I went to see the movie 127 Hours about Aaron Ralston on Saturday. He is famous for spending over five days pinned in a slot canyon and eventually cutting his arm off so that he could escape. That happened in April 2003 when I was getting into backpacking and mountain climbing. His story is nothing new to me, but it is very interesting.
Play the mountain game long enough and you will probably spend time soloing and know people that die while in the mountains. It might start off as class one or two terrain (not technical, running shoes preferred). However, at some point for a select few "heros" it becomes a technical ordeal requiring ropes, equipment and much more risk.
Why do people do technical things like climbing and rappelling solo? That answer is too long for this movie review but it boils down to the challenge and lack of qualified partners. Aaron has a degree in mechanical engineering from Carnegie Mellon and was Tau Beta Pi (so his GPA was higher than mine). Yet another way I can relate to him: go east and get a degree then head west and have fun!
One of the themes and in my opinion the main theme of the movie was that of relationships. I have said before that relationships are the reason we exist, in my opinion. The movie starts off with scenes of cities and crowds and portrays all sorts of people. Aaron lived in Aspen, I believe, in the spring of 2003 which is a relatively small town. I don't think that anyone else in the theatre got the allusion to the crowds, that here was a person that did not want to ask for help or depend on other people. (Yet another way I relate.)
Accidents happen in the wilderness. That is part of the draw to extreme sports. Yet he made one mistake on this particular trip that I am sure he has never made after that or will never make, not telling anyone where he is going. I have done more than a dozen solo excursions, actually probably around 50 or 60 if you count trail running and nontechnical hiking. The difference is, I always tell someone where I am going and in the case that I don't fully trust those people to report me missing I leave a note in the window of my rather visible van or post on Facebook or email my parents. Had Aaron told someone he would have likely been found on Monday instead of cutting his arm off on Thursday. He would probably still have lost his arm but it would not have been as dramatic.
There has been a lot of mainstream media attention to his incident, and I can tell from the way that the reporters ask the questions that they do not know what to think. For me the experience hits close to home. He is a little more than 10 years older than I am. I had no idea in 2003 that my life might parallel his so much, but I am happy that he went through that experience so that I could learn vicariously from his mistake of not telling anyone. More than once I burned rubber up to New Hampshire to climb Mt. Washington or something only telling a small number of people at the last minute. I honestly thought of him every time I told someone where I was going. I know that had anything happened I would have been reported. Thanks Russ!
I don't tell my parents much anymore when I am going on day trips. They worry about me and don't always understand the specifics like some of my other friends.
The question comes up sometimes: if you were in his place would you cut your arm off? I think about that and first of all, I'm not really into canyoneering. On a mountain ridge there are generally less things to fall on you. Plus the view is better. Secondly, that's not a question I have to answer. I am not in that situation so I do not have to make that choice. I will say, I think I am a pretty tough person. I have limped back to my car from injuries sustained soloing more than once. Nothing that lasted very long but enough to get my attention. I will fight to stay alive. Who else do you know that ran 93 miles alone around a mountain with over 22,000 feet of vertical gain and loss in less than 32 hours for fun?
What about the actual movie? Is it any good. Yeah, it is worth the time. To a person like me who can relate, who will likely run into Aaron on a mountain some day, the movie is good. It is always good to have a reminder that relationships are important. A lot of you readers know me personally and I don't say this enough: I love you. I could die mountain climbing. I don't want to and I will try awfully hard to keep living, but it could happen. Watching 127 Hours and knowing about Aaron's story over the last eight years has helped me express how much I care just a little more. Sure I still don't do it enough, but I'm working on that. Give me a call sometime if you want to hear it.