Reflections on Aron Ralston and the Culture of Heroism

“Is Aron Ralston a hero or an idiot?” Since his story emerged in 2003, I feel like this question has been beaten black and blue and purple. But given our culture’s appetite for the story, it doesn’t look like it’s most popular philosophical question will die anytime soon. In his 10/21 piece for London’s The Independent, writer Peter Stanford engages the “hero or idiot” question relative not only to Aron Ralston’s upcoming adventure drama”127 Hours,” but also to the continuing litany of “adventure heros” who gain the limelight in our culture, contrasting them to the every-day folk who “should” be respected and revered, but never really gain acclaim. Should we admire those who “rescue” themselves from predicaments they should have never gotten into? Should a parent who needlessly risks their life in outdoor adventure be celebrated or condemned? And why do these crazies who explore canyons and climb mountains enjoy more celebrity than the average cancer survivor or crime-stopper? Thankfully, Stanford’s opinion is more thoughtful and well-balanced than its title suggests, and perhaps asks more questions than it answers. Have a look at the article, and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Should we bestow sainthood on reckless adventurers?

Danny Boyle’s new film recounts the harrowing tale of Aron Ralston. But is cutting off your own arm a heroic act?

By Peter Stanford

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Aron Ralston was trapped for almost five days in the remote Bluejohn Canyon in Utah by a falling boulder, which had pinned him down by his right arm and wouldn’t budge. The 27-year-old outdoor sports enthusiast knew he was very unlikely to be found and rescued. He hadn’t told anyone else details of his route, or even that he had gone canyoneering, as it is called, in an area that he describes as “the red wasteland beyond the end of the roads”. The probability was that he hadn’t even been missed yet.

So, on 1 May 2003, 127 hours into this unimaginable ordeal, when his small supply of food and water had run out, Ralston faced the sort of terrible choice that all of us pray to be spared – whether peacefully to accept death as the inevitable consequence of a freak accident, or to make a last, desperate bid for life. Drastic measures would be needed. The only way he could free himself from the boulder’s grip, he had realised, was by amputating his trapped arm. If the shock didn’t kill him, the bleeding could.

With just a blunt penknife and a basic first-aid kit, Ralston managed to saw through his lower arm, where both his radius and ulna were already broken, and apply a tourniquet. Though delirious, he somehow then scaled a 65-foot rock wall and hiked eight miles until he was found. And, miraculously, he survived to tell the tale, first in a best-selling book, Between A Rock and A Hard Place, and now in a film.

Read the Full Article.


About Nick

Nick Wilkes found ZAC in 1996, working first as an outfitter, then a guide, then as webmaster. An ardent adventure enthusiast, Nick's recent exploits involve laying down roots in Wisconsin, chasing his kids around the house, working as a Madison, WI photographer and growing his Wisconsin climbing business. Connect with Nick on Facebook, Google+, or directly via email.
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4 Responses to Reflections on Aron Ralston and the Culture of Heroism

  1. avatar Doubter says:

    I just saw that Aron’s story is now a movie. I taught Aron how to ice climb years ago before his accident. I stopped climbing with him because he was careless and devoid of common sense. I was actually surprised after hearing of his accident that he wasn’t dead. He is not a hero, he is an idiot. Publicizing his exploits only codifies this type of inappropriate judgement.

  2. avatar ZACBlog says:

    Are you saying the more people learn about his story, the more people are going to get out into the wilderness unprepared and get hurt?

  3. avatar Anonymous says:

    A real hero is someone who does something difficult or risky *to help other people*. It is not someone just managing to keep themselves alive, even if the story of it is ‘inspiring’ or ‘amazing’. So Aron is certainly not a hero, and sorry but ‘cancer survivors’ aren’t heros either.

  4. avatar bubba says:

    If this film doesn’t inspire one to leave an itenarary and instructions to seek rescue crews upon a time when overdue, then they are also IDIOTS. He’s far from a hero, simply a very lucky idiot.