I don’t want it.
It’s not a part of me.
Throw it away, Aron. Be rid of it.
I thrash myself forward and back, side to side, up and down, down and up. I scream out in pure hate, shrieking as I batter my body to and fro against the canyon walls, losing every bit of composure that I’ve struggled so intensely to maintain. Then I feel my arm bend unnaturally in the unbudging grip of the chockstone. An epiphany strikes me with the magnificent glory of a holy intervention and instantly brings my seizure to a halt: If I torque my arm far enough, I can break my forearm bones.
Like bending a two-by-four held in a table vice, I can bow my entire goddamn arm until it snaps in two!
Holy Christ, Aron, that’s it, that’s it. THAT’S F**KING IT!
I scramble to clear my stuff off the rock, trying to keep my head on straight. There is no hesitation. Under the power of this divine interaction, I barely realise what I’m about to do. I slip into some kind of autopilot; I’m not at the controls anymore. Within a minute, I orient my body in a crouch under the boulder, but I can’t get low enough to bend my arm before I feel a tugging at my waist. I unclip my daisy chain from the anchor webbing and drop my weight as far down as I can, almost making my buttocks reach the stones on the canyon floor.
I put my left hand under the boulder and push hard, harder, HARDER!, to exert a maximum downward force on my radius bone.
As I slowly bend my arm down and to the left, a Pow! reverberates like a muted cap-gun shot up and down Blue John Canyon. I don’t say a word, but I reach to feel my forearm. There is an abnormal lump on top of my wrist. I pull my body away from the chockstone and down again, simulating the position I was just in, and feel a gap between the serrated edges of my cleanly broken arm bone.
Without further pause and again in silence, I hump my body up over the chockstone, with a single clear purpose in my mind. Smearing my shoes against the canyon walls, I push with my legs and grab the back of the chockstone with my left hand, pulling with every bit of ferocity I can muster, hard, harder, HARDER!, and a second cap-gun shot ends my ulna’s anticipation. Sweating and euphoric, I again touch my right arm two inches below my wrist, and pull my right shoulder away from the boulder. Both bones have splintered in the same place, the ulna perhaps a half inch closer to my elbow than my radius. Rotating my forearm like a shaft inside its housing, I have an axis of motion freshly independent of my wrist’s servitude to the rock vice.
I am overcome with the excitement of having solved the riddle of my imprisonment. Hustling to deploy the shorter and sharper of my multi-tool’s two blades, I skip the tourniquet procedure I have rehearsed and place the cutting tip between two blue veins. I push the knife into my wrist, watching my skin stretch inwardly, until the point pierces and sinks to its hilt. In a blaze of pain, I know the job is just starting. With a glance at my watch – it is 10.32am – I motivate myself: “OK, Aron, here we go. You’re in it now.”
I leave behind my prior declarations that severing my arm is nothing but a slow act of suicide and move forward on a cresting wave of emotion. Knowing the alternative is to wait for a progressively more certain but assuredly slow demise, I choose to meet the risk of death in action. As surreal as it looks for my arm to disappear into a glove of sandstone, it feels gloriously perfect to have figured out how to amputate it.
My first act is to sever, with a downward sawing motion, as much of the skin on the inside surface of my forearm as I can, without tearing any of the noodle-like veins so close to the skin. Once I’ve opened a large enough hole in my arm, about four inches below my wrist, I momentarily stow the knife, holding its handle in my teeth, and poke first my left forefinger and then my left thumb inside my arm and feel around.
Sorting through the bizarre and unfamiliar textures, I make a mental map of my arm’s inner features. I feel bundles of muscle fibres and, working my fingers behind them, find two pairs of cleanly fractured but jagged bone ends. Twisting my right forearm as if to turn my trapped palm down, I feel the proximal bone ends rotate freely around their fixed partners. It’s a painful movement, but at the same time, it’s a motion I haven’t made since Saturday, and it excites me to know that soon I will be free of the rest of my crushed dead hand. It’s just a matter of time.
Prodding and pinching, I can distinguish between the hard tendons and ligaments, and the soft, rubbery feel of the more pliable arteries.
I should avoid cutting the arteries until the end if I can help it at all, I decide.
Withdrawing my bloody fingers to the edge of my incision point, I isolate a strand of muscle between the knife and my thumb, and using the blade like a paring knife, I slice through a pinky finger-sized filament. I repeat the action a dozen times, slipping the knife through string after string of muscle without hesitation or sound.
Sort, pinch, rotate, slice.
Sort, pinch, rotate, slice.
Whatever blood-slimy mass I fit between the cutting edge and my left thumb falls victim to the rocking motion of the multi-tool, back and forth. I’m like a pipe cutter scoring through the outer circumference of a piece of soft tubing. As each muscle bundle yields to the metal, I probe for any of the pencil-thick arteries. When I find one, I tug it a little and remove it from the strand about to be severed.
Finally, about a third of the way through the assorted soft tissues of my forearm, I cut a vein. I haven’t put on my tourniquet yet, but I’m like a five-year-old unleashed on his Christmas presents – now that I’ve started, there’s no putting the brakes on. The desire to keep cutting, to get myself free, is so powerful that I rationalise I haven’t lost that much blood yet, only a few drops, because my crushed hand has been acting like an isolation valve on my circulation.
Another 10, 15 or maybe 20 minutes slip past me. I am engrossed in making the surgical work go as fast as possible. Stymied by the half-inch-wide yellowish tendon in the middle of my forearm, I stop the operation to don my improvised tourniquet.
By this time, I’ve cut a second artery, and several ounces of blood, maybe a third of a cup, have dripped onto the canyon wall below my arm. Perhaps because I’ve removed most of the connecting tissues in the medial half of my forearm, and allowed the vessels to open up, the blood loss has accelerated in the last few minutes. The surgery is slowing down now that I’ve come to the stubbornly durable tendon, and I don’t want to lose blood unnecessarily while I’m still trapped. I’ll need every bit of it for the hike to my truck and the drive to Hanksville or Green River.
I still haven’t decided which will be the fastest way to medical attention.
Setting the knife down on the chockstone, I pick up the neoprene tubing of my CamelBak, which has been sitting off to the top left of the chockstone, unused, for the past two days. I cinch the black insulation tube in a double loop around my forearm, three inches below my elbow. Tying the black stretchy fabric into a doubled overhand knot with one end in my teeth, I tug the other end with my free left hand. Next, I quickly attach a karabiner into the tourniquet and twist it six times, as I did when I first experimented with the tourniquet an aeon ago, on Tuesday, or was it Monday?
“Why didn’t I figure out how to break my bones then?” I wonder.
“Why did I have to suffer all this extra time?” God, I must be the dumbest guy to ever have his hand trapped by a boulder. It took me six days to figure out how I could cut off my arm. Self-disgust catches in my throat until I can clear my head.
Aron, that’s all just distraction. It doesn’t matter. Get back to work.
I clip the tightly wound karabiner to a second loop of webbing around my biceps to keep the neoprene from untwisting, and reach for my bloody knife again.
Continuing with the surgery, I clear out the last muscles surrounding the tendon and cut a third artery. I still haven’t uttered even an “Ow!” I don’t think to verbalise the pain; it’s a part of this experience, no more important to the procedure than the colour of my tourniquet.
I now have relatively open access to the tendon. Sawing aggressively with the blade, as before, I can’t put a dent in the amazingly strong fibre. I pull at it with my fingers and realise it has the durability of a flat-wound cable; it’s like a double-thick strip of fibre-enforced box-packaging tape, creased over itself in quarter-inch folds. I can’t cut it, so I decide to reconfigure my multi-tool for the pliers. Unfolding the blood-slippery implement, I shove the backside of the blade against my stomach to push the knife back into its storage slot and then expose the pliers. Using them to bite into the edge of the tendon, I squeeze and twist, tearing away a fragment. Yes, this will work just fine. I tackle the most brutish task.
Grip, squeeze, twist, tear.
Grip, squeeze, twist, tear.
“This is gonna make one hell of a story to tell my friends,” I think. “They’ll never believe how I had to cut off my arm. Hell, I can barely believe it, and I’m watching myself do it.”
Little by little, I rip through the tendon until I totally sever the twine-like filament, then switch the tool back to the knife, using my teeth to extract the blade. It’s 11.16am; I’ve been cutting for over 40 minutes.
With my fingers, I take an inventory of what I have left: two small clusters of muscle, another artery, and a quarter circumference of skin nearest the wall. There is also a pale white nerve strand, as thick as a swollen piece of angel-hair pasta. Getting through that is going to be unavoidably painful. I purposefully don’t get anywhere close to the main nerve with my fingers; I think it’s best not to know fully what I’m in for. The smaller elastic nerve branches are so sensitive that even nudging them sends Taser shocks up to my shoulder, momentarily stunning me. All these have to be severed. I put the knife’s edge under the nerve and pluck it, like lifting a guitar string two inches off its frets, until it snaps, releasing a flood of pain.
It recalibrates my personal scale of what it feels like to be hurt - it’s as though I thrust my entire arm into a cauldron of magma.
Minutes later, I recover enough to continue. The last step is stretching the skin of my outer wrist tight and sawing the blade into the wall, as if I’m slicing a piece of gristle on a cutting board. As I approach that precise moment of liberation, the adrenalin surges through me, as though it is not blood coursing in my arteries but the raw potential of my future. I am drawing power from every memory of my life, and all the possibilities for the future that those memories represent.
It is 11.32am, Thursday, May 1 2003. For the second time in my life, I am being born. This time I am being delivered from the canyon’s pink womb, where I have been incubating. This time I am a grown adult and I understand the significance and power of this birth as none of us can when it happens the first time. The value of my family, my friends and my passions well up a heaving rush of energy that is like the burst I get approaching a hard-earned summit, multiplied by ten thousand. Pulling tight the remaining connective tissues of my arm, I rock the knife against the wall, and the final thin strand of flesh tears loose; tensile force rips the skin apart more than the blade cuts it.
A crystalline moment shatters, and the world is a different place.
Where there was confinement, now there is release. Recoiling from my sudden liberation, my left arm flings downcanyon, opening my shoulders to the south, and I fall back against the northern wall of the canyon, my mind surfing on euphoria. As I stare at the wall where not 12 hours ago I etched “RIP OCT 75 ARON APR 03”, a voice shouts in my head: “I AM FREE!”
- 127 Hours by Aron Ralston is published by Simon & Schuster for £7.99. To order for T £7.99 plus 99p p&p, ring Telegraph Books Direct on 0844 871 1515, or visit www.books.telegraph.co.uk. The film 127 Hours (cert 15) is out on Friday
127 Hours is the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston's remarkable adventure to save himself after a fallen boulder crashes on his arm and traps him in an isolated canyon in Utah. Over the next five days Ralston examines his life and survives the elements to finally discover he has the courage and the wherewithal to extricate himself by any means necessary, scale a 65 foot wall and hike over eight miles before he can be rescued. Throughout his journey, Ralston recalls friends, lovers, family, and the two hikers he met before his accident. Will they be the last two people he ever had the chance to meet?
—Fox Searchlight Pictures
Outdoor adventurist Aron Ralston believes he's invincible and can do it all alone while on his outdoor adventures. He considers the great outdoors his second home. On Saturday, April 26, 2003, Aron has gone for an adventure trek alone through the generally secluded Blue John Canyon, and like he has done on many of his other treks, he has not told anyone where he is going. But on this day, he and a small boulder fall down a crevice, he landing near the bottom of the crevice virtually unharmed, but with his right hand wedged between the boulder and the crevice wall. He has access to his gear and his small supply of rations as he tries to move the boulder or chip away at it so that he can get his wedged hand free. As either task seems impossible, he hopes for someone to rescue him. Those most likely candidates are Kristi and Megan, two women he met earlier that day who are the only two who know that he is in the canyon, or his boss Brion, who may list him as missing if he doesn't show up for his scheduled work time on Tuesday (three days away). As time goes on and he deals not only with the boulder and lack of rations but also with the extreme weather conditions, he begins to think about his mortality, his mind often going toward his loving but somewhat distant relationship with his family, or his last broken love with a woman named Rana. As he films himself (as a goodbye message to his family) often with his mind wandering, he, during his more lucid moments, also thinks about the possibility of trying to sever his arm as he will lose it anyway if he survives this ordeal.
On April 2003, the engineer, climber and canyoneer Aron Ralston travels to Blue John Canyon without telling anyone to spend the weekend doing what he likes to do: climb the isolated canyon. He meets the teenagers Kristi and Megan that are lost and they spend a couple of hours together bathing in a lake in a cave. He says goodbye to them and while descending a canyon crack, a chockstone comes loose rolling onto his arm. Aron realizes that he is stuck and he tries to find a way to release the stone. Along five days short of water and without food, Aron becomes delusional and recalls his family and friends. After the fifth day, he decides to sever his forearm to survive.
—Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
On Friday night 25, April 2003, the engineer goes to the Blue John Canyon, Utah. And on Saturday morning explores the canyon on his bike. He considered the outdoors to be his second home. He over there meets two teenagers - Kristi and Megan who are lost. He helps them and they all have fun for a few hours in a lake. Then Aron continues alone. That day at the peak afternoon he and a boulder fall down in a canyon and his hand is wedged between the boulder and the canyon wall. He makes many tries to pull out his wedged hand and to move the boulder but is unsuccessful every time. He tries to call out for help many times. He spends 127 hours (more than 5 days) with his limited rations. He also tries to chip of the boulder so that he can free his hand but is again unsuccessful. He hopes for someone to rescue him. Those most likely candidates are Kristi and Megan, two women he met earlier that day who are the only two who know that he is in the canyon, or his boss Brion, who may list him as missing if he doesn't show up for his scheduled work time on Tuesday (three days away). He goes through many difficulties and deals with the extreme weather conditions. He spends his time trying to get his hand free and by making a goodbye message for his parents, especially his mom. at first he had lost all his hopes and had even engraved ARON RALSTON R.I.P 1975-2003 but in the end, left with no option, Aron gathers the courage to take extreme measures in order to survive.
An adventurous mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive.