One of the most extraordinary survival stories ever told -- Aron Ralston's searing account of his six days trapped in one of the most remote spots in America, and how one inspired act of bravery brought him home.
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.
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August 29, 2005
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Excerpt from Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
One: "Geologic Time Includes Now"
This is the most beautiful place on earth.
There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, known or unknown, actual or visionaryý. There's no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment. Theologians, sky pilots, astronauts have even felt the appeal of home calling to them from up above, in the cold black outback of inter-stellar space.
For myself I'll take Moab, Utah. I don't mean the town itself, of course, but the country which surrounds itýthe canyonlands. The slickrock desert. The red dust and the burnt cliffs and the lonely skyýall that which lies beyond the end of the roads.
ýEDWARD ABBEY, Desert Solitaire
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 southwestýthe last range in the U.S. to be named, explored, and mappedýand 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 crawlýI'm in my lowest gear and pumping hard on a flat grade just to move forwardýthe 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 canyoneeringýtraversing the bottom of a deep and narrow canyon systemýand 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.