Earlier this month, on October 11, accomplished big-wall climber Quinn Brett took a massive fall while attempting a speed ascent of the Nose on El Cap in Yosemite.
She slipped near the top of the Boot Flake feature and hit the left side of the Texas Flake approximately 100 feet below, according to her climbing partner Josie McKee. Brett’s helmet flew off upon impact with the ledge and she fell another 10 or so feet into the boulders behind the flake. The rope never went taut. After the fall, Brett was initially unresponsive.
McKee, an experienced technical rescue professional, immediately rapped down to Brett, stabilized her and called Yosemite Search and Rescue. A YOSAR helicopter plucked Brett from the wall within three hours of the accident and airlifted her to the hospital.
Brett broke four ribs, punctured a lung and bruised her liver in the fall. Her scapula looks like someone “took a sledgehammer to it,” she writes Rock and Ice, and she has “some of the gnarliest road rash you’ve ever seen.” She suffered a burst fracture of her 12th thoracic vertebra—a severe spinal injury—that has left her paralyzed and without sensation from the belly button down. She is unsure if she will ever be able to walk again.
After surgery to fuse her T10 to L4 vertebrae and 11 days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Brett remains in the hospital. Little-by-little, she improves each day. She has been getting out and around the hospital daily, according to her last YouCaring update from October 29, “going so far as to get chased by security when they thought we were stealing the wheelchair!”
Rock and Ice caught up with Brett—along with McKee, who has been by her side—over e-mail from the hospital to learn more about the accident and her recovery.
As I rotate left side to right side, stare at my toes that I dont currently have control over anymore—�-I am incredibly fortunate for people like @josmckee @ljsauter @laurendelaunay @jercollins_com @krakauernotwriting and a thousands others—�-trust me I haven’t glanced over your names and your incredible support!!! I am one lucky muthertrucker. . . . 58 staples removed from the fused spinal area today. I sat up on the edge of the hospital bed by myself for 2 minutes today. (surrounded by many medical PTs and my parents). . . . Intention are to figure out some internal tummy pain/bleeding and hopefully by mid-November be back at a rehab place in Denver!!! . . Your support continued support is appreciated, jaw dropping and link in my profile!!
A post shared by Quinn Brett (@quinndalina) on
Q&A with Quinn Brett and Josie Mckee
Rock and Ice: Hi Quinn. How are you feeling today?
Quinn Brett: Uhh, I’m in pain. But I’m stoked to be alive, and not to be cheesy, but there is shit to learn everyday.
RI: Are you able to get out of bed or move around some?
QB: Not on my own. I’m not able to move around without help. It takes two people to turn me in bed, four to get me out of bed.
RI: Going back to the accident, what happened up there?
QB: To be honest I don’t remember the exact moment. Josie McKee and I were trying to improve our time on the Nose, which we’d climbed many times together. We were moving quite fast that day and felt good—two hours to near the top of the Boot Flake.
I generally back clean my gear on the entire Boot Flake so that when I clip the anchors there is no gear left beneath me. Sometimes if I’m tired, I aid using cams on daisy chains or if I’m feeling good, I free climb. I was feeling good but must have slipped. It was quite warm, almost. My mind was definitely distracted on this pitch…
RI: Do you remember what caused the fall? Did any gear rip? Were you short fixing the pitch?
QB: I remember removing a red Camalot attached to a daisy and free climbing. I may have shoved in a number 3 Camalot attached to a daisy, but I’m not sure. Somewhere here I slipped with only the last bolt below the Boot Flake clipped to my rope. We short fixed this pitch.
According to Tom Evans of the El Cap Report, her highest piece of pro still clipped after the fall was at the top of the bolt ladder below the Boot Flake: “The moment I saw the situation I figured the fall was un-survivable. We climbers had discussed such a circumstance in the past and we all figured it would be very bad, but no one had ever taken that plunge so it was all speculation.”
Josie McKee: I’m pretty sure that I was putting Quinn back on belay after spending several minutes dealing with a rope that was stuck in the boulders behind Texas Flake. I watched Quinn fall and the rope never went tight.
RI: Were you initially aware of how far you fell or the severity of the accident?
QB: No. Josie was.
JM: I saw Quinn impact the sloping left side of Texas Flake and watched her helmet fly off of her head. She then fell another 10 feet into the boulders behind the flake. She fell almost 150 feet and was initially unresponsive.
Because she fell below me, I was immediately able to rap down to her. As I repositioned her to open her airway, she began waking up. I then called Yosemite dispatch and (knowing the system and not wanting to delay the response) requested that they “fucking connect me to YOSAR”.
RI: How many times have you climbed the Nose and El Cap before?
QB: I’ve climbed the Nose eight times, [Josie has] done it nine. I’ve climbed El Cap 13 times, Josie I think 18. We’ve done El Cap together four times. I’ve never fallen on the Boot Flake.
RI: What has been the most trying aspect of the accident/recovery?
QB: Dealing with the daily pain. Wondering if I’ll walk again.
RI: Has anything surprised you about the accident, rescue or response from the climbing community?
QB: Holy shit, people are amazing! I’m in love with everyone in the world. I am lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life, near and far.
RI: Is there anything that you’d like the community to know? Anything you’ve learned from this so far?
QB: Thank you! I am appreciative. Let’s not be so judgmental and give everyone some love
Quinn Brett Recovery Fund
A recovery fund to help cover medical costs has been set up for Quinn Brett on youcaring.com. This page is also where her friends and family post near-daily updates on her recovery.
In 2012, Quinn Brett and Jes Meiris set the female speed record on the Nose at 10 hours 19 minutes (it has since been broken). In 2014, Brett and Libby Sauter linked the Nose and Lurking Fear in less than 22 hours to become the first female team to climb two El Cap routes in a day. Brett has established multiple first ascents around the world, including The Colorado Route (6c+/5.11c, 45 degrees, 500 meters) on Fitz Roy with Max Barlerin and Mike Lukens in 2016.
In October 2016, Brett and McKee climbed seven grade V and VI big walls in Yosemite in seven consecutive days.
Last October I partnered up with the infamous Josie fucking Mckee. We climbed 7 grade V or VI big walls in 7 consecutive days in #yosemite What an awesome week with a great lady!!!! @rei wrote a little story about it—essentially women in climbing. It’s good. Read it. Link in profile. #protectourparks #getoutside. . ?Tom Evans (elcapreport.com)
A post shared by Quinn Brett (@quinndalina) on