May Your Boulders Be Your Blessings

Bouldering in the slot canyon at Tent Rocks, New Mexico

Every time I go for a hike, I leave a note on my dashboard that says where I’m going and when I plan to be back, along with my initials and my cell phone number. I keep a notepad in my car specifically for this purpose. Last week I got to hear a talk by the man who inspired such diligence: Aron Ralston, widely known as that guy who cut off his own arm.

In case you’ve been trapped under a rock for the past decade and have missed both Aron’s excellent book “Between A Rock and A Hard Place” and the Oscar-nominated movie it inspired, “127 Hours”, Aron amputated his own right arm to escape Blue John Canyon in the middle of nowhere Utah after a 800-pound boulder fell on his hand, trapping him in the lonesome slot canyon. After six unendurable days, near death, he used a length of neoprene as a tourniquet and a cheap multi-tool to free himself, and then rappelled a 6-story wall one-handed and hiked 8 miles to help. All because he failed to leave a note or tell anybody where he was going and when he should be back.

My dogs in Little Horse Canyon in Utah, not far from Blue John

During his lecture, a captivating hour-long soliloquy delivered to a packed house at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, Aron reenacted his harrowing experience in Blue John Canyon, complete with graphic descriptions of drinking his own urine, using torque to break through the bones in his arm and hacking off his own limb with a dull 2-inch knife. Recounting the videotape of goodbyes he recorded for his family, he was heartbreakingly emotional.

Aron has come a long ways from Blue John – he delivered his talk in a suit and tie, complete with a dandy pocket square – but it’s clear that canyon has remained an important part of him. Despite the loss of his dominant hand, he stressed that he doesn’t feel like he lost anything in that canyon; rather he gained a deep, abiding reverence for life and love. For Aron, Blue John is a sacred place and his boulder the greatest gift.

Little Horse Canyon in Utah

Upon hearing Aron’s story, most people wonder “could I do that?” I don’t have to wonder. I have not had the grave misfortune to end up in Aron’s exact situation, but I have saved myself singlehandedly when things went seriously south.

When I was 18, out riding alone far from home, I was thrown off my horse and speared into the ground at top speed. Upon waking from blunt unconsciousness, I tried to move my hands to take off my helmet and found only searing numbness. Later I would learn I had broken several vertebrae, cracked three ribs and ruptured two spinal discs. All I knew then was that pain was scorching my spine, leaving me unable to do anything but lie still, gasp for breath and fight off panic. Hours passed before I willed my hands to move again. I was alone and miles from help and so I began dragging myself home, in shock and unable even to crawl.

Face down, against the earth, I remember every inch of that journey, every rock and root that ground against my broken ribs, every clump of grass I grabbed to pull myself along. Every inch brought new pains, but the suffering was welcome. It meant I could still feel something, that I was still alive. I had left the barn in the early morning and it was well after dark when I finally reached the edge of the spotlight on the driveway where somebody later found me.

View out of the canyon at Tent Rocks

That accident was the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me. Now 30 years old and an avid solo traveler, hiker and mountaineer, I know I would not be the explorer that I am without  having dragged myself across that corn field, descending down to the depths of my soul and finding indomitable strength, courage and clarity.

After surviving Blue John, Aron continued to push his limits, climbing all of Colorado’s 14-thousand foot mountains in winter, solo, with a specially designed climbing prosthesis. Fitting that I spent the day after Aron’s talk in the saddle, trotting 20-miles through fields and woods on the back of a champion endurance Arabian.

No place I’d rather be than on board “No Show Jones” riding through rural Virginia

I’ll leave you with Aron’s parting words: We all have boulders in our lives, inevitable events that can either crush us or set us free. May your boulders be your blessings.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
This entry was posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Cowboys & Horses, Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to May Your Boulders Be Your Blessings

  1. Alice says:

    I envy you ability to climb. Perhaps I could walk a bit on such a trail tho…incredible colors and shapes of stone.

  2. beeseeker says:

    Very emotionally-loaded post for me- I enjoyed reading it, the quietly understated intensity.
    leaving a note is a great plan, especially the bit aboutthe cell phone number. Thanks, as ever for the fine style of blog.

  3. ritaroberts says:

    WOW! What a beautiful post Mary.Such dedication is to be admired to all you hikers,the fact that you never give in even when near tragedies occur such as Aron Ralston I would have liked listening to his lecture. Good idea of yours to leave messages as to where you are going. Your travels get more hair raising each time I read your blog but I really enjoy your stories because you manage to let us feel as if we were there in that wonderful outdoor life so thanks again.

  4. Gunta says:

    I suspect it’s pretty much our choice whether to make blessings out of our boulders, or not. Thanks for the inspiring post.

  5. Amazing story. Thanks for sharing. May you stay safe in your adventures

  6. Luisa says:

    I first looked at the the pictures and thought “excelent pictures! But then I read the two stories and I am still horrified! You were very brave.

  7. Joni says:

    You know you can write books don’t cha? When you told me you had an accident when you were 18 I was so curious about the details and how it made you stronger but I didn’t want to ask. It is always so amazing to me how some people allow those things to destroy them (physically and/or emotionally), while others become stronger. You are an amazing, inspiring young woman Mary Caperton!
    Take care,

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  10. Really enjoy seeing your photos of Tent Rocks, one of my favorite day-hiking places in New Mexico. Also, really appreciated rereading about your horse-riding mishap and the inner strength you demonstrated to rescue yourself, and also the inner strength to continue your journeying.

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