Five Questions for ‘Up”s Patricia Ellis Herr

Patricia Ellis Herr’s Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure, our Book of the Month, follows Herr and her driven 5-year-old daughter Alex as they climb 48 of New Hampshire’s highest mountains. Now 9 years old, Alex has another hiking buddy, her younger sister Sage. We asked the the mother of these two high-climbing girls about what they’ve learned on the trails, plus how they stay fueled up for their 7- to 12-hour treks. 

BBL: Hiking is a lot of work! Yet your daughter tackled it with gusto. Where does her motivation come from?

PEH: It came from inside of her, and I can’t exactly tell you why, except she was a very energetic kid. She enjoyed having a specific goal to obtain. It took a lot of work to get there, and because she’s so full of energy, I think she just enjoyed the challenge. Once she reached the top, that provided motivation to do another one. After she got that first summit, it was so obvious that she was so proud of herself, that it was such an empowering thing.

BBL: What have you learned from your daughters about pushing yourself to reach difficult goals?

PEH: One thing that I still have to remind myself is that the first mile is always the most difficult. Once you get yourself past that first mile, all of the sudden you’re into it and you’re enjoying it and you feel good, even if you’re going up and it’s really steep. Because you’re involved in it, you’re there.

Alex feels it too. I’ve always noticed that she’s been quiet during the first mile, then she’ll get really happy at some point when the adrenalin kicks in, and then we’re just happy the rest of the time. That stretches out into life in general. Whatever you’re doing, it’s always hardest to get really into it, to start it and make real progress. But once you’re in it, it just starts to flow, and things are good.

BBL: Alex learned so many lessons from your journeys. What do you think was the most important one?

PEH: Listen to yourself. Don’t ignore the advice of experienced hikers, but you still have to listen to yourself and put your own instincts first. If you’re going to tackle something you’ve never done before, I’m not saying you should just think, I can do it! and not be prepared. But if you really do feel like you’re ready, don’t listen to someone who’s telling you you can’t if you think they’re telling you no just because of your age or your gender or whatever.

BBL: How do you keep yourself and your kids fueled up for long days of hiking?

PEH: You have to have a lot of food. We eat maybe one-quarter of what I actually carry, but I carry enough that so that if there is an accident we’re fed overnight too. Bring healthy stuff that you know they’re going to drink and eat. You have to make sure your kid has enough carbs and salt, especially if it’s a hot day and you’re sweating, or even in the winter, your body is going through a lot of fuel just to stay warm. We eat nuts, pepperoni and cheese, and yogurt shakes and eggnog in the winter. They love Goldfish crackers. And of course, tons of water. I’ll let them have drinks like Powerade on the trail because it replenishes their electrolytes. We bring iodine tables so if the water is running in the streams and rivers we can get extra water.

Whenever they feel like they need to stop and eat, I let them stop and eat, especially in the winter. And we like chocolate on the summit. I mean, who doesn’t?

BBL: What advice do you have for parents who want to introduce their kids to hiking?

PEH: Pick a place that your kids want to see. Lots of kids like to climb up rocks and little boulders they see on the trails. Pick a trail that has a bunch of those and let them climb. Or if they like to skip rocks, go to a pond. Tailor it to your child’s interests. Do it on their terms, at their pace. Let them get dirty, let them explore, let them look at whatever they want. Try to make it into a situation where your kid is in control as much as possible.

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