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NZ-American Expedition

On 28 January 1949 Ralph Moir left to join the NZ-American expedition into Fiordland.  Here is The Southland Times article on the intrepid survey team, who were members of the expedition.

Exploration of Unmapped Country

The Southland Times, date and month unknown, 1949

Blizzards and Flood Tested Survey Party in Sounds Expedition

Staff Reporter

The time was eight o’clock and the camp was beginning to settle down for the night. A faint shout echoing across the sound brought the men, puzzled, out of the tents. From the beach they could see a fire beacon over the sound nearly a mile away; the surveyors with the New Zealand-American Expedition had finished their days work but were late for tea.

These for men – Messrs J.H. Miller, R. Moir, R. Litt, and B. Dick – had been away from their base tent at the George Sound camp for five weeks. They had just come through a 24-hour non-stop blizzard on the southern face of Saddle Hill, about 36000ft high, with their small tent encompassed by 3ft of snow.

Halfway through the second day of the storm they had to climb out and did the snow away from the tent. In two days the temperature never rose above freezing point, and at one stage icicles which formed from condensation of their breath hung from the tent roof.

Food was short, and one day their diet consisted of three slices of bread and two cups of tea each.

Among other members of the expedition, the four bearded surveyors – possibly the most integrated and self-sufficient team in the whole expedition – won a reputation for their amazing endurance.

Only 15 Fine Days

Their achievement in scaling most of the prominent peaks in an area of 100 square miles gains lustre from the fact that of the first 73 days in the region only 15 were fine enough for surveying work. The highest peak they climbed was Mount Henry, which is about 4700 feet.

Their aim, as Mr Miller, leader of the party, told a reporter, was to provide height and position control for detailed mapping form aerial photographs. A complete exploration of the region has not previously been attempted. They entered virgin territory and looked down from peaks that had never before in history been ascended.

Extensive reconnaissance trips were necessary before actual observational work was begun. This meant that they sometimes had to visit one place twice.

Besides regulation equipment, they carried several days’ supply of food and their packs weighed about 660ib for each trip – a weight guaranteed to build muscles in any place, but especially so in Fiordland. They possessed an alpine tent manufactured to their own requirements after other types had proved useless.

As they could only survey if the mountain tops were clear, they were often forced to wait days before visibility became sufficiently good for their work. They always refused to leave a peak until either their food was exhausted or the job completed. Twice they scraped through with barely enough rations.

The part encountered the Stillwater River in a bad mood several times. In one of the bigger floods the water rose to lap around the bunks in some tents – “You could wash your feet before going to bed,” said Ralph Moir. Although they accounted their experience on the Saddle Hill the worst of all, a week spent on the Mary Peaks was a close second.

Descriptions of their stay in Fiordland varied: - “Strenuous,” “Marvellous in fine weather,” “unforgettable and valuable experience,” “a great place if you could depend on the weather,” “some of the views were extraordinarily impressive and compare more than favourably with those in the alps,” and finally, “it was great to have in front of us, but better to have behind us.”

There were three obstacles to travel in Fiordland, Mr Miller said. They were the abnormal density of the forest undergrowth, the steepness of the valley and mountain slopes and the incredibly bad weather.

The surveyors will leave George Sound in the Dunedin launch Alert for Milford this week-end.