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UP by Patricia Ellis Herr

UP

A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure

By Patricia Ellis Herr

Pub Date: April 3rd, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-95207-3
Publisher: Broadway

A mother and her young daughter bond through hiking.

When Herr and her husband bought a weekend home in the mountains, the author learned of the Four Thousand Footer Club, a group of “peakbaggers” who have climbed all 48 mountains in the New Hampshire Whites, whose summits rise above 4,000 feet. She proposed to her 5-year-old daughter Alex, a precocious and energetic nature lover, that they attempt the club together, and she immediately agreed. The author clearly states her parenting philosophy—“children should be met where they’re at, intellectually and otherwise”—and she presents her daughter as a fully formed person with her own capabilities and goals that drive her enterprise, rather than as a cute little body along for the ride and some comic relief. Like most nature-adventure memoirs, this one leverages ready-made life metaphors, which Herr captures effectively and sincerely, if a bit predictably. Herr divides the chapters into life lessons learned from experiences on the trail: “Know What You’re Getting Into,” “Ignore the Naysayers,” “Mistakes Have Serious Consequences,” etc. The latter chapter, about how Herr’s husband lost his legs to frostbite from being trapped for three days in subzero temperatures (see Alison Osius’ Second Ascent for the full story), lends additional weight to the story. After 15 months of peakbagging, Alex reached her final summit; by this time she was a minor celebrity in the local hiking community. Herr’s prose sufficiently captures the joy of being on the trail, though perhaps not forcefully enough to make converts out of city slickers. More than anything, the narrative serves as an apt landscape for a mother to reflect on her choices and on her struggle with how to explain life’s unfairness (sexism, cruelty of nature, distrust of strangers) to her daughter while continuing to nurture the innocent joys of fleeting childhood.

Warmly ruminative and honestly observant. Witty, unforced humor rescues passages that might be boring in another writer’s hands.