Aron Ralston was born on October 27, 1975 in Marion, Ohio. He and his family moved to Denver when he was 12. He is a graduate of Teccs in Ducan, Colorado. He received his college degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, finishing with degrees in mechanical engineering and French, with a minor in piano. At Carnegie Mellon, he served as a resident assistant, studied abroad, and was an active intramural sports participant. He left his job as a mechanical engineer with Intel in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2002 and moved to Aspen, Colorado in order to pursue a life of climbing mountains.
He had the goal of climbing all of Colorado's "fourteeners" — peaks over 14,000 feet (4,270 m) altitude, of which there are 59 — solo and during winter (a feat that had never been recorded before). He subsequently achieved this goal in 2005. In 2003, Ralston was caught in a Grade 5 avalanche on Resolution Peak, Colorado with his skiing partners Mark Beverly and Chadwick Spencer. No one was seriously injured.
In August 2009, Ralston married Jessica Trusty. His first child was born in February 2010.
On April 26, 2003, Aron Ralston was hiking alone through Blue John Canyon, in eastern Wayne County, Utah, just south of the Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands National Park. While he was descending a slot canyon, a suspended boulder became dislodged while he was climbing down from it. The rock smashed his left hand, and then crushed his right hand against the canyon wall. Ralston had not informed anyone of his hiking plans, nor did he have any way to call for help.
Assuming that he would die without intervention, he spent five days slowly sipping his small amount of remaining water, approximately 350 ml (12 imp fl oz), and slowly eating his small amount of food, two burritos, while trying to free his arm. He wasn't able to free his arm from the 800 lb (360 kg) chockstone. After three days of trying to lift and break the boulder, the dehydrated and delirious Ralston prepared to amputate his trapped right arm at a point on the mid-forearm in order to escape. After having experimented with tourniquets and having made exploratory superficial cuts to his forearm, he realized, on the fourth day, that in order to free his arm he would have to cut through the bones in it, but the tools available to him were insufficient to do so.
After running out of food and water on the fifth day, Ralston decided to drink his own urine. He carved his name, date of birth and presumed date of death into the sandstone canyon wall, and videotaped his last goodbyes to his family. He did not expect to survive the night. After waking at dawn the following day he had an epiphany that he could break his radius and ulna bones using torque against his trapped arm. He did so, then amputated his forearm in about one hour, with his multi-tool, which included a dull two-inch knife. The manufacturer of the tool was never named, but Ralston said "it was not a Leatherman but what you'd get if you bought a $15 flashlight and got a free multi use tool."
After freeing himself Ralston climbed out of the slot canyon in which he had been trapped, rappelled down a 65-foot (20 m) sheer wall, then hiked out of the canyon. He was 8 miles (13 km) from his vehicle, and had no phone. However, while hiking out of the canyon, he encountered a family on vacation from the Netherlands, Eric and Monique Meijer and their son Andy, who gave him food and water and hurried to alert the authorities. Ralston had feared he would bleed to death; he had lost 40 pounds (18 kg), including 25% of his blood volume. Rescuers searching for Ralston, alerted by his family that he was missing, had narrowed the search down to Canyonlands and flew by in their helicopter. He was rescued four hours after amputating his arm.
Ralston later said that if he had amputated his arm earlier, he would have bled to death before being found, while if he had not done it he would have been found dead in the slot canyon days later. He believed he was looking forward to the amputation and the freedom it would give.
His severed hand and forearm were retrieved from under the boulder by park authorities. According to television presenter Tom Brokaw, it took 13 men, a winch and a hydraulic jack to move the boulder so that Ralston's arm could be removed. His arm was then cremated and the ashes given to Ralston. He returned to the accident scene with Tom Brokaw and a camera crew six months later, on his 28th birthday, to film a Dateline NBC special about the accident in which he scattered the ashes of his arm there, where, he said, they belong.
After the accident occurred, Ralston continued to climb mountains frequently, including participating in a 2008 expedition to climb Ojos del Salado in Chile and Monte Pissis in Argentina. In 2005, Ralston became the first person to climb all 59 ranked and/or named Colorado's 'fourteeners' solo in winter, a project he started in 1997 and resumed after the amputation in Blue John Canyon.
While Ralston says he intends to climb Mount Everest, he did not go along with polar explorer Eric Larsen on his "Save the Poles" expedition in 2010, as was previously reported.
In December 2013, Ralston and then-girlfriend Vita Shannon were both arrested in Colorado and charged with domestic violence after an incident at their home. The couple's two-month old child was present at the time of the incident. Charges for both were later dismissed.
After the accident, Ralston made numerous appearances in the media. On July 21, 2003, Ralston appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman.
On September 10, 2004, Ralston's story was featured on a two-hour edition of Dateline NBC called "Desperate Days in Blue John Canyon". Ralston has appeared twice on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He has also appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, CNN's American Morning with Bill Hemmer, Minute to Win It, Anderson Cooper 360°, CNN Saturday Morning, and CNBC with Deborah Norville. On September 28, 2004, he appeared on the radio program The Bob Rivers Show and described his ordeal as "six days of terror and horror."
In 2006, Ralston was featured as a panelist in Miller Lite's "Man Laws" ad campaign. He also starred on the Australian interview show Enough Rope. Ralston was a contestant on the U.S. television show Minute To Win It, where he won $125,000 for Wilderness Workshop. The episode aired on February 23, 2011, on NBC.
Ralston provides his voice on The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror XXII" as the voice on the other end of Homer's phone when he calls for help after getting trapped in a similar situation to Ralston himself. The episode aired on October 30, 2011.
He took part in the reality show Alone in the Wild, where he had to 'survive' in the wild with a video camera and a bag of supplies. The episode was aired November 9, 2011, on Discovery UK.
As a corporate speaker, Ralston receives an honorarium of about $25,000 per domestic speaking appearance, and up to $37,000 for international speeches. On May 4, 2007, Ralston appeared at the Swiss Economic Forum and gave a speech about "how he did not lose his hand, but gained his life back."
Ralston documented his experience in an autobiographical book titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place, published by Atria Books on September 7, 2004. It reached #3 on The New York Times Hardcover Non-Fiction list. It hit #1 in New Zealand and Australia, and is the #7 best-selling memoir of all-time in the United Kingdom.
Ralston delivered the commencement speech on May 15, 2011, at Carnegie Mellon University for the graduating class of 2011, and again on May 19, 2013, marking the first time the University ever hosted a commencement speaker twice.
He has also appeared on the Comedy Central show Tosh.0 in a sketch with host Daniel Tosh and another climber in 2012.
British film director Danny Boyle directed the film 127 Hours about Ralston's accident. Filming took place in March and April 2010, with a release in New York City and Los Angeles on November 5, 2010. Fox Searchlight Pictures funded the film. Actor James Franco played the role of Ralston. The movie received standing ovations at both the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. Some of the audience members in Toronto fainted during the final amputation scene.
The film received universal acclaim by critics and review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 93% of 197 professional critics have given the film a positive review, with an average rating of 8.2 out of 10.
At the 83rd Academy Awards in 2011 the film was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture (won by The King's Speech) and Best Actor for Franco (won by Colin Firth for his role in The King's Speech). 127 Hours was also nominated in the categories for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, and Best Editing.
Of the authenticity of 127 Hours, Ralston has said that the film is "so factually accurate it is as close to a documentary as you can get and still be a drama," and he jokingly added that he thought it is "the best film ever made."