Between a Rock and a Hard Place Summary

Aron Ralston

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place Summary

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place (2004), the best-selling autobiography of the American outdoorsman and motivational speaker Aron Ralston, chronicles Ralston’s near-death experience while hiking alone in Utah’s Blue John Canyon and the lengths he took to survive. An international sensation, it is listed as the seventh best-selling memoir of all time in the United Kingdom. It was adapted in the 2010 Academy Award-nominated film 127 Hours starring James Franco.
Ralston opens his story with an introduction to the setting of his adventures in the American West. The prologue describes the old west outlaw Blue John Griffith and his adventures with Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch before launching into Ralston’s own independent exploit on the morning of April 26, 2003, when he decides to go for a solo journey. His goal is to bike, climb, and hike his way over a thirty-mile terrain within one day. He brings with him a gallon of water, two burritos, five chocolate bars, and a chocolate muffin, as well as his canyoneering equipment, a multi-tool, and a pack with digital accessories such as his CD player and digital camera.
Early on in his travel, he meets two women with whom he hikes for a short while before parting ways. At 2:41 p.m. that afternoon, a boulder he is climbing becomes loose and he falls into the canyon. The boulder pins his right hand and wrist against the wall. Ralston quickly assesses his situation and understands the likelihood that he will die trapped in this canyon.
While Ralston contemplates his frightening situation, he also journeys through his memories, remembering his first trip to Rocky Mountain National Park where he fell in love with mountains. His energetic, outdoorsy spirit earned him the nickname of Muppet “Animal” in his family. He remembers one of his first brushes with death when he came face to face with a black bear.
A couple of hours after becoming trapped, Ralston begins to chip away at the boulder with his multi-tool, but soon sees the effort is futile. The only real way he can escape is by cutting off his right arm, but he does not believe he has the tools to do so. During his second day in the canyon, he realizes that his dead hand trapped behind the boulder will likely release toxins that will poison him—if he isn’t first killed by dehydration, hypothermia, or a flash flood. He tries again to dislodge the boulder using other techniques but makes little progress.
As the story continues, it seems life and death experiences frame his life. Ralston remembers how, in January 2003, he narrowly avoided death when he was caught in an avalanche as he was scaling Mount Holy Cross, a 14,011-foot “fourteener.” Soon afterward, he heard that a friend had been critically injured in a ski accident and another friend hurt in a snowboarding incident. He takes into account how lucky he has been through all his adventures thus far.
Mosquitos attack Ralston and he makes a game of killing them. He knows that he has hardly enough food to last another two days even with sparse rationing and he sips water as infrequently as possible. He surmises a slow death in the near future. As the days pass, he begins hallucinating from dehydration and insomnia, seeing friends and family pass as ghosts before him. He turns to his own urine for nourishment and fantasizes about daiquiris and margaritas as time passes slowly.
As Ralston struggles to survive, the story turns to insights from the two women with whom Ralston had hiked at the beginning of his journey. They are looking for him and notice his truck is still where he left it the morning of his journey. They stay in the area to look for him. His family and friends take note of his absence after he misses the second day of work, and they alert the police and the park service to begin a search for him.
On May 1st, five days after the beginning of his ordeal, Ralston prepares himself for death and begins making videos of himself saying goodbye to his loved ones. The next day, he discovers his arm is decomposing, and he suddenly becomes aware of how he can successfully amputate his arm. He breaks his own ulna and radius bones by torquing them and then uses a two-inch pocketknife to saw off his forearm. Once he finally separates himself from the boulder, he tourniquets his arm, climbs out of the canyon, rappels down a wall, and hikes out of the canyon. He soon comes across a vacationing family who call in the authorities and, within four hours, he is safe and sound.
The epilogue of the book details the extensive media coverage and outpouring of support Ralston receives from around the world as people are inspired and encouraged by his bravery and his determination to survive.
The gruesome details that accompany Ralston’s first-person narrative translated well into the movie version of his story—so much so, that several audience members fainted at the Toronto International Film Festival during the infamous amputation scene.