Between A Rock And A Hard Place
by Aron Ralston
Simon & Schuster, Inc.
By now almost everyone in the US has heard of Aron Ralston, and if you haven't, you probably aren't an outdoors or adventure enthusiast. Ralston is the 27 year old man who was hiking by himself in the remote Utah canyonlands when a huge block pinned his right hand to the canyon wall. Breaking one of the cardinal rules of solo adventuring, he had told no one where he was. For 6 days he was trapped in Blue John Canyon. With energy, water and food dwindling he came to the ultimate realization that he had 2 choices - cut off his own arm or die!
This is not just another ghost-written book designed to make a buck off a horrifying accident. While Between A Rock And A Hard Place is Aron Ralston's first book, I would be surprised if it were his last. He writes in a clear personal style that draws you into his world from the first page. Following a short history of the canyon, he leads you through the events of the day right up to and including the accident. At that point readers may find it hard to imagine how Ralston is going to sustain the story of the following 6 days over another 302 pages. Amazingly not only does he build you up to the chilling climax and set you down with the grace of a seasoned pro, he sustains your interest every step of the way.
Switching between his past and the 6 days of his imprisonment, Ralston describes how he gave up a job as a software engineer at Intel and came to doing more and more dangerous solo pursuits, including climbing Denali and almost all of the Colorado 14,000 footers solo in winter, remote back-country skiing, extreme hiking and more. He had numerous close-calls including a foreboding episode on Blanca Peak in Colorado's Sangre de Cristo range when a shifting rock trapped his foot. After reading the book you may wonder why Ralston didn't seem to learn from his previous mistakes, putting himself in one precarious situation after another, but I suppose that people have wondered the same thing about me!
The crux of the adventure comes on the 6th day. Ralston realizes that his decomposing trapped hand will likely poison him, so he follows through on his decision to amputate the arm. After snapping his bone because he is unable to saw through it, he performs the operation using the knife blade of his multipurpose tool. His detached and almost clinical description of the bloody procedure is like a classic horror movie - you want to turn away, but you can't. Still, the joy of release once it is completed is overpowering...
"A Crystalline moment shatters, and the world is a different place. Where there was confinement, there is release. Recoiling from my sudden liberation, my left arm flings downcanyon, opening my shoulders to the south, and I fall back against the northern wall of the canyon, my mind surfing on euphoria. As I stare at the wall where twelve hours ago I etched 'RIP OCT 75 ARON APR 03,' a voice shouts in my head:
I AM FREE!"
After several days Aron's employer, friends and mother have realized that he is missing and set a search in motion. Unfortunately it took until the very day that he amputates his arm for the searchers to locate his car. 45 minutes after the amputation, Aron hikes downcanyon, performs a one-handed 150 foot free-hanging rappel and begins an 8 mile hike back to his car. Fortunately he meets a family who is hiking and is rescued by a helicopter.
I thought this was a great story, well crafted and full of introspection. Once I started I found it hard to put down.
368 pages, color pictures, hardcover