Day 61: The Trek from Lone Pine to Bishop

This photo was just posted this morning on Instagram by a friend of Michael’s. The caption reads: “When your friend offers to hike your pack to the top of the switchbacks if you climb the chute, you take the shortcut. Here, Physsie and I are topping out over Forester Pass, the summit of the PCT. (Sorry, Mom)”

Michael’s trail name is Physsie. Yes, that’s Michael up there.

That pretty much sums up my week.

What do you say when you see a picture of your kid doing this? I mean, I have a million thoughts that range from excitement to fear to a complete sense of failure that I’m at my desk here in Dallas with a cup of coffee while my son is in literally hanging on the side of a mountain while climbing some massive ice chute. Should a mother let this happen? And if so, does she just sit here and see that and think, “oh gosh. Isn’t that something! Oops, I’m late for my yoga class” ?

It’s kind of a new reality. A week ago, Michael started his trek into the High Sierra’s, a section of the trail known for its beauty, its highest peak in the Continental U.S., and this year, for its record snowfall and now snow melt. According to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, the snowfall this year is 165% more than average, in essence socking-in the high elevations for an estimated 100 more days this summer. The very sudden heat wave in Southern California is also causing a rapid melt at some of the lower elevations, resulting in rising creeks and rivers.

Needless to say, its been a worry but we’re pretty accepting of it now. We asked Michael to reset his SPOT GPS messenger to drop pins automatically, and its been a HUGE source of comfort. We can literally see his progress up a mountain, watch him approach a water obstacle, turn around, go further up the trail and cross there. With automatic tracking, the SPOT uses up more battery power but Michael doesn’t have to remember to send messages himself every day. I tell you, its worth every penny. This is what the screen looks like now. The cluster of pin drops shows him up in the mountains, not moving very far, versus the stretched out pins now that he’s down on flat Terra Firma:

The good news is he’s made it through the first part and down to a town called Bishop as of last night, six days after leaving Lone Pine. He and “trash family” as they call themselves climbed Mount Whitney, with its elevation of over 14,000 ft. He said it was hard to walk more than 10 minutes without stopping to rest, the air was so thin. And he said it was gorgeous and there was enough snow for them to slide a good part of the way down.


That smoke up on the mountain was actually a military drone that crashed while he was in Lone Pine. They had to stay in Lone Pine an extra day while the trail was closed and rescue vehicles headed up to investigate. Once they got back up there, they had at least two creek crossings that I know of–one was thigh-high, he said, and the other was waist-high. I guess when you cross a creek in shorts and hoist your backpack up over your head, you don’t worry too much about your shoes getting wet?

Mike’s creek crossing
Photo by his friend, Rachel Lee
Michael’s view last weekend

Trail names are a thing on the PCT. People along the trail give one another names that are used instead of their “real world names” while they’re hiking. It’s part of the culture of leaving it all behind to become the person you want to be while you’re walking. Even with my paralyzing fear of the great outdoors, I find that remarkably appealing. Imagine reinventing yourself for a limited period of time, with no real impact to your responsible life? How amazing that would be.

I follow this blog by a hiker named Mac. Its terrific, and he refers to trail names as being “reborn on the trail.” You can follow read his explanation of trail names (and so much more) at 

  1. You cannot bestow a name upon yourself, it must be given to you.
  2. You have the right to refuse proposed names until you feel a suitable one has been conjured up (but be careful, people will still call you what they wish).

Sure, people in town may give you looks when you give your name as Zoran The Magnificent at a restaurant, but they will also fear you for being different from them (which everyone knows translates into respect). You are already likely smelling of the outdoors (aka filth) or wearing only your underwear (my outfit of choice when going out in town), so what’s a name on top of all that? ”

Here’s Mac’s picture of the approach to the Sierras:

And here is Michael’s:

So Michael’s trail name is Physsie. I think it’s related to his having been a physics major at Texas Tech, which is odd given all the defining characteristics I could think of about him. But it suits him. He’s the youngest person (more or less) on the trail. There’s something lighthearted and playful about it and that makes me smile, thinking of Michael that way. I always said he was like Huck Finn and Peter Pan. Messy and didn’t want to grow up. And my happiest kid, in a carefree sort of way. He certainly looks happy now.

I love that picture. As scared as I am, it kind of makes my heart sing. Its funny what you can (and have to) get use to, as a parent. A year ago, it would have freaked me out to see him hitch hiking, let alone hanging on a mountain. It’s crazy when you think how much we grow as people as our kids grow. I don’t think I expected that. Not in the “oh, now I know how to make a great lunchbox” sort of way. But in a more spiritual, centered, find-your-inner calm sort of way. That’s got to be good for us, right?

My friend Julia is feeling all the emotional wallop of her first child graduating from high school and heading off to college. I said to her this morning, “You are right in the vortex of a huge mom moment, my friend. I use to say, upon reflection, there have been four bigger-than-life-moments so far: she was born, she rode a bus to school, she drove out of the driveway alone, and she said goodbye on a college campus. All the others paled in comparison. Go easy on yourself and know that all will be ok.”

When you have that panicked gut-tugging emotion that come when your child is about to do something that scares you–either because its scary or because its changing what you understand about yourself and who you are in that child’s world–there’s a kind of tightening that starts at the back of your insides and winds its way up through your stomach to your chest, your heart and even your lungs, and you face that moment of either collapsing from it or breathing. Breathing is the only real option, but the ability to choose it comes from one of two places, I think. Intellect, for sure. But I think it comes from faith, from love, too. A kind of supernatural blanket that lays on top of your churning panic and says “breathe. go easy. let it go and know that all will be OK.” And you do.

Julia posted this lovely video this morning. I have no idea whose video it is, so I can’t give proper credit other than to the blogger who first posted it,  It hit me as so perfect. It’s not every day you face mountain climbing. Some days its just watching them dash out the door, grabbing a snack, racing to work, a date, or some unknown activity that you can only pray is good for them. And all the while, that ability to breathe, stand tall, lift your head and say, “its all good” just grows stronger and more firmly rooted in us.

This must be what they mean about reinventing yourself. I’m game. I think.

Moms across the world are labelling this song as the best song ever. Listen for yourself.

Posted by Unstoppable Mother on Saturday, June 18, 2016


You can follow Michael on Instagram at Physsie_Hikes. Thanks for reading along. And a million thanks to the person who took that photo of Mike and his friend Rachel on Mount Whitney. It’s amazing.

  1. Martin D Frampton

    June 28, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Hi, I have climbed in snow, in the Pyrenees , my sense of self preservation and the experience of the leader said crampons and ropes and that’s what we had. Maybe the slope was such that a slip would not be dangerous. But I also think of the sense of achievement because that is what climbing like that is all about. He did it along with others and that brings about a strong sense of not just accomplishment but of comradeship that will stay with him, its great feeling.

    1. MaxineFrampton

      June 28, 2017 at 9:34 pm

      Just off the phone with him, Uncle Don. He’s a different fellow these days. You’re absolutely right, this is staying with him.

  2. Jo Nicoletti

    June 29, 2017 at 6:23 am

    Max, I know all the feelings of “this part” of motherhood. He is growing into the man that he will become. That part is over for me. In my case, the world is now a much calmer place.

    1. MaxineFrampton

      July 10, 2017 at 12:16 am

      Jo, its good to know that there is an “other side” to get to. I agree, he’s coming home (God willing) a changed man. No longer a child. That will be good for both of us, I’m sure.

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