Credit: Fox Searchlight
When Aron Ralston set out for a climb through the Utah's Blue John Canyon on April 26, 2003, he didn't tell anyone where he was going. And when an 800-pound boulder slipped while he was climbing and pinned his right hand between the rock and two narrow walls, he knew he was going to die there, alone.But Ralston didn't die: After five days in the canyon, he broke the bones in his arm and used a knife to cut off his own hand. He made his way out of the canyon -- which included a 65-foot rappel drop and a seven-mile hike back toward his truck -- before a rescue helicopter spotted him, as he says, "within minutes of when I would have otherwise bled to death." Now he's the subject of Danny Boyle's new film, "127 Hours," which stars James Franco as Ralston.
In this exclusive TreeHugger video, archeological author Craig Childs takes us into the depths of the narrow rock canyons like the one that trapped Ralston; these are spaces that are deeper than they are wide, called slot canyons. Falling boulders aren't the only dangers in these tight spots: Flash floods can catch climbers off guard, and move the massive rocks downstream with little warning. "One guy who survived a flash flood described actually being cannonballed out of the water, just, some current grabbed him and shot him straight up. He was in the air and he could see all around him...he could see the safe places to be, but he just went right back into the water," says Childs. It's a chilling reminder that nature can overpower even the most experienced outdoorsman.
Almost all of the film takes place with Franco in the cramped canyon, but critics have praised Boyle's energetic style and Franco's performance -- though the amputation scene is as grisly as you'd expect, and some audience members have reportedly passed out. Franco and Ralston offered New York magazine tips on how to watch the film without fainting: "'Stay seated,'" says Ralston. "'It only becomes dangerous if you decide you need to leave the theater and you stand up and then you're falling from a standing position.'" Franco recommends staying put, too: "'If you're feeling woozy, just cover your eyes. There's nothing wrong with covering your eyes. It took 40 minutes [for Aron to cut his arm off], so what Danny showed is mercifully short.'"
The film's producers also partnered with Outside magazine for a campaign called 127 Defining Moments, which encourages nature-lovers to share their own life-changing outdoor experiences. Current entries include a geologist exploring new terrain, a rock-jumper landing a risky jump, and a woman coming face-to-face with a mother bear and her cubs -- proving that even if you've never had to amputate your own arm, you can still be awed by the power of Mother Nature. Submit your own defining moment at 127DefiningMoments.com; the deadline for entries is November 12.