Excerpt from Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Aron Ralston

Between a Rock and a Hard Place
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2004, 320 pages
    Aug 2005, 368 pages

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It's two-fifteen P.M., and in the balance of sunshine and thin stratus layers, the day's weather is poised at equilibrium. In the open section of the canyon, the temperature is about fifteen degrees warmer than it was at the bottom of the deep slot. There are a few full-fledged cumulus clouds listing like lost clipper ships, but no shade. I come upon a wide yellow arroyo entering from the right, and I check my map. This is the East Fork. Kristi and Megan definitely chose the correct fork to return. The choice seemed obvious then, but even obvious decisions need to be double-checked in the backcountry. Navigating in a deep canyon can be deceptively complex. Occasionally, I'm tempted to think that there's nothing to it; I just keep going straight. With three-hundred-foot walls fencing me in five feet to either side, I can't really lose the bottom of the canyon, like I can lose the route on a mountainside. But I've gotten disoriented before.

A forty-mile solo trip in Paria Canyon comes to mind. There was a stretch about a third of the way into the canyon when I completely lost track of where I was. I hiked roughly five miles downstream before I found a landmark that indicated an exact position on my map. This became critical, because I needed to find the exit trail before night fell. When you're looking for an entry/exit, sometimes being fifty yards off-route can hide the way. So now I pay close attention to my map. When I'm navigating well in the canyons, I check my map even more frequently than when I'm on a mountain, maybe every two hundred yards.

If we could see the many waves / That float through clouds and sunken caves / She'd sense at least the words that sought her / On the wind and underwater.

The song blends into something atonally sweet but unattended as I pass another shallow wash coming in from the right. On the map, the arroyo seems to correspond with what Kelsey has named Little East Fork, dropping from a higher tableland he labels Goat Park.

The elevated benches and rolling juniper-covered highlands of Goat Park to my right are up above the 170-million-year-old Carmel Formation, a sloping capstone of interlayered purple, red, and brown siltstone, limestone, and shale strata deposit. The capstone is more resistant to erosion than the older wind-deposited Navajo sandstone that forms the smooth ruddy-hued cliffs of the scenic slot canyons. In places, this differential erosion creates hoodoos, freestanding rock towers and tepees, and tall dunes of colored stone that dot the upper reaches of the canyon's cliffs. The juxtaposed textures, colors, and shapes of the Carmel and Navajo rock layers reflect the polarized landscapes that formed them -- the early Jurassic Period sea and the late Triassic Period desert. Settling out from a great sea, the Carmel Formation sediments look like solidified mud that dried up last month. On the other hand, cross-bedded patterns in the Navajo sandstone reveal its ancestry from shifting sand dunes: One fifteen-foot-high band in the cliffs displays inlaid lines slanting to the right; the next band's layers slant to the left; and above that, the stratification lines lie perfectly horizontal. Over the eons, the dunes repeatedly changed shape under the prevailing force of wind blowing across an ancient Sahara-like desert, devoid of vegetation. Depending if the sandstone shapes left behind are beat upon more by wind or by water, they look like either rough-hewn sand domes or polished cliffs. All this beauty keeps a smile on my face.

I estimate that the distance I have left to cover is about a half mile until I reach the narrow slot above the sixty-five-foot-high Big Drop rappel. This two-hundred-yard-long slot marks the midpoint of my descent in Blue John and Horseshoe canyons. I've come about seven miles from where I left my bike, and I have about eight miles to get to my truck. Once I reach the narrow slot, there will be some short sections of downclimbing, maneuvering over and under a series of chockstones, then 125 yards of very tight slot, some of it only eigh-

From Between A Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, pages 1-30.  Copyright © 2004 by Aron Ralston.  All rights reserved, no part of this excerpt maybe reproduced without specific permission from the publisher.

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