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A climber’s bone-shattering tale

Grand Junction (Colorado), May 9 (Reuters): A mountaineer facing death after being pinned by a 360-kg boulder in the Utah desert said yesterday he had to break his arm bone before he could cut the limb off with a dull knife.

Aron Ralston, 27, said in the beginning of his five-day ordeal he threw his body against the rock to free himself and then tried to chip away at it before realising his only chance to live was to cut off his arm.

“At no point was I ever able to get the boulder to budge even microscopically,” Ralston said at St Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he is recuperating. Ralston was rescued last week on Thursday after cutting off his right arm, then rappelling down a canyon and hiking about 9.7 km before he came across two Dutch hikers. He was airlifted to hospital.

After three days of being stuck and after having eaten the last few crumbs in a candy bar wrapping, he decided to amputate his right arm. But he made little progress. He started sawing back and forth with his pocket-knife to no avail. The knife was so dull that he could not even cut the hair on his arm. Two days later he realised he had to do something while he was still coherent. “It was the last opportunity I would have and still have the physical strength to get out,” he said.

“It occurred to me I could break my bones,” he said as his mother, who was near tears, sat by his side. First the radius snapped just above his wrist. He kept twisting his arm and a few minutes later the ulna broke. The whole process, including setting out bandages and first aid supplies, took about an hour. He said all he could do was endure the pain. “I felt pain and I coped with it.”

He said his courage came from being “pragmatic.”

Ralston, a former engineer at Intel Corp. who lives in Aspen, Colorado, had set off for a one-day trip on Saturday, April 26, hiking and rock climbing in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. While admitting that he should not have been alone and that he should at least have left his itinerary with someone, Ralston said what befell him could not have been avoided.

“Once that boulder came to rest there was no way I would be released in time to save my hand and arm,” he said. He said his surgeon told him the arm suffered significant soft tissue damage and loss of circulation.

He said different emotions flooded his body at different times during his five-day ordeal. At first it was all adrenaline flowing, but then he realised he had to calm down.

He said he looks forward to getting back to the outdoors.

“I’m looking forward to a giant margarita,” he said. When Ralston walked into a room for the news conference he held up a camera to take pictures of the assembled press. “These are for me,” he said.

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