Between a rock and a hard place.
September 5, 2004 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Remember Aron Ralston, the guy that was trapped under a boulder for six days, and escaped only by amputating his own arm? In this month's Outside Magazine, he tells his story in excruciating detail.
posted by monju_bosatsu (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just a note for the squeamish: it doesn't get too gory until the last page, at which point I almost had to stop reading. Almost.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:35 AM on September 5, 2004

I just saw Ralston speak at a medical conference. His talk lasted two hours and at some point became a strange kind of motivational speech: If I can cut my arm off, you can do anything! Which isn't true, actually, because I would have been dead by Day 1, after having banged my own head against the canyon walls to hasten the process along.

Possibly because it was a group of doctors, the details were fairly anatomical and totally horrifying (he's one of the few people who's ever looked at necrosis as a solution rather than a problem). He seemed a genuinely nice, humble guy, showing the kids in the audience (!) how his arm worked, joking, smiling, and in good mental health, which is impressive.
posted by melissa may at 8:53 AM on September 5, 2004

hey so i skip to the last page (natch :) and yeah wow, that's what camera phones are made for :D but i had to stop reading... cuz of the sub :(
posted by kliuless at 9:06 AM on September 5, 2004

Give the gift of Outside
Free Knife with your Subscription

That's perverse.
posted by bwg at 9:13 AM on September 5, 2004

in good mental health,

In contrast to his mental state before the incident, when he decided to go slot canyon hiking alone, without telling anyone where he was going.

posted by stonerose at 9:31 AM on September 5, 2004

cuz of the sub :(

I'm very interested in reading this... are you saying that I can't finish the article unless I'm a subscriber, though? I don't want to find that out the hard way.
posted by dobbs at 9:33 AM on September 5, 2004

These are the last two sentences in the online article:

"I push the knife into my wrist, watching my skin stretch inward, until the point finally pierces and sinks to its hilt.

In a blaze of pain, I know the job is just starting."

So if you have any morbid curiosity beyond that point, you have to buy the book. (There are some fascinatingly gruesome bits before the above, though.)
posted by icetaco at 10:12 AM on September 5, 2004

Dobbs: you don't have to be a subscriber, but you do have to complete the free registration. Bugmenot has at least one registration to use, if you like.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:33 AM on September 5, 2004

In contrast to his mental state before the incident, when he decided to go slot canyon hiking alone, without telling anyone where he was going.

Actually, stonerose, that was a point of controversy among many people at the conference. Most of the people that were present practice wilderness medicine, and so spend a lot of time educating the public about outdoor safety. No one attending would want to sanction what he did, and wouldn't want inviting him to speak to be perceived as doing so. I still think what he did was foolish, too; he put his family through hell, and search and rescues that kind are dangerous, hugely expensive, and could have been mitigated by him having some common sense before he set out. But he is the first to agree with that criticism, and did he ever learn his lesson the hard way. The one social benefit may be that he can teach it to other people who don't have enough respect for such precaution. And whatever profit he makes from his lecturing and writing, I doubt that his suffering or its aftermath was worth it.
posted by melissa may at 10:54 AM on September 5, 2004

"And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. "

Heh. But I think the whole story is arcetypical-level powerful -- there are all kinds of choices people have to make in life between an extremely painful sacrifice and something else they want very much. Whether you get to that point as a consequence of your own choices or through hapenstance isn't relevant by the time you're at that point. It's whether or not you can do it. Many people don't and are worse off for it. This guy did.

There's a Greg Bear book I read a while back, where a guy gets trapped in the world of the Sidhe, and learns to "throw shadow" -- being in two places at once, by throwing a distinct part of his personality into a second physical manifestation. At one point he ends up surrounded by creatures who will worse-than-kill him, and the only option he can think of is to leave a part of himself there to be sacrificed, killed, while he throws the rest into to an escaping shadow. It's a powerful piece of the book. Wish I could remember the title right now.
posted by weston at 11:54 AM on September 5, 2004

Also, regarding Ralston's foolishness: haven't you ever just wanted to take off and not tell anyone where you're going?

"The best reward in going to the woods
Is being lost to other people, and
Lost sometimes to myself. I'm at the end
Of no bespeaking wire to spoil my goods;
Lost to all other wills but Heaven's--wild."

I've been lost before, and that was such a jarring experience, that I tend to tell other people where I'm going now, but every once in a while, I get that restless feeling, and just go...
posted by weston at 12:03 PM on September 5, 2004

It's an ugly story. And, kids, what have we learned?

1) Leave a note.

2) For Ghugle's sake, people, don't go into the backcountry with a dull knife.

3) Or, for that matter, a whistle. There was a moment where he thought he could hear someone, but he couldn't yell loud enough to get their attention. If he had a good whistle, he could have made some noise.

And I think Mr. Ralston agrees with me on every point -- and agrees that he's really, really, really lucky -- and the name of a person who counts on luck in the wilderness is "fool".

There are lists of the ten things you need to have with you *any* time you are in the wilds. Find them. Heed them.
posted by eriko at 1:31 PM on September 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

weston: Songs of Earth and Power (although you may have read it as the two books The Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage). I think I need to read it again - I can barely remember anything about the story.
posted by wilberforce at 3:17 PM on September 5, 2004

wilberforce, that's it! thanks much.
posted by weston at 7:17 PM on September 5, 2004

Ouch. Great story.

Sometimes you learn how to what you need to do by necessity; the choices are just that narrowed. I almost think I could have cut mine off, too, after figuring out it was that or nothing.

Except that I'd have died a couple of days earlier, not being in that kind of shape or steeled to survival quite like he was. I'd have botched it.
posted by lathrop at 9:24 PM on September 5, 2004

Aron Ralston is coming to the bookstore I work at next Sunday and I'm going to ask him what he does with his prosthetic arm when flying, with increased security measures and all.
posted by phrostine at 7:49 AM on September 6, 2004

« Older Zardoz   |   One of the world's greatest unsung heroes? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments