Between a Rock and a Hard Place
“Between a Rock and a Hard Place” – that is the name of Aron Ralston’s book about the days he spent trapped in a canyon with his arm lodged between a giant boulder and the canyon wall. The canyoneer had been out climbing in the Blue John Canyon of Utah (in the US), when a boulder fell onto his arm. Unfortunately, unlike he would usually, he had not let anyone know he was going hiking, so he knew that no one was likely to come for him. With just a small amount of water and food with him, he knew he had to take matters into his own hands or die. Being an engineer, he first tried to create a pulley-system to try to lift the rock off his hand, and he also tried to carve the rock from around his hand but nothing worked.
As the days went on it became clear to him that his only chance of survival would be to amputate his arm, but he just needed to figure out how. A few times he tried to cut or stab into his skin, but his knife wasn’t sharp enough to cut through his arm bones. He ended up breaking his arm, and using the sharpest blade of his cheap multi-tool to cut through the skin, tendons and other tissue. In the end, this worked although he also needed to get out of the canyon quickly to avoid losing too much blood.
Incredibly, he had also created some videos, while trapped, as a farewell to his family, and he’d also carved his name and date of birth into the wall near him. After amputating his arm he had to rappel down a 20 meter wall one-handed, and faced a long hike back to his car, but luckily some tourists found him and called for help. Later the stone was dislodged (by a huge team of people) and his arm was retrieved and cremated. Check out these interviews here and here for more information, and watch this Hollywood movie, called “127 hours,” about his mountain odyssey here.
440 Days Adrift
Stranded in the Andes
In 1972, a plane carrying the Uruguayan rugby union team (and others) crashed in the Andes. The plane had 45 people aboard, and about a quarter died in the crash with a further few dying shortly after. Of the 27 to survive the initial few days, a further 8 died in an avalanche that swept over the wreckage, where the survivors had been taking refuge from the cold conditions of the Andes mountain range. In the end, 16 of those on the flight survived some two months in the hostile environment with little food, no source of heat, plus at very high altitude. In part, they survived by eating the flesh of those who had died.
At one low point, they heard radio reports that the search for them had been abandoned. In any case, many weeks into the ordeal some of the survivors set off to try to find help, after several days walking they found some locals who called for help, and all the living were saved. A book recounting the story called “Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors” was a critical success, while there’s been many documentaries made about the 72-day odyssey, including this one here. There was also a movie made in 1993, with Ethan Hawke in it, simply called “Alive,” which is worth watching! This is one of the great true survival stories.
Trapped in an Ice Cave
The year was 1985, when two British mountaineers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, were attempting to climb the Siula Grande and reach the 6344 meter summit of the mountain located in the Peruvian Andes. After reaching the peak, the pair were caught in a storm, in which Joe Simpson broke his leg. His mate, Simon Yates, knew the pair were in a tough spot but tried several times to lower his injured companion on a 90 meter rope down rock faces. At one point Simon Yates accidentally lowered his friend over an overhang, but the man with the broken leg had no way of letting his friend know he was just hanging in mid-air. The storm was so fierce there was zero visibility. For about an hour Yates held onto the rope, with the full wait of Simpson dragging him closer to the edge. Yates made the decision to cut the rope, thinking he had to do so to survive himself. In an incredible feat, Simpson survived the fall, crashing through a glacier and crawling back to camp. A documentary, called “Touching the Void” has been made, about the incident. Simon Yates received criticism in certain circles for his action of “cutting the rope” going against an informal mountaineering code, although Simpson himself has said that if the situation had been reversed, he would have done the same.