Speed Fear and Death Jo Morgan dances with the machine

Speed, Fear, and Death: Jo Morgan dances with the machine

Jo Morgan has lived in a home bus, seen the world by motorcycle, and had a son who invented Commerce Me. She’s been a junk seller, bus driver, and diving trainer. She took up mountaineering when she was 57, and three years in the past survived an avalanche that killed her two guides. Mike White talks to Morgan about pace, concern, loss of life, and her autobiography, Dancing With the Machine.

First, loss of life.

At 2am on 31 October 2018, Jo Morgan left Empress Hut excessive within the Southern Alps, with guides Wolfgang Maier and Martin Hess.

Following the imprint of their footsteps in crusty snow, and the erratic sweep of their headlamps, Morgan was aiming to climb Mt Hicks, close to Aoraki/Mt Cook dinner, in a slender window earlier than unhealthy climate roared again in.

Simply after 5am, because the nation’s highest peaks have been dusted with the primary flush of daybreak, Morgan heard Maier cry “F…” earlier than she was hit by a two-metre wave of snow, and barrelled down the slope by a spring avalanche.

* Avalanche survivor Jo Morgan keen to complete peaks for dead friend
* Lessons learned from Mount Hicks tragedy: ‘They’d want you to live your life’
* ‘Special’ friendship of climbing guides Wolfgang Maier and Martin Hess remembered at memorial service
* Mt Cook avalanche victim’s partner: ‘I really thought he was invincible’

The avalanche on Mt Hicks that Jo Morgan survived, but resulted in the deaths of Wolfgang Maier and Martin Hess in October 2018.

George Heard/Stuff

The avalanche on Mt Hicks that Jo Morgan survived, however resulted within the deaths of Wolfgang Maier and Martin Hess in October 2018.

When she stopped, her headlamp was nonetheless shining, however she was largely pinned beneath the snow’s floor, her cries to her companions unanswered.

Morgan estimates it was an hour earlier than she dug herself out, and by that point, she knew Maier and Hess have been lifeless.

Hess, 50, had been buried deeply. Maier, 58, seems to have survived the avalanche, and scratched an air pocket. However when rescuers reached him, he couldn’t be resuscitated.


Mt Cook dinner Avalanche: Helicopter footage of the scene the place two folks died after a trio of climbers have been swept away after an avalanche struck Mt Hicks, close to Mt Cook dinner.

Morgan had met Maier eight years earlier, and collectively they’d virtually accomplished Morgan’s mission to climb the 24 peaks within the Southern Alps over 3000m. Mt Hicks was the second-to-last on their listing.

The night time earlier than, ready within the hut, the trio had mentioned loss of life and hazard and wills and what-ifs.

And Maier had mentioned, if he died on the market, for heaven’s sake do not say he died doing one thing he liked.

Martin Hess, left, Jo Morgan, and Wolfgang Maier in Empress Hut, October 2017.


Martin Hess, left, Jo Morgan, and Wolfgang Maier in Empress Hut, October 2017.

“What I need to do is sit on my balcony,” he instructed Morgan, “with my whisky and my cigars, watching my grandchildren play within the pool.”

Ultimately, that by no means occurred. Morgan was the one who in some way survived, fortune and physics favouring her in that mad, flailing second.

She’s puzzled how and why. She’s questioned whether or not she might have achieved extra. She’s apprehensive that she ought to really feel extra guilt for being the explanation they have been all on the mountain that morning.

Nevertheless it simply occurred, it was an accident. And there was a lot extra in her life earlier than then, and a lot extra sooner or later.

“I don’t actually need to be well-known for surviving an avalanche.”

Jo Morgan is comforted by son Sam, after being flown back to Christchurch following the avalanche.

Joseph Johnson/Stuff

Jo Morgan is comforted by son Sam, after being flown again to Christchurch following the avalanche.

Jo Morgan’s dad died from a coronary heart assault when she was one.

Her mom, Mary, was left with eight youngsters, surviving on a widow’s profit, part-time work, and others’ generosity. Meals cooked on the coal vary, cleaning soap constructed from roast dinner fats, penury a close-by neighbour.

Jo was the youngest, a self-reliant baby with a behavior of climbing issues, and leaping off.

At 15, she received her driver’s licence and instantly purchased a 50cc motorcycle with financial savings from after-school jobs round Invercargill. She doesn’t bear in mind ever being taught to journey, however was quickly dismantling bikes and turning into an adept mechanic.

For her twentieth birthday, Morgan’s mum gave her a socket set.

She went to Massey College to develop into a vet, however was far too smooth for that – she smuggled out a rat she was meant to be dissecting within the lab, and made it her pet.

She squatted in an empty home to save cash, received larger motorbikes, and at 21 received pregnant.

Jo Morgan with her 1098cc Ducati, which she has ridden at 250kmh.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Jo Morgan together with her 1098cc Ducati, which she has ridden at 250kmh.

She’d met Gareth Morgan when she shifted into his flat in Palmerston North. They disliked one another instantly.

Jo remembers all they’d in frequent have been their giant, aggressive canines, who didn’t like one another a lot, both.

However finally Jo and Gareth received collectively, shifted to Wellington the place Gareth had a job as an economist on the Reserve Financial institution, and received married in 1975 after they discovered Jo was pregnant.

That was Sam, who later went on to discovered Commerce Me. Jessi, Floyd and Ruby adopted.

For a number of years, the household lived in a gas-guzzling Bedford home bus, travelling the nation, with Jo doing every thing from selecting carrots and gutting fish to mustering sheep.

Jo Morgan with children Floyd, left, Jessi and Sam in 1985, outside the house bus they lived in for many years.


Jo Morgan with youngsters Floyd, left, Jessi and Sam in 1985, outdoors the home bus they lived in for a few years.

As the youngsters grew up, she drove council buses, taught science, taught diving, and waitressed. However buying and selling proved her calling.

From treasures found at auctions, to automobiles, to homes, she dealt for revenue and the thrill of it. For some time she had a van emblazoned with Jo’s Junk on it, as she scoured Wellington for bargains.

She nonetheless has bins of stuff from this time in her storage: 1000 swimming goggles, all types of motorcycle bits. She had a stuffed sheep that supposedly featured in an early Peter Jackson movie, however moths received to it.

For some time, the household teetered between bourgeoisie and chapter, however finally Gareth’s work and corporations bore fruit, permitting the household consolation.

The fervour for motorbikes by no means waned, and in 2001, Jo and Gareth went to India and rode to Ladakh, beginning a love of touring that’s performed an infinite half of their lives ever since.

Black lines across a large map in the Morgans’ house show the motorbike trips they’ve made.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Black strains throughout a big map within the Morgans’ home present the motorcycle journeys they’ve made.

On a lounge wall of Jo and Gareth Morgan’s Wellington house that they’ve lived in for practically three many years, is a big Nationwide Geographic map of the world.

Traced throughout it are skinny black strains marking the place the couple have motorbiked within the final 20 years.

On each continent. Throughout the Himalayas, Andes and Caucasus. By means of North Korea. Alongside the Silk Highway, the Highway of Bones, the Bandit Freeway, roads that ran out, and roads that went nowhere. Greater than 110 international locations.

Morgan has had spills and illness, been violently attacked in India, stoned by youths in Ethiopia and Libya, taken custody in Iran, and chased by wolves in Russia.

“There was this enormous white one which should have been the chief of the pack – simply monumental. And I’m pondering, s…, if I fall off, they’re going to maintain searching me.”

Jo Morgan on the North Korean side of the DMZ in 2013. Husband Gareth is second from left, and Dave Wallace is second from right. The visit to North Korea took years to arrange.


Jo Morgan on the North Korean aspect of the DMZ in 2013. Husband Gareth is second from left, and Dave Wallace is second from proper. The go to to North Korea took years to rearrange.

Tauranga farmer Dave Wallace has been driving with the Morgans for 20 years, and sometimes goes strolling with Jo after they arrive in a brand new city.

“We find yourself in some foolish locations. Jo has a ability assembly folks and interesting with them. However there’s a couple of instances I’ve mentioned, ‘Jo, we’re not taking place that avenue, we’re going the opposite method.’

“She’s most likely a bit extra eager to go and do one thing that’s a bit on the sting.”

Wallace says they’ve develop into shut pals, and he hopes there are extra adventures nonetheless to return.

“I deal with her as my sister. We argue, we battle, we love one another. And she or he’s received a tremendous sense of humour. Generally it’s hidden under a few layers although, and also you’ve received to consider it a bit.”

Morgan, now 68, seems on the map, sees the strains, and may’t assist however assume they’ve solely scratched the world’s floor, what number of unmarked areas there are to discover.

Jo Morgan, right, on Kenya's Bandit Highway.


Jo Morgan, proper, on Kenya’s Bandit Freeway.

All of West Africa beckons, Liberia notably, with its unbelievable historical past.

However Covid put a halt on issues, and Morgan realises age isn’t doing any of them any favours.

She had a knee alternative eight months in the past, and it’s nonetheless not come proper.

“We’re getting sufficiently old to die.”

Not that previous, although. She nonetheless has 4 motorbikes, from a 1928 Indian Prince with a prime pace of 60kmh, to a vibrant yellow Ducati she’s achieved 250kmh on. (“The nook comes up actually quick…”)

However Morgan swears she’s not a motorcycle nut. They’re only a means to journey, to discover far off locations the place you’ll find a seat on a avenue nook on the finish of the day, and watch every thing go by.

Jo Morgan in Madagascar in 2012.


Jo Morgan in Madagascar in 2012.

And meet totally different folks.

Morgan was just lately out strolling with one among her eight grandchildren and paused to talk to a passerby.

Her granddaughter requested if Morgan knew the particular person. “You shouldn’t be speaking to strangers, Nana.”

“And I mentioned, ‘Strangers are nice enjoyable. You by no means know what you’ll discover. You may discover one thing actually particular, or anyone you actually like.’

“We do lock folks out as a result of they’re not becoming into our little bins.”

Jo Morgan exploring Hooker Glacier in Mt Cook, 2016.


Jo Morgan exploring Hooker Glacier in Mt Cook dinner, 2016.

Across the nook from the motorbiking map in Morgan’s home is a a lot smaller one of many Southern Alps. Pinned to it’s a piece of paper with all of the 3000m peaks handwritten on it, like a procuring listing.

Morgan’s mountain information, Wolfgang Maier, usually used to ask her: “Why are you right here, Jo?”

“I feel he was looking for out, ‘Why are you risking all of it? You’ve received so many selections, you are able to do something. This isn’t secure.’

“I don’t know if there’s a terrific selfishness in me, that makes me need to climb,” says Morgan. “However ever since I used to be little, I’ve appeared up and puzzled – the place are you able to go to?”

She would climb on roofs, up bushes, and did springboard and tower diving.

She was by no means actually afraid of heights, however says possibly her shortsightedness blurred the fact of any fall.

Jo Morgan near the summit of Malte Brun.


Jo Morgan close to the summit of Malte Brun.

The very fact it took till 2010, when she was 57, to do a newbie’s alpine course, was the results of enterprise wants, household commitments, and motorcycle journeys.

“And I don’t assume I ever realised what was on the market.

“It’s positively addictive. And whether or not that’s due to the concern, adrenaline, or whether or not it was simply getting away and getting peace, and immediately being within the nice outdoors, the place you’re nothing.”

Morgan would return from a visit with Maier, discover herself on the household’s bach in Pāpāmoa for Christmas, “and I’d be sending Wolfgang a message saying, ‘When can we go subsequent?’

“I simply couldn’t consider something higher than to return there, get away from the seashore, and minimize somewhat groove within the ice and throw your sleeping bag in it.

Jo Morgan in her bivvy after climbing La Perouse in 2017. A year later, she was caught in an avalanche in virtually the same spot.


Jo Morgan in her bivvy after climbing La Perouse in 2017. A yr later, she was caught in an avalanche in just about the identical spot.

“He’d take me out, doing multi-day climbs with anyone most guides would most likely roll their eyes at and say, ‘You possibly can’t take granny up there.’

“However he appreciated the actual fact I did not speak a lot, and I didn’t moan.”

Morgan was all the time conscious of the hazards, similar to with motorcycling, however normally shut concern from her thoughts.

“Whether or not it’s a rock going previous you, or a truck that misses you by two inches – it was two inches, is not that nice. It missed. In order that’s a very good day.”

What occurred to Maier and Hess on Mt Hicks that morning, greater than three years in the past, hasn’t put her off climbing, or soured her love of the mountains. She by no means doubted she’d return.

Wolfgang Maier and Jo Morgan climbed Malte Brun in 2013.


Wolfgang Maier and Jo Morgan climbed Malte Brun in 2013.

Nor has Morgan given up on reaching the summits of Mt Hicks and Torres Peak, the final of the 3000m peaks on her listing. (She received to the summit ridge of Torres simply earlier than Covid, however climate beat them again.)

However she admits the urgency has subsided. Circumstances gained’t be proper for an try till October, on the earliest, and if it doesn’t occur, properly, so be it.

No matter occurs, she’s liked the climbing she’s achieved, even the exhausting, 25-hour days, together with her knees and again screaming.

“I feel climbing has made me realise, you’re extra succesful and stronger than we predict.

“You wander spherical Wellington, and also you’re simply one other previous woman. You get within the mountains and there’s no one else up there, and it doesn’t matter what you might be or the way you’ve dressed or if you final washed something.

“You’re type of one with survival and nature. On the market within the mountains you do really feel you’re simply momentary little blips on the panorama.”

Jo Morgan in the Wellington house the family has lived in for nearly 30 years.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Jo Morgan within the Wellington home the household has lived in for practically 30 years.

Life may be very totally different for Morgan now, in comparison with her straight and straitened upbringing.

Profitable companies, a canny early funding in son Sam’s fledgling Commerce Me, and an innate vein of frugality have introduced ease and choices.

“I’m an actual tight-arse. I’d far reasonably reuse and recycle, and I’m not into consumption, usually.”

She has the occasional splurge, “nevertheless it’s positively not footwear”.

The household, which has had a excessive profile by Gareth’s financial and political careers, and Sam’s enterprise, are concerned in appreciable philanthropy too, by the Morgan Basis.

The Morgan family has had a high profile for many years, with Gareth a prominent economist, and son Sam founding Trade Me.

John Hawkins/Stuff

The Morgan household has had a excessive profile for a few years, with Gareth a outstanding economist, and son Sam founding Commerce Me.

Morgan has additionally moved away from the Catholic beliefs and education of her childhood.

“You’d go to different international locations, and they’d all have totally different gods and totally different beliefs, and ‘you’re improper, and I’m proper.’ And also you assume, how feeble is that?

“And also you go to villages and the one fats man is the pastor or the priest, and also you assume, oh…

“For me, I look within the backyard and watch bushes develop and watch the intricacy of nature and assume, god, that’s superb.”

Jo Morgan is as happy at home in her garden as she is travelling the world.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Jo Morgan is as glad at house in her backyard as she is travelling the world.

A number of monarch butterfly chrysalises dangle delicately contained in the frames of Morgan’s kitchen home windows.

She maintains a loop of pest traps round her neighbourhood, and native birds repay her by regularly visiting her backyard. Regardless of her love of journey, Morgan says she will be able to go every week with out leaving the home.

“Having the ability to sit right here and feed the tūī and plant a couple of nikau palms – I’m very content material.”

However Morgan admits she’s additionally impulsive.

“I hope I’m. I’d prefer to assume if the telephone rang and anyone mentioned, ‘Would you want to do that?’ I’d say, sure.”

Just like the time in England when she found a close-by airfield did wing-walking. Morgan instantly signed up and strapped herself to a biplane for one of many thrills of her life.

Jo Morgan wing walking in the UK in 2018.


Jo Morgan wing strolling within the UK in 2018.

“I do hope the e book makes folks assume, ‘oh shivers, I might give one thing a go,’ or, ‘my child might try this,’ or, ‘that’s a little bit of enjoyable.’”

A look on the map on her wall reminds her of all of the issues she’d nonetheless like to do, and the locations she’d like to get to, when Covid and dodgy knees enable. She hopes there are nonetheless many extra strains to attract on it.

“However travelling tough. Not cities and artwork galleries. I’m not going wherever with wheelchair entry but.”

Dancing with the Machine: Adventures of a insurgent, by Jo Morgan, with John McCrystal, (Allen & Unwin, $36.99) is printed on February 22.

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