Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Aron Ralston, Atria Books.

Aron  Ralston Book

If ever there was a story that deserved to be told in pictures, it’s this one. On April 26, 2003, 27-year-old Aron Ralston was canyoneering, alone, in Utah's remote Blue John Canyon when a wedged-in boulder unexpectedly came loose, pinning his right arm against the canyon wall. After a panicked effort to free himself, Ralston came to the horrifying realization he was trapped in a life-threatening situation with virtually no chance of being rescued. Ralston had broken the cardinal rule of the solo outdoorsman; he neglected to tell anyone exactly where he was going and when he expected to be back.

Ralston spent the next six days standing in that same position, passing the time by listening to Phish CDs on a Walkman and documenting his experience with a digital video camera. Despite his best efforts to ration a meager supply of food and water—ultimately he resorted to drinking his own urine—he soon came to the realization he would die if he failed to free himself. In a race against death, Ralston sawed off his right arm using a “multi-tool” [pocketknife] in a gruesome hour-long “operation.” 

It wasn’t long after a dazed and delirious Ralston managed to stagger out of the backcountry and into emergency surgery that he became the darling of the national media—not to mention a household name in adventure/survival circles. In “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” Ralston does an admirable job of re-telling a remarkable story. In fact, much of the book can only be described as riveting; the only lull occurs when Ralston ventures a little too deep into his life story. But what puts this book over the edge, so to speak, are the accompanying color photos (including self-portraits) that Ralston took during his six-day ordeal. In the process, he’s given a whole new meaning to the phrase “arm's race.”