1944 New York Botanical Garden expedition

Friday, August 9, 2013

Trading Canoe Paddles for Helicopters: Travel for the Modern Explorer

research

Devin Bloom prepares and tissues a freshly caught fish specimen from the central market in Paramaribo. Photo by Andrew Short.

The first scientific expedition to Tafelberg took place exactly 69 years ago this month. Led by legendary botanist Bassett Maguire, the 1944 expedition took more than four months. Needless to say, the logistics of his expedition were a bit different than ours.

Using a small group of canoes powered only by paddles and long poles, he traveled upriver through numerous rapids and overland detours from Paramaribo up the Coppename River and its tributaries. With the help and permission of the local villages he encountered, he set out overland when the rivers became impassable.

supply list

List of supplies taken on the first expedition to Tafelberg in 1944. From the Journal of the New York Botanical Garden, volume 46, p. 287.

After 23 days of cutting trails with nothing but a compass for navigation, they reached the foot of Tafelberg. Did I mention they had more than 3 tons of gear that had to be hauled every step of the way? And that does not include additional food and supplies that were parachuted to them in the jungle from military planes both along the way and while on the summit.

Fast forward to 2013, and the travel that took his party weeks will take us less than an hour by helicopter. Correspondingly, we are working hard to ensure that our gear (and ourselves…) will “make weight”, as how much we can transport per helicopter run is extremely limited.

If you are curious about just exactly what such an ambitious 1944 expedition took to the field, here is list from a report on the expedition published by Maguire in 1945:

On a completely separate note, we collected our first specimens today. Taking a break from gearing up here in Paramaribo, Devin browsed the central market here for interesting fish, and picked up some freshly caught individuals to prepare as museum specimens.