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Published on May 7th, 2009 | by Tim


The Manliest Survival Technique: Self Amputation.

aaronThe Man Institute has highlighted quite a few men now. Most of these men prove their manliness by showing their toughness and survival instincts. Simo Häyhä proved how tough he was by doing his job (Which was an army sniper) better than anyone has before. Jack Churchill fought with primitive technology and prevailed. Bear Grylls learned his survival skills from his SAS training and experience and showcases it to other on national television. All of these men definitely earned their spots on the Man Institute site; however, this article is about a man who boasts a manliness never before seen on the Man Institute. A manliness that many of the meanest and toughest men out there could not imagine…

Aron Ralston isn’t probably isn’t the typical guy that we post about here at the institute. He’s fairly average looking and, in fact, he is fairly average in most aspects. He’s a skinny white guy, he has a post secondary education in mechanical engineering and French from Carnegie Mellon University where he also played intramural sports for fun. Probably just looking at Aron, the only thing you will notice that sets him apart is his prosthetic arm. It just so happens that this prosthetic arm is the result of one of the manliest survival techniques of all time.

Aron is an avid outdoorsman and rock climber. On April 26, 2003, he set out on a fairly routine climbing and hiking trip for him. He decided he would head out to some trails and decent climbs on the outskirts of Canyonland National Park in Utah.

Aron is no stranger to climbing solo, in fact, he has climbed all 59 of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks, 45 of which he did all alone in the middle of winter. This climbing trip was supposed to be just a warm up for his next goal of climbing Mt. McKinley, North America’s highest peak.

Aron got to the Horseshoe Canyon Trailhead, where he locked his truck. He then proceeded to ride his mountain bike 15 miles to Bluejohn Canyon Trailhead where he locked up his bike. Many men would be exhausted by such a bike ride, but this was essentially Aaron’s warmup for his climb, which was a fairly simple climb (At least it was for someone so experienced), that would lead him back to his truck. He would then drive to pick up his bike.

The canyon where Aron was trappedRight near the end of Aron’s climb (150 feet from his final rappel), he had to maneuver through a 3 foot wide slot to make it over a boulder. The boulders he was climbing seemed fairly steady. He climbed an 800lbs boulder and stood on top of it. He got ready and began to climb down the other side of it; however, this time the rock shifted, trapping his arm between it and the wall.

After one hour of being pinned, Aron came up with a list of 4 options:

  1. Someone else climbing in the area would find and rescue him.
  2. He would eventually be able to chip enough of the rock away to free his arm.
  3. He might be able to rig up some form of system to move the rock using his equipment.
  4. But the final and manliest option of all was to remove the trapped portion of his arm.

Aron began to set options 2 and 3 into action, chipping away at the boulder and the wall and trying to rig up some method of moving the huge rock, but none of it seemed to work. Aaron spent 5 days pinned under this rock, carefully rationing his food and water supply. When he ran out of water, he began collecting his urine to drink. Things weren’t looking promising.

After the 5 days, he recorded a video for his family and etched his name, birthdate and a message onto the rock for whomever found his body once he died. He had pretty much accepted his fate at this point and was ready to go.  They say a man shows his true self when faced with death and this is where Aron’s manliness kicks into overdrive. It seemed that there were 4 options on that list. The first one required simply being stuck there. He had tried the next 2, which had no real effect, but there still remained a fourth option. An option so insanely awesome that I doubt the majority of men could even attempt it.

Aron Ralston began prepping himself for surgery. Since he was in the bush pinned under a boulder, this required opening the blade to his multi-tool which he describes as:

“What you’d get if you bought a $15 flashlight and got a free multi-use tool”

He was still able to think logically and realized that such a cheap and dull knife would ever be able to cut clean through his arm, so he would need to give it a quick little snap. He started by forcing his arm against the rock, breaking the radius (The first of two bones in the forearm. This is the one connecting the elbow to the thumb). Next he used the same process to snap the ulna (The bone on the far side of the forearm). This is where he applied the tourniquet to his arm. Things were about to get tricky.

“I bent my arm farther and farther, and then finally, this cracking, splintering sound, kind of like a cap gun, then, POW! It echoed up and down the canyon. I knew that I had broken my bone. And yes, it hurt. It hurt a lot.”

He plunged the dull knife blade into his arm just below the elbow. He continued cutting until the arm was hanging on by the tendons. They don’t call it a multi tool for nothing, so Aron flipped it around and used the pliers to pull the tendons, one by one, out of his arm. This entire procedure took approximately one hour.

“Next, I carefully cut away at my arm, trying to avoid major arteries until last when I could quickly tighten a tourniquet that I’d made from the tubular insulation of my CamelBak.”

Once free, Aron quickly administered first aid to his new stump. He then rappeled the remaining 70 feet to the bottom of the canyon. Next he hiked 5 miles until he found a Dutch couple whom he asked for help.

Aron survived the experience due to an almost unheard of amount of manliness. He even still climbs to this day with his prosthetic arm. Check out this video of Aron describing the amputation:

This is the type of manliness that one cannot develop. You are either born this awesome or not. Most men out there will never reach this degree of manliness; however, this is the degree of manliness that all men should be striving for.

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About the Author

Tim is curator and co founder of When he’s not shaving his face with a bowie knife he’s helping men be better at what they already are: men.

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