March 22nd, 2012
10:45 AM ET

Hugh Herr’s “Amazon” Children

Patricia Ellis Herr is the mother of two children with Hugh Herr, who is the director of the Biomechatronics group at MIT’s Media Lab. Patricia and her 9-year-old daughter Alex successfully completed a winter ascent of Mount Washington this month; the same mountain where Hugh Herr lost both of his limbs in a tragic mountain climbing accident. Watch Hugh Herr’s entire story on The Next List Sunday March 25 at 2 pm E.T. on CNN.

By Patricia Ellis Herr, Special to CNN

Mt. Washington.

This is the mountain that took Hugh Herr’s legs.

This is the mountain where, thirty years ago, then-17-year-old Hugh and a friend got lost in a snowstorm near the summit on a brutally cold January afternoon. This is the mountain on which they wandered for four days in subzero temperatures without food or shelter.

This is the mountain that took the life of Albert Dow, a volunteer member of the search and rescue team that was sent out in search of the boys.

This is the mountain I’m about to ascend with our nine-year-old daughter.

Hugh knew this day would come. Alex and I have been winter hiking New Hampshire’s 48 highest mountains, The Four Thousand Footers, since she was six years old. She and I have completed almost two full rounds of these peaks during the regular spring-summer-fall hiking seasons, but we have yet to hike every single one during winter. Today, we’re close to completing this goal. All we have left to ascend are Mt. Flume, Mt. Monroe – and Mt. Washington.

Hugh’s at home right now, and I don’t envy him. He and Alex’s younger sister, Sage, will spend the day doing everything they can to keep their minds off the fact that Alex and I are out here, hiking toward the summit of New England’s tallest mountain, dressed in full winter gear and enduring wind chills of 20 below.

In spite of his ordeal thirty years ago, Hugh consistently supports his daughters’ hiking endeavors and trusts my judgment. Almost every week throughout the year, I take one or both of our girls up and down a difficult, “grown-up” mountain, no matter what the weather or season. Alex and Sage love their adventures and are becoming, in Hugh’s words, “little Amazons.” He credits me for getting them out there, but we couldn’t do what we do without his understanding and full support.

Much of that support has to do with Hugh’s own childhood experiences. He was a climbing prodigy; he understands that big, bold things can be accomplished at an extremely young age by the determined and capable individual and therefore never attempts to place constraints on our children’s ambitious endeavors. He watched as first Alex, then Sage, finished hiking all 48 of New Hampshire’s highest mountains by the age of 6 1/2. Now, he waits while Alex and I climb Mt. Washington on a cold and icy winter’s day.
I take a deep breath and follow my young daughter up the mountain.

Read more about Patricia Ellis Herr’s adventures in rock climbing with her two daughters in her upcoming memoir, “Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure”.

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Filed under: Books • The Next List
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  6. Janet Ainsworth

    I am sorry I missed the full broadcast. I am looking for it on the web, but haven't found it yet. I hiked this afternoon with a group of adults and a seven year old, who came with his grandmother. He was great. He was in the lead most of the time. (So was she and she is in her 70s.) I'm guessing that is what it is like hiking with your girls.

    March 25, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  7. Rick & Sooze Kipphut

    Having hiked with Trish, Alex, and Sage I can personally attest to their enthusiasm and love of hiking. I too have met a few naysayers who have assigned other motives to their love of hiking, and quite frankly I believe the naysayers own motives are less than pure. Sooze and I are honored to call you and your family friends and we look forward to many more years of hiking together.

    March 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  8. Mali Forssatt

    Hi, EXCELLENT Program!!!

    Is it possible to use this technology (prosthetic limbs) for people with Multiple Sclerosis & Muscular Dystrophy?

    March 25, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  9. David Lynch

    Trish, I certainly have enjoyed the hikes with you and members of your family and all you have shared in your blogs. The girls add boundless energy to the adventures and I have found myself chatting about the trails with them at times I would have been quietly just reflecting on the surroundings. They are true trail comrades that openly engage in all the experiences hiking has to offer and are often leading us on this path. Strong-willed is putting it lightly!

    March 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Reply
  10. Patricia Ellis Herr

    Hi Mynetta,

    There will *always* be people who say such things about kids who defy adult expectations. I don't worry about it. Anyone who's hiked with us or who knows my kids understands that they hike because they want to hike...and that I can't "push" them to do much of anything. They're very strong-willed individuals, lol. Folks who think kids could be forced to hike big peaks don't seem to have much of an understanding of real children. I could see a kid hiking ONE peak to please his or her parent. But peak after peak after peak, week after week, year after year, with smiles and laughter and great conversation..? It's obvious to those who know us that the girls have a great time out there. I've never allowed the judgment and gossip of strangers to influence my family's decisions.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  11. Mynetta Murray

    I've had many friends say to me that your girls couldn't possibly be making these decisions to hike these big peaks on their own and that you have "pushed" (for lack of a better word) them. I know this not to be the fact, but perhaps you might comment on this for those "non-believers."

    March 22, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Reply

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