Aron Ralston on saving the land that nearly killed him

Aron Ralston was the keynote speaker for this year's Conservation Alliance Breakfast at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. He shared his astonishing tale and urged the audience to help protect the Utah land that nearly killed him.

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 2-5. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Summer Market recap is brought to you by Cordura:

“I apologize if you were coming to see James Franco. That’s not me,” joked a humble Aron Ralston as he guided Outdoor Retailer-goers through his famously hellish six days in southern Utah with photos shot during the ordeal.

Despite the horror of the incident, he spoke movingly of the appreciation he developed for Blue John Canyon while trapped there.

Ralston’s arm, penetrated by a dull pocketknife, was wedged between a boulder and a 15-inch-wide canyon wall. Death seemed close as hypothermia set in. Yet the desert sun warmed his cold body and a heartening glow illuminated the winding sandstone walls.

“The earth is breathing. This is the wallpaper of the desert,” Ralston said when describing the scene. “This is why we come here … to develop a connection. That boulder was my connection to not only appreciate my life, but the life being threatened around me.”

Ralston has spent hours, days and weeks exploring the crevasses of Utah’s Canyonlands — especially Blue John Canyon — canyoneering, biking and hiking remote trails that “drop down like an elevator shaft.” After losing his right arm to the land he loves, he vowed to protect the wild places in the world and promote conservation: “These places need our help. They need voices.”

“Your jobs are on the line,” Ralston said. “The wilderness keeps outdoor companies alive. Failing to protect them will destroy us all.”

The Conservation Alliance, which has helped save more than 29 million acres of wild lands, protect 2,700 miles of rivers, stop or remove 25 dams, designate five marine reserves, and purchase nine climbing areas, is a natural partner for Ralston. His story of struggle and willingness to embrace what nearly destroyed him echoes throughout the outdoor industry and inspires adventurers to protect Utah’s vulnerable ecosystem.

“The greater Canyonlands are being threatened by off-road vehicles that create immense damage to the fragile sands holding that wilderness together,” Ralston said. “They’ve created a war on our lands.” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is pushing a lawsuit against the federal government that would give Utah counties control over 25,000 miles of dirt roads that traverse much of their state’s wilderness-quality federal land.

“Take action and sign on the letter to President Obama for a Greater Canyonlands National Monument,” Ralston pleaded.

Since his accident, he has returned to the great outdoors with a prosthetic arm he designed to complete solo winter ascents of Colorado’s 54 Fourteeners, ski from the summit of Denali, lead a raft trip through the Grand Canyon, become a volunteer with a search and rescue team and make good on his promise to protect the natural world around him.

“We can make this boulder our blessing, too,” Ralston said.

–Sami Bruce

Read our additional coverage on efforts by Ralston, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Peter Metcalf and OIA to help increase protections of federal lands in Utah.

The Conservation Alliance welcomes a new leader and members

Angela Owen, vice president of The Conservation Alliance, has been elected to fill the shoes of CamelBak CEO Sally McCoy, the organization’s outgoing president and a founding board member. “Sally has been an inspiration to us all, and she has achieved the goals for this organization such as giving over $2 million in grants,” Owen said.

“I’ll leave you with four goals to keep in mind: join, give, advocate and go. We must continue to fight for the well-being of our world,” McCoy said.

The Conservation Alliance has added seven new members since Winter Market: Darn Tough, Injinji,, Pinnacle Out Group, Point 6, RLP Wealth Advisors and Stio.

A new Pinnacle Member has been determined as well: Clif Bar.

Conservation Alliance new board members are Seth Cobb of Merrell, Murk Heintz of Deckers, Aaron Carpenter of The North Face and Scott Whipps of Clif Bar.

The Alliance’s Outstanding Partnership Awards went to two companies: FootZone of Bend, Ore. and Keen or Portland, Ore.