Recently, two men showed up unannounced at Dave Page's cobblery shop in Seattle's Fremont district with an unusual package in hand. They carried a pair of leather climbing boots of a very old vintage and in considerable disrepair.The boots, it turned out, belonged to George Leigh Mallory, the English climber whose 75-year-old corpse was recently discovered, preserved in ice, on the north slope of Mount Everest --- the same Mallory whose quip "Because it is there" is the classic defense of reckless ambition.One of the men that day in Seattle was a forensic anthropologist, the other an Everest scholar, and they had a simple question for Page: Who made the boots?It's not the kind of thing your ordinary cobbler would ever be faced with, but then Page is no ordinary cobbler. A specialist in climbing and hiking boot repair, Page is legendary among outdoor enthusiasts around the country. Ailing boots come to his modest workshop from as far away as Hong Kong and as near as the sailmaker's shop next door.And it's not just individuals who seek him out. REI, the outdoor retailer, sends him boots from stores nationwide; he handles all stateside warranty work for famed Italian bootmaker Asolo; and Raichle, the Swiss manufacturer, sends its warranty work from Switzerland. Outside magazine recently featured Page alongside a handful of other unsung heroes under the title "The Great Ones."Page, a stocky, white-haired man of almost 60, is remarkably unassuming about it all. "We're good at what we do" is about as close as he comes to gloating. And he is gracious enough to recognize a few peers, repair shops such as Cobblers and Cordwainers in upstate New York.A former history professor at the University of Washington, Page spent a summer during his teaching years cutting leather uppers for a boot manufacturer in Kitzbuhel, Austria. Cobbling, he says, "just literally hooked me." And so, contemplating his own ragged footwear one day on the crags, he decided to drop out of academia and hang out his shingle instead. Thirty years later, the sign above the shop door still reads "Dave Page, Cobbler," a lug sole bootprint stamped beside it for emphasis.Inside the shop, things seem to hark back to another era. Nine employees in aprons are stamping, hammering, gluing and cutting amid a chaos of footwear, all tagged and stacked, or hanging from boot trees. Trekking and climbing boots predominate among the miscellany, but a quick survey reveals everything from Birkenstock sandals to Telemark boots, light hikers to rock shoes.But why, I ask, in this throwaway culture of ours, when even expensive electronics get trashed rather than repaired, do people bother mending their boots? "It comes down to emotions as much as economics," Page says. "Some really expensive boots are worth it, of course, just in terms of dollars saved. But most boots are like old friends; they don't give you blisters, you've taken the time to break them in. You just want to keep them around." He adds, "In the case of some of the boots we see, it's not so much a matter of repair as of restoration."Which brought us back to Mallory's boots. Did Page know who made them? "About as far as I was able to get was that they were made in the U.K.," he says. "Those old custom-made boots were stamped with numbers on the sole and on the last so that everything could be matched together in the shop. This particular number had a seven in it and the seven wasn't crossed. So that told me they weren't built on the Continent." The forensic anthropologist and the Everest scholar slapped their foreheads, he says. They hadn't thought of that.As I say, no ordinary cobbler.Written by Patrick JosephUnited Press International
Hikers keep skillful cobbler busyClimbers from far and wide seek him out for help with favorite boots
Learn more about the Mallory/Irvine Expedition of 1924 from PBS/NOVA.