Climber Who Cut Off Hand Looks Back

August 30, 2004

In April 2003 climber Aron Ralston entered Utah's Bluejohn Canyon only to become trapped when an 800-pound (360-kilogram) boulder shifted, crushed his hand, and pinned him to the canyon wall. For six days, Ralston struggled to free himself while warding off dehydration and hypothermia.

Trapped and facing certain death, Ralston chose a final option that later made him an international sensation: Using a multitool, the climber amputated his right hand, then rappelled to freedom.

Ralston has written an account of his experience, Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Atria Books), which arrives in bookstores this month. National Geographic Adventure recently spoke with Ralston about his accident and lifesaving act.

How did you finally decide to start cutting?

After having enough sleepdeprived, meandering thoughts about how I arrived in the canyon, I realized that [my situation] was the result of decisions that I had made. I chose to go out there by myself. I chose to not tell anyone where I was going. I chose not to go with [two climbers] I had met in the canyon [on the first day].

But I also realized that I had made all of the choices up to that point that had helped me survive. I took responsibility for all of my decisions, which helped me take on the responsibility of getting myself out.

But how did someone who had been repulsed by dissecting a sheep's eyeball in ninth grade manage to sever his own hand?

It was strange. I kind of entered a flow state. I've been there before while climbing. You are not thinking ahead. You are just thinking about what is in front of you each second.

I was so engrossed that I had to catch myself when I got to the arteries so that I didn't sever those without a tourniquet on.

The answer seems obvious, but did it hurt?

Well, I didn't have any sensation in my right hand from the time of the accident onward. However, I did feel pain coming from the area where the boulder rested on my wrist.

When I amputated, I felt every bit of it. It hurt to break the bone, and it certainly hurt to cut the nerve. But cutting the muscle was not as bad.

Continued on Next Page >>


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