Book Review: Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure
An earlier title for Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure was Alex and the 4,000-Foot Classroom, a reasonable choice because it’s about a little girl named Alex who climbs all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains before losing her first baby tooth. But that sounds like a children’s book, and this is a book about a family.
Up is better because it’s about altitude — and attitude. It’s about climbing — and growing. And it’s about what used to be called “uppity women.”
Trish Herr earned a master’s degree in biological anthropology at Harvard. Her husband, Hugh, is a professor at MIT. When she had her two daughters, Alex and Sage, she became a homeschooling mother, a decision directly related to what became 15 months of “peakbagging.”
“After all, one of the reasons Hugh and I decided to homeschool is because we feel children should be met where they’re at, intellectually and otherwise,” she writes. “We don’t want to force our children to conform to any group mean. There’s no reason to instantly dismiss their goals solely because of their ages; to underestimate a child is to disrespect her.”
Not everyone agrees. Alex and Trish encounter adults who question the wisdom of taking a five-year-old girl up mountains and in conditions that challenge adults. The first time another hiker tells Alex she shouldn’t be on such a big mountain, she doesn’t understand what he means. When Trish explains it, Alex is outraged. “Why does he think that? Was I limping?”
There are undoubtedly risks in mountain climbing, and Alex needn’t go far to find an example. Her father, a prodigy who climbed an 11,000-foot peak when he was eight, got lost while climbing Mt. Washington with a friend in January 1982. They spent nearly four days in the wilderness without shelter, and Hugh lost both legs. One of the men sent out to rescue them was killed in an avalanche.
At first, I didn’t think I would like Up. Maybe I felt like the man who didn’t think five-year-olds should climb mountains. But Trish won me over. “We live in a world where it’s perfectly acceptable to plop your kids down in front of a television and allow them to watch anything they please for hours at a time,” she points out. “What would happen if more moms and dads took their very young children hiking and gave them the opportunity to go as far as they liked, and at their own pace?”