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Mom and daughter tackle Mt. Washington in winter

Mom's a pro, but her 15-year-old is up for a challenge

Trisha Prudhomme and her daughter, Alexandra, are all smiles before starting up Lion Head Trail. The trail is the safest way up Mount Washington in the winter, but the weather above treeline, in winter or any other time of the year, can change rapidly. The highest ground wind ever recorded in North America - 231 mph - blasted the summit in April 1934. (Courtesy Photo). (click for larger version)
March 18, 2010
Leaving her two young daughters, April and Alexandra, in the care of their father, she spent from April to October of 1999 climbing.

"Ice, rock, everything, it was all of it," she says.

Since that time she's been a climbing instructor, medical assistant and small business owner. Recently, she guided a 59-year-old woman from Bow up the winter route of Mount Washington, a climb she first did herself under the instruction of Uwe Schneider, then with Eastern Mountains Sports.

This Friday [March 19] she hopes to guide her daughter, Alexandra, up to the summit of the Northeast's highest peak, and though as far as she can tell, they will be the first mother-daughter duo to summit the mountain in the winter, the reasons for attempting the climb go beyond that.

Alexandra, now 15 years old, is a high school freshman, busy with outdoor and indoor soccer and getting ready to play softball this spring, so experiences shared between mother and daughter are not as common as when Alexandra was younger. Though her daughter is not a hiker, her sports activities keep her in shape, since "she runs all the time." Alexandra had asked to go with her before this year, Trisha says, but, " I wanted to make sure she had some meat on her body, some endurance."

"This will be rare for us, to spend a whole eight hours together," Trisha says. They've tried to summit already this year, hiking up the traditional winter routes up the Tuckerman and Lion Head Trails in the beginning of February. They stayed the night at the Hermit Lakes Shelters before tackling the more challenging Lion Head Trail. They got about a quarter of a mile out of the trees before turning back due to conditions. Trisha, well-versed in mountain safety, which includes not going beyond the limits of each individual in a climbing group, was more cautious than usual.

"She's perhaps the hardest person I've had to do that with," she says, adding that she is usually not nervous before guiding clients, but was with her daughter. Concerned for her daughter's comfort, she had asked a friend before the first climb, "Am I pushing my agenda on her?"

Her daughter, however, is undaunted by their first attempt. Though Trisha said Alexandra did not find the facilities at the overnight site very accommodating, nor did she particularly enjoy the dehydrated beef soup they'd packed for dinner, she's more than willing to give the mountain another try. They'll have more daylight hours to climb in.

Planning to start the hike from Pinkham Notch by 6:30 a.m. on Friday, they hope to make it up to Lion Head before any larger groups get to the narrow, steepest part of the trail. At that point in the trail, it's one person at a time. When she guided the woman from Bow there was a 45-minute wait.

Trisha was already a mother when she discovered her passion for climbing. In 1996, when she was living in Moultonborough, she stopped at Eastern Mountain Sports in North Conway to pick up an item, and ended up picking up one of the store's brochures, too. The brochure advertised the Eastern Mountain Climbing School's guided hikes, and the one that caught her eye was a winter climbing class which included a trek up Mount Washington.

She had never done any hiking, but signed up for the class, making the eight-hour round trip up and down Mount Washington, with climbing instructor Uwe Schneider.

"It was a blizzard the first time we did it," she recounts. "And right after I did that I said 'I will never do that again.'" She recalls that this climb was at the end of March, which is technically spring, but as everyone knows, it can still be very much winter on the mountain. "The next week I was out climbing again."

She became a regular at the climbing school, and it was through her climbing that she met climber Robert Adams of Adventures with Altitude. From the first, she said, "We just kind of clicked." He taught her, she says, everything, and in 1997 she went with him on a trip up 14,411-foot Mount Rainier in Washington.

She summited Mount Rainier again during her six-month climbing sabbatical in 1999. She also attempted Mount Hunter, located in Denali National Park in Alaska. The third highest peak in the Alaska Range, the base camp for those attempting the challenging climb up Hunter is on the Kahiltna Glacier.

"We didn't get very far," she says of that climb. The temperature was in the 70s, and dangerous crevasses were opening up on the glacier. "The experience on the glacier, that was great. There were a few characters there."

Asked if she had a fear of heights at all, she replies she used to be afraid, and is still a little apprehensive. "I think that's what keeps you safe." That's what drives you, she says, to double and triple check your equipment.

The six months, she says, involved a lot of rock climbing. By the time she came home to Moultonborough, she says, "I was toast."

She cut down on her climbing, raising her daughters while running her skincare business, Skintastic, among other pursuits. She did teach rock climbing at a climbing gym, Boulder Morty's in Nashua, and stayed in touch with Robert Adams. Bob, she says, took up surfing and snowboarding. Calling him pretty much of a free spirit, she says, "He's all over the place." For awhile they owned the company together, and then went their separate ways. The name lapsed, but now, she's re-registered the business name and hopes to be up and going by spring.

As sole owner of Adventures with Altitude, she will offer winter mountaineering, rock and ice climbing instruction.

In the beginning of this week the forecast for the weather on Friday, the last day of winter, looked good. Trisha says her daughter is doubly motivated now, since her mother guided the 59-year-old Bow woman.

"She's excited, now it is more of a competition."

Trish has asked the AMC and the Mt. Washington Observatory if they could find any record in their archives of a mother and daughter summiting Mount Washington in the winter. So far, neither has.

"They said it would be pretty rare," she says. She does not expect to hold on to that distinction, "Of course, when the story comes out..." she trails off, leaving the obvious unspoken.

Even though the duo may not make it into the record books, for Trisha there is more at stake.

"I hope the best for my daughter, so she can have that sense of accomplishment. It will be huge."

Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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