Courage in a canyon

One can question the thinking that got Aron Ralston into a life-threatening predicament in the Utah canyon country last week.

But there’s no questioning the fortitude he showed in getting his way out of it.

Ralston is the Aspen man whose arm became pinned by a rock during his outing. He was forced to cut off the limb during an ordeal that stretched out over five nights and six days.

A harsh lesson from the incident is the importance of telling others where you are going and how long you will be away, so a prompt and quick rescue can occur if need be.

In the view of some people, Ralston violated a second basic precept of the outdoors: Don’t venture out alone, or separate from your party.

It’s good advice, best followed whenever possible. But it’s unfair to ask people to follow it absolutely.

It’s not always easy to find an available companion when the opportunity arises to hit the backcountry. And for some, there’s a certain magic to be found only when experiencing the wilds alone.

Clearly, being alone heightens the danger level. Remember the plight of Olympic gold medal wrestler Rulon Gardner, who last year became separated from his snowmobiling partners, and then stranded, losing a toe and almost his life?

Gardner takes a lot more emergency gear with him now.

Solo journeys in particular require extra measures of safety. For one thing, pack for the worst if you do decide to venture out on your own. A half-day hike could turn out to be an overnight adventure. The simplest of items – a whistle, emergency blanket, candle and matches, small mirror, extra water – take little extra room in a pack and may save your life.

Reducing the risks yourself also reduces the chances that others might have to risk their lives to try to rescue you.

Nevertheless, people have a right to take at least measured risks in the outdoors, no different from others who seek out the thrill of racing automobiles, jumping out of airplanes, etc.

Some of the best emergency provisions for adventurers – especially solo adventurers – to take along are a level head and the mental know-how and physical toughness necessary to deal with adversity if it presents itself.

You can’t put such qualities in a pack. But Ralston didn’t leave them at home.

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