Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Matt Berther bio photo By Matt Berther Comment

Yesterday, I finished an absolutely fantastic book entitled Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and is the memoir of Aron Ralston. You may remember Aron as the very experienced outdoorsman that got trapped by a boulder while canyoneering in the Utah desert about 3 hours from Moab.

This is a very well written and eloquenty told story about the 6 days that he spent trapped by that boulder and strength shown in the face of that adversity, including the thought process that ultimately led to his decision to amputate his own hand for freedom.

The amount of detail that has been put into this story is amazing. Amazing not only that it can be recalled after such a harrowing experience, but also, because we get to see what happens to the human body as it slowly starts dying. My favorite paragraph in the book was Aron's realization of what hell is.

In the piercing brutality of the night, I repeatedly escape into trances, but they melt from my memory the moment I return to the canyon. If heaven turns out to be as comfortable as the trances, then what I return to in the canyon is nothing short of hell. Hell is conventionally portrayed as a crowded, infernally hot place -- Milton's Pandemonium -- ruled by a horned devil overseeing the torture of lost souls. I know better now. Hell is indeed a deep, chthonic hole, but hot? No. It is a bitterly dark and unbearably cold place of lonely solitude, an arctic prison without a warden and but one abandoned inmate, forsaken even by the supposed ringleader of the underworld. There is no other spiritual energy, good or evil, on which to project love or hatred. There is only one emotion in hell: unmitigated despair wrapped in abject loneliness.

What an astounding use of words. I could not help re-reading that paragraph several times, and each time I felt more and more the gravity of his situation and the feelings that he was experiencing. This is a fantastic story about Aron's incredible will to live and clearly shows the strength of the human spirit.

It was tough for me to start reading this book, because typically, as memoirs go they tend to be poorly written, especially when a ghost writer is not used. Michael J. Fox's Lucky Man is one that I found to be an exception to this.

After getting started, I was amazed by the fact that this was written by Aron, without a ghost writer. Sure, its a little technical, but to his credit, he does include a glossary at the end that includes defintions for some of the mountaineering terms used throughout the book.

I will absolutely recommend this book to anyone, and am certainly looking forward to reading it again and again especially for inspiration.