A Conversation with Aron Ralston
In the course of writing about your experience was there anything that you
thought twice about including in the book?
No, my objective was to make the book as authentic and genuine a recounting
of my experience in Blue John Canyon as I possibly could. The more I could
relate what happened without filtering it, the better I hoped to draw readers
into my experience.
Your experience is one that arouses a myriad of questions -- after the
release of the book, was there anything else you wished you could've added?
Regarding the series of other accidents which I describe in the book, I would
have liked to explain more precisely what the lessons were that I took from them
and how they applied to my experience in Blue John. For example, I learned from
the bear-stalking incident in the Tetons that letting fear and panic interfere
with decision making (in one instance, orienteering) skews those decisions for
the worse; it is necessary to maintain calm and rational thought processes, all
the more so when the consequences are greatest.
You mentioned in the book that you have no regrets about your decision to
go on your own and not continue with Megan and Kristi. Looking back, is there
anything you wish you would've done differently while being held captive by the chockstone?
No, I am satisfied with my actions during my entrapment. In hindsight, I made
the right decisions at the right times and maximized my resources. I am pleased,
even, that I took the opportunity to record the goodbye video for my family and
You wrote the book shortly after your experience. Could you tell us a bit
about the writing process? In what way did writing the book help in your
recovery emotionally? Do you think you would've felt similarly had you not
written the book?
Writing about my accident helped me empathize with my parents and their
experience during those long days after they'd learned I'd gone missing. Even
talking with them on dozens of occasions never brought me the empathic
connection I felt as I sat at my laptop and tried to put myself in their
situation. In writing from their perspective, I found myself crying into my
keyboard. Had I not been trying to get inside their minds to convey their side
of the story in the book, I probably would not have come to terms as closely
with the fear, anxiety, terror, and stress that they went through in those days.
In your book you describe many near-fatal encounters. What would you say
was predominant in your mind during these moments? What drove you to continue on
adventures most people would consider extremely dangerous or even suicidal?
Fear is always the overriding thought and emotion when your life is on the
line, and it is something I have learned to respect, avoid, and manage. I do not
go out on a trip intending for it to bring me to that state of fear. I am not
seeking those experiences to feel the rush; rather I try to mitigate the risks
-- but my motivation for adventure is to learn about myself. Basil Maturin
wrote, "No one knows what is in him till he tries, and many would never try if
they were not forced to." Adventuring in the outdoors is the process that forces
me to discover what is in me.
Could you describe the differences and similarities in your thoughts and
reactions from your previous near-death experiences to that of your entrapment
in the canyon?
When fear and panic rear up, the most vital response is to take action and
implement strategies to manage the situation in a calm and deliberate manner.
This is the major similarity between the close calls I have had: I was
successful in moving through the paralyzing effects of fear to take action for
the better. I would care to note that of the hundreds, if not thousand, of trips
I had taken in my life, only a dozen have resulted in close calls. I chose to
write about those so readers could see that I could not have survived in Blue
John Canyon without the lessons learned from other experiences. The saying goes,
"Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment."
You seem to have a close relationship with your family and friends, and
you mentioned how often your thoughts were with them when you were close to
death. How did these relationships aid you in your survival?
Both in the canyon and in my recovery, the love of my family and friends
encouraged me to dig deeper and find the strength to last a little longer, make
decisions that would lead to my freedom, and gave me the knowledge that my
struggle was worth it, to have my life again.
What was your reaction to the media frenzy that soon followed after your
rescue? How did the notoriety help you in your recovery?
My family and I were overwhelmed -- as were the hospital, National Park
Service, Emery County Sheriff's office, and just about everyone else involved in
my rescue and recovery. We basically put a gag-order on ourselves for the first
week to focus on my recovery. I was hardly concerned with replying to the
hundreds of requests when I was still fighting for my life; however, to
alleviate the burden on the hospital of two hundred reporters and photographers
hanging out in the lobby, we worked up press releases and I finally agreed to
hold a press conference. Interestingly, the notoriety that came from all of the
media coverage did help me psychologically as the cards, letters, emails,
flowers, and gifts I received from friends and strangers alike boosted my spirit
during the months to come.
What would you say to those who find it difficult to understand why you
continue to take part in outdoor adventures after having lived through this
Adventuring in the outdoors is my passion, and passion is not something we
control in our lives. To resume my activities was much more natural for me than
to do otherwise, and has led my experience in Blue John Canyon to become a leap
forward in my outdoor development, instead of the curtain call.
Besides being a jaw-dropping account of an astonishing experience, was
there any message you hoped to convey through your book? Do you have any advice
for others who seek outdoor adventures?
I wanted to avoid translating or reducing my experience to a message for
others so that everyone who reads the book could make their appraisal and take
away from my experience something personal and meaningful to him or her.
Certainly, as a point of advice, I encourage folks going into the wildlands to
leave word of their plans with a responsible person. More important, I hope
people will understand from my story that we each have it within ourselves,
through courage, faith, and perseverance, to turn adversity into possibility.
© 2005 by Aron Ralston, reproduced with the permission of Atria Books.