lessons of life

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire process of preparing my lesson this month. I learned so much and hope I can remember the highlights of this lesson for years to come. I feel so very fortunate and blessed to read and study these conference talks. I’ve had this calling for almost two years [I think in October] and I’m not looking forward to being released.

Some of what I learned.

April 26, 2003, started as a routine Saturday of climbing for Aron Ralston, an avid outdoorsman and mountain climber. He planned to spend the day riding his mountain bike and climbing the red rocks and sandstone just outside the Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. The region has some of the most intriguing wilderness in the United States with areas of buttes, mesas and canyons.

Ralston had climbed alone plenty of times. He had scaled all 59 of Colorado’s peaks that are over 14,000 feet, 45 of them by himself in the winter, and this outing was a warm-up for a climb of North America’s highest mountain, Mount McKinley at 20,000 + feet.

Aron Ralston, 27, of Aspen, Colorado, parked his pickup truck at the Horseshoe Canyon Trailhead and took off on his mountain bike for the 15-mile ride to the Bluejohn Canyon Trailhead where he locked his mountain bike to a juniper tree.

He was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts and carried a backpack. He planned to canyoneer down the remote Bluejohn Canyon and then hike out the adjacent Horseshoe Canyon to where he parked his truck and then go back for the bike. Canyoneering is where a climber uses rock-climbing skills, ropes and gear to negotiate narrow slot canyons.

His backpack contained two burritos, a liter of water, a cheap imitation of a Leatherman, a small first aid kit, a video camera, a digital camera and rock climbing gear. The backpack did not contain a jacket or extra clothing.

Ralston was 150-yards above the final rappel in Bluejohn Canyon. He was maneuvering in a 3-foot wide slot trying to get over the top of a large boulder wedged between the narrow canyon walls. He climbed up the boulder face and it seemed very stable as he stood on top. As he began to climb down the opposite side the perfectly balanced 800-pound rock shifted several feet, and pinned his right arm.

He was trapped. He knew he was trapped.

Within the first hour Aron had calculated his options and came up with four possible solutions.

  • Someone would happen along and rescue him.
  • He would be able to chip away at the rock and free his hand.
  • He would be able to rig up something with the ropes and equipment he had to move the rock.
  • If all else failed, he would need to sever the arm.

Death, of course, was a 5th possibility that Aron didn’t want to consider.

He tried ropes, anchors —  anything to move the boulder, but it wouldn’t budge. Next, he tried to chip away at the rock with his cheap imitation of a Leatherman, with no positive results. Ten hours of chipping at the rock managed to produce only a small handful of rock dust.

Temperatures dipped into the 30’s that night, and still Aron worked to free himself. Sunday and Monday passed but he was still trapped. Sunlight reached the narrow canyon floor for only a few hours each day. He ran out of food and water on Tuesday.

Those of you who have heard this story know that on Wednesday, Aron began sipping the urine he had started saving a day earlier. He pulled out his video camera and recorded a message to his parents. He etched his name, birth date, and what he was certain was his last day on earth into the canyon wall. He topped it off with RIP. [October 27, 1975 — April 26, 2003]

On Thursday morning, a remarkable thing happened. Aron had a vision of a 3-year-old boy running across a sunlit floor to be scooped up by a one-armed man. He understood this vision to be of his future son and decided that his survival required drastic action. He also clearly understood that if he didn’t rescue himself now, he would not have the physical strength to do it later.

Aron prepared to amputate his right arm below the elbow using the knife blade on his multi-tool. Realizing that the blade was not sharp enough to cut through the bone he forced his arm against the boulder and broke the bones so he would be able to cut through the tissue. First, he broke the radius bone, which connects the elbow to the thumb. Within a few minutes he cracked the ulna, the bone on the outside of the forearm. Next he applied a tourniquet to his arm. He then used his knife blade to amputate his right arm below the elbow, snipping through the painful nerves, as well. The entire procedure took approximately one hour.

Aron administered first aid to himself from the small kit in his backpack. He rigged anchors and fixed a rope to rappel nearly 70-feet to the bottom of Bluejohn Canyon. Then, leaving his rope hanging, he hiked 5-miles downstream into the adjacent Horseshoe Canyon, where he encountered a family on vacation.

The couple and their son had just finished photographing the famous Grand Gallery. As they packed up their gear and began to hike out of the canyon they heard a voice behind them cry, “Help, I need your help”. The couple immediately realized that this must be the lost hiker they had been briefed about by a ranger earlier in the day.

Aron walked quickly toward the couple. His arm, or what was left, hung in a self-made sling and he spoke clearly: “Hello, my name is Aron, I fell off a cliff on Saturday and I was stuck under a boulder. I just cut off my hand four hours ago and I need medical attention. I need a helicopter”.

In a short period of time, a helicopter arrived from the combined efforts of friends who were worrying about him and the efforts of his mother who realized he hadn’t returned from his hike and failed to appear for work. They had each called authorities.

Aron was helped into the helicopter, and the pilot peeked back at him. Ralston’s right arm was in a makeshift sling made from a Camelback used to carry water. Aron leaned his head back in the helicopter and sipped on some water. The co-pilot kept him talking, so he wouldn’t lose consciousness. Twelve minutes later, they arrived at the hospital in Moab. Aron walked into the emergency room without help, then pointed out on a map where he had been stuck.

The rescuers were astonished at Ralston’s will to live. A helicopter likely would have never found him because of his position in the deep and narrow slot canyon. Aron Ralston had an amazing desire to continue on, he never gave up and he, basically, saved himself.

As I said last month, I decided to apply these lessons to my own life.

So, while preparing for this lesson I tried to think of my own desires. I tried to list the things that I say I really want and compare them to what I really do. Believe me, there’s some room for improvement!

Most of all I desire to live in the eternities with my family. But even more than that, I want to have Celestial Life. I want to be worthy to live with those who went before me and prepared a way for me to have the gospel in my life. I want to live with my children and grandchildren. I want to see Our Eternal Father and his son, Jesus, every single day, I want to know them, personally, and ask them questions that I don’t understand right now. I want to meet George Washington and Joseph Smith and his wife Emma. I want to personally thank President Hinckley for all that I honor in him. I want to be able to raise my little baby that was stillborn.

There are lots more things on this list. But you get the picture.

Then I made a list of what I actually spend most of my time and money and effort and interest on. OK. Big light-bulb moment for me. Suddenly this lesson became more personal. Suddenly I could see that this lesson was just for me [and just for you.] Suddenly I could see how important it is for us to heed the words of our church leaders.