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Top climber Emily Harrington survives 'wild sideways fall' off Yosemite's El Capitan

"I actually feel better than I thought I would," Harrington told "Today" after leaving the hospital.
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Posted at 7:49 AM, Nov 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-27 10:52:23-05

Professional climber Emily Harrington, who was hospitalized with cuts and scrapes after a frightening fall while scaling Yosemite's 3,200-foot El Capitan on Sunday, said she's going to be OK.

Harrington, a U.S. national champion in sport climbing, posted on Instagram from a Fresno, California, hospital Tuesday that she had an accident and got "banged up."

"Not much to say except I took a bad fall and pin balled a bit then somehow hit the rope w my neck," Harrington wrote. The post included a picture of her scraped face and another of a long horizontal bruise across her neck.

Harrington, 33, told "Today" after leaving the Community Regional Medical Center that "I actually feel better than I thought I would."

She said she "lost consciousness for a period of time" after the "wild sideways fall," but eventually "could feel my fingers and toes, so I kind of knew that things were not super, super, super serious."

In her Instagram post, Harrington, a five-time U.S. sport climbing champion, thanked fellow climbers, including her boyfriend, Adrian Ballinger, and Alex Honnold, who is the first person to climb El Capitan without a rope or harness and the subject of the 2018 Academy Award-winning documentary "Free Solo."

View this post on Instagram

Most important to this insty - @emilyaharrington is going to be ok! ❤️🙏 Two mornings ago was the scene we all dread. The most important person in my world crumpled on a ledge after a big fall in below freezing temperatures with real injuries and a lot of reasons to suspect spinal injury. But looking back it was also the best case scenario of the worst case scenario - @alexhonnold with Em calmly maintaining spinal immobilization on the wall, getting things ready for an evac, and telling stories and keeping her talking throughout. Clear and consistent comms and planning by @jonglassberg and @sannimccandless from the ground. @tarakerzhner keeping me calm as we ran from the other side of the mountain and up the wall to be first on scene to get Em warm and stabilized. YOSAR (Yosemite Search and Rescue) on scene within 90 minutes with a big crew and the necessary equipment to get her off the wall and to the road. Competent paramedics and Trauma 1 Center docs to give the good drugs and eventually to clear Em of spinal injury despite some gnarly wounds. The outpouring of help and support from friends at home and in Yosemite to clean up our chaos from plans very rapidly changed. And finally, Em herself and her warrior mentality. She dealt with the pain, helped where she could, and stayed positive throughout. It’s gonna take a bit of time, but Em and her blood stained 🦖 earrings and new neck tattoo will be back in the vertical world soon. // Photos: 2,5 @tarakerzhner / 4 @emilyaharrington / 1,3,6,7 AB

A post shared by Adrian Ballinger (@adrianballinger) on

She also thanked Yosemite Search and Rescue. Harrington, who lives in Squaw Valley, California, has previously free-climbed the challenging El Capitan in six days, according to The North Face, which sponsors her.

She has also summited Everest, speed-climbed and skied down Cho Oyu on the China–Nepal border and climbed many other high-altitude peaks around the world.

Ballinger, Harrington's boyfriend, wrote on Instagram that when she fell, "the scene was all dread."

"The most important person in my world crumpled on a ledge after a big fall in below freezing temperatures with real injuries and a lot of reasons to suspect spinal injury," he wrote. But he said Honnold kept Harrington calm and conscious until Yosemite Search and Rescue arrived on scene within an hour and a half, and paramedics were able to clear her of "spinal injury despite some gnarly wounds."

Ballinger said Harrington "dealt with the pain, helped where she could, and stayed positive throughout."

"Em and her blood stained earrings and new neck tattoo will be back in the vertical world soon," Ballinger wrote.

Harrington chalked up her "accident" to being a lesson she will learn from.

"I just hope that people can kinda take away a little inspiration in that message in whatever they're struggling with in their lives," she told "Today."