Publisher: Atria Books, 2005
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Adventure/Survival
Where I Got It: Bought It
Why I Read It: After seeing the mind-blowing film 127 Hours, I wanted to get all the details of Aron Ralston’s story
My Rating: 4 stars
In April 2003, 28-year-old Aron Ralston took a day trip in Blue John Canyon in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. Shortly after beginning his solo excursion into the canyon, a boulder came loose and pinned Ralston’s right arm between it and the canyon wall. Unable to free his arm, Ralston was trapped for 127 hours (more than 5 days) with limited water and food. Because Ralston had broken one of the cardinal rules of outdoor pursuits (always let someone know where you are going), no one knew where he was (or even to come looking for him) until he didn’t show up for work on Monday. His account of the ordeal and his eventual decision to save himself by amputating his right arm is documented in this well-written (and surprisingly funny) memoir.
When watching 127 Hours, I was absolutely mesmerized by Ralston’s predicament. (It didn’t hurt that Ralston was portrayed by James Franco and the movie directed by Danny Boyle.) After watching the film, I wanted to get the full story about what Ralston had experienced. Did he really have a vision of his future son that bolstered his courage? Did he really talk into his video camera during his entrapment? Why had he made such a fundamentally stupid mistake by not telling anyone about his whereabouts? The book answered all these questions and provided much more detail into Ralston’s personality and background.
In fact, after reading the book, I’m not completely surprised that Ralston found himself in his predicament. In the book, he recounts several near-death experiences he faced during various other outdoor pursuits (from almost drowning in the Grand Canyon to being buried under an avalanche). Ralston’s whole life was (and is) about pushing himself in the outdoors—often in ways that others might consider foolish or overly risky. In addition, solo adventuring was nothing new to Ralston. At the time of his entrapment, he was pursuing his quest to make the first solo ascents of all “fourteeners” (mountains over 14,000 feet) in Colorado. The one line in the movie that stuck with me—”This rock had been waiting for me all my life”—really sums up Ralston’s life. (I may be misremembering the exact line but it is something fairly close to this.)
Did he leave the canyon a changed man—aside from the obvious loss of his right arm? Spiritually, Ralston matured—coming to a new appreciation for life and his loved ones. What the experience didn’t do was dampen his enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits. Working with prosthetics and climbing companies, Ralston designed a prosthetic arm for himself so he could continue rock climbing and mountain climbing.
The book is surprisingly well written. After all, just because you have the guts to amputate your own arm and survive for five days in a canyon with limited food and water doesn’t mean you’ll be able to tell your story eloquently. But Ralston (who was an engineer before quitting corporate life to pursue the outdoor life in Colorado) seems to be a true Renaissance man—crafting a well-rounded, eloquent and often amusing account of his life, philosophy and the accident that changed him forever.
Finally, I must mention that the book includes a collection of full-color photographs of Ralston before, during and after the accident. I had a rather morbid fascination with these photos (including the one of the severed arm immediately after the amputation), but they really did add to the story. It was amazing to see the exact place where this took place and what Ralston looked like during his entrapment. I also need to give a shout-out to the filmmakers for seeming to recreate Ralston’s predicament, clothing, and equipment down to the smallest detail.
Readers who enjoy gripping and well-told adventure/survival stories, fans of the movie 127 Hours, and anyone looking for real-life survival story that demonstrates what people will do to survive.
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