New mates my lifesavers, says climber

By Cullen Smith

Injured mountaineer facing long recovery process but keen to get back into the hills

Heather Rhodes is taking the first steps on her long road to recovery after she fell while climbing in the Southern Alps just over two months ago.
Heather Rhodes is taking the first steps on her long road to recovery after she fell while climbing in the Southern Alps just over two months ago.

Climber Heather Rhodes has no memory of the 300m fall that almost took her life on the Cameron Glacier in the Southern Alps in November.

The 36-year-old avid mountaineer and former outdoor instructor recalls waking up from an induced coma in hospital with serious head injuries and two mangled legs.

She's eternally grateful to the two climbing companions she met for the first time the day before their ill-fated trip into the Arrowsmith Range.

Speaking for the first time since her discharge from Burwood Hospital last week, Ms Rhodes said she was determined to overcome her injuries and hoped eventually to return to the mountains she loves.

"I hope so. I need to get that in my head. I need to learn to walk properly before I can get back to the mountains and at the moment my feet get really swollen."

The trio were descending from the glacier about 6.30pm on November 3 when an ice anchor gave way while Ms Rhodes was abseiling.

She hurtled past her fellow climbers, taking the group's ropes with her.

She landed about 300m below Vaughan Snowdon and Simon Bell, who took about an hour to negotiate a steep icy slope to reach her.

They activated a personal locator beacon, then set up a platform and tent, using their own body heat to keep Ms Rhodes warm.

"My companions undoubtedly saved my life," she said. "I'm immensely grateful."

Ms Rhodes met the pair only the night before they set off but both had visited her regularly in hospital.

"I can recommend if you're choosing a climbing partner, you choose someone who can save your life."

Ms Rhodes said doctors hadn't given her an estimate of her recovery time but she realised she was facing a long recuperation.

"Obviously it was Vaughan and Simon who rescued me, but there are a lot of other people who were involved, from paramedics to doctors and hospital staff. I don't know how to say thank you to everybody."

Burwood Hospital neuro rehabilitation practitioner Dr John Maasch said Ms Rhodes was "a lucky lady" to survive the fall and be able to walk out of hospital less than three months later.

"If she'd been left alone on the mountain for much longer, hypothermia and frostbite could have set in."

- CHRISTCHURCH STAR

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