KUER Local News
3:06 pm
Mon November 22, 2010

Utah Canyoneers Cautious About 127 Hours

Salt Lake City, UT –

Director Danny Boyle's new movie "127 hours" opened in Utah on Friday. It's the harrowing story of how outdoorsman Aron Ralston severed his own arm to escape from one of the state's deep and twisted slot canyons. Travel bosses hope to market the state's natural wonders using the movie's title. But canyoneers worry "127" hours will lure inexperienced hikers into potentially dangerous adventures. KUER's Jenny Brundin reports.

Utah has everything Shane Burrows needs: skiing, mountain-biking and hiking. But the one sport that really captivates him? Maneuvering among the sandstone spires and towering canyons of southern Utah.

AMBIENCE: BURROWS IN CANYONS ("up and over in Larry Canyon")

BURROWS: My attraction is I like the beauty, and I like the problem-solving.

Burrows, a structural engineer, runs the website, www.climb-utah.com dedicated to the sport of canyoneering. In this video, he and his friends carefully inch up steep ridged canyon walls, gracefully slide down ropes alongside 200 foot waterfalls, and trudge through waist-high water on canyon bottoms.

AMBIENCE: BURROWS IN CANYONS

Alone, a thousand feet below the earth's surface, a canyoneer like Cody Adamson, who sometimes goes solo, is miles from another human being, miles from cell phone reception. He likes that peace and silence, especially after two tours of duty in Iraq.

ADAMSON: You basically travel through time because you're going through these deep slot canyons which goes through this strata of sediment that's been deposited over millions of years, so you're going back in time, down deep in the Earth, and into some really beautiful, magnificent chambers and hallways and pools and waterfalls and all that's down there.

MOVIE TRAILER: (JAMES FRANCO PLAYING ARON RALSTON) Good morning everyone. It is 7 o' clock in Canyonland USA.

The new movie 127 hours, though, may break the silence.

FRANCO IN MOVIE: Bluejohn Canyon, guide book says 4 hours to the big drop rappel. I aim to take 45 minutes off that.

The movie tells the true story of Aron Ralston who hiked alone into Utah's remote Bluejohn Canyon in 2003. 150 yards above the final rappel, an 800 pound boulder suddenly shifts, pinning his wrist to the canyon wall.

FRANCO IN MOVIE: Aaaah! Oops!

Ralston, played by James Franco, spends days trying to free himself.

MOVIE TRAILER: I have about 150 milliliters of water left which should keep me alive until tomorrow night if I'm lucky.

It's a visceral tale of darkness, self-reliance and survival. But woven throughout the $20 million dollar movie are breathtaking shots of Utah's landscape - alluring, stunning and mysterious.

VON DER ESCH: I don't think we've had a movie showcase the landscape this well since John Ford was making the westerns years ago.

Leigh Von Der Esch heads up Utah's Travel Council. It's running a parallel marketing campaign using the movie's title. It asks visitors what they'd do if they had 127 hours in Utah - and then, provides itineraries - from snowboarding to canyoneering.

VON DER ESCH: This is a huge billboard, this movie 127 hours, for the state of Utah. When the trailer when live Moab Travel Council reported that they were receiving hundreds of phone calls a day from people saying, hey, I wanna know, can the public get to Bluejohn canyon?

BURROWS: The big concern I have with the movie

Canyoneer, Shane Burrows.

BURROWS: is that it will flood the slot canyon with beginners, novice. But I'm really worried about people getting in over their heads, calling out search and rescue. Especially, in the national parks, we're already kind of on their radar, if they start having search and rescues, they will shut these canyons down.

As the sport has grown, the number of accidents and fatalities has grown. Burrows himself has been trapped deep in a canyon overnight. Canyoneer Scott Card says the danger is real. Before heading out, he spends days poring over weather and radar maps.

CARD: You will go into a canyon and you have received some information that there are actually anchors there to rappel from, but flash floods are violent events and they can tear out any anchors that have been set up before hand so you've got to be prepared to set up your own rappel stations, your own rappel anchors and any given time in any given slot canyon because they change with the weather.

After Ralston's accident, the canyoneering community combed over the simple mistakes he made, the rules he broke, and vigorously debated whether he was arrogant and reckless - or a hero. When Ralston's book "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" - came out, some charged that he was profiting off his recklessness. Still, many canyoneers remain awestruck by Ralston's feat. Scott Card:

CARD: Knowing how to survive that amount of time and ration and have the self-control and presence of mind to make the decisions he made .and I got to tell you I think the gutsiest thing he did besides remove his hand, was figuring out how to rappel one-handed with a tourniquet on.

Some canyoneers say they won't see the movie; they don't want to contribute to the hype. Many though, are intrigued to see what Hollywood does with Ralston's story. Shane Burrows wants to see on screen the terrain he's spent a life time exploring and mapping. He expects, though, some Hollywood flourishes, like when Ralston's character jumps into a pristine blue pool.

TRAILER: FRANCO JUMPING INTO A BLUE POOL: "Aron! Come on, you got to come down here!

BURROWS: I've seen the trailer, there's a crystal blue pool. I'm not sure I've ever seen a crystal blue pool. They're usually mucky, scummy, and have a dead animal floatin' in em or something.

Some canyoneers hope that ultimately, the movie illustrates the need for wisdom in the great outdoors. Cody Adamson.

ADAMSON: On the flip side, it might create some more reverence for the risk you face when you go out in the unprotected wilderness. It might great reverence for what is wild, and people will approach it with a different mentality.

Utah's canyoneers admit they'd like their beloved canyons to stay as secret as possible. But the state's "127 hours" marketing plan will undoubtedly draw more tourists, and canyoneer Scott Card has some ideas.

CARD: The Robber's Roost area where Bluejohn canyon is, anywhere in southern Utah, easily 127 hours is doable.

BRUNDIN: And hopefully come out with both arms?

CARD: Both arms, both legs and your head intact, Yep!

Climb-Utah site

127 hours site

Tom's Utah Canyoneering Guide

Utah Travel Site