keep skillful cobbler busy
Climbers from far and wide seek him out for help
with favorite boots
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.
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.
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?
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
why, I ask, in this throwaway culture of ours, when even expensive
electronics get trashed rather than repaired, do people bother mending
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."
brought us back to Mallory's boots. Did Page know who made them?
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."
forensic anthropologist and the Everest scholar slapped their foreheads,
he says. They hadn't thought of that.
I say, no ordinary cobbler.
by Patrick Joseph
United Press International