Mountaineers Brad Washburn and Robert Bates explored the Yukon region in Canada as early as 1937. The weather forced them to seek shelter immediately, so they dropped their heavy camera cache and hiked 100 miles. And now, 83 years later, the cameras have been found with the film still inside!
You may have heard of this epic survival story. David Roberts even turned it into a book with the title Escape from Lucania. Washburn and Bates set out to make the first ascent of Mount Lucania. At 17,192 feet (5240 meters). it was considered one of the highest and most inaccessible peaks in North America. Pilot Bob Reeve and crew member Russ Dow flew the two climbers and their gear from Valdez, Alaska, to Walsh Glacier below Mount Lucania.
It was to be a four-man expedition. However, weather conditions made it impossible for the pilot to return with the supplies and the rest of the crew. So Washburn and Bates had to go back. They left everything that wasn’t strictly necessary, including the cameras.
As ABC News notes, there were two sentences in it Escape from Lucania this particularly impressed the ski pro and mountain explorer Griffin Post. According to Roberts, Washburn was “heartbroken” to leave his cameras behind and he always wanted to go back to get them. And Post made the decision to try to recover the lost cameras – and he did!
“A few years ago I was researching for a ski trip in this area and looking for beta photos and some of Washburn’s shots kept popping up,” Post told Teton Gravity.
“I found a 1938 American Alpine Journal report on the first ascent of Mt. Lucania with him and Bates, detailing how they barely made it out there alive. This was the trip that left the camera behind and was documented in a documentary and David Roberts’ 2002 book Escape from Lucania. Using these photos, I compared some of the locations to today’s satellite imagery to find out exactly where they were in 1937, and put a pin on a map with an estimate.”
Last year, Post says, he hit that pin again. At this point he realized that he was still very interested in learning more about this expedition. So he started doing more research which ultimately led him to this mission. He contacted glaciologist Luke Copland, who helped him figure out where Washburn’s equipment might have ended up. “It had been left on Walsh Glacier, and glaciers are moving, so Washburn’s notes on where he was were no longer directly useful,” writes ABC News. The glaciologist Dr. However, Dora Medrzycka came to the rescue. As part of the expedition, he helped Post locate and retrieve the lost cameras.
The expedition was to last seven days. And as is so often the case, the team only found a clue on the last day. They found a group of objects lying on the surface, but it was further down the glacier than they expected. These obviously belonged to Washburn and included goggles and fuel cans. “The treasure that Washburn left was left at their base camp,” Post believes, wondering if these scattered items “were just gear that Washburn and Bates left at a camp higher up the mountain.”
And just a little further away they found the full cache. “After all the work that went into it and knowing it was just a guess and all the doubts you had from others and yourself to get over that and be like, ‘Yeah, my gut feeling was right . This was possible. That was here,'” Post told ABC News. “It was just a special moment to share with the crew and be with these people in this landscape and come back successful after essentially stealing victory from the jaws of defeat.” Medrzycka added that the moment they found the camera cache was “priceless and she would never forget it.
The team found two film cameras, and here they are both still loaded with film. Of course, there’s a good chance they won’t be recorded anymore, given the weather conditions they’ve been exposed to. However, Post says the team will be examining the equipment over the next few weeks and he is “cautiously optimistic that something can be salvaged.”
[via Digital Camera World; image credits: Leslie Hittmeier/Teton Gravity Research]