By Mason Poepperling
Hutchinson Community College has been the host of many speakers through the Dillon Lecture Series, and this year may be one of its intriguing.
On Tuesday, American mountaineer, mechanical engineer and motivational speaker Aron Ralston will be speaking at the Sports Arena. If that name sounds familiar, it may remind you of the film “127 Hours”, the movie that depicts Ralston’s hiking accident that happened in April 2003.
Before this life-changing event, however, Ralston was an engineer at Intel in Ocotillo, for five years. After finding himself to be burned out from working for a large corporation, he quit his job and moved to Aspen, Colorado to chase his mountain climbing dreams.
“I wanted to taste that joy, to experience the passion for adventure, to cast away the security of my job and let my spirit roam,” Ralston says in his book, “A Rock and a Hard Place”.
Prior to his accident, Ralston had three climbing projects that would eventually become his recreational focus.
“I would climb all of the Colorado Fourteeners, I would climb all of them solo in winter (something that had never been done before), and I would ascend the highest point in every state in the US” Ralston said.
A “Fourteener” is a term used to describe mountains with peaks that are higher than 14,000 feet in elevation, of which Colorado has 59.
On April 16, 2003, Ralston went canyoneering alone through Bluejohn Canyon in eastern Wayne County, Utah. Originally, he was going to be joined by friends, but the plans fell through and he decided to go by himself. He packed his supplies and his mountain bike and drove five hours from his home to the hiking site. He spent the morning biking cross country, and around midday he locked his bike to a tree after a 15-mile ride. He planned to drive his truck to this spot later to retrieve it. While hiking, he met two young female hikers and traveled with them for a while before breaking off to tackle a tougher part of the canyon. While he was descending down a slot canyon, a suspended boulder dislodged from the canyon wall while he was climbing down from it, smashing his left hand, ricocheting off of the opposite canyon wall, and pinning his right hand. He hadn’t told anyone where he was going, had no way of contacting anyone, and was stuck.
During the five days he was stuck, he sustained himself by sipping on the 350 milliliters of water and eating two burritos that he had packed with him, while also trying to extricate his arm. After three days, the dehydrated and delirious Ralston prepared to amputate his right arm, but on the fourth day he realized the cheap multi-tool he had packed with him would be unable to cut through his bones.
Having run out of water and food on the fifth day, Ralston was sure he was going to die. He carved his name, his date of birth and what he presumed would be his date of death before turning on the camera he had packed with his and setting it up to record what he believed would be his final moments.
On the morning of his sixth day stuck in the canyon, in a fit of rage, he discovered he could break his bones and use the multi-tool to cut away his flesh and muscles. Using his body weight, he snapped his radius and ulna bones and, in about an hour, used the multi-tools knife and pliers to cut away his arm, carefully avoiding major arteries until the last moment. After finally cutting his arm away, he climbed out of the slot canyon, rappelled down a 65 foot shear wall, and hiked out of the canyon. After six more miles of hiking, he encountered a Dutch family who gave him food and water and flagged down a helicopter to help him.
Ralston’s story is one of great determination and courage. He didn’t let his accident bring him down, as after his amputation he went on to become the first man to climb all 59 of Colorado’s Fourteeners in the winter, just as he sent out to do all those years ago.
Since then, Ralston has toured around the country telling his story.