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Book Review: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Review by Brett Davis

Everybody in the club will probanly have heard about the guy in America who was pinned by a rock in a "slot" canyon, and had to cut off his own arm to save his life. This book is his autobiography.

Aron Ralston was exploring a canyon in the wilds of Utah when a chock stone he had just climbed over dislodged, trapping his right arm between the rock and the canyon wall. As the days drag on, we learn of Aron's earlier life via a series of flashbacks, alternating with descriptions of his futile efforts to free himself. Eventually, faced with death by dehydration, his only chance of survival is to cut off his own arm, midway between his wrist and elbow.

Aron Ralston was an accident waiting to happen. We learn that in his past he nearly drowned after falling into the freezing and fast flowing Colorado River. We learn that he was buried by an avalanche in the Teton mountain range. And we learn that he once survived a skirmish with a bear in the woods as well. We also learn that he made a cardinal mistake - he did not tell anybody where he was going ... a lesson for all of us.

There are many mountains in his native state of Colorado which are fourteen thousand feet high or more, collectively known as the "fourteeners". It was Aron's ambition to climb all of them, but it says much about his character, recklessness and determination that he planned to climb them alone, and in the middle of winter.

The writing is excellent. Even though you will know going in that he is going to cut off his arm, or perhaps because of it, the build-up to the final act is gripping. The actual description of the amputation might make some people a bit queasy, but it is fascinating too. And what happens after he frees himself ...

I read the book little by little until about half way through it, finding the flashback technique annoying - I didn't want to know about his life, I just wanted to know about the accident and its aftermath - but the technique allows us to appreciate and know the man, and we identify more with him as a result. As the moment of truth neared, I just could not put the book down.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place is a must-read for all lovers of the outdoors. And what a great title!

(August 2006)

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