Inspiring Mountain Climber: Aron Ralston

Westend61/Getty Images
Westend61/Getty Images

He’s endured one of the most shocking survival stories of modern times, become a best-selling author, and been played by James Franco in an Oscar-nominated film, but Aron Ralston is still just a mountain man at heart.

The Colorado native famously plumbed the depths of his mental resilience in April 2003 when his right arm became pinned by a boulder in Utah’s red rock country. As harrowingly recounted in his book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and the film, 127 Hours, after six days and a slow descent into madness and almost-certain death, Ralston ended up breaking and severing his arm above the wrist so he could escape.

MF caught up with Ralston recently to find out what he’s up to now, and to get a few tips on what you need to survive your own mountaineering adventure.

You’re sill climbing today. How do you do it—specialized prosthetics?
Aron Ralston: Yeah, I have a few. One’s an ice axe that I use for mountaineering. Another one has a set of aid climbing tools mounted on a shaft, which is what I use for rock climbing. There’s also one that’s a gripper, like a lobster claw. It comes in handy when I’m skiing with my friends. After we’ve had a few backcountry alpine-snow margaritas, I’m the one that gets to go chop wood for the fire because I don’t have to worry about slipping and cutting myself.

What’s your fitness regimen like?
I do some training with machines. I don’t use free weights much. Things can slip, and it’s just not an effective workout for me. Otherwise, I just climb. This afternoon I’m going out for a run above the Flatirons here in Boulder. I call it my daily milk run. It’s six or seven miles round trip and 2,500 vertical feet up and down. My goal is to finish it in under an hour—I’ve gotten pretty close.

What does the experience of being up on a mountain do for you?
There are moments when I feel the most alive I’ve ever felt—I feel at home. There’s a feeling of safety and excitement. That’s probably what I like about it most, the stimulation. The summit gets me out the door, but it’s the thousands of experiences that I have along the way that keep me going.

Did you ever consider giving up climbing after the accident?
Never. In my view, the accident was not something horrific, but rather something very beautiful and tremendously euphoric—this amputation was the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.

Ralston’s Newest Wilderness Missions

Ralston’s latest passion is putting his celebrity clout behind two organizations dedicated to preserving our national forests.  “People think that all public lands are protected by the government, but that’s not true.” Here are the two organizations he is backing:

Wilderness Workshop

This Colorado-based conservation watchdog oversees the White River National Forest, which is the most visited forest in the U.S. It  includes 12 ski areas and 10 peaks over 14,000 feet high.

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
SU WA protects the Greater Canyonlands area—more than 1.4 million acres of land—including Blue John Canyon, where Ralston was trapped. He has petitioned President Obama to make the vast area a national monument.

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