Explorers have found cameras left in a glacier 85 years ago

(CNN) – The search for lost treasures has been a staple of the travel legend. As well as the idea of ​​evil exploratory expeditions. Now, seven months after the discovery of Ernest Shackleton’s HMS Endurance, comes a new discovery: explorer Bradford Washburn’s cameras, lost 85 years ago on a remote mountain glacier.

Explorer Griffin Post, leading an expedition for Teton Gravity Research, located the equipment on the Walsh Glacier in Canada’s Yukon Territory during a week-long search in August.

In June 1937, Washburn and his climbing partner Robert Bates set out on a mission to climb Mount Lucania, Canada’s third highest mountain at 17,147 feet, and at the time the last unclimbed peak in North America. It is part of the Kluane National Park and Reserve in the Kluane First Nation’s Traditional Territory.

The climb was supposed to start and end at Walsh Glacier, halfway up at 8,750 feet, but it wasn’t. The odd weather meant there was slush on the glacier: the plane that took them there got stuck, and the pilot refused to return for the explorers. Devastated, the couple had to walk not only the ascent, but also the entire descent, over 150 kilometers across the desert to the nearest village. For this, however, they had to throw away their belongings: including 900 kilos of equipment storage, tents, mountaineering equipment and three cameras.

The camera was recovered by Post’s crew, along with the rest of the equipment, two of which were still loaded with film. The photos have now been handed over to the Parks Canada team who will try to develop them.

Post told CNN he got the idea for the expedition two years ago when he read “Escape from Lucania,” which tells the story of the Washburn-Bates expedition and mentions leaving the cache.

“In the epilogue they fly over the area and Washburn says, ‘We should go back and look for that equipment.’ Six months later I was still thinking about it,” he says.

‘What are we doing?’

Post aerial photos of matching glaciers with their physical location.

Tyler Ravelle/Teton Gravity Research

Of course, finding something left in a moving glacier is quite a bit more difficult than finding something buried in a regular place. In the 18 months leading up to the expedition, the Post combed through old documents, journals and correspondence to try to pinpoint the original location, and a University of Ottawa cache team led by Dr. Luke Copland used glacial mapping processes to work. how far the cache could go in eight decades.

In August, they were ready to try it.

“I went out and about between being pretty sure — we did the research, the scientists came up with a projection — and waking up in the middle of the night saying, ‘What are we doing?'” says Post. With tent, tarp and skis and even cameras, the cache was quite large, so they thought it would be quite impressive. But not only could the projections be wrong; someone else may have already found the stash. “That being said, I think if we hadn’t found it, it would still have been a great story,” he says.

For a while, it was like that would be be the story Six days of searching turned up nothing. “The last morning I realized we weren’t going to find it and it was time to move on,” says Post.

“We put a lot of time and energy into it, and we gave him a great shot, but it wasn’t out. I was fine.

“That said, we had four hours to go and it would have been disappointing not to make it to the last minute. I knew we had to make one last push.”

Then, as the clock ticked past lunchtime, University of Ottawa glaciologist Dorota (Dora) Medrzycka on the team came up with a theory.

“We covered every area we thought possible, but on the last evening Dora came up with a theory that based on what she was seeing, we were looking in the wrong place,” says Post.


Medrzycka realized that the glacier had risen more than the initial predictions.

Medrzycka realized that the glacier had risen more than the initial predictions.

Tyler Ravelle/Teton Gravity Research

Medrzycka joined the project two weeks before the search, and although he wasn’t part of the team that calculated the original estimate, he says that once he was on the glacier, “he suspected it might be lower. .”

And on that last day, “standing in the middle of the glacier, it was like a spark,” he says. “Just being around sparked that idea.” Was it like fate? – Almost

Standing on the ice, Medrzycka noticed a pattern in the moraine, a debris bank that generally runs along the top of the glacier.

“Instead of being continuous it stopped in the middle. And I saw in the satellite picture that there were two long gaps.”

Some glaciers occasionally “overshoot,” speeding up for up to two years before returning to their normal pace. The team knew the Walsh glacier was a surgeon — it’s happened twice since 1937 — but each glacier moves at a different rate. In fact, they now know that instead of the usual 100–200 meters (328–656 ft) of movement per year, Walsh moved 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) per year during his ascents.

Medrzycka had that spark by looking at the voids of the waste. The gaps in the moraine belonged to the uplift, he realized, where the glacier was moving too fast to accumulate debris. Seeing how long these gaps were, he was able to see that the glacier had risen further and faster than they had originally anticipated.

During the final three hours of the search, they moved two kilometers (1.6 miles) from the point farthest from the original target area, and almost immediately a member of the team spotted a fuel tank.

“The cache was half-buried,” says Post. “The tents were sticking out of the ice. You just took a few things. There were the glasses, the clothes, the indisputable element of that experience based on the photographs.

“You literally couldn’t have written a better ending.”

Medrzycka remembers seeing “a big piece of canvas — a tent or tarps covering everything” and describes the moment as “truly unbelievable”.

“The odds of finding such a small cache on such a large glacier were slim. Everyone had lost hope, so it was really epic. There was a lot of shock, disbelief and relief — my guess was right, the pressure was off. We couldn’t be happier.” .

Cameras — film inside

Washburn's Fairchild F-8 aerial camera (lens photo shown) was in pieces but the other two were intact.

Washburn’s Fairchild F-8 aerial camera (lens photo shown) was in pieces but the other two were intact.

Leslie Hittmeier/Teton Gravity Research

Because of the glacier’s movement over 85 years, the items were spread “tens of meters” apart, Medrzycka says, but that evening, the team found the entire cache, minus some items that had been carried away. meltwater keeps them away over the years.

Among the haul were three cameras: Washburn’s Fairchild F-8 aerial camera (later famous for his aerial photography), which was damaged, and two still-intact film cameras: a DeVry “Lunchbox” model and a Bell. & Howell Eyemo 71A.

The latter two had film — they have now been turned over to the University of Ottawa to see if they can recover the films. “We know that part of the film has been revealed, and if it survives for 85 years on a glacier with such incredible odds, being a relentless optimist, I’m cautiously optimistic that some will be salvageable,” says Post.

Skiing “isn’t exciting anymore”

The team made the discovery in the last hours of the search.

The team made the discovery in the last hours of the search.

Leslie Hittmeier/Teton Gravity Research

The biggest contribution for Medrzycka is understanding the evolution of the Walsh glacier.

“We have satellite images from today to 2000, and then a little bit back to the 1960s, but nothing before that. Going back to the 1930s shows us how the flow has changed, and I think it’s pretty unique because of that,” he said. he says

“It teaches us that it’s important to look at longer time scales if we want to understand how glaciers change with climate change.” The data on what that might mean is still being analyzed.

So what is Post and his team? After all, as he admits, after discovering the historic equipment that had been lost for 85 years, “going skiing is no longer exciting”.

“Some have reached out with lost items and I’d be lying if I didn’t say they’ve piqued my interest,” he says.

While making this trip, people asked them to look after the remains of the Douglas C-54 Skymaster plane that crashed in 1950 with 44 people on board. found nothing

But maybe they will go back.

“It seems worth pursuing, but I would need some time to do some research,” he says.

Meanwhile, he is thrilled to have found the 1937 stash, and the team is already in touch with the families of Washburn and Bates, who both died in 2007.

“It’s an amazing story of adventure and survival,” says Post of the 1937 expedition, adding that it would have been worthwhile even if no equipment had been found.

“Creating challenges for yourself and meeting them, no matter how difficult, is the fun part of life. If we hadn’t found it, we wouldn’t have felt as excited about it, but it would have been part of the journey anyway — and it’s those kinds of challenges that drive us all.”