Aron Ralston's saga of survival has captivated the nation. Trapped for five days by a boulder crushing his hand, he was forced to amputate his own arm. He then made a one-handed rappel of about 70 feet and then hiked five miles to safety.
In Steamboat Springs, Ralston's story strikes close to home. We are outdoor enthusiasts. We hike, we bike, we spend our days off in the backcountry. Many of us are familiar with the Canyonlands. Some of us have explored the very same canyon in which Ralston was trapped. So in his ordeal, there is an important reminder for us all.
Ralston is an avid, experienced outdoorsman who had search and rescue experience. He had summited 45 of Colorado's 14ers solo, in winter. In short, he knew exactly how to prepare himself for a safe venture into the backcountry.
It appears Ralston had the water, equipment and know-how to keep himself alive when the unexpected happened. He certainly had more sheer will and grit than could be expected of anyone.
So what mistake did he make? What lesson is there to learn?
He went into the backcountry alone, which runs contrary to recommendations of most outdoors experts. While not wise, going solo realistically is part of the experience for many outdoors enthusiasts of Ralston's caliber.
The key mistake Ralston made was underestimating the potential for danger inherent in any trip away from civilization -- even a routine camping trip. Because of that, when he realized he had uncharacteristically forgotten to leave an itinerary, he didn't worry about it.
"In his mind, he wasn't doing anything dangerous. ... He was just going camping, just for a couple days," his mother, Donna Ralston, told NBC television. "That's one of those instances when his neglect to write it down caused a great deal of stress for a lot of people, and he regrets that."
Had friends known his specific plans, known when he was expected back, rescuers would have found Ralston much more quickly. They likely could not have saved his arm, but they could have prevented some of Ralston's suffering and given his worried friends and family an answer sooner.
Living in Routt County, we venture into the backcountry with such regularity that it is easy to become cavalier about a day hike into Zirkel or a camping trip on Rabbit Ears.
But, by their definition, accidents are unexpected. On even the most routine trip, something can go terribly wrong.
All of us would be well-advised to take Ralston's harrowing experience into account.
If you enter the backcountry, enter it prepared. Go with a friend whenever possible. Take a cell phone. Sign in when you cross wilderness boundaries. Leave an itinerary; tell people where you are going and when you are expected back.
Cheer Aron Ralston's courage and will to survive, but don't repeat his mistake.