'Waking visions' inspired trapped climber to break free by chopping off his arm

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The Independent US

The mountain climber who cut off his own forearm with a pocketknife after it became trapped beneath a boulder in a remote stretch of the Utah mountains described yesterday how some hidden strength drove him to perform the gruesome operation and set himself free after five days trapped in a narrow canyon.

The mountain climber who cut off his own forearm with a pocketknife after it became trapped beneath a boulder in a remote stretch of the Utah mountains described yesterday how some hidden strength drove him to perform the gruesome operation and set himself free after five days trapped in a narrow canyon.

A fit-looking Aron Ralston, 27, made his first public appearance at St Mary's hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, five days after he was rescued, bloodied and dazed, from Canyonlands National Park.

He gave a composed account of how he survived his ordeal and how, with a strength that he ascribed to a higher power inspired by the thoughts and prayers of his loved ones, he first used his body weight to snap his radius and his ulna at the wrist and then cut through the skin and muscle with a cheap pocketknife.

"I believe there was some greater presence in that canyon than just me," he said. "I felt pain and I coped with it. I moved on."

Mr Ralston became trapped when a boulder he was using as support for his climb became dislodged from the canyon wall and rolled on to him. He managed to bring his left arm away in time but his right was crushed under about 800 pounds of stone.

At first, he tried to dislodge his arm by hurling his body against the boulder, but he soon realised this was a waste of energy. At various times, he tried chipping away at the rock with his pocket knife or simply conserving his energy and waiting for help.

He had only the most rudimentary supplies – one litre of water, two burritos and the crumbs from some empty chocolate bar wrappers. Three days into his ordeal, he made his first attempt to cut off his arm but he could barely break the skin with his small knife and realised that trying to cut through the bone was hopeless.

With his water and food all gone, his mood swung from gratitude for all the good things in his life to depression and guilt that he had not left details of his whereabouts with anyone before he set off. Unable to sleep, his friends and family appeared to him as "waking visions" that he found very comforting.

"It wasn't courage, more a matter of pragmatics," Mr Ralston said. The greatest challenge, he said, was retaining the clarity to continue making "good decisions" throughout the amputation process.

Having freed himself, he then abseiled 60ft down a sheer wall to a pool of water – his first drink in 48 hours. Soon after, he met a Dutch family who helped to flag down a helicopter and escorted him to hospital. His doctors were impressed with what he had done, but joked that his "future career as a surgeon had ended before it could start".

Asked what he looked forward to most, Ralston said he intended to go walking again as soon as possible. And, with his doctors' permission, "I'd love a tall, tasty crushed margarita".

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