Power of the human spirit

2011-04-27 00:00

WHEN he was 12 years old, author Aron Ralston’s parents were transferred to Colorado. Despite some initial misgivings on his part it was to prove the beginning of a passionate love affair with the great outdoors and, in particular, mountaineering. Preferring to operate alone he revelled in the sheer physicality of climbing and the transcendent joy that can be gained from pushing oneself to the extreme.

Having qualified as a mechanical engineer he soon decided that the corporate world was not for him, resigning from his position with the Intel Corporation in Arizona to answer the siren call of the great peaks.

He managed to find a sales job at the Ute Mountaineer in Aspen, Colorado, which afforded him sufficient free time to realise his dream of becoming the first person to solo-climb all 59 of the Colorado 14 000-foot peaks in winter.

Never one to duck from a challenge, Ralston thrived on the discomfort of being outside in all weather and dealing with the often formidable obstacles that confronted him. After several close calls (which included being stalked by a hungry bear and getting buried in an avalanche) his luck finally ran out on what was ostensibly a far more leisurely outing.

While hiking in the Utah canyons his hand became trapped by a boulder. For six gruelling days, Ralston weighed up his options until, realising help was unlikely to reach him in time, he decided there was only one way out of his predicament.

The most remarkable aspect of this compelling account of the author’s ordeal is his grace under pressure and the clear and measured way in which he stared death in the face. As scary as his experience was he did not allow it to effect his love of the mountains, nor shake him in his belief that the human spirit should be constantly refreshed by exposure to the natural world.

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