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
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”.