Glacier Gives Up Explorers' Cameras Abandoned in 1937

Bradford Washburn and Robert Bates' gear moved more than 12 miles over 85 years
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2022 10:15 AM CDT
Glacier Gives Up Explorers' Cameras Abandoned in 1937
A camera from a 1937 expedition in the Yukon is uncovered on Walsh Glacier in August.   (Teton Gravity Research)

Conservators hope to get an inside look at a 1937 mountaineering expedition in the Yukon thanks to the discovery of the explorers' cameras—with surviving film inside. The trip by Bradford Washburn and Robert Bates didn't go according to plan. Bad weather turned their starting point, the Walsh Glacier, into slush, which meant a plane couldn't land to retrieve them, reports the New York Times. So after summiting Mount Lucania, they had to abandon unnecessary gear and hike more than 100 miles to safety. In his 2002 book, Escape From Lucania, author David Roberts could only guess at the spot in Kluane National Park and Reserve where the explorers might have left their supplies. It was that story that inspired mountain explorer and professional skier Griffin Post to go searching.

He felt well-prepared, having done plenty of research, which included reading Washburn's journals. But he immediately felt overwhelmed when he flew over the 44-mile-long glacier for the first time in August. "You see how vast the terrain is and how much area you're supposed to cover and how many crevasses the cache could've fallen into years ago," Post tells CBS News. "It's like, 'I don't think there's any way we can find this.'" There was another challenge: As glaciers move constantly, Post couldn't simply go to the place he thought the gear had been left on the lower part of the glacier. That's where University of Ottawa glaciologist Dora Medrzycka came in. Part of a crew of seven, she mapped the glacier and analyzed its movement since 1937 to predict where the gear might have shifted.

Toward the end of the weeklong trip, she identified two surges in flow that caused her to revise her guess. "It turned out to be pretty spot on," she tells the CBC. The cache appeared, more than 12 miles from where it was left in 1937, just as "the helicopter was about to take off to come pick us back up," Post tells CBS. Along with mountaineering equipment, tents, and cooking items, the team found a piece of Washburn's aerial shutter camera, a Fairchild F-8, and two other cameras loaded with film. They'll be "examined in the coming weeks, and we're cautiously optimistic something will be salvageable," Post says. But even if not, "all this information of how this glacier has behaved over the last 85 years ... is a pretty cool contribution to science," Post tells the CBC. (More discoveries stories.)

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