This heroic memoir by mountaineer Aron
Ralston takes the reader through an excruciating tale of survival
that became world-wide news in May 2003, when Ralston self-rescued
himself after being trapped by a boulder in Blue John Canyon for
five days, by amputating his own arm. He takes us, in his own beautiful
prose, not only through the frank tale of saving his own life, but
also the events in his past that made him the man he is today—a
man that was strong enough to give himself the ultimate gift of
a new life.
The opening of Ralston’s first
book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place sets the ominous
tone of danger right from the beginning. Those who have seen the
Canyonlands of Utah will relate to the winding canyons and windswept
landscape that Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch called home during
their days as outlaws in the Wild West. Back in 1899—when
the infamous Blue John Griffith was last seen—and still today,
arid desolation makes the area known as Robber’s Roost, a
reluctant host to life.
Ralston, however, is no stranger to
adverse conditions. He is determined to do what no one else in history
has done: climb all of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks—59
in total—solo, and in the winter season. Being one of many
people to have climbed all 59 peaks during normal climbing season,
he will be the first to climb them alone in the winter having completed
47 already. Describing this pursuit, Aron describes adventures to
the most extreme environments the continental U.S. has to offer
including solo ascents of Colorado’s Long’s Peak, the
Maroon Bells, and Capital Peak.
27 year-old mechanical engineer knew that life had more to offer
than his comfy cubicle at Intel, and in 2002, made the decision
to end his career at the corporate semiconductor giant, and begin
a new life of adventure. In this pivotal year, Ralston accepted
his calling as a “rubber tramp,” a lifestyle inspired
by the obstinant voice of the beat generation, originally characterized
by the adventures of Neal Cassady in Jack Kerouac’s novel,
On The Road. That year, Ralston marked the beginning of
his new vocation of adventure by climbing the highest peak in North
America, Alaska’s Denali. He also left his home in the desert
of Albuquerque, New Mexico for Aspen, Colorado—to the epicenter
of his obsession, Colorado’s high country.
Taking the reader through a detailed—almost
minute by minute—account of the fateful days of entrapment,
he reveals the thoughts and emotions captured on video as last will
and testament, as he was imprisoned in geologic time.
Aron’s frank encounter with death
was not what he expected. Spending his recreational time trekking
up mountains or tethered to sheer cliffs, he anticipated his eventual
end to be accompanied by a fall, and the sound of a crushing exhale
to be his last moment. Instead he was involved in a drawn-out, introspective
struggle. He describes that it was like having dinner with death,
with the chance to talk for 5 days, with the final thought being,
“Well, that’s it, then, I guess its time to go.”
But he did not go.
He relates the brutality of each night
in the canyon as “nothing short of hell.”
Despite the common perception of hell
as a crowded, infernally hot place—Milton’s Pandemonium—...I
know better by now. Hell is indeed a deep, chthonic hole, but
hot? No. It is a bitterly dark and unbearably cold place of lonely
solitude, an arctic prison without a warden and but one abandoned
inmate, forsaken even by the supposed ringleader of the underworld.
There is no other spiritual energy, good or evil, on which to
project love or hatred. There is only one emotion in hell: unmitigated
despair wrapped in abject loneliness.
Perhaps the most touching moments of
the book are when he dictates his last messages to friends and family
as his last will and testament and brings the eerie concept of death
home. The reader can feel the frustration knowing it will be more
painful for his mother to hear news of his end, than the pain of
an 800-pound rock on his hand or even the slow death of kidney failure
due to dehydration. He conveys the miserable humility of going out
on a trip with out telling anyone where he was going, a customary
ritual of his and something he knows better not to do.
a Rock and a Hard Place is remarkably honest, detailed, and
surprisingly humorous given the circumstances. One would expect
Ralston’s articulate language to come from a seasoned journalist,
like when Jon Krakauer made the transition from a contributing editor
at Outside Magazine to an author. Krakauer then created
some of the most defining literary works of the outdoor adventure
culture with Into Thin Air, and Into The Wild.
Ralston’s book will no doubt have a similar effect on the
adventure community as Krakauer’s defining works did.
Life barely hangs by a string when
you find yourself between Scylla and Charybdis, as in the Odyssey.
According to Homer “Better by far to lose six men and keep
your ship than to lose your entire crew.”
If there is any truth to the saying
that “if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger,”
then Aron Ralston is the strongest man alive right now. If you are
interested in what goes on in the head of such a Herculean hero,
pick up Between a Rock and a Hard Place. It’s the
best thing you’ll ever do with your right hand.
Drawing done by Aron
in 1996—with the hand that is no longer.
Aron, so glad you're alive, thank you!