Aron Lee Ralston (born October 27, 1975) is an American outdoorsman, mechanical engineer and motivational speaker known for having survived a canyoneering accident in southeastern Utah in 2003 during which he amputated his own right forearm with a dull pocketknife in order to extricate himself from a dislodged boulder, which had him trapped in Blue John Canyon for five days. After he freed himself, he had to make his way through the remainder of the canyon, then rappel down a 65-foot (20 m) sheer cliff face in order to reach safety.

The incident is documented in Ralston’s autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place and is the subject of the 2010 film 127 Hours where he is portrayed by James Franco.

Background

Aron Ralston was born on October 27, 1975 in Marion, Ohio. He and his family moved to Denver when he was 12. He is a graduate of Teccs in Ducan, Colorado. He received his college degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, finishing with degrees in mechanical engineering and French, with a minor in piano. At Carnegie Mellon, he served as a resident assistant, studied abroad, and was an active intramural sports participant. He left his job as a mechanical engineer with Intel in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2002 and moved to Aspen, Colorado in order to pursue a life of climbing mountains.

He had the goal of climbing all of Colorado’s “fourteeners” — peaks over 14,000 feet (4,270 m) altitude, of which there are 59 — solo and during winter (a feat that had never been recorded before). He subsequently achieved this goal in 2005. In 2003, Ralston was caught in a Grade 5 avalanche on Resolution Peak, Colorado with his skiing partners Mark Beverly and Chadwick Spencer. No one was seriously injured.

In August 2009, Ralston married Jessica Trusty. His first child was born in February 2010[4][5][6].

Accident

On April 26, 2003, Aron Ralston was hiking alone through Blue John Canyon, in eastern Wayne County, Utah, just south of the Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands National Park. While he was descending a slot canyon, a suspended boulder became dislodged while he was climbing down from it. The rock smashed his left hand, and then crushed his right hand against the canyon wall. [7] Ralston had not informed anyone of his hiking plans, nor did he have any way to call for help.

Assuming that he would die without intervention, he spent five days slowly sipping his small amount of remaining water, approximately 350 ml (12 imp fl oz), and slowly eating his small amount of food, two burritos, while trying to free his arm. He wasn’t able to free his arm from the 800 lb (360 kg) chockstone. After three days of trying to lift and break the boulder, the dehydrated and delirious Ralston prepared to amputate his trapped right arm at a point on the mid-forearm in order to escape. After having experimented with tourniquets and having made exploratory superficial cuts to his forearm, he realized, on the fourth day, that in order to free his arm he would have to cut through the bones in it, but the tools available to him were insufficient to do so.

After running out of food and water on the fifth day, Ralston decided to drink his own urine. He carved his name, date of birth and presumed date of death into the sandstone canyon wall, and videotaped his last goodbyes to his family. He did not expect to survive the night. After waking at dawn the following day he discovered that his arm had begun to decompose due to the lack of circulation. Ralston had an epiphany that he could break his radius and ulna bones using torque against his trapped arm. He did so, then amputated his forearm in about one hour, with his multi-tool, which included a dull two-inch knife. The manufacturer of the tool was never named, but Ralston said “it was not a Leatherman but what you’d get if you bought a $15 flashlight and got a free multi use tool.”[8]

After freeing himself Ralston climbed out of the slot canyon in which he had been trapped, rappelled down a 65-foot (20 m) sheer wall, then hiked out of the canyon. He was 8 miles (13 km) from his vehicle, and had no phone. However, while hiking out of the canyon, he encountered a family on vacation from the Netherlands, Eric and Monique Meijer and their son Andy, who gave him food and water and hurried to alert the authorities. Ralston had feared he would bleed to death; he had lost 40 pounds (18 kg), including 25% of his blood volume. Rescuers searching for Ralston, alerted by his family that he was missing, had narrowed the search down to Canyonlands and flew by in their helicopter. He was rescued four hours after amputating his arm.

Ralston later said that if he had amputated his arm earlier, he would have bled to death before being found, while if he had not done it he would have been found dead in the slot canyon days later. He believed he was looking forward to the amputation and the freedom it would give.[9]

His severed hand and forearm were retrieved from under the boulder by park authorities. According to television presenter Tom Brokaw,[10] it took 13 men, a winch and a hydraulic jack to move the boulder so that Ralston’s arm could be removed. His arm was then cremated and the ashes given to Ralston. He returned to the accident scene with Tom Brokaw and a camera crew six months later, on his 28th birthday, to film a Dateline NBC special about the accident in which he scattered the ashes of his arm there, where, he said, they belong.