Expedition recovers 85-year-old cameras left on Yukon glacier

By mapping how the Walsh Glacier had moved over the past eight decades, the expedition was able to identify where explorers left their equipment, including cameras.

Leslie Hittmeier/Teton Gravity ExpeditionIn addition to cameras, the expedition also found cooking utensils and climbing gear.

85 years ago, explorers Bradford Washburn and Robert Bates were forced to abandon a number of their supplies, including cameras, as they attempted to climb Mount Lucania in Canada. Today an expedition has tracked them down and recovered their cameras.

“That moment when we saw the equipment that was unmistakably theirs [was] so surreal and validating in so many ways,” said professional skier Griffin Post, who came up with the idea to reunite with the cameras. PEOPLE. “There have been so many doubts over the past 18 months.”

According The New York TimesPost first learned about cameras while reading Escape from Lucania by David Roberts, a 2002 book that detailed Washburn and Bates’ 1937 expedition. The message focused on a few paragraphs that mentioned that no other expedition had encountered the equipment that Washburn and Bates had been forced to abandon.

“[That] spun the wheels,” Post said.

He teamed up with Teton Gravity Research (TGR), a group of mountaineers and scientists to trek the Walsh Glacier in Canada’s Kluane National Park. But Post soon realized that their task would be easier said than done.

“You’re doing all this research, you’ve got all this scientific reasoning, and you think it’s totally possible: we’re going to go out there and look in this area, and it’s going to be there,” Post said. The New York Times. “And then the first time you actually see the Walsh Glacier valley and how massive it is and how many crevasses there are, how rugged the terrain is, your heart sinks and you’re kind of like, no way, there is so much ground.

Change in glacier topography

Tyler Ravelle/Teton Gravity ResearchThe group studied how the glacier had changed over the past eight decades in order to find the cameras.

In order to find the cameras, Post and his team enlisted Dorota Medrzycka, a glaciologist whose understanding of how glaciers change over time provided estimates of where Washburn and Bates had left their equipment.

Even with Medrzycka, however, Post’s team failed to find Washburn and Bates’ gear on their first attempt in the spring of 2022. In August, their second expedition also seemed on the verge of failure as their a week’s trip to the glacier yielded nothing. But then Medrzycka had an idea.

As The New York Times reports, the glaciologist noted anomalies in the ice that suggested two “surges” had caused Walsh Glacier to move faster than she had previously predicted. Medrzycka revised his estimates — and led Post and his team straight to the cameras.

“Knowing that the educated guess I made paid off and was right, it’s a very incredible feeling,” Medrzycka said. The New York Times.

His revised estimate was all the more astonishing as the expedition only had an hour left before a helicopter was scheduled to pick them up. Message says PEOPLE that they found the cameras “at the 11th hour”.

Camera recovered

Leslie Hittmeier/Teton Gravity ResearchThe expedition hopes to recover film from one of the recovered cameras, seen here buried in snow.

Post’s shipment came across a number of Washburn cameras, including a Fairchild F-8 overhead shutter camera, two motion picture cameras with film, a DeVry model “Lunchbox” camera, and a Bell & Howell Eyemo 71. They also found climbing gear, tents, and kitchen items, including part of a sirloin steak.

But certainly the most enticing finds are the cameras, many of which contain film that Post hopes to develop.

“It was so unlikely to find the cache after 85 years,” he said. The New York Times. “Yes, it’s unlikely that any part of this film is salvageable, but maybe it is.”

Even if the film is unusable, however, Post feels his expedition succeeded in other ways. For example, he shed important light on how the Walsh Glacier had changed over time.

After reading about the 85-year-old cameras recovered in the Yukon, learn how a melting glacier in the Italian Alps revealed artifacts left over from WWI. Or read about John Torringtonwhose body was preserved in ice for more than 140 years after his death on Franklin’s doomed 1845 voyage to the Arctic.

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