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March 2014 Issue
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Alpine gran

Jo Morgan on Aoraki/Mt Cook
Jo Morgan didn’t take up mountaineering until she was 58. Now she’s addicted

Mothers worry about their kids. They want to make sure they’re not doing anything silly which means they get hurt. In Jo Morgan’s family, the roles are reversed.

The grandmother of five first visited an alpine climbing school two years ago when she was 58. She’d finished her parenting responsibilities and wanted an adrenalin rush.

She quickly found mountaineering gave her the fix she was looking for. She became addicted and is now trying to climb each of the country’s 3000m peaks.

There are around 24, depending on which list you read, and Morgan, who’s now 60, has already completed (or almost completed) nine. “I just love the ice,” she said. “I love the feeling that you can’t make a mistake. It’s hard to find anything legal that gives you so much adrenalin.”

Her family aren’t always so enthusiastic about the risk. “It’s funny – as a mother, you’re always asking kids to be careful,” says Morgan. “Now they’re worried about me. I love that. One of my granddaughters asked if she could have my shiny things before a trip because she overheard her mum saying I might die!”

There have been several times when Morgan has had to draw on her mental toughness. On Mt Haidinger, 3070m, her guide’s crampon broke, forcing her to do the belaying before down climbing herself. “It was one of my early climbs so it was before I realised ice axes were so good at holding you on. I looked over the edge and it was a long time before I built up the courage to go.”

The guide in question is Wolfgang Maier from Alpine Recreation who has accompanied Morgan on all of her climbs. “He doesn’t treat me like an old lady,” said Morgan. “He tells me I can do it.

“I’m always wondering whether, as I get older, I’ll get any better. It’s hard to know if you’re improving as a climber or your tolerance to risk has got higher.

“The one mountain that really makes me think ‘will I be able to do this’ is Mt Tasman. It’s a really technical mountain with a lot of exposure and climbing with no top rope.”

In May, Morgan will put her alpine challenge on hold while she pursues her other great adrenalin rush – motor biking. She and her husband, economist, Gareth have travelled most of the world by bike and this year they’re planning a trip to Pakistan, China and Nepal, riding up to Everest Base Camp.

The mountains Jo has climbed so far

  1. Mt Lendenfeld, 3194m
  2. Mt Haidinger (didn’t summit due to guide’s crampon failure), 3070m
  3. Mt Aspiring/Tititea (didn’t summit due to weather), 3033m
  4. Mt Elie de Beaumont, 3109m
  5. Mt Hamilton, 3025m
  6. West ridge of Malte Brun, 3198m
  7. Aoraki /Mt Cook, 3724m
  8. Mt Dixon, 3004m
  9. Mt Silberhorn, 3300m

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