Utah hiker is a lucky, brave idiot – and nothing more | SummitDaily.com

Utah hiker is a lucky, brave idiot – and nothing more

Aron Ralston has been touted as a hero, an adventurer of the most extreme variety and a brave soul.

I think he’s a lucky idiot.

Aron’s the 27-year-old Aspen man whose arm was pinned for five days under an 800-pound boulder in the remote canyons in Utah’s desert near Moab. He had to amputate his lower arm with a pen knife to survive.

The guy’s an extreme adventurer, one who has looked danger in the eye and never backed down. He was trekking, alone, in Utah recently when a boulder fell on him, squashing his arm and leaving him stranded in the vast, arid Canyonlands.

He was able to rig a sling in which to rest and divvied up his food to get him through the hot days and cold nights until someone found him.

I initially felt sorry for the guy because I know what it’s like to break an arm. I felt sorry for him because it appears he did nothing to trigger the boulder to fall and just had the unfortunate luck to be below it as it crashed down onto his arm.

I can’t imagine sitting there, waiting for five days for someone to find you. I can’t imagine what surviving on one day’s food for five days must do to one’s cognitive awareness. How do you take one sip of water and know you can’t take another for two, six, 12 hours?

What do you think about?

Ralston said he thought about his friends and family, and, as the days went by, he thought about his imminent death.

But he’s a survivor. So he brandished a cheap knife and began sawing at his arm. How desperate must one be to take off one’s own limb? Does it hurt as much if you’re delirious from too much sun and too little water? And then he had to break the bones in his arm to completely free himself. That takes more than a little courage.

Ralston successfully tied a tourniquet around his arm to stem the bleeding and was able to walk miles until he found help.

I think anyone who ventures into the backcountry has a tale or two involving bad luck and stupid decisions. But you don’t have to tempt fate.

I remember when I was in college, my boyfriend and I were hiking in the Cascades of Oregon when my knee locked up. I couldn’t move.

We were four days from a trailhead and had five days of food. We set up camp on that open mesa and nursed my knee until morning. The next day, it wasn’t any better, and we were still four days away from a trailhead and down to four days of food.

The following day, we had to make a decision. There was plenty of room up on that mesa for a rescue helicopter to land. Or, as we decided, we could rig up a splint of sorts and take tertiary trails back to the trailhead.

It wasn’t fun, that long hike down. We made it 2 miles the first day, and were down to three days of food. We made it 3 miles the next day, and rationed the food we had left. Three days later, we made it to the foot of a winding pass; on the other side was our car.

We were ravenous. But in many ways, we knew we were OK. We knew our friends would be looking for us. We’d managed to stay dry in an otherwise rainy summer. We had the tools to make a splint, and the extra equipment to rig it up.

That’s why I think Aron Ralston is a shortsighted fool.

Who hasn’t heard the mantras of safe backcountry travel? In the High Country: Take and use a beacon. Bring a shovel. And always: Travel with friends. Let friends know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Don’t take chances. Mother Nature isn’t always your friend.

What gets my dander up is that this wasn’t a fluke incident for Ralston. He’s been caught in avalanches before and has been lucky to have escaped alive. He usually forgoes bringing such inconveniences as avalanche beacons or shovels. Or heck, even friends.

Ralston says he’s eager to get back out in the wilderness. I hope he’s learned his lesson. But somehow, I don’t think he has. That’s too bad. One day, his parents will be writing his obituary.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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