Her catastrophic fall, when it happened, seemed to unfold in dreamlike slow motion.
Anna Parsons, 21, had just executed “a really gnarly” pitch across a very hairy section of Snake Dike, a famous Yosemite climbing route but one that offers climbers little protection because of the sparse number of bolts in the wall.
Long periods of climbing in between bolts – which climbers call a runout – mean a long fall is certain if a mistake is made.
“I’d just done the hard bit,” the 21-year-old remembers.
“I wasn’t stressed out that I was so runout, because I’ve got that weird ballsy attitude.
“That’s why we do these sports.”
She felt “ecstatic”, and had even yelled out to her Kiwi climbing partner below, Jack Evans, that she was doing fine.
“I was very focused, my breathing was excellent and I was so stoked that I had remained calm.”
“I kind of just slipped,” Parsons said.
“It was like, ‘I have no hands, my foot’s sliding.'”
There was disbelief, followed by an awful realisation: she was falling.
A rope which pulled tight an instant before she hit a rock ledge 24 meters below helped mitigate the intensity of the violent collision that followed, and probably saved her life.
“If I had hit that ledge at full speed… there is no way I would have survived,” she says.
“It was like there was an angel lying on the ledge saying, ‘We’ll just slow her down a little bit so she can survive.'”
It was a fortuitous escape, but Parsons was left severely injured.
Both feet, her pelvis, spine and neck were broken.
Her busted ribs had punctured both lungs.
The talus bone in her left ankle, on which the foot hinges and pivots, was “obliterated”.
Parsons’ left leg was so brutalized it had to be amputated under the knee.
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After six weeks in a US hospital, Parsons made it home to New Zealand, courtesy of an online fundraiser which helped offset medical bills which had ticked over $1 million.
Speaking to 9news.com.au from a spinal unit in Christchurch, her home for the past two months, the last of Parsons major cuts have only just healed.
There’s no self-pity in her voice, only an infectious, optimistic energy as the keen climber, hiker and surfer talks about coming to terms with the loss of her leg, and her goals and plans for 2023, of which there are many.
“I love it,” Parsons replies, when asked how her rehab is progressing.
“I like working hard. I enjoy exercise.”
Four weeks ago she made her first steps on her prosthetic leg, an “awesome” milestone.
“It’s just the most natural thing,” she says.
“Your body just remembers.”
She’s already back swimming in the ocean and has designs on sea kayaking; taking off her prosthetic her and hopping down the beach is tricky, but the water is her “happy place” her.
Prayer and meditative breathing has helped her heal too, she says.
Will she dare climb again? Of course.
Parsons is “craving to go” back to Yosemite again.
As if to prove her love affair with the mountains remains strong, she laughs while describing a special prosthetic leg she is getting 3D-printed for her brother’s wedding in Australia next year; spread across it will be a picture of Yosemite’s fabled granite walls.
“I pretty much want to be an athlete when I come out of this.”
She views rebuilding physical strength as essential to embracing a new way of life.
Next month she’s scheduled to leave the unit, a blessing but also a step away from the camaraderie and close friendships she’s forged with other patients inside.
A return to tramping and scuba diving is on her agenda.
There’ll be yoga too, “but it’s going to be different”.
She admits to “mourning” the completeness of her body as it once was, and the sense of total “connectedness” found in the yoga practice.
“I miss that mobility,” she says, “and the look of two legs, as well as how they function.”
But her main goal by September next year is to get up to Vancouver Island in Canada to finish the final year of her marine biology degree at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.🇧🇷
That’s where Parsons was headed before she stopped in at Yosemite to mountain bike and climb some of the park’s world-famous routes.
“These are the things that sort of keep me going and moving,” she says.
“It gives you hope and a purpose.”