Camera of 1930’s Explorer Discovered on Glacier in Yukon Wildnerness

by Craig Garrett
(Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

A camera abandoned by an explorer on a glacier Yukon wilderness has been recovered 85 years after the equipment was dropped. In 1937, during an attempt to climb Mount Lucania in northwestern Canada, American explorer Bradford Washburn abandoned a cache of heavy equipment. As chronicled in Escape from Lucania by David Roberts, Washburn and his friend Bob Bates had to find their way back to society. This was through the Yukon outdoors during unpromising weather conditions when it became unsafe for a pilot to retrieve them.

Roberts’ words left a lasting impression on professional skier Griffin Post. According to Roberts, Washburn was devastated to leave his cameras behind and always dreamed of returning for them. So, 85 years after the equipment was abandoned, Post set out to do it for him.

He contacted Luke Copland, a glaciologist at the University of Ottawa, for help to determine where Washburn’s equipment may have ended up. The gear had been abandoned on Walsh Glacier. Since glaciers constantly move, the notes that Washburn made about his location were no longer accurate.

Dora Medrzycka recently earned her Ph.D in physical geography with a specialization in glaciology under Copland’s supervision. She got involved through Washburn. In the mountaineering community, Washburn is renowned for both his expeditions and research. His documentation of mountains from almost a century ago is still used today by climbers to map out their routes.

The camera was in an unexpected place on the glacier

In late spring of 2022, Copland and Medrzycka joined Post to search for the glacier in the mountains. The group was unsuccessful in locating anything. “But the information we got helped us kind of reassess the estimation of where the cache had moved to,” Post explained to ABC News.

They scoured the area again in August. However, they were growing disheartened, as they couldn’t locate the cache where they believed it would be. “I was not only disappointed, but I pretty much knew that I was letting everybody down,” Medrzycka explained. “Because technically, I was the one that was supposed to have the knowledge to figure out where it was. So I definitely felt like I had failed everyone, and that responsibility was pretty, pretty hard to bear.”

Medrzycki suspected that the Walsh Glacier surges due to movement, but she couldn’t be sure without more data. To get said data, she looked at how far the glacier had moved in past surges by using breakpoints as markers. On the last day of their trip, they found something in the exact spot that Medrzycka’s theory said it would be.

Several of Washburn’s belongings were scattered about on the surface, such as goggles and fuel canisters. Unexpectedly, they were much farther down the glacier than first assumed. They traveled a bit more until they finally found the entire cache. Post, who had been expecting to return home with nothing, said it was unbelievable. Finding Washburn’s cache contributes to glaciology research because it gives scientists data points from before the 1960s. Without this information, predicting how fast or far the glacier moves would be difficult.