Climber who amputated own arm describes ordeal

Friday, May 9, 2003

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- Aron Ralston described how he did the unthinkable -- cutting off his own arm to save his life -- on Thursday in his first meeting with reporters since he walked, bloody and dehydrated, out of a remote Utah canyon.

"I'm not sure how I handled it," the mechanical engineer-turned-adventurer said, the stump of his right arm in a sling. "I felt pain and I coped with it. I moved on."

On April 26, during what was supposed to be a day trip near Canyonlands National Park, Ralston, 27, became hopelessly pinned as he scrambled over three boulders wedged into a narrow canyon. One of the boulders, weighing an estimated 800 pounds, rolled as he climbed over it, trapping his right arm against a cliff face.

He tried chipping away with his knife at the boulder and the cliff, and tried to rig a way to lift the boulder off himself with climbing gear. But after three days, having gone through most of his three liters of water and his food -- two burritos and some crumbs clinging to candy bar wrappers -- he decided to sacrifice his arm to save his life.

Spiritual difference

Slim and pale with short reddish-brown hair, Ralston made frequent references to prayer and spirituality in his news conference. He said he felt a surge of energy on the fifth day, which happened to be the National Day of Prayer.

"I may never fully understand the spiritual aspects of what I experienced, but I will try," he said. "The source of the power I felt was the thoughts and prayers of many people, most of whom I will never know."

Ralston said he first took a dull pocketknife to his forearm after three days, but couldn't cut the skin.

The next day he went through the motions of applying a tourniquet, laying out bike shorts to use for padding. He worked out how to get through the bone with the "multi-tool"-type knife he carried.

"Basically, I got my surgical table ready," Ralston said.

On the fifth day, he summoned up technique and nerve to do what for most who followed his story is unthinkable:

"I was able to first snap the radius and then within another few minutes snap the ulna at the wrist and from there, I had the knife out and applied the tourniquet and went to task. It was a process that took about an hour," he said.

What Ralston had to do after the excruciating operation also required skills beyond the abilities of most.

On May 1, he crawled through a narrow, winding canyon, rappelled down a 60-foot cliff and walked some six miles down the southeastern Utah canyon.

Ralston gave a partial answer to one frequent question: What kind of knife did he use?

He described it as a cheap imitation of the Leatherman brand multi-tool, a folding device that typically has knife blades, pliers, screwdrivers and other gadgets. He didn't give the brand, calling it "what you'd get if you bought a $15 flashlight and got a free multi-use tool."

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