Re-living The Sutch Search (Part 3 of 3)

Following from part one and part two.

“It is, therefore, reasonable that the actions of Trampers who become—or are believed to be—lost should be thrown open to examination, and, if necessary, to criticism. When a party that was expected to return in about three days does not return for about fifteen days, and then says, it was “never lost,” a difficult precedent is created.”

—The Evening Post, 1st May 1933.

It is expected that it will be several days before all the searchers can he recalled. A party consisting of Messrs. H. Anderson, B. McGregor, and W. E. Davidson, of the Tararua Tramping Club, and Mr. F. A. McNeil, of the Radio Emergency Corps, left Wellington yesterday for the mountain house, and will remain there until the withdrawal of the search parties has been completed.

About thirty-five members of the Tararua Tramping Club and a number of others belonging to kindred clubs are still on the ranges, and arrangements have been made with the Railway Department for trains to sound three blasts on their whistles between Otaki and Levin on the west side and Carterton and Masterton on the east side as an indication to the searchers that they should return. It is stated that train whistles can be heard from almost any point on the ranges under normal circumstances.

About 150 trampers have taken part in the search. Most of them belong to the Tararua Club, the other clubs represented being Paua, Victoria College, Hutt Valley, Levin-Waiopehu, Manawatu, Carterton, Wairarapa, and Masterton.

The four missing people were finally safe, but a lot of cleaning up and analysis was still to be done. It took about three days for the last search party to return from the range, but criticism of the group began immediately, firstly in an editorial context on the same day in which their return was reported, and then with additional criticism from members of the public, fanned by the media. At least one searcher had sustained an injured foot, potentially serious in the back-country of the 1930s, and this at the very least highlighted that those who obliged others to search for them can put those people at risk. Comments that had been made on a whim by the rescued party about “never being lost” were now being taken out of context, and were received by some as insulting.

Fred Vosseler, who’d played a large part in organising the search effort, made comments while wearing his authoritative hat as President of the recently formed Federated Mountain Clubs organisation, publicly criticising virtually everything the group was reported to have done. In a war of written words waged through letters to the editor, his criticism provoked responses from the party members, who claimed that he’d been mis-led by media reports and inaccurate assumptions about their situation.

Eventually the arguments died down and fell out of the media, and what followed was a larger analysis, now beginning to be recorded in minutes of meetings and annual reports, of how the search effort had worked and what needed to be improved upon and done differently before there was need for another search of a similar nature. The structure for New Zealand’s largely voluntary and club-based Land Search and Rescue system that was set up in the 1930s, following what was partially learned from this event, lasted for 70 years.


A prominent tramper today stressed the point that it was the duty of any party which was in trouble or delayed by bad weather to leave some sort of sign at the camp sites for the guidance of search parties.

Camp sites alone were of little use in indicating the route taken by missing trampers. In country like the Tararuas it was very difficult to pick up signs, and trampers who were weather-bound or delayed by some other cause should always leave information regarding their intentions, including the date and time before moving from one point to another. It was pointed out that search parties sometimes had to face conditions which normally they would not be called upon to contend with, and, in the absence of information left by missing people, they often had to take grave risks which a little consideration would make unnecessary.


The following contributions to the funds of the Tararua search are acknowledged by the secretary of the Tararua Tramping Club:— O’Keefe’s associates, Wellington branch, Public Trust, £6 8s 6d; M.B., 2s 6d; D.F., 5s; L.P., 5s; Anon., J.J., etc., £1 12s 6d; S.C., 10s; J.H., 4s; E.P., £1; W.N., £2 2s; Rev. W.C., £1; C.K.K., £2 2s; One Who Has Been Helped, 10s; A.O.W., 5s; P.M., £1; F.A., 2s; total, £17 8s 6d.

“The Evening Post” has received the following amounts:—G.R., 2s 6d; G.M., 2s 6d; Victoria College Students’ Association, £2 2s.


While the community has a duty towards lost trampers, it is also evident that trampers have a duty towards the community. Searchers are glad to go to the rescue of those who become lost, and who continue lost, through no fault of their own, but there may be a limit to the response to search party calls if cases occur in which lost people display lack of judgement and consideration. It is, therefore, reasonable that the actions of Trampers who become—or are believed to be—lost should be thrown open to examination, and, if necessary, to criticism. When a party that was expected to return in about three days does not return for about fifteen days, and then says, it was “never lost,” a difficult precedent is created. When is a party to be deemed to be “lost” and in need of help? Trampers who, avoidably, over-stay their time four-fold or five-fold either cause others a great amount of wasted labour, risk, and money, or else tend to create an atmosphere of wait-and-see on the part of searchers. And wait-and-see may be fatal to parties that are genuinely and unavoidably lost. It is in the interest of all that the sources from which succour springs should not be dried up by imprudent acts of individuals.

(To the Editor.)

Sir,—We thank you for your excellent sub-leader of yesterday. Most people will cordially agree with it. In the present instance, after being six days overdue, somewhere about 150 to 200 persons have been in some way actively associated in the search for the missing trampers. Many have responded to this work with actual loss in wages as well as incurring cost and considerable inconvenience. At lease two searchers are suffering in consequence—one in hospital.

Those best able to judge recognise that the lost party committed one error of judgment after the other, and did not display that degree of experience one should have before attempting such a journey. It was quite realised by the organisers of the search, mainly on account of the lapse of time, that, barring serious accident, the lost party had most likely selected the very worst route they could have done and had elected to come down the Waiohine-iti. For this reason a party of searchers were constantly at Sayers’ Hut on Totara Flats to render help in the likely event of the missing people reaching there. This party no doubt kept a fire going most of the time in the hut, which is not at all difficult to locate, even from the opposite side of the river.

Indeed, with five or six other parties searching the locality, it is very difficult to understand how the missing people were able to escape detection. It appears from accounts that they were able to get fires going, and it would seem that they had overlooked the fact that a big smoke by day and a good blaze by night is a valuable asset to searchers. It is quite possible that some of the searchers still out may have come upon camps of the missing people, and why they left no directions there as to the time they were vacating it, or what their intentions were, is beyond comprehension.

When first in difficulty at Broken Axe pinnacles it is hard to understand why they did not seek shelter on the leeward side of the range. Had they, by intelligent use of the compasses and maps, sought a route down the Mangaterera, or better still a route to the Waingawa (which is one of the easiest rivers in New Zealand to negotiate, and which fact should have been known to them), they would have saved themselves considerable suffering and others anxiety, time, and expense. The present episode will provide a very good lesson for all trampers, and it is to be hoped that it will not bring into disrepute one of the finest and healthiest recreations there is.—l am, etc.

President Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand.

(To the Editor.)

Sir,—Your leader of May 1, under the above caption, is most apposite, and your query, “When is a party to be deemed ‘lost’ and in need of help?” very pertinent. With the exception of Miss, Williams, each of the trampers asserts ”we were not lost,” or, as Mr. Hill, the leader, states in your paper, “We knew that we were all right.” Are there any lessons to be learnt from having scores of men engaging in a quite unnecessary and unduly arduous task of going out into the ‘back of beyond’ under very trying conditions, to say nothing of the waste of time and money?

As one who assisted in a minor degree by helping to waste gallons of benzine in conveying searchers to suitable points from whence they might start to seek those who were not lost, I feel that a pronouncement from Mr. Hill, Dr. Sutch, or Mr. O’Keefe would be of value to the community.

Will one, or all of them, advise the. public: (1) How many days overdue a party must be before it can be considered as ‘lost’? (2) Do the members of the party believe that the search parties in the present instance were unnecessary? (3) If the answer to question (2) is in the affirmative, who should be the judge as to when search parties must set out for trampers who are overdue? (4) Does Mr. Hill disagree with the views of a “prominent, tramper.”—as stated in your Monday’s issue—that it is the duty of any party in trouble, or delayed by bad weather,”to leave some sort of sign? And (5) how many, if any, of the party which wasn’t lost had previously been over the track” to the destination they set out to reach? As I do not desire publicity, I sign myself

May 1.

[We have received other letters on the same subject.—Ed.]


Mr. H. McNaught, who was attached to one of the Wellington search parties which returned from the Tararua Ranges last night, is at present in hospital with an injured foot. The party with which Mr. McNaught travelled had an extremely strenuous time, being in the ranges since last Friday. After proceeding to Totara Flats from the headwaters of the Tauherenikau, Mr. McNaught discovered yesterday morning that could not put on one of his boots owing to a swollen foot. The party then decided to return to Pakuratahi, which was reached last evening, Mr. McNaught experiencing great difficulty in travelling. At Pakuratahi the party heard for the first time that the “lost” trampers had been discovered. Mr. McNaught was removed to the Wellington Hospital.

Many of the trampers who were engaged in searching have returned to Wellington. The secretary of the Tararua Tramping Club, Mr. G. B. Wilson, stated this morning that seventeen persons, were still in the ranges; three parties were in the Waiohine-iti River Gorge, and one party was still at the Mount Holdsworth mountain house. Possibly it would be several days before the last of these searchers returned. The Railway Department has consented to continue the whistle blasts while in the ranges, and on a day like today, Mr. Wilson said, the signals could be heard all over the Tararuas.

The condition of Mr. A. H. O’Keefe was today reported as satisfactory, but he is not expected to leave hospital for some time.

(Special to “The Evening Post.”)

With the exception of one under the leadership of Mr. C. Wylie, all the search parties have now returned to Masterton. Mr Wylie’s party is expected back today. The base camp established at Mitre Flats will not be broken up until the party is accounted for. There are three in Mr. Wylie’s party, and three men at the base camp. Messrs. W. B. Blanche, W. Neil, and J. Butcher, members of the Tararua Tramping Club, arrived in Masterton last evening after crossing the ranges from the Levin side.

“We can only learn by experience, and the knowledge we have gained in the past week will prove invaluable in the future, but it is essential that it should be noted for reference or else it obviously will be lost sight of,” observed Mr. W. L. Free at a meeting of the Masterton Search Committee, held last night to consider final details in connection with the settling of accounts and the recalling of the searching parties.

It was decided on the motion of Mr. Free that the leaders of all search parties be asked to submit written reports on the country traversed, the names of the members of their parties, and details of the food and equipment used, and that the reports be filed for future reference. Mr. Free considered that such a move was highly important, an opinion which other members of the committee endorsed.

It was also resolved that an effort be made to secure proper correlation between the various organisations which have been associated in the search for the missing trampers. It was felt that some mutual arrangement should be reached between the Masterton, Wellington, Palmerston, and Levin trampers, and that the Tararuas should be subdivided into definite areas. Cooperation, it was stated, was essential when conducting a search for missing trampcrs.


In connection with the search for the four trampers who were located in the Waiohine Gorge on Sunday; a report received in Wellington states that Messrs. Blake, Morris, and Payton, of Masterton, who went out last week to investigate smoke and a light seen near the Broken Axe Pinnacles, were successful in locating the spot. It was found to be the camp of a party of deer-stalkers who were helping in the search.

Mr. A. H. O’Keefe, who is in hospital for rest and treatment for frostbite, was reported today to be a good deal better. Mr. H. McNaught, one of the searchers, who is in hospital with an injured foot, is also making good progress. The last of the search parties sent out from Wellington was expected to return this afternoon.

(To the Editor.)

Sir,—On behalf of the “missing trampers” would you please make the following statement?

An hour after they had arrived in Masterton a somewhat lengthy explanation and appreciation from the party of trampers was written out, and given to a Press representative, who assured us that our statement would receive full consideration and space in the columns of the daily Press. This account seems either to have been delayed in the post or so summarily condensed as not to be recognisable as an official statement from the tramping party.

In view of the above, and because of several inexact, misleading, and even false reports that have appeared in some dailies lately, we should like to make clear our point of view. The purpose of the tramp was to cross from Te Matawai to the Holdsworth Hut to see whether it would be possible to make a winter crossing on that particular route. In any other than winter conditions this is not a difficult trip for trained trampers. It has several times been done in a one-day stretch. We took the risk of having to spend one night in the bush, but as we started out between 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning, this contingency was rather remote. When the storm struck us about three in the afternoon we were within three hours of Holdsworth.

For such a short trip our equipment was quite full and complete—aneroid, compasses, map, first-aid outfits, sleeping bags, adequate food, and clothing. Nor can the capacity of the tramping party to do the trip be questioned. Mr. Hill, the leader, is very well known in local circles for his tramping ability; Miss Williams is one of the best women trampers in New Zealand, as her achievements in Otago, Westland, Whangarei, and the Tararuas will show; her bush sense is uncanny. Mr. O’Keefe is a strong, extremely cautious tramper who has been in training all the season. The fact that the party managed to walk out and did not have to be carried out is sufficient testimony to the physical fitness of the trampers.

There are two things we did that were contrary to tramping rules. The first was to sidle round the Tararua Pinnacles instead of going over them; the second was to leave the tops for the bush. The first action was due to the wind velocity being too great to stick to the ridge. (In one case one member of the party was lifted bodily by the wind.) The only thing to do was to sidle on the lee side, This led to O’Keefe’s fall. Similarly to leave the tops was the only thing to do. In the blizzard that was raging for days to work through the bush in the general direction of the main range was preferable to dying on the tops. The question as to whether one should die or break the laws of bush craft seemed to us to be a discussion in the realms of the metaphysical.

Briefly, our situation was this: We were confined to an area on the east side of the main range between Hector and Crawford. The main range could be considered the base of a triangle, the other two sides being the two rivers, Waiohine and Waiohine-iti, both of which were for days raging torrents quite unfordable. We were therefore trapped, our only hope being to set across the main range to Hector and Otaki. For six days we attempted to get to the ridge through the sleet and snow, keeping to the bush line, of course, for our camps. Knowing that search parties would be out we wanted to make every attempt to relieve anxiety, but when a party has been almost starved for eight or nine days, two are suffering from exposure to cold, and another has feet black with frost-bite, one decides that it is perhaps better to follow the river out, especially as one cannot be reasonably located in the bush by a search party. We were very lucky to be able to cross the Waiohine at this stage, as the river was still high. The last six days were occupied in getting along the cliff faces and through the edges of the bush bordering the river.

It is unfortunate that a jocular remark, “We were not lost,” passed to some members of the Masterton Search Party Committee, should have been given such prominence and public comment. An argument about the connotation ot the word “lost” is of academic interest only. We could place ourselves on the map. With food we could get out. There was no question of that. The question was not whether we were lost, but whether we needed help. There was no doubt of this; we needed it, and needed it urgently. If there was one thing we wished for more than food and a search party it was a wireless transmitter to let people know of our whereabouts and condition. When, last Wednesday, we saw a red-nosed aeroplane overhead we had mixed feelings—exhilaration at a concrete sign of help, and regret that the outside world was being put to so much anxiety, trouble, and expense on our account. We can never express our gratitude to the New Zealand public for its magnificent response when it was known that we needed help. There are hundreds of people whom we should like to thank personally; there are many we shall never hear about. First, we must thank the Government for its consideration in placing the wireless organisation of the Dominion at the disposal of the search party committees, and of the public and private operators and the emergency radio organisations for the untiring efforts in keeping in touch with every detail of news. The fact that public servants could go out with search parties without prejudice to pay or annual leave was in itself a gracious and considerate act. One of the most staking features of the help available was its efficient organisation. In Masterton, Wellington, and Palmerston North the search party committees did invaluable work in getting supplies and arranging search parties so that there should be no over lapping in activities and no omissions in the ground covered. The public probably have taken little notice of this, but its importance is of the greatest significance. It means that in future there will be far less chances of death in the ranges.

To the good people of the Wairarapa who offered and gave us assistance, to the many contributors of money and provisions, to those who relieved the anxiety of parents and friends, we shall be eternally grateful. We feel that this voluntary spontaneous effort has not been wasted. This feeling is well expressed in the words of the telegram received from Mr R. S. Black, Mayor of Dunedin:— “Please express to the trampers who have been found the joy of Dunedin citizens at the splendid news, and the earnest hope that no ill effects will follow their physical and mental suffering. To those who have braved all hardships to render assistance, and if possible bring them home safe and sound our unstinted praise is given. They have lived up to the high traditions of our race.” For and on behalf of the “missing trampers,”

Palmerston North, May 2.

(To the Editor.)

Sir,—ln nearly every case where tragedy is narrowly averted and a morbid-minded public is thwarted of its prey, we find angry criticism hurled at the heads of the foolhardy ones and a far too serious view taken of the whole situation. Young people the world over do foolhardy things, and in a spirit of bravado or hysteria make remarks about it afterwards. The young people recently rescued from the Tararuas caused endless anxiety to many serious-minded folk, and then, after suffering days of anxiety and privation themselves, made some obviously lightheaded remarks to the effect that they were “never lost”—which was taken as a slap in the face to their would-be rescuers and anxious searchers. Surely such is not really the case, and they are just as grateful to their friends and to all those who helped in the search as they can possibly be, but, in a very, lightheaded, weakened condition, they tried, when they were discovered, to make light of the whole affair. Would you have it otherwise? Is it not that spirit which we boast of—that an Englishman never knows when he is beaten—and is it not to their credit somewhat that the spirit of “never say die” brought them out safely at last? It seems that these young people have called down a storm of wrath and indignation upon themselves quite unintentionally, and I am certain they were only smothering their real feelings when they tried to reassure us by saying they were “quite all right,â? and that they knew where they were “within a mile” every minute of the time, they were “not lost,” but overdue. What they really meant was that they were “never down-hearted,” and their spirits were excellent —I am, etc.,


In addition to the above defensive letters, we have received a number of critical letters. Two correspondents deal with the question of the time given, and the money asked, for search operations. “Self-Provision” suggests that members of tramping clubs should pay a voluntary levy of 3d a week to create a rescue fund. Mr. Stanley Natusch writes in admiration of the search effort, “but is it a fair thing to expect this sacrifice from individuals many of whom are not members of tramping clubs?” He also suggests that tramping clubs create a search fund by a levy on members, and he is satisfied that “tramping clubs do not wish to become a burden on the community.” “Old Timer” and -“Fairplay” also comment.

(To the Editor.)

Sir,—in Dr. Sutch’s letter of yesterday he says: “There were two things we did contrary to tramping rules. The first was to sidle round the pinnacles instead of going over them; the second was to leave the tops for the bush.” Dr. Sutch very wrongly claims these as contrary to tramping rules; they were amongst the few things, under the prevailing conditions, that his party did right.

It is pleasing indeed to note that he acknowledged the statement, “we were not lost,” to be unfortunate, and intended to be jocular. That, I trust, will be acceptable to searchers and others, and I hope, too, that it applies to the still more unfortunate remark, “and we were not found.”

It was not my intention to be drawn again into correspondence, but in the interests of younger trampers I feel a correction is necessary.—l am, etc.,

President Federated Mountain Clubs of N.Z.


The following additional contributions, to the fund for financing the recent search for the lost tramping party in the Tararuas are acknowledged by the secretary of the Tararua Tramping Club:—

£ s. d.
Mesdames Hursthouse and Atkinson 2 6 0
E. W. A. Kellow 2 2 0
Sir Michael Myers 2 2 0
E. 1 1 0
Arthur Fair, K.C. 0 10 0
An Aged Grandma 0 5 0
E.P. 0 4 0
Anonymous 0 3 6
M.H.M. 0 2 6
E.S.A. 0 2 6
McB. 0 2 0
(To the Editor.)

Sir,—We are sorry to have to reopen this discussion, but two letters that appeared in the Wellington Press about a week ago.have just been brought to our notice, and as they were written by a responsible man, who used his official position as president of the Federated Mountain Clubs in support of his contentions, and as editorial judgment (and as a result public opinion) is quite rightly based on remarks coming from such an authoritative source, we feel that to keep silent in face of his criticism would be unfair not only to trampers in general, but also to the public who so generously responded when it was known that aid was needed.

First of all we must express our great admiration and deep appreciation for the excellent staff work done by Mr. Vosseler in organising the Wellington search parties and in co-ordinating their efforts with those of the Masterton search party committee. We must also thank him for the way he reassured the public as to the probable safety of our party. We feel it was only his long continued and varied experience as a tramper that enabled him so effectively to do these things. The public also knew this and rightly had confidence in his assurance that seasoned, experienced trampers such as he knew were in our party do not easily succumb even in the most difficult of weather conditions. We have no doubt that Mr. Vosseler based his criticism of our tramping tactics on some of the erroneous and self-contradictory Press reports that appeared in New Zealand dailies. In justice to Mr. Vosseler we feel that few more of the actual facts of the case should be made known to him.

Mr. Vosseler made specific mention of the following points: The party selected the worst possible route; the Mangatarera Valley should have been chosen; bright fires should have been kept going by night and heavy smoke fires by day; directions should have been left at our camps; and we should have noticed the smoke from the fire at Sayer’s Hut at Totara Flats.

Mr. O’Keefe’s accident was not of such a nature as to necessitate our leaving the ridge; it merely delayed us a couple of hours. It was not a question of selecting any route; we were going to Holdsworth. But after an hour’s going through increasingly heavy mist and rain, we found ourselves descending on the west side; this was where we had left the high ridge leading to Holdsworth; night was coming on, the gale increasing in violence; so we carried on to the bush, which was reached after nightfall; we “camped” on a precipitous wooded slope intending to retrace our steps the following morning. At daybreak conditions had definitely altered for the worse, and as the night had proved that we could remain on the valley side only in a sitting position, the one possible course was the alternative route to Holdsworth, via Francis Creek. Though we traversed the shingle beaches of the Upper Waiohine-iti at a rapid rate we soon found that the incessant rain made it impossible not only to ford the river but also to pick Francis Creek from among the other smaller creeks that had by now assumed swollen proportions. We were therefore trapped.

As Mr. Vosseler evidently expected us to light huge fires, we would remind him of Dr. Kidson’s weather report for April: “New Zealand experienced a severe spell of westerly weather. From the 14th to the 27th there was scarcely a day without strong and squally winds, from a westerly quarter. They were especially boisterous in the ranges, the night of the 18th to 19th and the 23rd being the roughest period. On the 23rd a very deep depression crossed the Dominion and the strong southerly winds which followed it brought a severe cold snap. On this day and the next there was heavy snow in the ranges and many places experienced hail showers. The whole period was a very wet one for districts with a westerly aspect. Thunderstorms occurred in some parts of the country on the 18th, 19th, and 21st to 23rd. This report should be sufficient; but one or two additional facts are apparently necessary. Often owing to the heavy rain, sometimes because of the hail or snow, there were days when, even with the assistance of candles and chemical fuel, we could not light a fire big enough to heat a cup of water. After she had discarded her sleeping bag, Miss Williams carried dead beech in her pack; the men carried beech twigs with them and resorted to the old bushmen’s dodge of sleeping on branches at night so that a fire might eventually be made. This will indicate the efforts we made to light fires and the difficulties under which we were working.

We did not leave directions as to our movements because of the absolute futility of the procedure; we knew that searchers could not possibly locate our camp sites in the bush, situated as they were in depressions to protect us from the weather or under fallen trees, or in creek beds. At Totara Flats we made a big blaze—our first opportunity—knowing that search parties should be near. Our camp was half an hour upstream from Sayer’s Hut, which we must have passed about 8.30 the next morning. As we had noticed footprints and cattle we were keenly on the alert examining both sides of the river not only for signs of the searchers, but also for some indication as to the track used by the cattle to reach the flats. Our detailed examination in clear weather of our surroundings revealed no clue as to the whereabouts of the searchers. We certainly saw no smoke.

If Mr. Vosseler would like any more detail we are willing to give it to him, but we earnestly desire that it should not be done publicly. There has been too much misrepresentation, recrimination, and controversial argument already. It is fitting that we should be tried at the bar of public opinion, but we wish it to be an informed public opinion. We have not consulted Mr. O’Keefe about this letter, as we do not want to retard his recovery any further by inflicting the unnecessary pain that Mr. Vosseler’s letter would cause.—We are, etc.,


(To the Editor.)

Sir,—Dr. W. B. Sutch, Palmerston North, one of the “missing” trampers, in a lengthy statement published in “The Post” of 3rd inst., says: “An hour after the party had arrived in Masterton a somewhat lengthy explanation and appreciation from the party of trampers was written out, and given to a Press representative, who gave assurance that the statement would receive full consideration and space in the columns of the daily Press.”

As the pressman referred to, I would like the opportunity to state that no written statement was given to myself or any other Press representative in Masterton by Dr. Sutch or any other member of his party. While giving the details of the party’s experiences arid circumstances of their return, Dr. Sutch expressed a desire to thank, through the Press, search organisations and others who had assisted. After naming the tramping clubs, committees, and individuals concerned Dr. Sutch suggested that I might write out a letter and sign it with the names of hi» party, I gave no assurance that I would carry out his wishes in the direction stated in the previous paragraph, but gave him to understand that the party’s appreciation of what had been done would be given adequate prominence in the report for the Masterton paper I represented. This was done in the following day’s issue of the paper.

Will Dr. Sutch withdraw the statement referred to in this letter? —I am, etc.,


The second annual meeting of the Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand was held in Wellington recently. Mr. F. W. Vosseler, president, was in the chair.

The president referred to the launching of the Ski Council of New Zealand during the year, and the large amount of work that had been done to further the interests of that sport in the Dominion. Arrangements were in hand for holding the New Zealand Ski championships on the Tasman Glacier during the coming winter. Ski tests were also being arranged to bring New Zealand into line with other countries in the world interested in winter sports.

Two new ski clubs had been formed during the year, the Otago and Windwhistle Ski Clubs, and the Marlborough Tramping Club had been affiliated. Most clubs had shown an increase in membership, proving the popularity of the sports covered by the federation’s activities.

With regard to the recent mishap in the Tararuas, it was acknowledged by the delegates that some sound system of investigation was necessary. Every mishap or accident should teach some lesson, and, unless the lesson was pointed out, others would readily fall into the same trap. Some scheme of inquiry was necessary, under which each mishap could be investigated by a committee of experts. The incoming committee will consider this matter.

The Hutt Committee has prepared folios for distribution to clubs, containing all available information concerning all the mountain and tramping huts in the Dominion. The reserves committee is doing similar work, in regard to all the public reserves in New Zealand.

It was recommended to clubs that they should endeavour to establish search funds. The Tararua Tramping Club, the Mount Egmont Alpine Club, and the Ruapehu Ski Club all have funds in existence, and these funds can be called upon in case of mishap or accident.

The officers and committee of the Federated Mountain Clubs for the ensuing year are: President, Mr. A. P. Harper; vice-presidents, Messrs. F. W. Vosseler, L. O. Hooker, K. M. Griffin, E. C. A. Ferrier, and Dr. G. M. Moir; honorary secretary and treasurer, Mr. D. A. Carty; honorary auditor, Mr. Campbell McAllister, A.P.A. (N.Z.); committee, Messrs. W. S. Rennie, S. A. Wiren, Noel Thomson, G. B. Wilson, G. G. Lockwood, G. W. A. Day, W. Laird Thomson, H. Douglas, G. Pryor.

The federation represents some three thousand trampers, mountaineers, and winter sports enthusiasts throughout New Zealand, and this membership is steadily growing.

Reference was made to the death of the late Mr. J. H. Silson, of Palmerston North. Mr. Silson had been a member of the committee of the federation, and had for a long time been doing valuable work in collecting data relative to the mountains and reserves in the Manawatu.

(To the Editor.)

Sir,—While the memories of the recent search are still fresh in the minds of your readers, I would like to bring to your attention a matter which is always the cause of much inconvenience to searchers and trampers generally. I refer to the lack of consideration displayed by some people who visit the huts in the Tararuas. Axes disappear with unfailing regularity, furniture and fittings and emergency stores receive undesirable attention, and last but not least the huts are used by people who neglect to leave an ample supply of firewood on their departure.

It seems that some of the huts are too close to civilisation and that they are therefore the prey of a certain type, which, as their contribution to the cost and upkeep of these refuges, insist on doing as much damage as possible.

As a case in point, I would mention that the first search party which reached the Holdsworth Mountain House (behind Masterton) after midnight on Friday, April 21, was confronted with a shelter bare of axe or firewood, and also unpleasantly cold and draughty owing to structural damage inflicted by vandals. While the party was away next day at the Broken Axe Pinnacles, it was necessary to leave behind a valuable searcher to collect firewood and to endeavour to chop it with a slasher taken up by the party. The same trouble occurs at the huts behind Kaitoke, Otaki and Levin, and when occasionally parties of trampers arrive at these huts in an exhausted condition it is a very serious matter if firewood and axes are missing.

In conclusion, I would urge all people receiving benefits from Tararua shelters to do the decent thing and observe the ordinary courtesies of the mountains.

I may mention also that it is necessary to obtain permission before using these huts. Permission is always granted. but it is necessary to know who is using the huts and also to arrange matters so as to avoid overcrowding.—l am, etc.,

Hon. Secretary, Tararua Tramping Club (Inc.).


In an endeavour to minimise future mishaps to trampers in the Tararuas, the Tararua Tramping Club has set up a committee to consider the operations of search parties and to make recommendations on the subject, according to the annual report of the club which is to be presented at the annual meeting on June 30. The club will co-operate with the Mauawatu Tramping Club in the matter.

Referring to the active part played by the club in the search for Miss M. Williams, Dr. W. Sutch, and Messrs. E. Hill, and A. H. O’Keefe, who were missing for several days in the Tararuas during April, the report states that only one member of the party belonged to the club. As had happened many times previously, the club conducted searches for non-members as a matter of course, and in many cases the people who were lost did not belong to any tramping club. The club was very grateful to the public, who had donated £71 14s 8d to the search fund. A large portion of this amount had been donated by the club members and trampers. No call had been made on the fund for searching for club members. The club wished to express its thanks to all those who had assisted in the recent search.

A number of new members had been elected during the year, and the membership now stood at 362. During the year a working party reconstructed the Field track from Te Moe Moe to the Field Hut, and later a party cleared the tussocks for a ski runway from the top of Mt. Field to the Kime Memorial Hut. In order to open up the main range north of West Peak, it was decided to place a chain at the Tararua Peak. The material had been purchased and would be placed in position next summer. At present the Tararua Peak could only be negotiated by good climbers. The question of the erection of an Orongorongo hut, on the south bank of Brown’s Stream, was very thoroughly considered. In view of the limited finance available, it was decided to erect a hut 20 feet by 10 feet, with a 10-foot wall. The hut would be constructed of vertical weatherboards and battens and would accommodate twenty-four people. The estimated cost was £75, and arrangements were in hand to commence building in the near future. The design would admit of additions later.

At present the club had the use of Baine’s Whare in the Orongorongo. The club was also indebted to many private owners who had permitted the use of their huts. The question of the erection of a hut on the Mitre Flats, Waingawa River, was also receiving consideration.

The Manawatu Tramping Club successfully completed the erection of Te Matawai on the bush-line of Pukematawai, behind Levin, on the route to Masterton. Te Matawai would always be regarded as a memorial to Mr. J. H. Silson. It was with the deepest regret that the club recorded the death during the year of this valuable and highly esteemed member, and it extended to Mrs. Silson and to his mother heart-felt sympathy. Besides founding the Manawatu Tramping Club, Mr. Silson was responsible for the erection of Te Matawai, a monument of human endeavour which came into being as a result of the inspiration derived from Mrs Silson’s unquenchable enthusiasm and energy. Regret was also expressed at the death of Mr. John Murphy, who did much to help the club’s activities in the Waikanae district.

Hut vandalism still continued, and despite a warning plate on the Tauherenikau Hut door, trees were still being felled around the hut. Members were urged to endeavour to prevent this and to report any damages in this and other localities. Clubs in the Wellington district were combining to make some attempt to repair the Holdsworth Mountain House behind Masterton. This hut had suffered most from vandalism, and was a source of much inconvenience to searchers recently.

A complete Rimutaka map would be available shortly, and this would complete the mapping of- the local district for trampers. The club desired to thank those who permitted members to traverse their properties in the course of outirigs, and who had extended hospitality on various occasions.


“Every tramper was relieved when the four missing trampers reached civilisation after a fortnight in the Northern Tararuas,” states a paragraph in the annual report of the Hutt Valley Tramping Club. “It is unfortunate that the newspapers made such capital of the affair, and many of the letters to the daily papers were absurd in the extreme, and showed that the average pedestrian has a distorted idea as to the nature of the country and about tramping generally. It is unfair for people who do not know the country to give an opinion, and it appears difficult for some people to realise that a tramper can be marooned between snowed-in tops (above the bush-line is the tramper’s natural highway in the Tararuas) and swollen rivers. Considering the bad weather, the last missing party endured the severe conditions very well. We have to thank our members who took part in the search, and also those who offered their services. Credit is due to the Tararua Tramping Club for the efficient way they organised the search parties. It is pointed out that the danger of club parties getting lost is very remote, as a responsible leader who knows the country is always in charge of our parties.”


The secretary of the Tararua Tramping Club advises that he has received £3 from Dr. W. B. Sutch, one of the four trampers who were missing for several days on the Tararuas last Easter, the money being part of the sum given by Mr. R. F. Williams, father of Miss M. Williams, another member of the party, for division amongst the tramping club’s which took part in the search.


In accordance with the undertaking given on behalf of the Tararua Tramping Club to publish a report on the financial aspects of the search for the party of trampers in the Tararuas recently, the president of the club, Mr. H. E. Anderson, has issued the following statement of receipts and expenditure: —
Receipts—Tararua Tramping Club (search fund £14 11s, members £15 7s 10d), £29 18s 10d; kindred clubs, £11 1s; public subscription, £47 9s 6d; Miss Williams, Messrs. Hill, O’Keefe, and Sutch, £13 13s; total, £102 2s 4d.

Expenditure: Injured searcher, £33 5s 6d; Wellington Aero Club grant, £5 5s; radio emergency corps grant, £6 11s; food, fares, and transport, £57 0s 10d; total, £102 2s 4d.

“The figures relate (Mr. Anderson says) to the Wellington cost of the search, Wairarapa, Levin, and Manawatu expenses having been dealt with separately in those districts. Transport expenses are no doubt considerably under the actual cost, and it should be noted also that the Tramping Club members have made heavy additional contributions in respect of wear and tear and loss of gear. The Tararua Club has shouldered the burden to the fullest extent, and I do not think the Tararua Tramping Club has made any undue claim upon the public for its support, and it will be seen from the accounts that as well as individual support of the members, the club itself has contributed to the expenses.


“Since the club’s formation in 1919, ten searches have been undertaken by the club, and apart from the Auckland University party at Ruapehu, this is the first occasion on which a search has been made for people belonging to any tramping club at all. In all other cases, the missing people have belonged to the ranks of the general public.

“The delay in supplying the above figures has been caused by the necessity of waiting for the injured searcher’s expenses, which were finally received on August 5. The club would like to convey once again to all those people who assisted in the search its sincere thanks and appreciation for their ready and valuable help.


“With the approval of the Manawatu Tramping Club, an inquiry was held concerning the recent search. Numerous reports and suggestions, including a report from the missing party, were closely examined, and as a result safety rules and recommendations have been formulated, and these have been published in the August ‘Tararua Tramper.’ No attempt has been made to criticise the actions of the missing party, the sole object of the inquiry being to obtain information of value for the guidance of future tramping parties.

“A scheme for search organisation and co-ordination for future occasions is being dealt with and will be distributed for approval by other clubs and search committees in due course.”

That’s all for now.

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