January 18th, 2005


Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I finally finished reading "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" by Aron Ralston ,in the early hours of this morning. (Staying up late is probably the reason why I just couldn't concentrate on work today)

The book is the absolutely astonishing factual account of the author, an experienced climber, mountaineer, skier and outdoorsman, who became trapped in a remote Utah Canyon many miles from help in april/May 2003.

I heard about the incident at the time in 2003 and have subsequently listened to several interviews that he has given on TV and on Radio 4. I was thrilled to get his book for my Birthday and have been reading it on and off since.

After six days of having his right hand crushed and pinned to the canyon wall, severely dehydrated and suffering the extreme psychological effects of prolonged sleep deprivation and with very limited equipment, Aron amputated his own arm, climbed out of the canyon (single handed !..lol ... cheap shot !!) and started an eight mile hike back to civilisation. He found help early into the hike and was heli'vaced out.

The book is absolutely fantastic , quite the most exciting read since I read Joe Simpson's "Touching the Void". Aron 27 years old, describes in vivid and absorbing detail how the accident occurred and the process of assessment, planning and psychological journey which culminated in the crude surgical amputation of his arm. This amazing story is illustrated with some pretty horrific photos all of which he took himself during his ordeal, and accounts of his experiences as an experienced backwoodsman.

Aron Ralston's story is an inspirational account of an 'ordinary' person driven to do an extraordinary thing in extreme circumstances. His clarity of thought and his ability to relate his accident to his experience of the outdoors is superb and I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Aside from the central issue of his accident I was absolutely intrigued how his understanding of his past experiences changed and how his perception of himself expanded and grew as a result of his accident.

I never have, and never would dream of describing myself as an adrenaline junkie - I got into diving, kayaking, climbing, cross country running, and I try to go ultralight back packing without tents or comfort gear - always with the aim of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone - but I've never approached 'deep play' levels that Aron describes - I have always carefully assessed the risks and my own limitations when training in and taking part in sports - but one passage from his book really resonated with me :

"so many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind , but which in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."

I guess this a dichotomy that we all face in our lives, balancing the need to stretch ones spirit's horizon and having to plough our way through our daily rut to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads.

I just hope those that are able to work at a job they love and "live their bliss" are suitably grateful …..mine sucks mostly. I can't quit my job , go off and do a Ray Mears or Benedict Allen - but I will make a concerted effort to take the initiative to look at the options that my sculpting, my fencing and other interests offer and see if I can't at sometime in the future take them much further forward.

Thanks Aron - there's another ripple.