Between a Rock and a Hard Place
1 journaler for this copy...
This is definitely a riveting - and not-for-the-squeamish - account of a freak accident with near-disastrous consequences. Much of the book consists of Aron's background, in which he engages in a great many risky sports and has more than one close call - not sure if this was meant to indicate that he was relying too much on luck or that he had enough experience outdoors to get him through his ordeal, but it certainly does make one wonder why some people have so high a must-take-risks attribute! He seems to be aware of this himself; he quotes from books by other people who have lived on the edge and written about it, including Joe Simpson and Jon Krakauer. But when he recounted his close encounter with an avalanche - in which two of his friends almost lost their lives, after Ralston had urged pressured them to ski in the danger zone - he admitted "I came to understand that my attitudes were not intrinsically safe."
The events leading up to his entrapment in a dry wash in a remote Utah canyon suggest that he hadn't learned his lesson, but even though he skipped some basic steps such as letting someone know exactly where he was going, he was still trained and equipped for the terrain he planned to cover. The accident was triggered by the shifting of a smallish boulder, something that might have rolled harmlessly away, might have struck a lethal blow on head or torso, might have crushed a limb and caused fairly rapid death - but, in this case, managed to trap his hand against the canyon wall in such a way that he could move everything but that hand...
I think I was more impressed by the length of time he spent trying to get free before he resolved to sever his hand than on that final decision, which seemed the logical one to me! [That may be easier to decide after the fact, of course. If I got my hand stuck somewhere, I'm not sure that I'd be quite prepared to chop it off first thing, even if it seemed clear that the damage was irreparable.] But he made a number of pretty amazing-sounding attempts, including using the equipment he had with him - a small selection of ropes and other climbing gear, mostly - to try to rig a sling with which to lever the rock off of his hand. Doing all that one-handed is tough enough, but doing it while pinned by one wrist and rapidly running out of food and water... Well, nobody can say the guy isn't tough!
He's pretty cool-headed, too; he kept an ongoing video-diary, including some shots of his trapped arm, his improvised slings, and - yes - the severed hand still caught between the rocks... He did some of this to keep himself focused, I think, but later on he used it as a farewell message for his family in case he didn't survive. And his account of the actual moment - er, process - of freeing himself includes all the gory details, and is riveting and utterly cringe-inducing.
I hadn't realized how much more he had to do after he freed himself; he had to manage a rappel down out of the wash he'd been in, one-handed and after days without food or water. Even then, when he was trying to hike out, he might not have made it if he hadn't encountered some other hikers. An extremely close call after a grueling ordeal - and maybe next time, Aron will remember to leave more detailed information as to where he's going before he sets off on another hike!
[Side note: this book makes a darkly funny appearance in this Unshelved Book Club comic strip; if you're not overly squeamish, check it out! And the TV Tropes page on the 2010 film has some entertaining tidbits.]
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