Survival Stories: Aron Ralston

 Survival Stories: Aron Ralston

If you like your true survival stories, I am sure you have heard of Aron Ralston, the young man forced to amputate his own arm in order to free himself from being trapped in Utah’s Blue John Canyon.

“It’s 3:05 on Sunday. This marks my 24-hour mark of being stuck in Blue John Canyon. My name is Aron Ralston. My parents are Donna and Larry Ralston, of Englewood, Colorado. Whoever finds this, please make an attempt to get this to them. Be sure of it. I would appreciate it.”

On April 26, 2003, Aron Ralston left his truck and headed for Horseshoe Canyon with a plan in mind to make a 30-mile circuit through the Blue John and Horseshoe canyons. It was a last minute adventure after Ralston and some of his friends had called off a mountaineering trip. The only word anybody heard about his going was “Utah.”

Aron Ralston survivor

He had decided that it would take him around 5 days to complete the circuit with all his gear and starting out on bike, Ralston reached the entrance of Blue John Canyon and locked up his bike. By 2:30, I’m about seven miles into the canyon, at the midpoint of my descent, the narrow slot above the 65-foot-high rappel marked as Big Drop in my guidebook. Now the canyon deepens dramatically over a series of lips and benches.

He reaches the first drop-off, a ten-foot dryfall and safely lowers himself down. He reaches another drop-off, around 11-12 feet high with a huge chockstone wedged between the walls. Just below the ledge, is a second chockstone the size of a large bus tire, stuck fast in the three-foot channel between the walls.

Aron Ralston boulder

Ralston knew that if he could step onto it the chockstone, he could dangle from it and then take the short fall to the canyon floor. He goes for it. Stemming across the canyon with one foot and one hand on each wall, he traversed out above the chockstone. He kicks down at the boulder. He decided that It was jammed tightly enough that it would hold his weight so he lowered himself from the chimneying position and stepped onto the chockstone which although teetering slightly, supported him.

Ralston then squating on his haunches and gripping the rear of the lodged boulder, slid his belly over the front edge ang hung from his fully extended arms.

“The next three seconds play out in slow motion. The falling rock smashes my left hand against the south wall; I yank my left arm back as the rock ricochets in the confined space; the boulder then crushes my right hand, 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.”

Ralston tried everything, shoving against the boulder, heaving against it, pushing with his free hand, lifting with his knees pressed under the rock, but it just wouldn’t budge. He tries to take a drink of his water only to find that his water reservoir is empty.

He still had a full Nalgene bottle in his bag and after some effort, removed his pack and the bottle from within. Within 5 seconds, he has just gulped down a third of his water supply and knew that he needed to remain calm and ration what little was left.

Determined not to panic, Ralston busied himself with every possible idea and strategy to lift or break the 800 pound boulder that imprisoned him in the canyon. Over the course of three days, he never gave up hope that someone would happen along to come to his rescue, or that he would somehow be able to extricate himself. Dehydration set in, and he vacillated between delirium and a sober acceptance that he would probably die. He entertained the possibility of severing his arm to free himself from the boulder, but despaired when he knew that the 2-inch dull blade on his multi-tool would not be sufficient to carve through the tendons and bone.

On the fifth day when his water supply was totally exhausted, he began to record goodbyes to his family and friends on his camera, and carved his name and his presumed date of death in one of the sandstone walls that seemed his tomb. He thought for sure that night would be his last, and he drifted into a troubled sleep.

Upon waking the next morning, Ralston had an idea that could possibly see him out of the canyon: he could break his arm bones through the use of torque, and amputate the arm with the multi-tool. Desperate to not meet his end just yet, he fashioned a tourniquet for his arm and began the unthinkable. It took more than an hour to cut through the flesh before he was finally free.

The only known path to survival being his vehicle that was parked 8 miles away, he rappelled down a 65-foot canyon wall with his only viable arm, and began the hike back through the canyon. In a stroke of incredibly good fortune, a family on a vacation discovered him in the canyon, giving him their water supply and rushing to alert authorities. Before this chance meeting, Ralston was convinced that he would bleed to death. He had lost 25 percent of his blood volume from the amputation, and a staggering 40 pounds over the course of those horrific five days.

Aron Ralston faced a more imminent death than most of us could ever imagine, and went on to avidly climb mountains, and attain his goal of summitting all of Colorado’s peaks over 14,000 feet. He is the first person to make all 53 of these ascents during winter as a solo climber.

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