April 26, 2003, started as a routine Saturday of climbing for Aron Ralston, an avid outdoorsman and mountain climber. He planned to spend the day riding his mountain bike and climbing the red rocks and sandstone just outside the Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah. The area is some of the most desolate and intriguing wilderness in the lower 48 states with areas of buttes, mesas and convoluted canyons.
Ralston had climbed alone before plenty of times. He had scaled all 59 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, 45 of them solo in winter, and this outing was a warm-up for an ascent of North America’s highest mountain, 20,320-foot tall Mount McKinley.
Ralston, 27, of Aspen, Colorado, parked his pickup truck at the Horseshoe Canyon Trailhead and took off on his mountain bike for the 15-mile ride to the Bluejohn Canyon Trailhead where he locked his mountain bike to a juniper tree.
Dressed in a T-shirt and shorts and carrying a backpack he planned to canyoneer down remote Bluejohn Canyon and hike out adjacent Horseshoe Canyon to where he parked his truck and then go back for the mountain bike. His backpack contained two burritos, less than a liter of water, a cheap imitation of a Leatherman brand multi-tool, a small first aid kit, a video camera, a digital camera and rock climbing gear. The backpack did not contain a jacket or extra clothing. Canyoneering is where a climber uses rock-climbing skills, ropes and gear to negotiate narrow slot canyons.
Ralston was 150-yards above the final rappel in Bluejohn Canyon. He was maneuvering in a 3-foot wide slot trying to get over the top of a large boulder wedged between the narrow canyon walls. He climbed up the boulder face and it seemed very stable as he stood on top. As he began to climb down the opposite side the perfectly balanced 800-pound rock shifted several feet, pinning his right arm - he was trapped.
Within the first hour after becoming trapped Ralston had calculated his options and came up with four possible solutions.
• Someone would happen along and rescue him.
• He would be able to chip away at the rock and free his hand.
• He would be able to rig up something with the ropes and equipment he had to move the rock.
• If all else failed, he would need to sever the arm.
Death was a 5th possibility that Ralston didn’t want to consider.
In another article, Sheriff’s Sgt. Mitch Vetere told NBC’s “Today” show that the team that went to the site concluded “he had no other option” but to cut off his arm because the air-based search team “wouldn’t have seen him from the air.” (2)
He had concluded that his only decision was to take drastic action.
The last line of another article said, “He never gave up, and he saved himself.”
(Climb-Utah.com story on Aron Ralston)
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