Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"UP"...A Book Review!

Earlier this month, the book UP: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure hit bookstore shelves. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early copy which was very helpful to me since I’m a slow reader, so it gave me a head start to read it and write a review while all the exciting “launch” stuff is going on.

The Book Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure

I’m sure many of you out there are very familiar with the author of this book as well as the main character. Patricia Ellis Herr and her daughter, Alex, (as well as her youngest daughter, Sage), are very active members of the New England hiking forums and there are very few members of Views From The Top or the MWObs Forum that don’t know their names or their remarkable achievements. Alex, at a very young age, summitted all 48, 4,000 footers in New Hampshire with her mother, Trish, and the hiking community followed along on their journey through their blog and forum posts. Trish ultimately wrote a memoir about it, which became “UP”!

Trish and Alex on Mount Lafayette in March of 2010. Picture Courtesy of Trish Herr

Trish does a great job capturing the reader right from gate as she walks through a highly intense situation on Mount Tom involving a violent thunderstorm that she and her two daughters had to endure on one of their trips. From there, she starts at the beginning of their story, explaining how the two of them took on New Hampshire’s highest peaks, not really having climbed a large mountain before. Most chapters are filled with the interesting details of memorable hikes that they accomplished to finish the 48, all having significance during their incredible journey. As a hiker, I found these chapters a lot of fun to read as I’ve set foot on many of the same paths that she was describing, and the ones I hadn’t, I’m determined to set foot on one day.

Other chapters, one in particular, were not about the actual hiking portion, but were about teaching Alex the real dangers that can come with hiking these, sometimes, unforgiving mountains. The chapter entitled, “Mistakes Can Have Serious Consequences” is a moving chapter where her husband, Hugh, has a sit down family meeting with the girls and tells them of the tragic events on a hike up to Mount Washington many years prior. A trip that turned bad due to weather and ultimately, Hugh lost his legs and one rescuer lost his life. Trish illustrates this moment very well and the reader ends up being drawn into the situation, hoping that the girls take the very important lesson, “respect the mountains and know when to turn back” to heart, as Trish and Hugh were doing at the time. Alex is put to the test on a later hike up Mount Moosilauke and demonstrates good judgment to turn back…

     "We’re now perhaps two hundred yards from the summit, an easy five- or ten-minute walk if the wind weren’t behaving in such a contrary manner. I know full well, we’re going to abort, but I want to give Alex the courtesy of making the decision herself.

     "We’re very close to the summit now. Are you okay to continue, or do you want to turn back?” I ask, prepared to exercise my veto power should she make the wrong choice.

      Alex hesitates for a literal second, then answers, “Turn back!”

      Excellent. My daughter has good sense..."

It’s clear, from this point on, that Alex has listened to her parents and learned what some adult hikers, have hard time learning…knowing when to turn back!

Alex, on the summit of Mount Washington in March of this year! Picture Courtesy of Trish Herr

I believe Trish’s writing style is very unique and I enjoyed how she told the story very much. She uses emotion that is easily identifiable and translates to the reader well. I have a daughter myself now, so maybe it was easy for me to relate with her. I kept asking myself what I would do in the situations that she was faced with throughout the book. You see, Trish wasn’t just faced with “physical” obstacles regarding hiking the Whites with a little girl. She was also faced with explaining to her daughter why wild animals get sick and why people don’t go out to rescue them. She was faced with being out on secluded trails alone with her daughter and dealing with the potential threat of dangerous strangers approaching (not that she came across any “dangerous strangers”, but with a young one on the trail, she understandably had her guard up). She was faced with the task of ensuring her daughter was well educated in her gear (including winter gear) and knew how to use it alone, heaven forbid something happened to Trish while they were out. These huge feats were only a few things that Trish dealt with throughout the story.

Alex is quite the character as well. The fact that she’s such a young girl and made the decision to hike these mountains on her own (Trish never pushed her, Alex always made the decision to go hiking) really shows the motivating drive within her. Aside from being a hiker, however, she’s absolutely a wildlife lover. A few times throughout the book, she was faced with dilemmas regarding wildlife being sick or dying. Even a small bumble bee, dying on the summit of Mount Bond stole her attention and caused her to downplay the beauty of the views and the uniqueness of their remote location. Something so small may not affect most, but to this little girl with a huge heart, it was the most important part of the day and the bee received her full sympathy.

Alex and Sage on a Blue Bird day on Mount Isolation in February of this Year! Picture Courtesy of Trish Herr

My favorite part of the book, without a doubt, was Trish and Alex’s run in with the Rocky Branch Grouse! Now, if you’ve ever been on the NH hiking forums, you’ve heard of this legendary and mean-spirited bird, which is notorious for terrorizing (in a funny way) hikers on the Rocky Branch Trail. Trish and Alex had the pleasure (or displeasure) of meeting this winged menace! She does such an awesome job of describing the encounter; she had me laughing out loud…

      “The grouse has edged closer to us during our few seconds of commiseration while continuing to walk back and forth across the path. It keeps one red eye fixed on me while it bobs along, and its loud chatter informs me that it Is Not Afraid. It is telling me that it can beat the crap out of me if it really wants to. I believe it.”

UP: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure is not simply a hiking a book or an account of trip reports for different peaks. Sure, hiking plays a huge supporting role in the book, but really, I feel the book is more about a parent, teaching her strong, young daughter, how to be an individual; how to use good judgment and make wise decisions. Trish absolutely accomplished this. In turn, Alex did something that many adults only dream of doing. She set foot on 48 of New Hampshire’s highest mountain summits! Really an extraordinary accomplishment! This book was truly a joy to read and makes me want to take on the same challenge with my daughter, when she’s Alex’s age!

Trish, Alex and Sage. Picture Courtesy of Clay Dingman

Peakbagging List Accomplishments

NH48, 4000 Footers: To date, both Alex and Sage have completed the NH48. Alex was 5 when she started and finished at the age of 6 in 2009. Sage was 4 when she started and finished at the ripe old age of 5 in 2011!

Winter NH48, 4000 Footers: Alex has recently completed her Winter NH48 this year at the age of 9!

High Pointing Club: Both Alex and Sage have high pointed 39 states (if I counted correctly) and have only 11 to go!

52 With a View: Sage is working on 52WAV and has 11 under her belt!

Trailwrights: Alex is working on Trailwrights and has 58 under her belt!

Both girls recently came up with a new list called the “Terrifying Twenty-Five”! It’s very cool. Check it out when you have a moment! http://www.trishalexsage.com/p/terrifying-twenty-five.html

You can keep up to date with Trish, Alex and Sage  and on their blog at: http://www.trishalexsage.com/

Also, Trish is very active on Facebook. Stop by her Facebook page and “Like” it at: https://www.facebook.com/PatriciaEllisHerr

Trish tweets @PatriciaHerr : https://twitter.com/#!/PatriciaHerr

Great interview with the girls on EKP Adventures: Here

Great book signing report on Ramblings: Here

Upcoming Book Signings:

April 25th - Water Street Books in Exeter, NH at 7pm
April 28th - Father Roger Bilodeau Community Center in Lincoln, NH at 7pm
May 19th - Bethlehem Public Library in Bethlehem, NH at 1pm
May 31st - Somerville Public Library, Central Branch in Somerville, MA at 7pm



  1. Sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

  2. This is SO inspiring - thanks for the review!