Back in 1937, mountaineers Brad Washburn and Robert Bates were exploring the Yukon region in Canada. The weather forced them to immediately find shelter, so they ditched their heavy camera cache and hiked for 100 miles. And now, 83 years later, the cameras have been found with film still in them!
Perhaps you’ve heard of this epic story of survival. David Roberts even turned it into a book named Escape from Lucania. Washburn and Bates set out for what was to become the first ascent of Mount Lucania. At 17,192 feet (5240 meters). it was considered one of North America’s highest and most inaccessible peaks. 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 meant to be a four-man expedition. However, the weather conditions made it impossible for the pilot to return with the supplies and the rest of the crew. So, Washburn and Bates were forced to hike back. They left everything that wasn’t essential behind, including the cameras.
As ABC News notes, there were two sentences in Escape from Lucania that made a particular impression on professional skier 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 a decision to give it a go at retrieving the lost cameras – and he did it!
“A few years ago, I was doing some research for a ski trip in this area and was looking for beta photos, and some of Washburn’s shots kept coming up” Post told Teton Gravity.
“I found a 1938 American Alpine Journal report of him and Bates’ first ascent of Mt. Lucania that chronicled them barely making it out of there alive. That was the trip where they left the camera and that was documented in a documentary film and David Roberts’ 2002 book Escape from Lucania. With those photos, I compared some of the spots to present-day satellite imagery to try and figure out exactly where they were in 1937 and dropped a pin on a map with an estimation.”
Last year, Post says he came across that pin again. This is when he realized that he was still really interested in learning more about that expedition. So, he started doing some more research, which ultimately led him to this mission. He got in touch with glaciologist Luke Copland who helped him to figure out where Washburn’s equipment may have ended up. “It had been left on Walsh Glacier, and glaciers move, so Washburn’s notes about where he was were no longer directly useful,” ABC News writes. However, glaciologist Dr. Dora Medrzycka came to the rescue. As a part of the expedition, he helped Post find and retrieve the lost cameras.
The expedition was set to last for seven days. And as it usually happens, it wasn’t until the final day that the team found a clue. They found a group of items sitting on the surface, but it was farther down the glacier than they’d expected. These obviously belonged to Washburn and included goggles and fuel canisters. “The treasure Washburn left was abandoned at their base camp,” Post believes, wondering if those scattered items was “just gear Washburn and Bates left at a camp higher up on the mountain.”
And only a little further away, they found the full cache. “For all the work that went into it and knowing all along that it was just a guess, and all that doubt that you had from others and yourself, to overcome that and be like, ‘Yeah, my gut was right. This was possible. This was here’,” Post told ABC News. “It was just such a special moment to share with the crew and be with those people in that landscape and come back successful after essentially stealing victory from the jaws of defeat.” Dr. Medrzycka added that the moment they found the camera cache was “priceless and that she would never forget it.
The team found two film cameras, and they are both still loaded with film. Of course, there is a good chance nothing is recorded on them any longer, considering the weather conditions they’ve been exposed to. However, Post says that the team will be examining the equipment over the next few weeks, and he is “cautiously optimistic that something will be salvageable.”
[via Digital Camera World; image credits: Leslie Hittmeier/Teton Gravity Research]