'It's a miracle my head wasn't hurt': 21-year-old student falls 80 feet in Yosemite, breaks nearly every bone

Photo of Amy Graff
Anna Parsons, 21, is an avid rock climber and surfer.

Anna Parsons, 21, is an avid rock climber and surfer.

Courtesy Anna Parsons

After falling some 80 feet while rock climbing in Yosemite National Park on Aug. 1, Anna Parsons, a 21-year-old university student from New Zealand, is recovering at a California hospital and learning how to move her body again. Parsons broke nearly all the critical bones in her body — and the injury to her left leg was so severe that she had to amputate the portion below her knee. 

The avid climber and surfer was on Snake Dike, a route to the top of Half Dome that the Mountain Project calls a classic, with her climbing partner. She had scrambled several feet beyond her bolt, when her foot slipped. 

Anna Parsons, 21, is an avid rock climber and surfer.

Anna Parsons, 21, is an avid rock climber and surfer.

Courtesy Anna Parsons

"I remember sliding," Parsons told SFGATE over the phone as she was in her hospital room at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto. "I was 15 meters above the bolt, so that’s 30 meters that I fell, and then I hit a ledge, and I had lots of pain, and I remember looking at my ankle and thinking, 'Oh my goodness,' as it was in pieces."

When the medics arrived in a helicopter, they stuck a needle in her left lung, which had collapsed, to keep her breathing. 

"I think it was Nick who saved me," said Anna, who was visiting America for the first time on her Yosemite trip. "Nick and Jack carried me onto the helicopter."

Parsons fractured her neck, broke her spine, fractured her pelvis in two places and broke three ribs.

"Apparently, my helmet was pretty broken up, but it’s a miracle my head was not hurt at all," Parsons said. "I feel like I'm supposed to be here, which gives me relief." 

Her right foot was entirely reconstructed, as every little bone had shattered. On her left ankle and foot, the damage was irreparable. She faced the difficult decision between amputation and trying to preserve the joint in her ankle through a procedure known as fusion, which her doctor said could lead to more medical problems.

Anna Parsons of New Zealand broke nearly every bone after falling while rock climbing in Yosemite National Park on Aug. 1, 2022.

Anna Parsons of New Zealand broke nearly every bone after falling while rock climbing in Yosemite National Park on Aug. 1, 2022.

Courtesy Anna Parsons

"He said the amputation would give me the most mobility," she said. "A lot of people have tried to save their leg, and then started off with fusion, and ended up amputating later."

She knows she made the right choice, but the result is shocking. "Sometimes it’s really hard," she said. "Sometimes I really struggle ... I struggle with what I’m going to be able to do with what I now have." 

Parsons is studying marine ecology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and, according to the Otago Daily Times, she won a scholarship to study at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre in British Columbia, Canada. She was squeezing in the trip to Yosemite before going to Canada. 

Parson's mother, Linda, said that the family is faced with unsurmountable medical bills, far past the $250,000 deductible that Anna's overseas health insurance, purchased for the trip, would cover. Bills have already exceeded $1 million, and it's unclear how much the family will have to pay.

The family has applied for a grant to cover medical costs. Anna's siblings have also launched a fundraiser, which will help pay for medical expenses that aren't covered and getting her home to New Zealand.

Despite the challenges that she will now face, Parsons has been touched by the support, from the local California rock climbers who brought food and flowers to her hospital room, to the surfing community back at home who raised funds. 

"I’ve been overwhelmed by my family and friends," she said. "I think what helps me get through all this mentally is that."