Patricia Ellis Herr, Author of Up, on Empowering Steps

It started on a whim. Five-year-old Alex was a bundle of energy, the type of kid who could never sit still. She was running around and around a roadside information kiosk by scenic Route 112 when I saw the sign describing the Four Thousand Footer Club.

Every person who hikes all 48 of New Hampshire’s highest mountains is awarded a certificate and a patch by the Appalachian Mountain Club. I wondered if Alex would enjoy attempting such a hike. We could try ascending one of the smaller “4K” mountains; at the very least, she’d be able to burn off some excess energy.

Our first attempt at Mt. Tecumseh, the smallest of the Four Thousand Footers, didn’t go well. This was my fault; the White Mountains were covered with snow during the month of April and I wasn’t prepared for winter-like conditions. Undeterred, young Alex wanted to give it another go after the snow had melted. We tried again in early June.

The day was warm and bright, and Alex’s determination was obvious. She led the way and, though she became tired, she never gave up. Her face beamed with happy pride when her hand touched the summit cairn.

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Since that day, more than three years and nine months ago, Alex has been hiking mountains on an almost weekly basis.

Patricia Ellis Herr, author of Up | kids on Mount MarcySage, Alex’s little sister, now hikes too. The girls set their own summit goals and hike at their own paces; my role is to carry most of the gear. With every mountain they ascend, the girls learn more about their capabilities. As a result, their sense of empowerment continually grows. I love spending “trail time” with each of them. We’re out there from eight to ten hours every hiking day, so there’s a lot of opportunity for quality conversation.

Of course, parents don’t have to hike mountains to have similar outdoor bonding experiences with their children. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the city, the suburbs, or the country, and it doesn’t matter if your hike is long or short. It’s all good, as long as you allow your child to have most of the say.

Try this: next time you and your child have a warm day to spend together, go for a walk, and let her decide on the destination, but have a “no carrying” rule; this is a particularly empowering approach. Right away, your child knows that she has the power to decide where the two of you are going, and that she will be responsible for getting there on her own two feet.

If her desired destination seems unrealistic, don’t worry, and don’t naysay. Without judgment or negative assumptions, let her try. If she doesn’t make it, congratulate her for her efforts, then sit down with her and figure out how she can later obtain this goal.

If your child’s destination seems less than ambitious, again, don’t naysay. When she reaches her place of choice, congratulate her for her efforts. In time, she might want to increase the distance and visit other destinations…or, she might not. Not to worry; you’re both outside and she’s examining her surroundings. That’s all that matters.

Take a walk with your kid. Let her decide the destination and go at her pace. Encourage her explorations. Her confidence and strength will grow, and you’ll learn more and more about your wonderful child with every step she takes.

Patricia Ellis Herr, author of UpPATRICIA ELLIS HERR is the author of Broadway Books’ upcoming paperback original, UP: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure and the mother of two very active young daughters. UP recounts their always exhilarating–and sometimes harrowing–adventures climbing all forty-eight of New Hampshire’s highest mountains. In this piece, Patricia tells a little bit about how that adventure began, and about how parents everywhere can share the empowering experience of the outdoors with their children.

Visit Patricia online at TrishAlexSage.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter @PatriciaHerr.

Read It Forward

  • Stephanie

    I used to love to hike and go caving until my health got the better of me. My son picked up my love of hiking and caving thankfully and I hope that when he marries he will pass it on to his children as well. This book sounds so exciting!

  • Patricia

    What a delightful book. I remembered when my parents took us on hikes. We learned about the trees, animals etc. We took our children, girl and boy, on hikes also so that they could enjoy nature.

  • glenda moore-rivera

    mam, your story is very inspirational and your little ones have gotten an early start with the mountain climbing/hiking. i wish i had the courage to climb on my own. i am a person that has always had a fear of heights andi find your story so amazing. my kids have just reached the age of being adults. i can hardly get them to sweep the floor, let alone, try to hike up a mountain. my daughter won’t even walk the dog down the street; so hiking won’t be in our future. kudos to you and your baby girls. i congratulate you for the courage and honesty to write of it. keep up the good work; always make sure you’re prepared when you go ok.

  • Holly Linton

    Outstanding!

  • heather

    This sounds like a book that will speak volumes to a mother’s heart.

  • Sue Hamilton

    I would love to read this book with my grand-daughters who share my love of reading. I had sons that hated to read and now I have my girls that do.

  • Carla

    What fun, I’ve got to get this for my daughter and her daughter. They are two outdoorsey peas in a pod and this is such an inspiration for their time together. There are plenty of mountains here in Colorado, but might need to start with the foothills first. Hey, you have to start somewhere. Start small, think big! Wow!!

  • Annette

    This book looks like an AWESOME read! I am very active with my daughters and always looking for ways to let them take the lead. This would be a great read for sure!

  • Kat P

    What a fantastic message. Reminds us to put ourselves in check every once adn a while and remember to stop and smell the roses. And somtimes, its our kids that stop first and make us smell. 🙂

  • Steph

    I have 7 daughters and 1 son. All of which love to hike. It’s what we do, it gets rid of excessive energy and gets the kids out and keeps them away from the TV. My kids would way rather be out climbing than anything else any day.

  • Kim

    Just from what is written above about Patricia Ellis Herr
    author of Up on Empowering Steps I really want to read more. Being from NH and to read about the Mountain region really spikes my interest.

  • Angela Hipp

    Sounds like inspiration for this mom of two girls.

  • Patricia Ellis Herr

    Many thanks for all the supportive and kind comments, everyone. Alex, Sage and I have a blast on the trails, and I had fun writing this book. I am happy the theme resonates with so many parents.

    By the way, Alex and I just completed a winter ascent of Mt. Washington. That hike was very special to us in many ways. I’ll write a report of this ascent and post it either today or tomorrow on my blog, http://www.trishalexsage.com.

    Thanks again, everyone. 🙂

  • Amanda

    I received my free copy just this week. I picked it up last night to read a chapter, the story captured me and ended up reading two. I love that your sweet daughters will always have this book as a small memento. Special thanks to Read-it-Forward for the recommendation and free book.

  • MadRiver

    When Trish first told me she was writing a memoir about her hikes with Alex I just assumed it would be an extension of her trip reports that we all write from time to time where we record our hikes and then post them on various hiking boards for other hikers to read and critique. Little did I realize as I began reading that it would turn out to be so much more than just a chronicle of their hikes together, but her dreams and desires for Alex as she explores the world around her laced with its joys and sorrows that we all must experience in everyday life. Some parents try to protect their children against the perils that the world has to offer even to the detriment of the child who will learn late in life that the world is not fair. Alex will have no such handicap, for she was told and shown very early in life how the world can be a joyous place, yet has the capacity for cruelty as well. Each chapter becomes a classroom as Trish and Alex leave a trailhead and hike to a far off peak encountering some of nature’s wonders as well as her dangers.

    Not every peak is mentioned in the book and I thought it odd why some were omitted; particularly the North Slide of the Tripyramids, which has turned grown men and women into sniveling puddles of humanity, yet Alex scampered up the slabs with the aplomb of a seasoned hiker. Once I finished the book I realized that UP is not a trip report, but a mother and daughters’ journey of discovery.

    On a personal note, I have hiked with Trish, Alex and Sage on a number of occasions and have witnessed firsthand Trish’s gentle teaching style and I have no doubt both Alex and Sage will achieve whatever goals or aspirations they set out to conquer in life and this will be accomplished by no small measure due to their childhood filled with wonder and adventures guided by the loving hand of their mother. I love all three, yet Alex holds a special place in my heart for she is an old soul, one who has wisdom, poise, and grace well beyond her years and I suspect that she will be the one to scatter my ashes over West Bond when the time comes. Though don’t rush me on that last point.

  • Katie

    GREAT book! It really shows that anyone can have a goal and just as long as you believe, you can achieve!

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