PALO ALTO -- When something went wrong on a casual climb at Yosemite National Park and Blake Parkinson found himself plummeting off a craggy pinnacle, there was no reason to panic.

The recreational rock scrabbler who works as a college admissions officer at Stanford University knew that after about 30 feet, his climbing partner would feel the rope go taut in its anchorage and brake the line, leaving Parkinson dangling cliffside but not much worse for wear.

"Then you'd communicate with the climber," said Ben Tomsky, who was below Parkinson and holding the rope for the Easter outing. "Then usually you'd hear back, 'I'm OK, I'm going to keep going.' But in this circumstance I did not hear that back."

Parkinson, 26, had landed on a five-foot outcropping, slamming his back into the rock just as his safety line went taut. It was his worst fall in four years of climbing, and one that ended with a dramatic air rescue by a crack Yosemite team flown in by a California Highway Patrol chopper crew.

"That ledge was in a bad place," he said, speaking on Tuesday from his hospital bed in Modesto where he remains with a fractured spine. "I was conscious -- I was wearing a helmet -- and I knew that it was worse than other falls. Yeah, I was in a lot of pain, and it took me a moment to kind of regroup and figure out what happened."

When Tomsky reached his friend, it was obvious that they wouldn't be clambering down the mountain on their own.

"Calling for help is a last resort," Tomsky said. "It's a climber's ethic to do everything you can to get yourself out, but sometimes the way it happens luck just isn't with you."

Parkinson said that while the outing ended bad, it could have been much worse. He said he can move his arms and legs so paralysis isn't an issue, and that after a few weeks of intensive therapy he hopes to return home to Palo Alto.

He praised the CHP and Yosemite Search and Rescue team for skillfully removing him from the Higher Cathedral Spire, a popular climbing site. The rescue involved deftly flying the chopper next to the monolith and dropping the lifesavers into position, then returning to lift Parkinson out to the valley floor.

"I remember looking up at the helicopter medic, and she was saying good words to me and keeping me stable for the flight," he said. "It was a pretty surreal experience. I've witnessed rescues like that in Yosemite but didn't imagine I'd ever be taking part in one myself."

CHP flight medical Officer Andrea Brown joked that after Parkinson returned a thumbs-up gesture, she knew that he'd been given something for the pain, otherwise "he wouldn't have tolerated that at all."

"He was thanking us for what we were doing, and I told him that it was the guys on the ground that did the hard part," Brown said. "He definitely was not having a good day, but we were there to help."

The CHP and Yosemite rangers train with each other just for such situations, Brown said. While they never know when someone's going need a rescue, with the park's popularity among climbers it's not an uncommon occurrence.

"It goes in spurts," Brown said. "We had three in the last two and a half weeks, but sometimes there won't be one in a month."

Tomsky said the pinnacle wasn't a particularly difficult climb, and that just the day before they completed the more technical "South by Southwest" on Lower Cathedral Spire.

"This climb was well within our abilities," Tomsky said. "Everything was going quite smoothly and we were moving very quickly. It was just as we'd hoped and planned."

Parkinson does not remember exactly what went wrong, and said it is too early to tell if he will eventually be able to resume scaling cliffs. But he said he will always find something to do outdoors.

"We'll see what my back allows, but the mountains are a very important part of my life," he said. "I'm looking forward to spending more time in the mountains."

Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.