Nonetheless this is a great book to read; it kept me captivated from start to finish.
Book DescriptionIn April 2003, 28-year-old Aron Ralston took a day trip in Blue John Canyon in Utah's Canyonlands National Park. Shortly after beginning his solo excursion into the canyon, a boulder came loose and pinned Ralston's right arm between it and the canyon wall. Unable to free his arm, Ralston was trapped for 127 hours (more than 5 days) with limited water and food. Because Ralston had broken one of the cardinal rules of outdoor pursuits (always let someone know where you are going), no one knew where he was (or even to come looking for him) until he didn't show up for work on Monday. His account of the ordeal and his eventual decision to save himself by amputating his right arm is documented in this well-written (and surprisingly funny) memoir.My ThoughtsWhen watching 127 Hours, I was absolutely mesmerized by Ralston's predicament. (It didn't hurt that Ralston was portrayed by James Franco and the movie directed by Danny Boyle.) After watching the film, I wanted to get the full story about what Ralston had experienced. Did he really have a vision of his future son that bolstered his courage? Did he really talk into his video camera during his entrapment? Why had he made such a fundamentally stupid mistake by not telling anyone about his whereabouts? The book answered all these questions and provided much more detail into Ralston's personality and background.In fact, after reading the book, I'm not completely surprised that Ralston found himself in his predicament. In the book, he recounts several near-death experiences he faced during various other outdoor pursuits (from almost drowning in the Grand Canyon to being buried under an avalanche). Ralston's whole life was (and is) about pushing himself in the outdoors¿often in ways that others might consider foolish or overly risky. In addition, solo adventuring was nothing new to Ralston. At the time of his entrapment, he was pursuing his quest to make the first solo ascents of all "fourteeners" (mountains over 14,000 feet) in Colorado. The one line in the movie that stuck with me¿"This rock had been waiting for me all my life"¿really sums up Ralston's life. (I may be misremembering the exact line but it is something fairly close to this.)Did he leave the canyon a changed man¿aside from the obvious loss of his right arm? Spiritually, Ralston matured¿coming to a new appreciation for life and his loved ones. What the experience didn't do was dampen his enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits. Working with prosthetics and climbing companies, Ralston designed a prosthetic arm for himself so he could continue rock climbing and mountain climbing.The book is surprisingly well written. After all, just because you have the guts to amputate your own arm and survive for five days in a canyon with limited food and water doesn't mean you'll be able to tell your story eloquently. But Ralston (who was an engineer before quitting corporate life to pursue the outdoor life in Colorado) seems to be a true Renaissance man¿crafting a well-rounded, eloquent and often amusing account of his life, philosophy and the accident changed him forever.Finally, I must mention that the book includes a collection of full-color photographs of Ralston before, during and after the accident. I had a rather morbid fascination with these photos (including the one of the severed arm immediately after the amputation), but they really did add to the story. It was amazing to see the exact place where this took place and what Ralston looked like during his entrapment. I also need to give a shout-out to the filmmakers for seeming to recreate Ralston's predicament, clothing, and equipment down to the smallest detail.Recommended For: Readers who enjoy gripping and well-told adventure/survival stories, fans of the movie 127 Hours, and anyone looking for real-life survival story that demonstrates what people will do to survive.
This -was- a good survival story, but I really think it puts too much positive light on a man that was very irresponsible. The book doesn't focus at all on how this man could have died because he didn't tell anyone where he was going! This man isn't a role model.
It always amazes me when I read an autobiography and I come away thinking how utterly unlikeable the author is. You'd think they'd make more of an effort to put themselves across in a better way. Still, it's honest I guess and this author certainly got a cross his personal recklessness and also the way he endangered others. The book was nicely written with chapters alternating between the author's life before the event the actual event itself. Having not read anything about the incident before the lightbulb moment when the author finally works out how he can free himself is brilliant.I hope I am right in that the book shows a person growing up and that extreme sports doesn't have to mean acting stupid as well. Definitely a book to read, as a cautionary tale with some very useful survival hints!
Stupid, stupid, stupid--don't tell anybody where you are going, or when you will return. And, be sure to go alone!
I wasn't sure what I was going to think or feel about this book although just reading the back of the book astounded me. The strength of the human spirit and the will to survive are things we don't often think about until it looks us right in the face. This book is about that strength and will and what one person can do when faced with the ultimate need. Aron has a history of facing challenges and throughout this book he illustrates this for us, along with the fact that he is accomplished in survival skills as well. He seems to live for the challenge of conquering mountains, snow and ice, the weather, and even whitewater. Some of us wouldn't even think of going there and don't even understand the need that mountain climbers or whitewater rafters feel. We have no desire to expose ourselves to the elements in this way. Some of us would call him crazy. Some would admire his courage to face these challenges. All of his training and experience comes into play when he finds himself in a most unpredictable situation and realizes that he is now totally on his own, dependent on himself for survival. I read this book with a sense of envy for the ability to climb mountain peaks and be rewarded with magnificent views and a sense of accomplishment. With a sense of admiration for the bravery to do this in sub-zero weather facing the elements, and also the challenges of whitewater rafting. Yet also with a feeling of amazement at Aron's survivor skills. I have to say that I really don't think I could have survived had I found myself in the same place. I have to respect someone who can so courageously and honorably survive what Aron has been through and still come out of the experience with his spirit intact and continue on with his goals. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a story of survival. If books like 'Alive' are up your alley, then I feel certain that you will enjoy 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place'.
Aron Ralston is the young climber who cut his arm off when he became trapped in a remote canyon in the Utah desert. This first person account is reasonably well-written, if you ignore some obviously made-up dialog from some of the minor characters in the book. What surprised me about the book, though, was how unsympathetic I felt about Aron himself. I didn't care for his me-first attitude, considered him a thoroughly dangerous travel companion, and didn't think he had learned a single thing about himself from his ordeal. I really didn't expect to come away from this book thinking the guy was a total jerk, but that is basically the way I feel about him. Very strange.
Saw the movie (127 hours) and was amazed by the strength of mind this man exhibited. I, therefore, had to read the book to see if the film was realistically telling Aron's story. Having finished the book, I would say that the film was a fairly accurate depiction of the events that lead to Aron's being trapped in a slot canyon for five days.Telling people about this story does not make it seem any more real. And yet this is a true tale of survival and incredible strength. Trapped, without enough food or water, he somehow manages to survive for five days before he figures out how to amputate his own arm and save himself. His fortitude is astounding. Not only does he self-amputate his arm, he then hikes 7 or 8 miles out of the canyon to be rescued. This is an astounding individual.In his own words"...our purpose as spiritual beings is to follow our bliss, seek our passions, and live our lives as inspirations to each other. Everything else flows from that. When we find inspiration, we need to take action for ourselves and for our communities. Even if it means making a hard choice, or cutting out something and leaving it in your past."There is much to admire in Aron Ralston, but at the same time, I would be kidding myself if i thought I could do the things he did, and continues to do.
I hope I'm never in a position like this. I love the outdoors and spend alot of time out alone, we humans are truly just another small spec on this planet and can be in a dangerous situation at any moment. The biggest lessons from this book "Never give you, you are capable of doing more than you ever thought possible when you are tested harded enough, Trust in the Lord he will be with you and finally always always always leave a itinerary with someone when you go into the wilderness alone.
This is an amazing story told through a bad medium, Aron Ralston. The story is amazing, and truth be told; some of his descriptions of his 5 days in the Canyon are amazing. One reviewer here noted that the cover-art gave the ending away, bullshit. I knew what happened and Ralson is talented enough writer to make you agonize that he can't move the bolder, can't chip away at it or otherwise leave arm-intact, when we know all along what action he will take.The difficulties of the book can be narrowed down to three problems: a lack of self-consciousness, a poor understanding of the reader and a poor writing voice. 1,2,3.First, Aron, more than once, gives himself the reprieve of having "bad luck," (Most egregiously Ranger Steve p 327-8.) How do you get in the position of having to cut your own arm off, well, yea luck had a lot to do with it, but perhaps he should have left an itinerary. More to the point he doesn't understand that he, and other "adventure sporters" are the people that would be most forgiving to this type of behavior. A more self-conscious author/person would have understood this.Why does one pick up a book about a man that amputated his own arm? TO READ ABOUT IT! Ralston, as mentioned in other reviews, is way to sentimental, I want to know what it was like in the canyon, not read about his first Grand Canyon sunset. (This makes me sound terrible, but really, when you know someone is about to cut their own arm off reading about these types of things is maddening.)Ralston attempts to have a kind of post-modern writing voice, which at times works. But other points it's totally surreal, and too self-reflected. Moreover, Ralston never sets a definitive point at which he will let the audience in. Obviously his right, but when attempting to portray someone, especially yourself, it's never a bad idea to create a real person, not something where huge chunks of negativity are left out, which is Ralston's problem here. Ralston doesn't seem to understand that the person of this book, Ralston's image of himself, isn't believable as a person in the world.Want to read a fascinating, if flawed, survival story? Read this book, there are no other restrictions.
Outdoors man, nature lover, and thrill seeking are few of the many traits that can describe Aron Ralston. Aron has always loved the outdoors and spends all the time he has into adventuring it. He has climbed many mountains, gone down many rivers, and traveled to many different places. He seems to do the impossible and finishes most of them with ease, but one place he goes to proves harder than most. When canyoneering in Utah in the Blue John Canyon he dislodges a boulder trapping his right arm to the canyon wall and the bad part is that no one knows he is there. Do you think he can survive those 127 hours with 24 ounces of water and little food? What extremes will he go to to get out even if it means death to him. Even with years of experience he can't get out and finally, he realizes he's stuck between a rock and a hard place. This book proves that not all biography's are boring. Even though it does get tedious when he relates to his other adventures while he's trapped, those adventures are pretty interesting too. You will certainly enjoy this book if you too enjoy nature and suspense. This book really captures the thrill in adventuring and makes it feel like we are with Aron going down a river, getting followed by a bear, or almost drowning in a river. Before you judge this book on anything, try it first and see if you like the adventure of Aron's life.
Really an amazing story. Well written as well, especially for someone with a mechanical engineering background. He mentions lot's of peaks and areas in Colorado (he was living in Aspen at the time of the accident and went to Cherry Creek High School in Denver). This guy really had some luck in his life though, he made tons of stupid mistakes.
Very well written and motivational. I did think it was really weird when Ralston was writing about the specific feelings experienced by his family and some of his friends during the search. It very well may have been the truth, but it was weird for him to be talking of others through an omniscient point-of-view.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place written by Aron Ralston tells the gripping, true story of the time the author himself was trapped for six days and how one inspiring act of bravery brought him home. Aron was hiking in the outskirts of Moab, Utah when a boulder came loose, pinning his right hand and wrist against a canyon wall. With little food and water and no hope for rescue, He realizes his only chance of survival is to amputate his own arm with a pocketknife. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Aron Ralston explains the multiple risks he’s taken in his life which develops the common theme of survival. Aside from his terrifying experience hiking in Moab, Ralston has taken many other risks in his life too. He explains how he escaped a hungry bear by aggressively challenging it, how he almost drowned jumping into the Colorado River for a picture, and how he and two friends were almost killed in an avalanche. Survival is a reoccurring theme in this novel making the reader question how Ralston is still alive to talk about these brave events. Anybody who enjoys the outdoors and physical activity will enjoy this book. Not only does this book keep the reader interested, but it teaches the value of perseverance and hope on an extreme level. I really enjoyed reading Between a Rock and a Hard Place and I highly recommend this book.
Omg am a tenth grader an we are reading this book in english 2 and it is so good but i feel bad for him because he amputated his own arm
Definitly worth the money the book is amazing and aron uses such good vocabulary hischoices are going to reflect my choices in the future he has inspired me and alot more people im sure o it plese if byou have thevmoney buy this book you get hooked into it just ib the first page thanks kay.117