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Estes Park Climber Recovers After El Capitan Fall

By Jamie Leary

DENVER (CBS4) - An accomplished Estes Park climber is recovering at Craig Hospital after falling more than 100 feet from The Nose of Yosemite's famed El Capitan.

Quinn Brett, 37, knows the route well. In fact, she has set a previous speed climb record on The Nose but as she headed back up on October 11th, she said she was more distracted than usual.

(credit: Quinn Brett)

"I feel like I was reaching around to grab another cam to put in to protect myself and a foot slipped or a piece that I was on popped out." Said Brett from her hospital room at Craig. "I remember the feeling of falling but I thankfully don't remember hitting anything but I fell about 120 feet and hit the Texas Flake."

Brett then fell behind the Texas flake and was wedged, unconscious, between it and El Capitan.

"My helmet fell off upon the first impact so I must have hit the Texas flake and then the helmet flung off. People found it at the base later. How I have a face with hardly any damage or brain damage is incredible."

(credit: Tom Evans)

Brett was unconscious for several minutes and when she came to; she remembers telling her climbing partner that she couldn't feel her legs.

"I remember being in that wedged space and telling her that my legs felt asleep that my shoulder was... I wrecked my scapula pretty bad."

Brett works in Rocky Mountain National Park rescuing climbers in her position all the time. This time she found herself on the other end. The first man to come to her aid just so happened to be with the RMNP Rescue Team. The very same team she worked with.

"I remember him coming and loading me in the litter and getting swung off the mountain below a helicopter. I remember that stuff. I remember landing in the meadow and many of my friends who work search and rescue were standing there."

(credit: CBS)

They were relieved that she was alert and recognized them but her injuries were severe. She still has not regained the feeling in her legs.

"This sucks for now and I'll keep working on bringing some life into them if the body will allow but my spinal cord doesn't look very good." Said Brett.Brett has her Masters in Psychology. She has taught herself how to overcome fear at incredible heights and now has to teach herself how to overcome new and totally unexpected fears.

"What am I most afraid of? Not inspiring people again, loving and being in love and being loved by everyone. That's a scary thought. Not being loved because I'm in a wheelchair."

(credit: CBS)

For the first time in a long time, she is in completely unfamiliar territory.

"Getting out of bed, trying to learn how to do that myself and getting to the bathroom and getting that routine going because that's a whole new process in itself. Life skills are overwhelming sometimes. And thinking about the future like 'what I'm gonna be capable of?' Like living and working and playing again, traveling… I hope." She said.

Brett says she can wiggle her toes from time to time but knows there is a strong possibility she will never walk again. She has big plans.

"I wanna' be on TED Talks and inspire people or I wanna' be the Secretary of the Interior because we need a better one." She laughed.

Aside from replacing the Secretary of the Interior, Brett says she has been in contact with Remote Medical International where she has a teaching license. She will still be able to teach people how to give medical support in remote areas.

(credit: CBS)

She is also considering opportunities that would allow her to stay with RMNP Rescue Team.

"I haven't reached my full potential as a person and this is just another challenge and it might be a ridiculously silly one that I'm not in love with yet but maybe I will be." Said Brett. "It's all a possibility so why not try it all. Just keep trying and keep on inspiring people to do the same within themselves."

She doesn't want people to shy away from climbing because of her accident. She wants them to find strength in her story.

She has about 30 days of in-patient therapy left. A YouCare page has been set up to help with expenses as she continues to recover.

Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn't imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.

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