Parents give a glimpse into Ralston’s ordeal in desert |

Parents give a glimpse into Ralston’s ordeal in desert

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

GRAND JUNCTION – Dying was not an option for Aron Ralston, who quickly weighed his alternatives after a boulder pinned him in a remote Utah canyon for nearly six days before he cut off his arm to free himself.

Despite his resolve to survive, he thought about leaving instructions on where to scatter his ashes, just in case he didn’t.

The Aspenite underwent a second surgery to repair his crudely severed limb Monday morning at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. Several hours later, his parents discussed their now-world-famous son’s condition and shared a brief glimpse into his captivating ordeal at a press conference.

Within an hour after Aron found himself trapped beneath an 800-pound boulder in the narrow Bluejohn Canyon, he had narrowed his choices to four: wait to be found by other hikers, chip away at the rock to dislodge his right arm, rig up a pulley system with ropes to budge the boulder, or amputate his arm, according to his father, Larry.

On the sixth day, two days after his water ran out and his other alternatives had been exhausted, Aron cut off his forearm with a pocket knife, rigged a tourniquet to stem the bleeding, rappelled down a 60-foot cliff and began his hike to safety in Canyonlands National Park.

Picked up by a search-and-rescue helicopter crew and taken to St. Mary’s, Aron told his dad from his hospital bed: “Well, I guess there was a fifth alternative, but that wasn’t on the list.”

Aron was resting comfortably yesterday after two surgeons shortened the bone in his arm about an inch and pulled the muscles and skin over the stub to close the wound. It will be fitted for a prosthetic arm later. He is expected to make his first public appearance at a press conference later this week.

Media outlets from across the country and overseas are vying for a chance to interview the gutsy 27-year-old about an ordeal that has made headlines around the globe. Hospital officials anticipate his release at the end of the week, when he will head for his parents’ home in suburban Denver to recover.

Eight news cameras, newspaper photographers and several rows of journalists packed yesterday’s press conference. The three major networks were on hand, as were correspondents representing publications as far away as London.

Aron has indicated he’d like to discuss the details of his ordeal personally, but his father offered a hint as to what was going through his son’s mind as the hours stretched into days.

“The scariest comment I’ve heard was last night when Aron commented that he was planning on leaving directions as to how his friends and family should scatter his ashes,” Larry said.

Aron’s arm became wedged beneath the shifting boulder on Saturday, April 26. He freed himself on Thursday, May 1. A crew of 13, equipped with a hoist and jacks, retrieved the severed arm on Sunday.

When his mother, Donna, received word that Aron was OK, but had amputated his arm, she said her initial shock quickly gave way to relief.

“My reaction, when I found out he had cut his arm off, it was like, `Oh my God,'” she said. “But the more I thought about it, the more rational a decision I realized that was. I was more thankful he was alive and was able to get himself out of that canyon.”

“You know, when I heard the news, I was just so elated that he was alive and the prognosis was good,” added Larry, a tour director who was in New York at the time.

Larry said it didn’t dawn on him that his son had taken drastic action until he told the tour bus driver that Aron had been found alive, but had cut his arm off. The driver gasped and said, “What!”

“I said, I guess that is unusual,” Larry said.

The Ralstons have long since become accustomed to the calculated risks their son takes in his passion for the outdoors, such as 45 solo ascents of Colorado Fourteeners, including all seven in the Elk Range – alone – this past winter.

Those who know Aron well know this incident won’t deter him from future backcountry exploits, Donna said.

“He will just have to make a few adjustments,” she said.

The Ralstons defended the chances Aron takes, but said their son regrets his failure to leave word with someone about his intended destination in the vast Canyonlands.

Donna said she used to scold him regularly for not leaving word with someone about his plans, but that he’d become conscientious about doing so after three years as a member of the Mountain Rescue Council in Albuquerque, N.M. On one occasion, Aron was the first to find a lost hiker during his rescue work in New Mexico.

“He was on the searching end and realized how much easier it would have been had there been a note,” she said.

“I’m the worrier in the family,” Donna added. “I guess I have to accept the fact that he’s his own person. My worrying is going to make me have an ulcer, but it’s not going to affect him.”

Aron, who moved to Aspen last November and works at the Ute Mountaineer, is hoping to become a member of Mountain Rescue Aspen.

His family has established the Aron Ralston Fund at Wells Fargo Bank in Grand Junction to cover unforeseen medical expenses, but the remaining funds will go to search-and-rescue organizations in appreciation for their efforts, his parents said. The bank is at 2808 North Avenue; Grand Junction, CO 81501.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is]

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