Author: Aron Ralston
Read: Sept 2011
Rated: 4½ out of 5
Aron Ralston is famous for cutting off his own hand and then climbing out of one of Utah's slot canyon. The book talks about how he got trapped by a boulder, his travels and history. Recounting this tale would be an interesting enough book, but Ralston also talks about his background, his dream of climbing Colorado's 14,000'ers, in Winter, solo. But what makes this book more than just a story of blood and rescue is that he also talks a lot about what motivates him and his history in the mountains, and his philosophies.
I would like to read more on Robbers Roost area, from a history aspect.
- Ralston asks some suprisingly good questions. Such as what will remain in 5,000 years of our civilization? (3) Will any of our artwork? Our technology? What made us tick? He is a bit pessimistic about this as he does not think anything will be as we spend our time in from of the TV set.
- What is our place in the cosmos? The question gets asked, are we grand because we are the top of the food chain? Or we can change or surroundings? Ralston feels that everything else in nature will outlast us. We are bold because we can exercise our will. (7). The answer which we as Christians give is we are significant because God imparts to us his own image.
- There is an unspoken acknowledgment among the voluntarily impoverished dues-payers... that it is better to be fiscally poor yet rich in experience—living the dream—than to be traditionally wealthy but live separate from one's passions. (11) How true is that statement? Does wealth naturally deaden your experience? Does poverty make you more in tune with life? My take is that both the wealthy and the poor spend more time either gaining wealth or trying to live than to experience what they are living.
- Ralston talks about his happy place (16)--music, solitude, wilderness, empty mind. He then goes on saying that hiking alone, moving at his own pace, clears out his thoughts. There is a sense of mindless happiness—not because of something, but because being happy, he is happy. I can understand the sense of hiking alone, being free to your thoughts. But I do not understand the empty mind, the mindless happiness. That says to me a state of non-existence. That is not why I hike. The reasons why I hike is the become fuller, bigger than myself. To be filled with the creation of God.
- Just a note, Ralston points out that with the twistiness-my word-of the canyons, you have to check your maps constantly to figure out where you are going.
- Stars. (43) Ralston talks about how he had a bit of personal discovered that the sky is not flat, but three-dimensional. This occurs on a night raft trip where he can see the stars through a clear sky. It seems to me that clear skies also gives a clarity of mind as well. We are able to see and ponder. While this does not always lead us to a correct conclusion, it helps us by not obscuring the view.
- Control-Ralston could not control much in his predicament. One of the few things he could control was how clean he kept his injured arm. It seems to me that is one of the things we all have to do to survive, control what we can, and hope on the rest. (64)
- Ralston says that he does not live for the adrenaline caused by living on the edge of doom, but the control of his adrenaline. (150)
- As his ordeal is about to end, he realizes he is not in control (247)
- As Ralston is conveyed by the helicopter, which was waiting, he starts to wonder about the timing—why was the helicopter there, when he was there? If it had been an hour later, he probably would have died. (321)
- What significance does Ralston place on the Crow flying overhead at the same time every morning? Also when he gets out, there is a pool at the bottom of the drop. One of the rescuers finds a dead crow in the pool—Ralston does not see the crow when he drinks out of the pool. Ralston does place significance to the crow, just because of the placement of the crow in the story. It is a sign of hope for him, a sign that he needs to move on when the crow does not show up. A sign that the story has come to an end when the crow is dead. (69)
- Ralston quotes Chris McCandless (73), Into The Wild, as what he was turned on by—the new experience is what creates joy for McCandless. This resonated with Ralston. But so much of human life is the same—we sleep, we eat. Even going to the mountains, there is a sameness—even with different passes. There is more to finding joy than new experience. This will eventually lead to bitterness. Joy needs to be from something inside of you.
- (75) My awareness was heightened and in that awareness I felt more deeply alive.
- In another place (86), Ralston talks about how on a certain date, when he climbed a 14,000er in the middle of winter, he probably was highest person on the continent. He was trying to become the first person to climb all of Colorado's 14,000'ers in the Winter. Sort of talks about his motivations, at least in part. He strives to be unique. Not like the rest of humanity.
- (94) As Ralston goes on into the book, the meaning in his climbing is reduced even further. From the joy which he can experience in doing something new, to the uniqueness of his experience, to only the experience. He says that suffering or joy does not matter—only the experience does.
- He then goes on and quotes Mark Twaight in Confessions of a Serial Climber, It doesn't have to be fun to be fun. While this is true—such as a day Sherri and I got caught in a rain storm at Zion, getting soaking wet and pounded by stones. But it was something which we were not seeking, but which came. If each day at Zion was this, it would not be my idea of fun. But as it was, it was fun. Maybe that is a difference between Ralston and myself.
- Climbing the 14,000'ers in winter was not just an activity, but it was Ralston.
- Into Thin Air (74) inspires Ralston to question himself—what kind of person am I? Would I leave someone on Everest to die? Or would I give up my goals to save someone and overcome the circumstances to help others? This is a good question. After listening to a person who was on Everest at that time, I think another question is how would I react to a person whom I cannot help and who will die on the mountain? Or even more so, what person would I become after experiencing something like that.
- Later on, Ralston is faced with his own personal choices and understands a bit more how people on Everest react.
- To go even farther with Ralston's thinking, after all, why else do you write an autobiography, except to explore yourself and have others explore you? Ralston describes one scene in his climbs (95) where he almost stumbles on a snow-white ptarmigan. He pictures this moment where it is just him and this bird. He says that he is closer to the bird who shared the wintery landscape than he would be to most humans. Is Ralston saying that this is so because he is alone in the winter wilderness like the bird? Or that he is becoming less human?
- He then follows this up by talking about how the photo's he took does not capture what he felt. They only show the world, they do not impart the sense of the soul. I have always felt the same with my pictures. They show the beauty of the mountains, but they do not show life and depth.
- It is interesting how Ralston, when trapped with the boulder goes between action and thoughts of death. (99) I have got to believe this is normal—whatever normal would be like in a situation such as his. He attacks the problem with a well trained, logical, intelligent mind—probably better than I could have done. And yet, there is no results for it. When the options do not work, that is when he goes from being ready for action to thinking of death.
- Because of another near death situation—where he triggered an avalanche which came close to killing two of his friends, he starts to realize he is not invincible. [He] states that he came to understand that [his] attitudes were not intrinsically safe. Discomfort is a sign to evaluate the risks.
- There are places in the book where Ralston “tries” religion. He asks for a sign, release from his imprisonment. None is given. He gives up hope rather quickly on that and turns to the devil –no sign there either. Ralston is willing to sell his soul for release. While most of this is in jest, it shows the shallowness of his ability to look beyond the physical. This is portrayed in how he lives his life, as well as in this segment of the book. (155). Later on his Mom turns to her church for help. The church comes through with resources and people. Later on, as the end becomes nearer, he becomes more serious about his plea (210).
- Ralston feels like he has gotten a taste of heaven and hell(238). As he goes in and out of reality, his trances are his escape from the miseries of the canyon. At night, the canyon becomes cold—that to him is hell.
- (247) As he goes on in his ordeal, he discovers a great truth—that there is something else in control and has been all along.
- (327) In a casual acknowledgment, he says that his Mother's prayers have been answered.
- Ralston has a friend who is willing to be a friend for Ralston's sake—because of who Ralston is, not what he is doing. Ralston tries to impress him with accomplishments. (156). He takes up this theme later on (169) where he realizes that he did not enjoy people's company because of the people, but only to the extent which they would be demoted in his mind as he sought experience.
- He talks about waiting and being done waiting. I can touch the face of infinity in these doldrums. (277) It is while we wait do we see most clearly-Gary's thought, not Ralston's.
- Ralston still holds a thought of action. After his surgeries, he realizes that he did not survive just to be a vegetable. (337). He continues on with his life. This includes climbing 14,000'ers.
The book can be summed up from a single day—when Ralston was in the Grand Canyon. He ended up getting cactus spines in his crouch and then going on and almost drowning. His comment was, it seemed like a good idea at the time. (81) How he got himself in trouble was by going alone, not telling anyone of his plans (113) and then having an accident. 99% of the time, going alone, you are ok. But there is no safety chute by doing so. This book shows that Ralston has a pattern of getting himself into trouble. But he also had a lot of ability to get himself out of trouble as well.
Even more so, as the book continued on, it seemed like Ralston revealed himself to be less and less of a person and more of a body consumed with an idea. The idea of doing all of the 14,000ers in Colorado, during the winter, solo. That he was able to superhuman things without taking the consequences. The Utah accident does slow him down, but he still is able to climb, but a bit wiser, and more introspective.
Notes from my book group:
The response was generally good and interested. They are not people who go up into the wild, but a lot of them enjoy the mountains.
- paucity (7): The presence of something only in small or insufficient quantities or amounts; scarcity.
- Chockstone (19): a stone securely jammed in a crack. It may vary in size from a pebble to a large boulder
- Prusik loops (102): a friction hitch or knot used to put a loop of cord around a rope,
- rime – as pertaining to snow(122): rime is a white ice that forms when the water droplets in fog freeze to the outer surfaces of objects
- miasma (188): A noxious atmosphere or influence.
- rocker knife (338): Allows food to be cut with a "rocking motion" for those with the use of only one hand
- The Mountains are the means, the man is the end. The goal is not to reach the tops of mountains, but to improve the man. Walter Bonatti, The Mountains of My Life
- It doesn't have to be fun to be fun. Mark Twaight, Confessions of a Serial Climber
- Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute; What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, pg 20
- Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as quoted on 249
- There are many shapes to the thing that separates life from death. Pg 118
- Discomfort with elevated risks was not a weakness to overcome, but a signal … to process a decision until I could either move forward safely or choose to come back another day. (141)
- Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstance would have lain dormant. Horace, Satire Viii
- Life moves on for the living. (276)
- I'm no longer living, no longer surviving, I'm just waiting. (277)