Jo Morgan says she is very lucky to be alive after an avalanche on Mt Hicks this morning which killed two guides who were climbing with her.

Morgan told RNZ's Checkpoint she was "gobsmacked" after climbing out of the avalanche before realising her climbing partners weren't so lucky.

"I must admit once I got my upper body out, I looked at the view and I just was gobsmacked," she told RNZ's Checkpoint.

"I thought, 'Isn't this amazing?' And I know that's totally inappropriate but it was just such a beautiful place and the sun was just rising and at that stage, I knew there was no response when I'd been shouting out for the boys."

Wolfgang Maier, Jo Morgan and Martin Hess. Photos / Supplied
Wolfgang Maier, Jo Morgan and Martin Hess. Photos / Supplied

Morgan was climbing with mountain guides Martin Hess and Wolfgang Maier who are both originally from Germany but were New Zealand residents.

Central Otago-based Hess joined the New Zealand Mountain Guides Association (NZMGA) in 2006.

A friend posted on Jo Morgan's Facebook page today: "I cannot tell you how sad I am to hear my friend Martin has died, he was such an amazing man. Thankful Jo you made it out of there. I can only imagine Martin made some wonderful vege meals before the final climb. My heart aches his loss."

Aoraki/Mount Cook is in the centre, with Mt Hicks the ridge/dome on the left-hand side. Photo / File
Aoraki/Mount Cook is in the centre, with Mt Hicks the ridge/dome on the left-hand side. Photo / File

New Zealand Mountain Guide Association (NZMGA) president Jane Morris told the Herald both climbers were very experienced in the Southern Alps.

"Martin has called New Zealand home for the last 20 years and Wolfgang would come and work from now until around February guiding New Zealand summers," she said.

Maier was an internationally qualified mountain guide and Hess had a qualification through the NZGMA.

"[Martin] was assisting Wolfgang with that ascent because Hicks is a relatively challenging peak.

"Guides do their best at making the safest possible decisions but you're dealing with a really dynamic environment, so mother nature is going to say the final say.


"They've had an extensive time in the mountains, both of them, and whereby they are experienced but it's one of those things," Morris said.

Morris said the NZMGA community was reeling following the news of their deaths and would investigate the incident.

A post on says Hess started climbing in 2001 at age 33 and became a guide in 2003.

It says he is an NZMGA Alpine Trekking Guide, Level 2 and "works with us as a trekking guide for our treks here in New Zealand".

"He has climbed several of New Zealand's highest peaks and has trekked extensively throughout the Southern Alps," the website says.

It says he enjoys, "experiencing untouched nature as well as the physical and mental challenge that enhance personal insight and development".

"He became a guide because he enjoys sharing his passion with others, enabling them to trek safely while strengthening their awareness and interest for the care of the environment. He also likes creating an environment for people to realise their personal potential and values.

"When we asked Martin what his most memorable climbing/trekking experience was his reply was, 'Any day out there is an adventure for me'."

Some of Hess' other work has seen him glacier guiding on the west coast of New Zealand, working for the Department of Conservation, the Aoraki/Mt Cook Alpine Rescue Team and the Australian Antarctic Division, and instructing for polytechnics and private companies.

He is also a former member of the NZMGA's executive committee.