Glacier fall victim wakes from coma

By Kurt Bayer, Fiona Thomas of The Star

Heather Rhodes, 36, was rescued from the South Island Arrowsmith Range glacier.
Heather Rhodes, 36, was rescued from the South Island Arrowsmith Range glacier.

A woman who fell 300m down a glacier in the Southern Alps last week has woken up from her coma.

Heather Rhodes, 36, was climbing with fellow Christchurch mountaineer Vaughan Snowdon and Wellington man Simon Bell last Sunday when Ms Rhodes fell 300m on the Cameron Glacier in the Arrowsmith Range.

Ms Rhodes, 36, a professional outdoor instructor, suffered head injuries and two broken legs in the fall.

She had been in a coma in Christchurch Hospital until today.

Ms Rhodes' father John said Heather's sister Janet phoned from the hospital at 1pm today.

"She had just learned from the hospital that 'Heather has woken up and asked for Mum'."

Earlier this week, Mr Snowdon, 28, said as they were making their way down the glacier they heard a tumbling noise and "Heather shot past. I knew that she had fallen," he said.

"It was distinctively the sound of a falling person, not like rocks which we had heard plenty of that day. I knew instantly that something had failed at the top."

The trio were descending from the glacier about 6.30pm when Ms Rhodes's anchor failed and she fell, her climbing helmet falling off as she did.

Their climb had been delayed by falling rock and ice and they had sought refuge under a bulge in the ice for eight hours.

Mr Snowdon said the fall was about 300 metres, with Ms Rhodes landing where her companions could see her.

"When Heather came to rest, we could see her in the distance as a black dot on a white snowy background."

Ms Rhodes' fall had taken the group's ropes with her, leaving the other two climbers with the task of climbing down down without any gear.

Mr Snowdon said they knew the risks but had no choice about how to get down the face.

"If we had made a mistake, then we would have likely followed her down," he said.

"My first priority was to get the personal locator beacon out of the top of the pack, which Heather was carrying when she fell," Mr Snowdon said.

The men then set up a tent and used their own body heat to keep her warm.

"The priority was then to keep her warm. That's the main thing we could do."

- APNZ

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