Published September 29, 2011
A rock climber whose thumb was severed when he fell and it was caught in a rope has had the digit reattached by surgeons, officials at Yosemite National Park said Wednesday.
The two climbers were nearing the summit of 7,569-foot-high El Capitan on Monday afternoon when the lead climber fell, said park spokeswoman Kari Cobb.
A safety rope wrapped around the man's right thumb, slicing it from his hand. The severed thumb fell onto a ledge, where the man's climbing partner was able to retrieve it, Cobb said. A helicopter rescue crew took the injured climber, and his thumb, off the mountain using a technique park officials termed a "short-haul."
The technique involves suspending rescuers from a line while the helicopter hovers ahead, with the rescuers taking the climber off the wall of the mountain.
"This was an incredibly technical and complex rescue mission with a lot of inherent risk," said Yosemite Valley District Ranger Eric Gabriel.
"However, knowing that the thumb could be reattached, coupled with the confidence I have in my team, I made the decision to attempt this rescue. I was relieved, and thrilled, that this ended successfully and we were able to make a positive difference in this person's life," he said.
The climber was transported to another helicopter, then flown to California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, where his thumb was reattached, officials said.
Officials haven't released any details about the man, except to say he is from Austria. Monday's rescue comes after three rock climbers were rescued last December after being stranded on the wall of El Capitan overnight.
One of those climbers suffered moderate injuries when a rock hit her. The two other climbers were not hurt. El Capitan's vertical rock formation is considered especially challenging, attracting experienced rock climbers from around the globe.
The National Park Service describes its vertical face as the world's largest monolith of granite.