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Second Ascent, The Story of Hugh Herr

By Alison Osius

Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA, 1991. 240 pages. Black-and-white photographs.

“I knew Hugh Herr. First, as a teen-age prodigy smoking his way through Shawangunk test-pieces. (He soloed "P.R.", 5.11 + , when he was sixteen.) Then, after the event which cost him both legs, I knew him during his remarkable recovery and spectacular comeback as the Mechanical Boy, a prodigious feat of an altogether higher order of magnitude. We weren't close, not even casual friends, barely acquaintances. But I had a strong sense of Hugh Herr. And I can tell you that the portrait Alison Osius paints in her stunning biography, Second Ascent, The Story of Hugh Herr, captures his likeness with total accuracy. (…)

Hugh's story has all the ingredients for soap-opera tragedy which could be easily told with saccharine sympathy, recrimination and other pseudo-literary conceits. However, Osius resists every pitfall and does more than justice to her material, telling Hugh's story with a forthright directness worthy of and no doubt inspired by those very qualities embodied in her subject. (…)

Osius has done all the meticulous research, speaking to virtually any and everybody involved in the events of Hugh's life. It's all here; Hugh's one-fall ascent of "Super Crack," and the vision of his potential to become one of the world's elite rock climbers. Then the "accident" on Mt. Washington intervenes and claims not only his legs, but also the life of one of his would-be rescuers, Albert Dow. Osius devotes an appropriate portion of the book to Hugh's struggle to come to terms with his sense of responsibility for this man's death. We see how his iron will and phenomenal mental discipline, nurtured on the crags of his youth, help him forge a resolution to the conflicts raging within him.”
Jon Ross, “American Alpine Journal” 1992, p. 286-187

“In the winter of 1982, a young rock climbing phenomenon, Hugh Herr, and his partner Jeff Batzer were lost in a New Hampshire blizzard, the victims of a retrospectively ill-advised decision to summit Mount Washington following an ice climb in Huntington Ravine. Their three-day ordeal proved deadly; Herr lost both legs below the knees to frostbite, and a rescuer died in an avalanche during the resultant search for the overdue climbers. (…)
Most rock climbers are familiar with Herr's astounding rehabilitation and rapid reemergence as a world-class rock climber on artificial legs. Even many people who had summarily damned him after the accident were impressed by the newly dubbed "Mechanical Boy" who climbed on special artificial feet he had developed for vertical terrain. Herr's determination provided great grist for the various news articles, television reports, and inspirational pieces written about him.
His biographer, Alison Osius, might easily have followed suit and simply enlarged on the unique elements of Herr's situation. But a biographer, a responsible one, must resist the obvious sensationalism and instead studiously explore those mixes of extraordinarily focused talent and normal human emotion that usually characterize a subject. This Osius has clearly accomplished. (…)
As climbers, we already suffer too many personality profiles of world-class rock jocks and alpinists who reside in narrow worlds, athletes who teach us only that the self-centered pursuit of a sport is a luxury most cannot afford or rationalize. There is also no shortage these days of inspirational tributes, though most arc long on platitude and short on substance. Wisely, Second Ascent draws strengths from both forms, and avoids resorting to the easy formula of either.”
Jim Vermeulen, “Climbing” 1992, No. 129, p. 122

“Alison Osius must have faced the ultimate biographer's dilemma when she wrote the story of Hugh Herr's life: How to finish the book, yet keep it up to date with all of Hugh's ongoing projects? Keeping pace with Hugh Herr's accomplishments using words is a little like running after a sports car while carrying a typewriter. However, Osius has done a very thorough job of presenting Herr objectively and openly, neither abusing nor over-promoting Herr as writers can do with a biography subject who also happens to be a friend. (…)

Prepare to be alternately inspired, horrified, and—ultimately—impressed by Second Ascent. Give it to your friends, relatives, parents and/or children. After reading it they will either finally understand the driving passion that makes people climb, or they will think climbers are looser upstairs than the loosest rock. Regardless, the story of Hugh Herr is a memorable read on par with the best biographical literature written.”
Will Gadd, „Rock & Ice” 1992, January/February, No. 47, p. 81



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