Families — Parents — Kids

No Other Way But Up: A True Tale of Girl Power

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This month, a new adventure narrative called Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure, by Patricia Ellis Herr landed on bookstore shelves (we covered it here). The book tells the story of Herr and her daughter's goal to hike all of New Hampshire's 48 summits that rise to 4,000 feet or more. I, like many, am smitten with their accomplishment, Herr's delightful book, her grounded, likable attitude, and her infectious little troopers. The following is an article that ran in The Hippo, the local weekly publication from Herr's home state. They've let us reprint it here for you to enjoy. And I'm sure you will.
— Mark Stephens, AdventureParents.com

On March 10 of this year, nine-year-old Alexandra Herr of Campton faced down the blowing snow at the summit of Mt. Washington and unfurled a scarf given to her by her dad, Hugh Herr. Thirty years early, Hugh had lost his legs, and a rescuer had lost his life, in a mishap on that same mountain.

The winter Washington summit was just another day in the amazing journey of Alex and her mom, Patricia. A week later, atop Mt. Flume, Alex finished the state Winter 4,000-foot mountain list, becoming the youngest hiker to do so.

The ladies won’t have much time to celebrate, as Patricia’s new memoir, Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure (Broadway Books) hits the shelves this week and Patricia and Alex will embark on another kind of journey, a book tour.

The book tells the story of Alex’s first round of mountain climbing. She tackled her first 4,000-foot mountain, Mt. Tecumseh in Waterville Valley, when she was 5 years old. There are 48 mountains in New Hampshire over the height of 4,000 feet, and she finished that first list one year and three months later, becoming the second-youngest female hiker ever to do so. Alex was recently bumped down to third place on that list. By her sister, Sage.

For the sake of full disclosure: I am an unabashed fan of the Herr ladies. Though they will have none of it, their exploits (through their own website and hiking forums) have become the stuff of living legend in the New England hiking community. I’ve seen them on the trail myself, roaring like tiny Gore-Tex locomotives up terrain steep enough to confound even seasoned hikers.

“My hope is that this book gives such girls an example of the truth. That all those messages they’re receiving are big, fat lies. You can do anything.”The book itself is a personal reflection on what’s good and empowering about kids. As you’d expect from two girls who are able to accomplish the kind of complex goals Alex and Sage have, as characters in the book, they aren’t cute or treated as subjects in America’s Funniest Home Videos. Patricia Herr’s remarkable strength as a writer is to offer her family to readers as fully formed and developed human beings. Kids, yes, but kids with as much strength and will and ability as any adult has. And according to Patricia, that’s the point.

“There are girls being laughed at because of their dreams, and there are girls being told there are ‘girl activities’ and ‘boy activities’,” Patricia said in a series of interviews with The Hippo. “My hope is that this book gives such girls an example of the truth. That all those messages they’re receiving are big, fat lies. You can do anything.”

Doing anything has not necessarily been an easy road to hike, as the girls have faced all manner of obstacles along the way. On a hike up Mt. Tom in Crawford Notch, 5-year-old Alex and 3-year-old Sage found themselves caught in a vicious and scary lightning storm. Patricia told Alex to run ahead, to get under the cover of trees and wait for her and Sage at a trail junction. But Alex missed the junction and kept running, alone at nearly 4,000 feet in a storm. In Up, Patricia writes about retrieving an emergency whistle in a desperate attempt to call her daughter back: “Alex’s safety now depends on this one small piece of plastic. Standing tall I blow that whistle over and over and over again… I blow that whistle with all my heart and soul, sending out a message to my beautiful, strong child who is running the wrong way through the White Mountain wilderness. Come back, Alex. Come back.”

I asked Alex if she had ever been afraid on her quest, and she referred to that incident.

“I was scared on Mt. Tom, the first time we tried it, because there was a scary thunderstorm and we got separated,” she said. “I heard mom’s whistle and I found her.”

That sort of matter-of-fact pragmatic approach has served the trio well, particularly when confronted with other adults who didn’t look highly on a 5-year-old hiking adult-sized mountains. In a chapter titled “Ignore the naysayers,” Patricia writes about being stopped by a stranger on the way up Mt. Eisenhower who told Alex that a “little girl like you shouldn’t be trying to climb such a big, grown-up mountain.”

So furious was Alex at being condescended to that she not only hiked to the summit of Mt. Eisenhower but continued to Mt. Pierce that day as well.

“As a woman, I’ve experienced my share of sexism and discrimination,” Patricia said of the incident. “I’ve found the best thing to do is to proceed regardless…. Those who are sexist and/or ageist will criticize, and those who are serious about equal rights and child empowerment won’t. To me, it’s as simple as that.”

For Alex, the incident served to propel her even more fiercely toward her quest. When asked how it made her feel to be able to accomplish goals not normally associated with kids her age, she was practical as ever.

“It made me feel proud of myself,” she said.

Patricia is quick to play down any notion that her experiences with her daughters has made her any sort of expert on child development, but with the publication of the book this week, she’s sure to be asked for advice.

“Based on my own experiences, take what’s helpful and leave the rest,” she said. “It doesn’t mean this approach will work for every single family, but I see the girls as an example of what can be done. If people find inspiration in that, I’m happy to embrace that.”

And how does one inspire such a love for the outdoors in kids that young? Patricia said children are born loving nature.

“I’ve always tried to keep them outside, not with an agenda but for the sake of being outside,” she said. “And for God’s sake, get them dirty!”

The strategy seems to be working. The girls are currently pursuing another mountain goal, summiting each of the state’s high points. They already have 39 of 50 under their belts and it looks like the littlest hiker of the Herr family may end up taking the lead on this record.

“I want to do all of them, including Denali,” seven-year-old Sage said. “Definitely!”


Patricia, Alex and Sage will embark on a book-signing tour this month. Check dates and locations here. You can follow their adventures and more information about Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure at www.trishalexsage.com.

Buy the book for your Kindle or Nook; if you want a hard copy, we recommend supporting your local bookstore. Of course, that-big-website-named-after-a-river sells it online, too.

Dan Szcesny also posted an in-depth interview with the lovely Ladies Herr on his hiking blog: Climbing as a way of life.


+2 / 0
# cliffmama 2012-04-12 21:16
I can't wait to read this book and hopefully meet Patricia & her girls someday. I got my girls outside from an early age, let them get dirty and explore, and put them on climbs harder than I thought they could do... and they climbed them better than me. Some of ths best climbers in the world right now are 10 year old girls (Brooke Raboutou and Ashima Shiraisi). It's wonderful to watch my kids grow up to be strong and confident young ladies who are ready for adventure and happy to defy stereotypes. Kudos to the Herr girls for getting the message out to never underestimate the power of strong girls!
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Dan S
+1 / 0
# Dan S 2012-04-13 07:05
Right on Cliffmama, glad you enjoyed the story. The Herrs are pretty awesome and the book is an inspirational read. My own ten year old is reading it now and loves it. Nice site by the way.
Also, thanks to Adventure Parents for reprinting the story here!
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