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Caught in the slot

Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

It 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 route 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 showed 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 Tuesday, 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.

So as media from around the world wait to meet Ralston, The Aspen Times takes a closer look at two aspects of the story: First, Bluejohn Canyon and Ralston’s march to safety, and second, a glimpse of Ralston in his own words, through excerpts from March interviews with The Aspen Times.


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