“Mama!” Five- year- old Alex screams to be heard over the furious storm as we crouch among the scrub near the summit of 4,003- foot Mount Tom. My ears are full of the howling wind, so though Alex crouches immediately to my right, I can barely make out her words. Even her face is obscured by the weather. The ends of her shoulder- length blonde hair fly onto her pale cheeks and into her eyes and mouth; her face is covered by dancing yellow wisps. Sage, Alex’s three – year- old sister and spitting image, crouches to my left and looks intently up at my face. Her wide green eyes study my expression, looking for a clue as to how frightened she should feel.
We are 3,900 feet above sea level and in the middle of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Directly across the street lies the Presidential Range, a chain of peaks that includes Mount Washington, the highest mountain in the American Northeast and home to what the Mount Washington Observatory describes as the world’s worst weather. Three storm systems converge directly over this region, making the weather subject to unpredictable variation. Even during the summer, a hiker can experience dense fog, hurricane- force winds, and temperatures hovering near the free zing point.
The morning of our adventure, the forecast had called for clear morning skies and possible afternoon thunderstorms. We had set out early, thinking we’d be back at the car well before the arrival of threatening clouds. However, true to the spontaneous nature of the Whites, an electrical tempest had formed three hours before any nasty weather was supposed to show up. Later, folks at the Mount Washington Observatory informed me that this storm didn’t appear on their radar system. It gave no advance warning. It literally birthed itself right over Mount Tom. Lucky us.
“Are you scared, Mama?” Alex hollers. She too is searching for information. Should she worry? How bad is this situation? Both of my children are accustomed to hearing me speak the truth, and they look to me for guidance.
Understanding that my attitude and actions will greatly influence their emotions and their immediate behavior, I force myself to look calm. As I draw in a breath to respond, the sky opens and quarter-size hail comes pouring down. Okay, we’ve officially reached the point of ridiculousness. Some bored god has obviously decided to make his day interesting by upending a bucket of Dangerous Storm right over our heads.
As the hail bounces off the hoods of my young daughters’ raincoats and puddles at the rubber soles of their boots, I answer Alex’s question with as calm a demeanor as I can muster.
“Yes, honey. I am a little scared.”
Excerpted from UP: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure Copyright @ 2012 by Patricia Ellis Herr. Reprinted by Permission of Broadway, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
In Up, Trish recounts their always exhilarating–and sometimes harrowing–adventures climbing all forty-eight of New Hampshire’s highest mountains.