2003: Caught in the slot
In celebrating the 125th anniversary of The Aspen Times, we are printing a story or two from each year the newspaper has existed 125 historical selections in 125 days. This series is in conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society. Caught in the slotIt was supposed to be a day trip. And on any other day, it probably would’ve taken him half the day. Nearly clear of the technical obstacles in his routes down the main fork of Utah’s Bluejohn Canyon, Aron Ralston was working his way down through the final pinch: a 3-foot-wide, 100-foot-deep overhanging sandstone slot leading to the “Big Drop” rappel point. From that point on, the route was sandy-bottom canyon floor.But as Ralston scrambled over and around boulders in the slot, one shifted, pinning his right arm.For five and a half days, he worked to think his way out of the dilemma. Rescuers who returned to the scene described ropes and anchors he had fixed while pinned in a standing position, evidence of one of the options he pursued.By Thursday morning, May 1, searchers had narrowed the search for Ralston to the Horseshoe Canyon area of Canyonlands National Park, after finding his truck at a trailhead. Ralston hadn’t shown up for his Tuesday shift at the Ute Mountaineer in Aspen, and friends and family, certain that he was in trouble, initiated the search.But by Thursday morning, in the remote slot on a route rarely traveled, according to authorities, Ralston had been out of water for two days. He was also out of alternatives.The self-rescue commenced with tourniquets and a gruesome realization: His knife was not sharp enough to cut bone. With the forearm trapped by the rock as if in a vice, Ralston wrenched it, breaking the bones to facilitate amputation. About an hour later, he rigged the 60-foot rappel over the Big Drop and began a sandy, five-mile march out of Horseshoe Canyon.Along the way, he encountered a family from the Netherlands, who escorted him and flagged the rescue chopper when it sighted the party at about 3 p.m.Ralston’s recovery continues at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. On Monday, he underwent a second surgery to close the wound on the arm and better suit it for a prosthetic device. Ralston’s parents, Larry and Donna, met with the media on Thursday, but as of Wednesday’s press deadline, Ralston had not spoken publicly about the ordeal.As always, it should be noted, Ralston was said to be in good spirits, connecting with friends by phone and eating a lot. (May 3-4)
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Pools in Aspen and Pitkin County will be allowed to open Monday, though COVID-19-related rules will apply.