KLUANE NATIONAL PARK AND RESERVE — A cache of equipment belonging to explorer Bradford Washburn, including three of his cameras, has been retrieved from a Yukon glacier after 85 years.
Now conservation specialists are going to see if they can recover any images from film that’s still inside two of them.
Even if the film has nothing to reveal, the team that uncovered the cache says the find helps create a new, clearer picture for researchers on how glaciers have moved over the decades.
In 1937, Washburn, an American mountaineer who pioneered the use of aerial photography, and Robert Bates left an estimated 450 kilograms of gear at their remote base camp on Walsh glacier before setting off to climb nearby Mount Lucania.
Bad conditions meant two other climbers who were supposed to come along were unable to start and Washburn and Bates had to travel as light as possible.
The pair successfully climbed the mountain — the second-highest located entirely within Canada — but never returned to camp to get their things.
It wouldn’t be until 2020 that professional big-mountain skier Griffin Post read about Washburn’s lost cache and began plotting a way to track it down.
“In the back of my mind it just stuck with me — well, what if it’s not at the bottom of a crevasse? What if it’s just there, and nobody’s really taken the time to try to find it?” he said.
Post spent 18 months scouring old photos of the base camp that had survived Washburn’s trip to try and match mountains in the background with modern topography.
Those GPS co-ordinates became the starting point of the search, but on a 50-kilometre-wide moving glacier, that was not going to be enough.
To help pinpoint where the cache was now after 85 years, the team brought in Dora Medrzycka, a PhD student in glaciology.
“Before leaving to the field, all we had access to was satellite data … and really for that we have data that goes back to 2010 or 2000, at the most,” Medrzycka said.
“So we’re trying to estimate how far the glacier moved over 85 years, yet we only have data for part of that. So that complicated everything.”
And the glacier itself didn’t make it easy.
Medrzycka said Walsh is a rare “surging glacier” that can periodically pick up speeds of as much as 10 to 100 metres a day, compared to an ordinary glacier that moves at a relatively steady pace of less than one metre a day.
It wasn’t until Day 6 of the team’s second trip to the glacier this August that Medrzycka had a breakthrough. She noticed a long band of debris that travelled the glacier’s entire length with the exception of two gaps.
“I told myself, each of those gaps is a surge, whatever is in between is that period where the glacier is just flowing normally,” she said.
With that additional data, Medrzycka was able to calculate a new spot to search, about two kilometres from where they had been focused.
That’s where they spotted a fuel can and a pair of goggles.
“That moment was just like, such disbelief. It’s funny, of course you’re fascinated and you want to look at the objects, but my first reaction was to give one of the crew members a hug,” Post said.
Looking at old photos of Washburn’s trip, Post realized that what they’d found was not the central base camp but a smaller advance camp the men had used.
Seven kilometres from the first items, they uncovered what’s left of the larger cache complete with tents, ice axes, skis and the cameras from 85 years ago.
“There were absolutely no thoughts. I think we were just yelling and laughing and everybody was completely ecstatic,” Medrzycka said.
The team was not permitted to remove anything found on the glacier but alerted Parks Canada, which sent staff up three weeks later.
When they arrived, 30 centimetres of snow had fallen, completely covering the find.
Parks Canada archeologist Sharon Thomson said staff dug and used warm water to get the artifacts loose.
An ice axe, ski binding and fragments of clothing were among the two dozen items brought out from the cache along with two motion picture cameras and a significant portion of an aerial still camera.
Thomson said both of the movie cameras still have film inside and experts are going to see if they can figure out how to develop the images.
“Right now, all of the artifacts are with our conservation specialists in Ottawa and in Winnipeg and we are following up on the potential for recovering any images from that film,” she said.
“The conservators are reaching out to other experts in that area internationally to just find out what’s possible and look for methods of analysis that might yield some images on that film.”
Regardless of whether images are recovered or not, Medrzycka said the discovery of the cache gives scientists a more detailed understanding of how glaciers move.
“We could trace that path that was travelled by the cache since the ’30s and we could determine how much the glacier moved in 85 years,” she said.
“And then, if we combine that information with the satellite data, with the aerial photography that we have, including Washburn’s photos, we can then try to figure out how the flow has been changing.”
Post, who is making a movie about the experience, said the realist in him recognizes that recovering images is unlikely, but that doesn’t mean he’s not holding out hope.
“It surviving 85 years on a glacier and being recoverable was also unlikely. I think it’d be pretty special to have that footage from 85 years ago, regardless of what’s on it.”
— By Ashley Joannou in Vancouver
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Smoking, vaping to be banned on trails, sidewalks in Alberta mountain town
Banff – An Alberta mountain town has passed a bylaw banning smoking and vaping in most public places.
The bylaw in Banff, which comes into effect in February, prohibits tobacco smoking and vaping in its municipal parks and green spaces, on trails and pathways and at outdoor markets and events.
The bylaw also covers bus stops and public sidewalks and in proximity to children.
That means smoking or vaping tobacco in the town, which is located in Banff National Park, would be limited to parking lots, alleys and on private property.
There is an exemption for the ceremonial use of tobacco for traditional Indigenous practices.
The bylaw carries fines between $250 and $500 for violations.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2022.
Croatia – Pedal and Sea
On our second day of riding, while huffing and puffing up an absurdly steep Croatian road, I said to my wife Florence, ‘Perhaps it would be wise if you were to switch to an e-bike. The guide says the grade is going to get even tougher over the next few days.’ As she pedaled away, Florence remarked, ‘You use electricity. I’ll use electrolytes.’ Then she accelerated up the slope and disappeared around a bend in the lane. I stopped disheartened, dismounted and examined my bicycle, hoping to discover a low tire or some other mechanical excuse to abandon the climb.
We were on a seven-day ‘Pedal and Sea’ adventure on the Dalmatian Coast. We’d been forewarned that it’d be a tough slog. Preparedness being my motto, I spent weeks before departure supplementing my strict training regime with long-distance cycling. The calculations were precise. Twice a week I’d do 4 kilometers of pedaling — followed by a beer and a small nachos plate. Or was it 3 kilometers of pedaling, 2 brewskies and a medium quesadilla? No matter. The critical thing was to arrive in Croatia in tiptop condition, ready to pedal.
Ironically, the town we flew into was called Split. A Roman Emperor named Diocletian was among the first to vacation on the Dalmatian Coast. He loved Split so much that, after subjugating the locals and burning a few Christians at the stake, he retired here in 305 AD and built a gargantuan palace hewn from local limestone. Today, his enormous fortress still overlooks the quaint harbour. From the palace it’s a short walk up into Marjan Forest Park, which offers splendid views of the city and the surrounding Adriatic Sea.
We boarded our bark, The Azimut in nearby Trogir. We enjoyed a spread of fresh seafood as the boat motored out of port and into the open sea. Our guides Antonio and Andrei introduced themselves and outlined the program for the upcoming week. After lunch the whole group sat on deck marveling at the pristine, azure water as the Azimut skipped across the flat sea.
Two hours later we landed on Solta island. We disembarked, mounted our steel steeds and enjoyed a leisurely ride to the stony interior of the island. We returned to the boat in time to watch the sun sink into the flaming Adriatic. Then cocktails, then a scrumptious supper, then a few late-night laughs — then off to our berths for some well-earned jet-lagged shut eye.
In the morning I emerged from our stateroom, ordered a latte and watched the crew undertake the laborious daily task of manhandling a boatload of bicycles, bucket-brigade style, from the mezzanine deck to the dock. After breakfast we gathered en masse on the quay, strapped paniers to bikes, secured helmets to heads and awaited instructions. I surveyed my fellow Azimut shipmates, many of whom donned colourful attire advertising past cycling glories. The advanced age of some instilled in me a degree of cockiness. I decided to take it easy on them this first full day of riding; let them know it was okay for old geezers and geezerettes to share the road with me. On the first steep hill four septuagenarians pedaled by me in unison, peloton-style, instantly leaving me in the dust. As they rotated away, not judging a book by its leathered cover came spinning into my mind.
The itinerary was pretty much the same each day — one beautiful Croatian Island after another, but with ever steeper terrain and longer rides. Our flamboyant, able skipper was Captain Jadran. Every morning he stood at the helm, clad in a pink shirt, orange shorts, flip flops and a groovy Navy hat, part Humphrey Bogart, part Austin Powers. A cigarette dangled perpetually from his lips, which he removed only to shout sharp commands at the crew.
There were 36 guests on board the Azimut. Antonio and Andrei our large, male mother geese, patiently and attentively looked after the whole flock, guiding us from start to finish every day, on every ride. They replaced chains felled by faulty gear changes, fixed flattened tires and bandaged the occasional scrape.
Although most of us started out using good old-fashioned human power, slowly but surely more and more e-bikes started popping up on the quay in the morning.
Before the week was half over the hard-core contingent was whittled down to less than ten. And those that made the switch did not switch back. But they certainly smiled a lot more. E-bikes have enabled the family to play together — and stay together. If mom is hard-core but dad and the kids aren’t as enthusiastic, they can still bike together the live-long day.
Spoiler: we were not the first travellers to discover Croatia. Although we arrived in September’s shoulder season, the ports, even at smaller remote islands, were crowded — boats often stacked 6-deep, necessitating a circuitous, ship-to-ship hopping expedition to get ashore. Dubrovnik, the gem of Dalmatia, was crawling with visitors. Circumnavigating the City’s famous wall, a 2-kilometre stretch offering heavenly views of the ancient city and port, was a push and shove affair.
Fortunately, we didn’t spend too much time with the maddening crowd. Our days were occupied riding bucolic island byways, our nights rocking on board with the boisterous satisfaction of having conquered thigh-burning mountain passes.
Most of our ocean crossings took less than a couple hours and land was always in sight. The longest haul was from Hvar to the island of Vis — a two-pack sail for the captain. At the height of cold war fears, communist strongman Marshal Tito installed a secret submarine base along Vis’ rugged coast. But frankly, after an arduous cross-island ride, I was less interested in consuming cold war trivia than in downing a large serving of Viska, traditional island dough aroused with olive oil and stuffed with onion, anchovies and tomatoes.
The toughest ride was on Korcula. This leg was only a little over 50km, but there were several brutal climbs. Fortunately the pain was abated by frequent stops to admire the stunning white limestone cliffs spilling into the aquamarine Adriatic. The day ended at a small roadside shop where we quaffed a well-earned Radler (a delicious concoction of flavoured soda and beer) purchased from an indifferent Korculan shopkeeper. To be clear, not all Croatian shopkeepers are indifferent.
Some are also grumpy.
On our last night on board the ship, at the Captain’s dinner, Jadran thanked us and offered a toast to all his guests. I manufactured an impromptu rendition of the Azimut Blues on my ever-present ukulele. When I finished the ditty, the captain, who had exchanged his colourful garb for proper navy attire, ceremoniously adorned me with a Croatian captain’s hat. An unlit smoke hung from his lips. I looked down at his feet: flip-flops.
If you go: https://www.pedalandseaadventures.com/
Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.
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