In 1937, legendary mountaineers Bradford Washburn and Robert Bates were exploring Canada’s frigid Yukon region when they had to abandon their gear for a quick escape. Nearly 85 years later, the equipment they left behind – including Washburn’s camera – was found.
Professional mountain explorer Griffin Post told CBS News he first heard about the abandoned cache in the book Escape from Lucania. Author David Roberts writes about where Washburn and Bates may have left the equipment camp in Kluane National Park and Reserve.
“But certainly nothing really new, and that doubt and possibility that it was still there is what I did,” Post said.
Washburn is a mountaineer, explorer, surveyor, cartographer and author who is also known for the photographs he took of the dramatic landscapes he explored. He has visited many wild regions of the world including remote Alaska and Mount Everest.
Post said Washburn and Bates left their gear because their pilot couldn’t come back to pick them up, so they decided to climb the summit and hike to Canada. They planned to come back the following winter but never did.
In search of the cache, Post led a team to remote Walsh Glacier. Post and Teton Gravity Research — which produce films about skiing, snowboarding, and surfing — worked with University of Ottawa glaciologist Dora Medrzycka, who traveled with them, and mapped the glacier to determine where the gear has been over time could have moved. dr Luke Copland and a team from the University of Ottawa helped them remotely.
“It’s been such an emotional roller coaster because you go in, you’ve done all this research, you’re so excited, and then when you fly in for the first time you see how big the site is and how much area you’re supposed to have coverage and how many crevasses the cache could have fallen years ago,” Post said. “It’s like, ‘I don’t think we can find that any way.’ It’s so overwhelming.”
However, Post said finding the cache was ultimately fun.
“Sometimes I felt like a little kid. You jump over a crevasse, essentially like searching for treasure. Like that’s wild, I can do that,” he said. “And if we can’t find anything adventurous, we’ve ticked that box.”
During a seven-day trip, the crew of seven searched on foot, skied and snowboarded, covering about 60 miles each, Post said.
“We found it on the morning of the seventh day,” he added. “It was basically taking every minute, and in the end the helicopter wanted to take off to pick us up again, and that’s when we found the cache.”
According to a press release from Teton Gravity Research, the team found part of Washburn’s aerial camera, which is believed to be his first-ever aerial camera. They were also able to recover two more cameras with film still in them.
Parks Canada archaeologists, who oversee the country’s national parks, returned to the glacier with the team a few weeks later and helped them carefully salvage what they could and successfully pull the camera from the ice, according to the press release.
Post said they “will be investigated in the coming weeks and we are cautiously optimistic that something can be salvaged.”
The team estimated the camera had moved about 12 miles from where it started, Post said. Up to this point, scientists only had data on glacier movement from the 1960s, and analyzing the cache’s movement since 1937 can help them better understand how a glacier’s speed and thickness might have changed.
Post said not only was finding the cache historically significant, but “the science was almost cooler.”
“Because we essentially backfilled three decades of data that the scientific community didn’t have as far as how glaciers move,” he added.