There are so many reasons we chose Patricia Ellis Herr’s Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure as our Book of the Month for May. Herr’s account of helping her driven 5-year-old daughter literally climb mountains—48 in 16 months!—is heartwarming and empowering and will leave you itching to lace up your hiking boots. Enjoy this original essay and look for more get-outdoors inspiration throughout the month. —BBL Editor
Sage stands before the hallway mirror, arms crossed, looking her four-year-old self up and down.
“I can too do it,” she announces.
“I know you can, Sage, but you don’t have to.”
“You’re not being fair!” Her green eyes flash.
Sage has hiked “kid-size” mountains (peaks with relatively little elevation gain), but it’s February, and New Hampshire’s Mount Tecumseh is more than 4,000 feet tall. She would have to hike 2.5 miles up a challenging trail.
Am I underestimating her? I remember feeling frustrated every time my parents reminded me to be careful, to watch my step, to not be too daring. I nod my assent and she dances her excitement across the floor.
Later I take her older sister, Alex, aside. I tell her that we must hike at Sage’s pace. We’ll celebrate whether Sage makes the summit or not. Alex wholeheartedly agrees.
On Saturday I wake the girls before dawn and dress them in winter hiking layers: synthetic base, outer fleece, and water-/windproof shells. They’re wearing well-insulated snow boots, they’ve each got extra hats and gloves in their packs, and I’m carrying enough food and clothing for a troop of hypothermic Girl Scouts.
The Mount Tecumseh Trail is popular; the footprints of snowshoe enthusiasts have combined to form a hard, packed white sidewalk from parking lot to summit cairn. Grinning from ear to ear, Sage steps in front and leads the way.
Every few dozen feet she’s distracted by animal tracks and strangely bent branches. Patience, I remind myself. Sage deserves to be Sage.
It takes us two hours to cover the first mile. Alex never asks Sage to speed up, and she politely looks at every item Sage insists on examining.
We reach a sign marked “View.” This is roughly the halfway point; we now face an unrelenting slog up a very steep part of the mountain.
We rest by the side of an open slope and both girls drink their fill of hot chocolate.
“Sage,” I say, “if you ever feel like turning around and heading back to the car, let me know.”
“I’m okay,” Sage answers. We sit for a few moments longer, then she announces, “Ready,” and we proceed up the mountain.
Our pace continues to resemble that of a snail’s, but we’re all having a good time, and isn’t that the point?
We’re only half a mile or so from the summit now. To the melody of The Work Song sung by the mice in Disney’s Cinderella, Sage sings:
We can do it, we can do it
We can hike this big ‘ole mountain.
With balaclavas pretty,
There’s nothing to it, really.
We finally reach some flat ground. From here, there’s only one more bit of steep trail before we reach the summit. We throw ourselves on the ground.
I take out my map and show the girls exactly where we are. Greatly encouraged by our proximity to the top, Sage stands and tells us that she’s ready to roll.
The final push goes quickly. Both girls admire the bits of view they catch through the trees. “Beautiful,” Alex exclaims. “Beautiful!” Sage echoes.
The trail levels out again, there are a few trees to walk through . . . and we’re there! Both girls scream with delight as they see the summit cairn. Sage tags the top.
Six hours have elapsed since we left the car. Six hours of effort, six hours of discovery, six hours of fun.
Sage was right. Of course she was.
Learn more about the family’s hiking adventures at trishalexsage.com.