85 years after it was abandoned, explorers find a historic cache of photographic equipment : ScienceAlert

In 1937, legendary aerial photographer and cartographer Bradford Washburn abandoned hundreds of pounds of camera equipment, surveying equipment and supplies when he encountered bad weather while exploring Canada’s frozen Yukon Territory.

In August, 85 years later, a team of scientists and professional mountain explorers discovered the long-lost historic cache of tools buried in the ice on the remote Walsh Glacier.

Eight decades ago, Washburn and fellow explorer Robert Bates were trying to climb Mount Lucania in the Saint Elias Mountains when bad weather forced them to leave their heavy camera equipment behind.

In late April 2022, professional high mountain skier Griffin Post began a three-week expedition to the glacier – located in Canada’s Kluane National Park and Reserve – along with other adventurers and scientists, to locate the cameras.

“I was optimistic, but I knew it was akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack,” Post said in a news release. “A lot can happen in 85 years on a glacier.”

Dora Medrzycka, a glaciologist from the University of Ottawa, was enlisted to travel to the site and map the glacier to determine where the equipment could be moved over time.

“They basically needed help figuring out how the glacier moves and what’s the best way to find the cache,” Medrzycka told Insider.

A team of glaciologists at the University of Ottawa assisted the expedition remotely.

The Griffin Post compares archival photos of Washburn during the hunt for the cache. (Tyler Ravelle)

Once in the area, the team searched on foot, skis and snowboards.

“We had an idea of ​​where to start looking, but nothing very precise,” Medrzycka said, adding, “We covered many kilometers walking up and down the glacier. We had trouble finding him – we couldn’t see him anywhere.”

To try to get a sense of the camp’s original location, the team looked over photographs of the cache site that had survived from Washburn’s expedition.

The team didn’t find the cameras until a second, smaller trip to the glacier in August.

“We were almost close to giving up because all our efforts were getting nothing,” Medrzycka said.

On the penultimate day of the trip, Medrzycka came up with a new theory about where the objects could be.

A man in a red parka crouched on the ice next to an old camera case.
Griffin Post at the discovery site of Bradford Washburn’s abandoned camera cache in 1937. (Leslie Hitmeyer)

Glaciers typically move at a steady rate from year to year, but Walsh Glacier is a rare “swelling” glacier, he said, meaning it moves faster for a year or two every few decades.

He noticed that piles of debris had traveled the length of the glacier, which he believed was caused by the wave. This showed her how and when the glacier had flowed in the past.

The observation allowed her to calculate a new estimate of where the objects could be, which was three or four miles further down the valley and about 14 miles away from where Washburn had left them.

Her hunch eventually led the team to the missing equipment. “It was an amazing feeling and I was relieved that I didn’t fail to find the cache,” Medrzycka said, adding: “It was an epic moment for everyone.”

Weeks later, archaeologists from Parks Canada returned to the glacier with the expedition team to retrieve the camera from the ice. The team found a significant portion of Washburn’s Fairchild F-8 aerial camera, with two motion picture cameras with film still loaded inside, hiking poles, tents and other survival equipment.

According to Medrzycka, the team knew that Washburn took pictures of the landscape before abandoning his equipment. Now they plan to develop the decades-old film, hoping to save the images.

“What’s really important here is that this is new data that we had no way of having without finding this cache,” Medrzycka said, adding, “We were able to trace the path traveled by the cache from 1937 ».

He said the findings could help scientists better understand how glaciers move, adding that “if we combine this information now with satellite data, we can try to understand if and how the flow of this particular glacier, Walsh Glacier, has changed in recent years. eight decades”.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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