In 1937, legendary aerial photographer and cartographer Bradford Washburn dropped hundreds of pounds of camera gear, surveying equipment and supplies when he encountered bad weather while exploring Canada’s frigid Yukon region. .
In August, 85 years later, a team of scientists and professional mountain explorers discovered the long-lost historic cache of contraptions buried in the ice on the remote Walsh Glacier.
Eight decades ago, Washburn and fellow explorer Robert Bates were attempting to scale Mount Lucania in the Saint Elias Mountains when bad weather forced them to abandon heavy photographic equipment.
In late April 2022, professional big mountain skier Griffin Post embarked on a three-week expedition to the glacier – located in Kluane National Park and Reserve in Canada – with other adventurers and scientists, to track down the location of cameras.
“I was hopeful, but knew it was like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack,” Post said in a press release. “A lot can happen in 85 years on a glacier.”
Dora Medrzycka, a glaciologist from the University of Ottawa, was asked to travel to the site and map the glacier, to determine where the craft might have moved over time.
“They basically needed help understanding how the glacier moves and what’s the best way to find the cache,” Medrzycka told Insider.
A team of glaciologists from the University of Ottawa assisted the expedition from a distance.
Upon arriving in the area, the team searched on foot, skis and snowboards.
“We had an idea of where to start looking, but nothing very specific,” Medrzycka said, adding, “We walked many miles up and down the glacier. We had a hard time finding it – we couldn’t see it anywhere.”
To try to get an idea of the camp’s original location, the team pored over photographs of the cache site that had survived Washburn’s expedition.
The team did not find the cameras until a second, shorter trip to the glacier in August.
“We were close to giving up because all our efforts weren’t giving us anything,” Medrzycka said.
On the penultimate day of the trip, Medrzycka came up with a new theory for the location of the artifacts.
Glaciers generally move at a consistent rate from year to year, but Walsh Glacier is a rare “rising” glacier, she said, meaning it moves faster for a year or two every few decades.
She noticed piles of debris had traveled the length of the glacier, which she believed was due to the surge. This allowed him to know how and when the glacier had flowed in the past.
The sighting allowed him to calculate a new estimate of where the objects might be, which were three or four miles further down the valley and about 14 miles from where Washburn had left them.
His intuition 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.”
A few weeks later, Parks Canada archaeologists returned to the glacier with the expedition team to extract the camera from the ice. The team found a significant portion of Washburn’s Fairchild F-8 aerial camera, along with two motion picture cameras with film still loaded inside, hiking poles, tents, and other survival gear.
According to Medrzycka, the team knew that Washburn had taken images of the landscape before abandoning his equipment. Now they plan to develop the decades-old film, hoping to salvage the footage.
“What’s really significant here is that this is new data that we had no way of getting without finding this cache,” Medrzycka said, adding, “We were able to retrace the path by cache since 1937.”
She said the results could help scientists better understand how glaciers move, adding that “if we now combine this information with satellite data, we can try to determine if and how the flow of this specific glacier, Walsh Glacier , has changed over the past eight decades.”
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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