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#15644 - 05/06/03 05:36 AM SURVIVAL STORY


Climber Who Cut Off Arm to Have Surgery

May 4, 2003 10:37 AM EDT

GREEN RIVER, Utah - Aron Ralston, a climber who cut off his arm to free himself from a huge boulder, is improving and will have surgery Monday to close his wound.

Surgeons may have to shorten the bone so Ralston will be able to wear a prosthetic arm, hospital officials said. He was hospitalized in fair condition after his six-day ordeal.

Ralston, an avid outdoorsman and expert climber from Aspen, Colo., was on a day hike April 26 when a boulder shifted onto his arm. Out of water and unable to move the boulder after days of trying, Ralston used a pocketknife to cut off his arm.

His family issued a statement thanking the people who rescued Ralston after he was able to get free on Thursday.

Sgt. Mitch Vetere, who found Ralston after the climber freed himself, had never seen anything it.

A man, bloody from head to toe, in the bottom of a canyon, streaks of red staining his bare legs. Part of his arm was gone.

Vetere wasn't sure what had happened. "I cut it off with my pocketknife," Ralston told him, matter of factly.

Then he told his story.

Saturday, April 26, started as a routine day of climbing for Ralston, an avid outdoorsman and expert 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 - 350,000 acres of mostly wilderness with areas of buttes, mesas and intricate canyons.

He had climbed alone before plenty of times. He had scaled 49 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks in the winter and this outing was a warm-up for an ascent of Alaska's Mount McKinley.

Ralston, 27, of Aspen, Colo., parked his pickup truck in a parking lot, took off on his mountain bike for 15 miles, then tied it to a juniper tree.

He planned to canyoneer down remote Blue John Canyon and end up where he parked his truck, then go back for the bike. Canyoneering is where a climber uses rock-climbing gear to negotiate narrow canyons and moves in a horizontal direction rather than vertical.

Ralston was maneuvering around a narrow slot canyon just 3 feet wide when he put his right hand on the side of a boulder, and it shifted, pinning his hand.

He was trapped.

Ralston tried ropes, anchors, anything to move the boulder, but it wouldn't budge.

Temperatures dipped into the 30s at night, and still Ralston worked to free himself.

By Tuesday, his water ran out.

No climbers had come by.

When Ralston didn't show up for his job at the Ute Mountaineer store in Aspen, friends called authorities.

Vetere, a patrol sergeant with the Emery County Sheriff's Office in Green River, got the call Thursday morning. A climber was several days overdue. His truck had been found, but no one had seen Ralston.

Terry Mercer, a helicopter pilot with the Utah Highway Patrol in Salt Lake City, met Vetere and another deputy about 1 p.m. Thursday at Horseshoe Canyon, where Ralston's truck was parked.

After reading notes and looking at Ralston's equipment in his truck, Mercer and Vetere knew Ralston was an experienced climber. They figured he might have headed north up the trail, since it gets deeper and sharper the farther north it extends.

Hikers and climbers who parked in the same lot as Ralston said they had gone south and didn't see Ralston.

Mercer flew for about two hours. Nothing.

As he was about to land, he, Vetere and the other deputy looked down into the canyon and saw two people waving. They were tourists from Holland who had encountered Ralston as he tried to find help.

Ralston was covered in blood. Vetere was shocked at the sight - dry and fresh blood coating his body. His red legs matched the red rocks, Vetere thought.

Mercer radioed back to the command center in the parking lot: "He looks OK. He's walking. He looks pretty strong."

After Ralston was helped into the helicopter, Mercer peeked back at him. Ralston's right arm was in a makeshift sling made from a camelback used to carry water.

"I was wondering what in the world happened," Mercer said.

Ralston leaned his head back in the helicopter and sipped on some water. Vetere kept him talking, so he wouldn't lose consciousness.

After he ran out of water and no one had come for him, Ralston said he knew he would have to cut off his arm to save himself. He used his pocketknife he had stuffed into his shorts pocket. His rescuers didn't ask to see it.

He then rappelled down some 60-75 feet to the canyon floor and walked 4 to 5 miles before he saw the tourists from Holland.

Vetere and Mercer almost didn't believe it.

Ralston was within a mile of his pickup truck. He almost didn't even need to be rescued.

Twelve minutes later, the helicopter arrived at Allen Memorial Hospital in Moab, Utah. Ralston walked into the emergency room without help, then pointed out on a map where he had been stuck.

Mercer and two other deputies went back into the canyon, hoping they could retrieve Ralston's hand and that it could be reattached.

Ralston had called the boulder a 200-pound rock, but Mercer could easily see it was at least 800 pounds.

"We could see his rope that he had left hanging that he had rappelled down on," Mercer said.

"It was very sobering because we saw the ropes he had rigged up to try and get a pulley action. To think he had sat there for five days working at getting his hand loose and finally deciding he had to do something to save himself," he said.

The rock - covered in Ralston's blood - wouldn't move. Marks on the canyon wall indicated the rock had fallen 2 or 3 feet.

Ralston was transferred to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo., where he was in fair condition on Saturday.

Friends say Ralston is known for living on the edge.

"To be honest, sometimes we get pretty scared with some of the things he's doing," said Brion After, manager of the store where Ralston works.

His rescuers are still amazed at Ralston's will to live. They say he likely wouldn't have been found by a helicopter because of his position on the canyon wall.

"I've never seen anybody that had this much desire and this much tenacity to stay with it and stay alive," Mercer said.

Mercer and Vetere are used to seeing disoriented climbers who lose their way or just give up while waiting for help.

Aron Ralston was different, they say.

He saved himself.

#15645 - 05/08/03 09:14 PM Re: SURVIVAL STORY

I just watched a news conference with Aron Ralston. Apparently the guy is not only an experienced outdoorsman but a SAR tech as well. His failure to file a flight plan was an oversight of a practice he normally follows. He was only carrying water for the day. He started out with 3L and was down to about 1L by the time he became trapped in midafternoon. His only knife was a cheap Leatherman knockoff. As he put it, the kind you get for free when you buy a $15 flashlight. Just goes to show, experience is next to useless if you're not going to apply it.
On a related thread someone wondered how he cut through the bone. He made several false starts at cutting his arm off but couldn't get through the bone. Seems he finally torqued his arm one way to break the radius and another way to break the ulna then cut the soft tissue free.


#15646 - 05/08/03 11:19 PM Re: SURVIVAL STORY
Comanche7 Offline

Registered: 07/04/02
Posts: 435
Loc: Florida
The news report that I just read on the internet quoted him as saying that "the knife was too dull to cut well". Hmmm, an experienced person, traipsing about with a dull knife? <img src="images/graemlins/confused.gif" alt="" />

Playing "devil's advocate" here, perhaps he had dulled it in failed attempts to free his arm by working at the boulder. <img src="images/graemlins/crazy.gif" alt="" />

Also noted that the article said that he would not be giving followup interviews.


#15647 - 05/08/03 11:37 PM Re: SURVIVAL STORY

Yeah, he said that he had tried to chip away some of the chalkstone boulder to try and get it to roll off his arm. It sounded like he was actually standing below the boulder a little bit so, not having seen the site, I have to wonder how bright that was.

I got the impression the no follow up interviews was a restriction imposed by the hospital, rather than Ralston. It sounded like that was only until this weekend, when he gets released.

#15648 - 05/09/03 04:47 AM Re: SURVIVAL STORY

You guys are correct he could of avoided the whole thing. I thought it was a interesting lesson to anyone who climbs. I am a climber and he violated several rules right form the start. Also because he violated those rules he will not be climbing the same routes anymore. Proper planning and training prevents [censored] poor performance. I sometimes carry along my Cold Steel Bowie Knife that is razor sharp, I do not use it for climbing but this knife is crazy it is so tough it can do anything even chop your arm off with one stroke. Wow, what a comforting though.
One last thought this man has never skinned an animal before because if he had he would know he could of gone through his elbow a lot easier, my boning and filet knife would of helped him too.

Life is tough but it is tougher if you are stupid. John Wayne

I hope he recovers and learns, he deserves a second chance...

#15649 - 05/09/03 04:59 AM Re: SURVIVAL STORY
PeterR Offline

Registered: 05/31/01
Posts: 47
Loc: Wollongong [ 34.25S 150.52E ] ...
This has got to be one of the most uplifting survival stories, with lessons for all those with ears to hear and eyes to see....
A remarkable testimony to the young man's will to live; which of course, is the No 1 survival tool.
And I was really impressed to see that he chose not to sell his story to the highest bidder, but has made the details available to all.
A man of courage... and ethics.
"Serve in Love; live by Faith"


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