Climber Josh Ourada fell almost 200 feet in Yosemite without dying. But that's not to say there weren't serious consequences. The 31-year-old talks to Outside Online about the April 10, 2021, fall—what preceded it, what he was thinking of as he plummeted, and what he's dealing with now. The former Marine had in recent years shifted to free soloing, that is, climbing without ropes or harnesses. And he admits the first part of his day was marked by "impatience." He settled on hiking a five-pitch route called the Nutcracker that is rated 5.8. But he arrived to find four people already working their way up. After some time elapsed Ourada got "antsy" and asked the climbers ahead of him if they would mind if he climbed behind them. They didn't, and so he started going up. The fall came in the fourth pitch.
He was at the route's toughest part and using care. He remembers slipping, but not what preceded it—whether his hand or foot faltered. He back going down feetfirst with his back toward the rock. "The route isn’t quite vertical, so I wasn’t free-falling. I was digging my heels into the rock as I fell," he explains, and he tried to slow himself down while thoughts ran through his head about the person on a ledge below that he was headed toward. Ourada managed to land in a seated position on that ledge without hurting the other climber. He spent 37 days hospitalized with severe injuries, among them a right heel fractured "so badly it actually disintegrated in parts" and fractures in his spine that have left him with no feeling from his ankles down. "There’s a decent chance that will never change, meaning I’ll have paralyzed feet for the rest of my life. This entire experience was traumatic, but the thought of permanent paralysis is by far the hardest part to get my head around." (Read more mountain climber stories.)