Jo Morgan says she is lucky to be alive, after an avalanche last year buried her alive and killed two of her friends.
It was two o'clock in the morning on October 31 last year when Morgan, an experienced climber, set out for Mount Hicks' peak.
She was with two guides, Wolfgang Maier and Martin Hess, on a mission to climb all 24 New Zealand peaks higher than 3000 feet. Mount Hicks was going to be the 23rd.
But tragedy struck in the early hours of the morning, when an avalanche hit the group, leaving Morgan as the only survivor.
She told Tim Dower that she still thinks about the event quite a lot, describing it as a surreal experience.
“It’s a bit like putting three jellybeans in a jar of icing sugar and giving them a shake, and I was just lucky that I was the one on top.”
Morgan says that they knew it was edgy going in, but they never expected that outcome.
“We knew the avalanche risk was heightened, but the assessment was made that we would be sheltered in the places we’d be walking.”
She says that she trusted Maier and Hess “intimately”, and believed they had made the right call.
“Wolfgang was way up there in terms of the guiding and the ability to climb. He was very, very strong climber.”
Wolfgang Maier, Jo Morgan and Martin Hess. Photos / Supplied
When the avalanche began, it was night time and the three had their torch lamps on.
Morgan says that they had no warning, only that the snow surface had started vibrating.
“Suddenly, the snow surface went very blurry. And then I looked up and there’s this wave coming towards me. It would be two metres tall.”
She describes the avalanche as “gentle”; when Morgan ended up at the bottom of the mountain, she says she did not have a single bruise.
Morgan was able to quickly uncover her face and activate her emergency beacon, which she had placed in her chest pocket and says that decision is the best one she had made that day.
However, they had not brought avalanche equipment with them, so she was unable to dig out Hess and Maier.
“These are decisions you make when you go on a climb like this. You don’t want to climb with 20 kilograms in your bag. It’s bad enough with 10.”
Morgan says it was surreal to look out across the mountain but to be totally alone.
“It’s doubly surreal when you call out to your friends and there’s no one there.
“You can’t do anything because you’re trapped, and your friends are nearby but they are buried.”
Morgan says that she was able to speak to her husband, philanthropist Gareth Morgan, while she was up there, though the fact she was alive and well meant that the search and rescue team considered calling off the mission.
“It gave a lot of people a very early morning fright. I knew that I survived, so it may have been easier for me than those sitting down here.”
She describes it as “s horrible, horrible experience” losing the two boys, and then watching their families suffer.
“They were both so full of life, and they both had other plans.”
However, Morgan insists the experience wasn’t all negative, as it highlighted the kindness of humanity.
She says that many people from her past reached out to her to see if she how she was and offer their thoughts.
“Even the people at my favourite little Korean restaurant in Wellington came out of the kitchen to give me a hug.
“It’s awful, but it really makes you appreciate people and the life you’ve got.”