Aron Ralston's extraordinary story of survival after an 800-pound boulder trapped him in a remote Utah canyon captured global headlines in 2003. In his best-selling memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, the Oscar-nominated film, 127 Hours, and live on stage, Aron takes audiences vicariously through those six days without water, any means of communication or hope of escape, to the ecstatic moments when he freed himself by self-amputating his own arm.
Growing up in Ohio and Indiana before moving to Colorado with his family, Aron Ralston had little exposure to the wild outdoors.
But by the time he hiked into a remote area of Utah's canyon country in April of 2003, he was an experienced outdoorsman out for a walk in the park. Seven miles into the canyon that day, Aron accidentally dislodged a boulder that crushed and pinned his right hand. Within an hour of being trapped by a boulder in an isolated canyon miles from civilisation, Aron began to contemplate the unthinkable...
At some point, he reasoned, he would have to cut off his own right arm in order to get free and have any chance of survival. It says an awful lot about this remarkable man that not only did he do just that, but also that he can actually re-count his horrific, five-day ordeal with humour, honesty and insight.
Aron Ralston's harrowing ordeal, and his extraordinary, inspiring desire to survive it no matter what it took, is vividly captured in Danny Boyle's remarkable film, ‘127 Hours'. When Aron set out for a weekend of hiking in the beautiful, lonely canyons of Utah on a Friday night back in 2003 he made a classic mistake - he didn't tell anyone where he was going.
The 27 year old adventurer was climbing a rock face when he slipped and fell deep into Blue John Canyon. A falling boulder tumbled down on top of him and wedged his right hand against the sandstone rock face. He was trapped and he knew that nobody would be coming to rescue him.
And even though the terrifying thought that he would have to amputate his own arm was always in the back of his mind, he tried every option to free himself. “I went through all the options of trying to lift the boulder, chipping away at the rock with my penknife to try and extricate my hand,” he recalls. “I thought about waiting for someone to come and rescue me and then understanding that nobody was coming because I didn't tell anyone where I was going. And then it was like, ‘I'm going to die here...' By the third day it was ‘screw it, I'm going to try to get out of here anyway I can.'”
When the accident happened Aron Ralston had limited supplies - a bottle of water, some energy bars - and very little equipment to work with: a flashlight, a penknife (with a dull blade) and a rope. He also had a video camera on which he recorded poignant farewell messages to his loved ones.
The video provided a vital link to the outside world, and helped him feel connected to his family. “There were basically two chains of thought,” he explains. “One was about how I was going to get free, and potentially rescue myself and survive the situation, so there was a lot of tactical and logistical kinds of issues. And then there was this emotional side of things that was about connecting with my family through the camcorder.
When tragic events strike, Aron says, “we have a choice - are these traumas going to be a tragedy or are they going to be blessings? These boulders are going to come and they are going to be big. They have the power to teach us and to show what's extraordinary in us. See that in yourself.”
It was, of course, a life changing experience. Aron Ralston's memoir, ‘Between A Rock and A Hard Place', was published in 2004 and he is now a highly sought-after public speaker around the world.
Aron hopes his story will be inspirational for others and believes that cheating death in that lonely canyon gave him a new lease of life. Today, he continues to pursue high-altitude adventures, advocates for wilderness protection, and tries to keep up with his two spirited children, Leo and Elisabetta.