The True Story Of '127 Hours' Where A Man Cut Off His Own Arm To Survive

If you've ever used the term "between a rock and a hard place," you may want to rethink it. That is, unless you've walked in Aron Ralston's shoes. Ralston, the canyoneer who self-amputated his arm after becoming pinned between boulders on a climbing excursion, was the inspiration for the 2010 James Franco film 127 Hours

The true story behind 127 Hours is pretty close to the movie, as Ralston himself was involved in the making of the film, and director Danny Boyle didn't shy away from the brutality of Ralston's experience. In 2003, Ralston had been climbing in Utah's Canyonlands National Park when he slipped and got completely trapped between two boulders. After breaking his own bones and cutting through his arm to free himself Ralston was ultimately rescued, and later fitted with a prosthetic arm so he could keep on doing what he loved. He also wrote his memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and began a career as a motivational speaker. Ralston also married and had a child, though his personal life developed some turmoil years after his amputation put him on the map of celebrity. 

Explorers of the wilderness often capture the nation's attention, whether it's Chris McCandless, the inspiration behind Into The WildSir Edmund Hilary climbing Mount Everest, or even Grizzly Man Timothy Treadwell spending his summers in remote Alaska among dangerous bears. Aron Ralston is no doubt one of many who history will remember - not many people have the guts to break both bones in their arm after surviving in the wild for 127 hours. 


  • It Took Him More Than One Hour To Successfully Sever His Own Arm

    Any way you slice it, amputating your own arm with primitive tools will be gory. After realizing his small pocket knife was too dull to cut through bone, Ralston used the weight of the boulder that was pinning his arm to break the radius and ulna. Then, he was able to saw through the flesh with his knife and make a tourniquet out of the water tube from his CamelBak. As Ralston stabbed the dead tissue, gas released from it, making a hissing sound. He said it took over an hour for him to successfully sever his arm. 

    As preparation for the movie, Ralston talked to James Franco about the processing of cutting off his arm, including the difference between cutting muscle and nerve - the latter being equated to having your arm "incinerated". 

  • He Drank His Own Urine

    As if being stuck for 127 hours and having to break your own bones wasn't enough, Ralston didn't have an adequate supply of food and water (in part because he wasn't planning on being stuck under a boulder for days on end). After he ran out of water, he was forced to drink his own urine to survive. Even so, he reported that he was incredibly dehydrated the entire time, which also sent his body temperature plummeting when it got cold at night.

  • He Cremated His Arm

    After his rescue, what happened to the partial arm that Ralston left pinned under the boulder? A crew of rescuers and heavy machinery lifted the boulder so that they could retrieve the arm. Ralson had it cremated and eventually was able to scatter the ashes in the very canyon where he nearly met his demise. The loss of his arm was traumatic but it's made up for it somewhat from a financial point of view: as of 2013, it was estimated that Ralston had made over $4 million from his book, speaking fees, and royalties from 127 Hours. 

  • While Pinned Between Boulders, He Made Goodbye Videos

    While Ralston's arm was stuck and he was pondering his fate, he made goodbye videos for his loved ones to say his goodbyes. He showed the videos to the makers of 127 Hours, and the film replicated the emotional "death watch updates," as Ralston called them. "I'm in deep stuff," one of his videos said. "I don't know what it is about me that's brought me to this, but I go out looking for adventure and risk so I can feel alive."

  • Ralston's Experience Bothered Search And Rescue Experts

    Though Ralston was hailed as a hero by the media and by his subsequent memoir and movie, search and rescue volunteers in the mountaineering community felt a little differently about his whole incident. Search and rescue volunteers are frequently put in threatening situations: the fact is, most accidents - including Ralston's - could have been prevented, or at least not been so bad. While Ralston did exhibit extraordinary resolve in the face of an impossible situation, he demonstrated lack of maturity and preparedness, and still should have left a note when he embarked on his adventure. He might have saved his arm, and perhaps everyone would have been better off. 

  • 'Alone In The Wild' Recruited Him To Replicate His Experience On An Island

    'Alone In The Wild' Recruited Him To Replicate His Experience On An Island
    Photo: Michael Alvarez, Aron Ralston / Wikimedia Commons / GNU Free Documentation License

    In 2011, Aron Ralston filmed an episode of Alone in the Wild, a Discovery Channel show that sent him to a remote island for 127 hours. He was completely alone for that time, just like he was when his arm was trapped. As there were no cameras rolling, Ralston filmed himself. Though Ralston survived on the island, he said it was harder than he expected, and that the experience made him reevaluate his priorities. He had been working as a motivational speaker almost nonstop, despite having an infant son, and said that he planned to slow down. "I woke up the next day and thought: 'OK, now it’s time to start making better decisions,'" he told the Daily Mail. "I got a fire going. I desalinated some sea water. I cooked some conches. I realized I’ve been getting my priorities wrong."