A 26-year-old Palo Alto man who was seriously injured on Sunday, April 20, after falling 30 feet during a climb in Yosemite National Park transferred to a hospital in the Bay Area from Modesto Wednesday, April 23, his family said.
Blake Parkinson, a Stanford University admissions officer, was climbing on Higher Cathedral Spire with a partner when he fell. He was wearing a rope at the time and had already climbed 130 feet up the spire face, he said Wednesday.
"It's hard to remember the fall and the moment before it. We were climbing through a difficult section of the route when I fell. Given the position where I fell -- on a ledge, I hit my back on a large, protruding boulder," he said.
Parkinson fractured five small bones in his lower lumbar region and in his sacrum, at the base of his spine, and has some bruising but did not sustain any spinal cord injuries. He is expected to heal in six weeks.
Parkinson said he was conscious the entire time after the accident. Two other climbers below him contacted emergency services.
The Cathedral Spires are rugged rocks that stretch across the Yosemite Valley from El Capitan. Located near the southeast side of Bridalveil Falls, the spires rise more than 2,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor at an elevation of roughly 6,100 feet, according to the National Park Service. Near-vertical Higher Cathedral Spire is more than 600 feet in height.
More than 100 climbing accidents occur in Yosemite each year, with 15 to 25 parties requiring rescues, according to the National Park Service.
Andrea Brown, a CHP flight officer and paramedic who assisted in the rescue, said Yosemite Search and Rescue received the call around 10:15 a.m. on Sunday morning and requested helicopter assistance from CHP Air Operations around 10:45 a.m.
Brown, pilot Bill Dixon and pilot trainee Chris Barrett flew into Yosemite Valley, located Parkinson, and scanned the area to make sure they could access the spot.
The helicopter landed in El Capitan Meadow, and the crew stripped out all extra equipment to make it as light as possible, Brown said. One by one, the helicopter flew two Yosemite technical rescuers to the rock ledge and left them with Parkinson to treat him on the scene and prepare him for transport.
"I lowered them into the rocks and brush right next to the victim," Brown said.
The Yosemite rescuers are skilled climbers who can perform rescues on vertical rock walls when necessary, she added.
The rescuers put Parkinson into a full-body splint to protect his injuries during transit, Brown said.
"They had to secure his spinal column," she said. "I believe they gave him some pain medication because he was in a tremendous amount of pain."
The CHP helicopter hoisted Parkinson into mid-air with a cable attached to a litter. The helicopter brought him to the valley floor and transferred him to a private air ambulance.
He was taken to Memorial North Medical Center in Modesto for treatment, where he was in serious but stable condition, Brown said.
Parkinson said he is grateful to the rescue team, medical staff and CHP for his rescue.
"I would like to return to climbing. It's a question of what kind of a recovery I will make. I'm looking forward to hiking in the mountains again and being in the outdoors," he said.