Voices in the Wilderness: Briana Whitehead

Three Abandoned Trekking Poles
Gannet Peak – Wind River Range, Wyoming

It was a perfect July in Montana. We had just gotten married at Legacy Bike Park near Kalispell, and were ready to start our mini-honeymoon. We felt refreshed and ready for adventure.

Starting at Elkhart Trailhead, we stamped out a quick 17 miles into Titcomb basin. We made camp and stared up at the 30%+ Bonney Pass where we’d be climbing at 3:30am the next morning. The basin was windy, causing small whitecaps to rush across the lake in the opposite direction of flow. Between the waves and the waterfall, we fell asleep to the sounds of a soft ocean.

I awoke to Drew rocking my shoulder back and forth, asking me where my phone was. I sat straight up and fumbled around in the bottom of my bag. It had been going off for 10 mins, the clock said 3:10am.

Quickly we made instant coffee, chugged, and grabbed the drawstring packs that we had put together six hours prior, each strapped with an ice axe. Although the milky-way was bright, we still slapped headlamps to our foreheads in order to avoid the meandering glacial melt and mosaic wetlands ahead of us before the landscape transitioned into firm snow. Bonney Pass was a steep bootpack in the dark. We stopped at the first roll and cramponed up before it transitioned to a 30%+ slope. This is where we found our first little lonely abandoned trekking pole melting out of the snow.

The sunrise was just cresting the horizon as we hit the saddle at 5:20am, illuminating the vast Dinwoody glacier we planned to traverse. While the sun rose we glissaded 1000 ft down onto Dinwoody. Scampering across the glacier, I looked up at Gannett Peak and felt my familiar butterflies of excitement, adventure, and the need for speed.

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich Drew had made a few days before served us as breakfast before we tackled the next climb up Gooseneck Pinnacle. To our surprise we located another and then yet another abandoned trekking pole, putting us at plus-three trekking poles so far for the day.

The only obstacle I was worried about on this summit attempt was a seasonal bergschrund (snow bridge). Fortunately there was still enough snow that the bergschrund had yet to form and we easily moved past it. The sun was still low, casting a warm glow on the spire, allowing us to finish the climb in t-shirts by 7:20am.

We took our sweet time on the summit (13,810 ft), taking in the views, eating snacks, and even taking a fully nude photo of the two of us embracing. You know – newlywed stuff.

The snow continued to warm up, turning to corn, which meant it was time to glissade back down. We glissaded 2000 ft down, passing a father and his two children. Each of the children adopted one of our found trekking poles putting us back to a single homeless trekking pole. Once across Dinwoody glacier the hot, steep bootpack backup to Bonney Pass began. Once on top, it was time for another happy glissade back down to Titcomb Basin, where we washed off in the lake and crawled into our tent for a well deserved nap.

Over the next few days, we slowly made our way out of the Wind River Range and eventually found a backpacker without a trekking pole. I untied the last trekking pole from my pack and handed it over to it’s new mom to continue on to another adventure.

Briana K Whitehead has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies & Biology, a Certificate in Outdoor Education, an agricultural Return Peace Corps Volunteer certificate, a Master of Science in Land Resources & Environmental Science, and is starting her Doctorate of Philosophy in Earth Science this January, 2024. She currently serves in the USDA-NRCS as a GIS Specialist and Soil Conservationist. In her free time, she is an avid recreationalist and volunteer. Whether mountain biking, backcountry skiing, climbing, backpacking, or paddling she always finds someone to talk to about plants and conservation. She actively volunteers with two non-profit organizations (Pend Oreille Pedalers and Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association) to advocate for, build, and maintain local trail systems. She is married to her favorite recreational buddy and they have two dogs who go everywhere with them.

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About The Author:

Rose wears many hats within FSPW as well as the greater Sandpoint community. You can find her working behind the scenes for the Friends, coaching kids mountain biking and nordic skiing, or out on the trail enjoying nature.

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