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Famous climber backs wilderness push

Janet UrquhartVail, CO Colorado
Photo courtesy Aron Ralston
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ASPEN – Local mountaineer Aron Ralston will head to the nation’s capital next week to convey his passion for the canyons of southern Utah, including the one that nearly took his life.

But first, Ralston took his message to what will likely be an amenable audience, with a presentation Wednesday night on the slot canyons of the Colorado Plateau in Utah at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. He showed slides and told stories from experiences in Utah’s canyon lands – a favorite destination for many locals.Ralston, who has become a wilderness advocate since his harrowing and now-legendary experience in Utah’s remote Blue John Canyon in 2003 – he severed his hand after it was pinned beneath a boulder in order to escape almost certain death – has, of late, been working with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.He will join advocates in lobbying on behalf of America’s Redrocks Wilderness Act, a bill that would preserve 9.5 million acres of public land in southern Utah as wilderness – areas popular with riders of all-terrain vehicles and of interest to oil and gas companies who want to drill there.

The advocates hope to line up more than 200 co-sponsors of the bill in the House of Representatives in order to move the legislation out of committee and onto the floor for debate. The push for a huge contingent of co-sponsors comes in light of what Ralston said is a lack of support for the measure from Utah’s congressional delegation.”The strategy is to show the congressional leadership there’s national support for the public lands,” he said. “This is my first foray into lobbying – meeting with the heads of the committees, the Colorado delegation. I’m sort of intimidated, I must admit.”

His present Wednesday night touched on some familiar places for lovers of Utah’s canyon country – places like Neon Canyon in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Moonshine Canyon in the San Rafael Swell, and Fish and Owl canyons in the Cedar Mesa area.He also showed slide of himself on a return trip to Blue John Canyon, which the proposed wilderness legislation would protect.”I’ve been blessed with this miracle and my life, that came from the Utah canyons,” Ralston said of his ordeal and ultimate survival. “Here’s my chance to protect it.”


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