Ralph David Miller (23 April 1935 – 18 January 2017)
As nominated by the Southland Section New Zealand Alpine Club Inc.
Ralph joined the New Zealand Alpine Club on 13th May 1953 and in 1956, the same year he achieved full membership, he became active in the Southland Section organisation: he subsequently spent 7 years as Chairman, 4 years as Vice-Chairman, 8 years as Section Representative, 1 year as Treasurer, and 22 years on the Southland Section Committee: a total of 42 years’ service. In that time he almost singlehandedly saved the Section from being wound up when membership numbers declined, through concerted action in the 1990s. He has always supported Section activities in many ways, often driving older less able members to meetings and events, ensuring their continued enjoyment and social contact. He has often undertaken the unenviable task of writing obituaries for NZAJ, ensuring that members’ contributions were appropriately remembered.
Over the time of his membership, Ralph has enthusiastically worked on hut building and maintenance work parties, and has been active in instruction and Search And Rescue. He remains a SAR advisor for Southland.
Perhaps Ralph’s most significant contribution to Darrans mountaineering was the 1” to the mile scale map he and the late Lloyd Warburton produced and maintained from 1956 through to its 6th edition in 1962, “The Darran, Earl & Wick Mtns”. This meticulously prepared and beautifully drafted map was made available to anyone that asked for it. An enormous, but sadly now lost, three dimension Plasticine model he built and maintained provided a basis for at least some of its direction. The accuracy of the map was remarkable and when much later overlaid onto an NZMS1 S122 map, the topographic discrepancies were found to be very slight. This map made a profound difference to those climbing in the area and undoubtedly encouraged climbing activity in the Darran Mountains in the 1960s and 70s.
Ralph is recorded to having achieved 22 first ascents between January 1954 and February 1970, mostly in the Darran Mountains. He climbed many other routes that are now regarded as standards up until very recent years, and his climbing career spans over 61 years. Climbs on Mt Aspiring and the East and West Peaks of Mt Earnslaw showed his ability, as did several climbing seasons at the Hermitage. Bill Gordon made over 24 ascents with Ralph, twelve of which were first ascents. He found Ralph to be a meticulous planner and a competent climbing companion.
Among Ralph’s most important first ascents and routes are: traverse of Mt Madeline, traverse of Mt Tutoko (interestingly enough, noted at the time as a Southland Tramping Club trip and both he and Bill Gordon- at the age of 19- remain, as far as known, the youngest-ever ascendants of Mt Tutoko), Central Buttress of Sheila Face of Mt Cook, West Ridge and traverse of Mt Ngatimamoe, Mt Suter, Mt Moir North ridge, Mt Talbot West face, Mt Talbot South-West face, Mt Talbot East ridge, Mt Christina from Hollyford direct, Mt Christina North ridge, Mt Christina South-west face, Mt Christina East face and traverse, Mt Crosscut East ridge and traverse, Mt Te Wera South-west face, Mt Sheerdown and Mt Karetai. Many of these routes remain recognised as classic lines today.
Ralph has always been extremely modest about his achievements, which is why they have been overlooked by many: he saw no reason to announce his climbing plans before a major climb and once a climb was completed, he felt sufficient satisfaction in a job well done that he felt no inclination to make much fuss. This is, he will say, “The Southland way”. This is not to say that his considerable abilities and energy were not appreciated – in awe at times – by his contemporaries in the Southland Section, but rather that he was not as widely recognised outside of Southland as he deserved to be.