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Press Conference With Hiker Who Amputated Own Arm to Save Himself From Being Trapped Under Boulder

Aired May 8, 2003 - 16:17   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We are waiting the start of a news conference any moment now by the climber who amputated his own arm after he became pinned down by a large boulder. The hiker recovering now at a hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado. That news conference just now getting underway. And we're going to go there now live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... will also be available on our Web site, After his press conference today, he will do no individual interviews the balance of the week, and that means through Sunday.

He is expected to return home this weekend. His family has established a mailing address for future use. Aron Ralston, P.O. Box 3167, Engelwood, Colorado, 80155.

St. Mary's would like to reiterate that none of his physicians or hospital staff involved in his care will be available for interviews or comments today or in the future.

With that, I'd like to introduce Aron.

ARON RALSTON, HIKER: Hello. First off, thank yous are in order. My parents spoke to you earlier today and identified a number of important organizations, individuals, groups and agencies whose efforts we so appreciate very much. We're once again making that list available and want to add my most sincere and heartfelt thanks to all of these people, especially to the hundreds of well-trained search and rescuer members and volunteers who were mobilized and ready to help. Several units were in the field and others were ready to come if needed, including the Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council, where I was once a member and Mountain Rescue Aspen, where I am a prospective member. Both groups are having fundraisers this weekend and I hope folks will support them.

Search and rescue volunteers give their time to save lives and they also give their time to help raise money to pay for their own training and equipment. I also want to thank everyone at St. Mary's Hospital. The stated goal of this hospital is to care for the whole person. And they achieved that goal and more. The professional medical services are outstanding, with loving care and concern that each individual here showed for every patient that sets this hospital apart. The people of western Colorado and eastern Utah are very fortunate to have this wonderful resource. As always, it's the people who make the difference.

I also want to extend a special thanks to Paul Cloister (ph) of Policy Communications. Paul is a public relations professional who has generously given his time this week to coordinate between our family and contacts with the media. My family and I can't imagine how we would have made it through this week without him. And now, most important, thank you to everyone. To the thousands, perhaps millions of people who have kept me in their thoughts and prayers, I extend my deepest and most sincere gratitude.

Last Thursday, which was national day of prayer, will always have very special meaning for me. During the final two days of my entrapment, I felt an increasing reserve of energy, even though I had run out of food and water. It was the combined energy of all concerns and all those concerned expressed by so many that helped me pull through. The spiritual side of my life has always been a strong component of who I am. I may never fully understand the spiritual aspects of what I experienced, but I will try. The source of the power I felt was the thoughts and the prayers of many people, most of whom I will never know. I'm still learning from my experience.

We all know that a person going into the outdoors should leave detailed information regarding their plans and estimated return time. This is something I almost always do but I failed to do this time. Just as forgetting to fasten your seat belt once can have serious consequences, my oversight resulted in a great deal of anxiety and tremendous effort by many people. It also meant that I endured an extra three or four days of entrapment and discomfort. The loss of my arm, however, was not a consequence of my failure to leave detailed trip information or failure to travel with a group. I could have been exploring that canyon with a search and rescue team.

In some occasions I have gone out with friends from search and rescue and we do such trips with large groups. But once that boulder came to rest, there was no way I could have been released in time to save my hand and arm. I discussed this with my surgeon and he reiterated that due to the immediate soft tissue damage and loss of circulation, the hand and arm were unrecoverable. I had plenty of time for solitary reflection and meditation last week, as I reflected on my life to point, I realized that I have no regrets.

I also realize that there is so much more that I want to accomplish, relationships to grow and friendships to strengthen. Of course, I am looking forward to getting back into these wonderful mountains and canyons of the Rocky Mountain west. And so I feel blessed to live in a nation that offers all of us so many choices and opportunities. American dream is often referred to in material terms, successful entrepreneurs would be the ones most often seen as living the American dream.

However, I think that the American dream is also personified by dedicated parents who support their children, by people who pursue their lifestyles ahead of their careers, by talented artists who may not have ever sold a painting and even by obscure mountain climbers. My American dream is that each of us pursues our passion for life to the fullest and ask ourselves each day, am I climbing the hill that I came to climb? Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll open it up for questions for 20 minutes, one at a time.

QUESTION: I think at this point you must be kind of overwhelmed with all the attention and what has happened. I think a lot of us would kind of like to hear the story in your own words.

RALSTON: OK. I'd be happy to tell the story. There will be some aspects of it that I will purposefully sort of glide over.

But other than that, my Saturday started out as the third day of an extended vacation. The first day I climbed and skied Mount Sopris near Carbondale, Colorado, with a friend. On Friday, I went and mountain biked the Slickrock trail near Moab. And was camped out at the Horseshoe trailhead, Horseshoe Canyon trailhead of Canyon Lands on Friday night. Saturday morning, I awoke and prepared my supplies for the day, that included three liters of water, four candy bars, and two burritos. My rope, my harness, my rappelling equipment, some extra slings and beamers (ph) and wrap rings, camera equipment, batteries, a CD player and some CDs.

And I mountained it up on my bike and road about 15 miles into a very strong headwind that took me about two and a half hours to complete that ride, down to the vicinity of Burr (ph) Pass, approximately south southeast of the Horseshoe Canyon trailhead. I'm sure from all the maps everyone has seen by now, this is near but not exactly at the location of the Blue John Canyon. I locked my bike up at about 11:15, 11:30 and traveled cross-country to enter the canyon of Blue John at the main fork at about noon on Saturday.

When I finally came upon two young women who were hikers from Moab and we hiked together for the next two and a half hours. Passing through several short scrambles, down climbs, engaging in fun conversation, enjoying a beautiful day out, swapping stories about other canyon trips that we'd done, also about what they did in Moab and how similar (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to there and Aspen where I'm currently at.

Exiting the wider section of the middle part of Blue John canyon, the two girls that I was hiking with went up the west fork of Blue John, I continued down the main fork by myself. And within a half hour, I came to the area where I was -- where the canyon slotted up again. There, within a half hour, as I said, of leaving the two women I'd been hiking being with, I was down climbing through some sections.

There was an area where I had to drop myself off a lift, then crawl down under a boulder, crawl up over another boulder, crawl under a boulder. It was a rather serpentine canyon, very narrow walls, very typical for the slot canyons of that part of Utah that I enjoy doing. Somewhat technical and very, I guess, giving of its solitude. I was quite alone there.

And about 50 meters into the canyon at this narrow section, I encountered a place where I was standing on top of a chalkstone with about a ten-foot elevation drop. There were some intermediate chalkstones on the way down. I down climbed off the main, top chalk stone, stood on the intermediate chalkstone and, at that point, saw that there was some good hand holds around the back side of the chalkstone. I grabbed on to those, lowered myself off the front side of it.

And as I put a rotating torque force on that intermediate chalkstone that's the one that rotated. It rotated enough that it slid on its pinch points, where the canyon wall was constricting it and holding it in place. And as I was at full extension at that point, I dropped and then had to try to push off of the now falling boulder in order to get out of its way.

I was able to successfully pull my left hand out of the way. My right hand became trapped between the falling boulder and the wall. It came to rest very snugly in the canyon, and I was then pinned. That happened between 2:45 and 3:00 on Saturday afternoon. So from that point, I very quickly figured out some of my options. The adrenaline was pumping very, very hard through my body. I was throwing my body against the boulder, trying to see if it would budge at all. It didn't move. It took some good, calm thinking in order to get myself to calm down and stop throwing myself against the boulder, so that I didn't exert myself any more than I need to do.

And I began laying plans for what I would do, assessing my situation, taking stock of what I had with me. At that point, I had a liter of water, I had still the two burritos, I had crumbs of a couple candy bars stuck to the wrappers, which were an important item. I eventually went back and ate those crumbs. The next, essentially, five days until I was rescued, I spent going through each option that I had, which was waiting. That was something that I did as an active option. There were times when I felt that that was the most efficient use of my energy was just to wait.

There were times when I thought the most efficient thing I could do for myself and for my rescue would be to chip away at the rock which I did at in various forms, first with my pocket knife, which -- I know there's probably been a lot of speculation about what this knife looked like and what it -- thanks. And what it was. It is a multitool, similar to a Leatherman but not nearly as nice a quality as a Leatherman. Essentially, it has become a thing that you get if you bought a $15 flashlight, and you got a free multiuse tool...


RALSTON: ... because I think that's what it was. So, I used a couple of the different blades, including the file to chip away at the rock. The rock moved close to my hand on one side of the canyon as well as a portions of the rock on the other side of the canyon wall where I thought maybe I could force the boulder to rotate and change its geometry in relation to my hand, allowing it to become free.

I also pursued, over the course of the next several days, setting an anchor up above me on the major chalk stone, which I then was able to use and rig with my harness, that I sat in to relieve the pressure on my legs from standing so much. And I then used those anchors as well to set up mechanisms, rescue pulleys, including a reader-ups, a one-one pulley -- two-to-one pulley system.

I used the three-to-one pulley with some webbing for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and even got up to a five-to-one pulley system, basically using my rescue, search and rescue training to try to self- extricate myself -- extricate the boulder from the canyons walls to lift the pressure off of my arm to no avail. At no point was I ever able with any of the rope mechanisms to get the boulder to budge even microscopically.

At Tuesday morning, there was the first attempt when I pursued the first option -- the first time I pursued the option of actually severing my arm. I took my pocket knife, after preparing myself, which entailed getting all of my belongings ready so that once I was free, that I could view the situation. I went through the motions of applying a tourniquet. I had my biking shorts still with me so I had those out to use absorbent padding.

Essentially I got my surgical table ready and applied the knife to my arm. And started sawing back and forth, and didn't even break the skin. I couldn't even cut the hair off of my arm. The knife was so dull at that point. So that was Tuesday morning. I drank the last of my water, I settled back in, spent another day.

There were other attempts that I made, getting myself prepared to cut my arm. And I got so far as to puncture the skin and then found that I couldn't cut the bone. Essentially know that you can't cut the bone without a bone saw.

By Thursday, I figured out an option around that, and it took me most of Thursday morning to get myself out, pursuing that option, and then I made the rappel, as you've all heard.

It was kind of interesting, having crawled through another 150 linear feet of canyon (UNINTELLIGIBLE) terrain had in some parts. Very restricted. Narrower than I could fit with my backpack on in some places. And uncoiled and unkinked the rope, set the rappel and got down to a pool of water that was at the bottom of the rappel. And that was the first water that I'd been able to have since Tuesday morning so in over 48 hours. And the first substantial amount of water that I'd been able to have in four days.

That -- my body reacted well to it. I was able to stock up with the water canisters that I had. And then set out on -- when I was facing approximately an eight-mile hike, I think I hiked about six miles of that, maybe six and a half. I came upon some hikers just past the pictograph panels known as the Greek Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon and they were the folks from Holland who I think some folks in the media have already been in touch with.

They helped me carry my pack. They gave me additional water. They gave me two Oreo cookies, the first food I'd had in several days as well. And from there, it was just kind of a trudge through the soft sand and the heat to get to the spot where then helicopter spotted us and plucked me out of the canyon.

I stayed conscious and coherent through the helicopter ride, landed in Moab, a beautiful country to see, but even more beautiful to see a town with a hospital rising up out of it. I was very happy to land there and walked off the helicopter into a gurney and started filing my report with the National Park Service folks who were waiting and telling the doctors what my situation was, whereupon they began their procedures and I essentially went under sedation.

WOODRUFF: A simply remarkable story from 27-year-old Aron Ralston who had to cut off his own arm, right arm, below the elbow after he was pinned while hiking in the mountains of Utah. You've just been hearing his story, a remarkable story. An, obviously, incredibly brave young man.

We'll have much more on the story about doorsman (ph) Aron Ralston at the top of the hour on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."


Himself From Being Trapped Under Boulder>

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