Explorers find cameras lost on Canadian glacier for 85 years

Kluane National Park, Yukon, Canada
(Image credit: Getty)

A small team of explorers has successfully recovered a cache of cameras that were lost on a glacier in the Yukon, Canada, for 85 years. 

The cameras belonged famed to mountaineers Bradford Washburn (opens in new tab) and Bob Bates (opens in new tab), who set out to climb Mount Luciana (the third highest mountain in Canada) in 1937. It was the first ever attempt at the summit, but when they arrived at the foot of the mountain in June, their plane became bogged down in slush.

Bad weather set in, so the pair decided to hike back after their climb, rather than fly back from basecamp. They abandoned their heavy gear on the Walsh Glacier (opens in new tab) before beginning the return trip, intending to retrieve it later, but never did.

As CBC News (opens in new tab) explains, professional skier and writer Griffin Post (opens in new tab) read about the climb in a book eight decades later. After spending some time researching the location of the lost equipment, including checking photos and studying 3D maps, he began contacting glaciologists to propose a mission to recover it.

A really tough challenge

Luke Copeland, a professor at the University of Ottawa, was one who answered the call. "There’s a record of finding quite a few old artifacts on glaciers in other regions," Copland told CBC. "I didn't think it was entirely out of the question – but, of course, finding out where it was 85 years later, that's a really tough challenge."

Copeland and Post assembled a small team, and determined the likely location of the equipment based on photos, satellite imagery, and the movement of the glacier over time. However, the sheer size of the Walsh Glacier, combined with decades of snow, made it feel like finding a needle in a haystack.

"The first time you actually see the valley of the Walsh Glacier and how massive it is and how many crevasses there are, how rugged the terrain is, your heart kind of sinks, and you’re kind of like, 'No way.' There’s just so much terrain," Post told the New York Times (opens in new tab).

Much like Washburn and Bates' original expedition, the mission to recover the gear was initially thwarted by bad weather, but after making a second trip to the glacier later in 2022, the team made a discovery. Copeland's colleague Dora Medrzycka made a new calculation based on cracks in the moraine (material that was trapped in a glacier that is left behind as it melts or moves), and after six days of searching, they struck gold.

The cache of gear included five full cameras, plus parts of another, along with tents, a camping stove, and even some of Washburn and Bates' last dinner at camp.

Now, experts are working to see what photos, if any, can be recovered. Other pictures from the period show a very different landscape to the one seen today, so it will be fascinating to see what Washburn and Bates witnessed during their 1937 mission.

Cat Ellis
Editor

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).