The older I get the better my hiking boots feel. However I don’t discard my old ones, I line them up in the closet like a prized vintage car collection. It seems I love to look at catalogs of hiking shoes and dream of adventures I have had along with ones I will never have.
I know some woman have a phenomenal number of shoes but with me it’s hiking boots. The reason for my collection is I never really wear them out, I just buy new ones thinking maybe someday I might wear the older ones out but weirdly I never do.
The story of my first hiking boots goes back to my first hike with Pelham N.Y. Boy Scout Troop 1. I showed up as a young tenderfoot for a hike/overnight at Camp Siwanoy with my Converse All-Star, the Michael Jordan basketball sneaker of my era! Mr. Mannie Padin Sr., a former scoutmaster who in fact had met Baden Powell the founder of The Boy Scouts as a boy and was a smart knowledgeable scouting/camping mind, met me there at the parking lot. He immediately saw my footwear and asked, “Where are your hiking boots?” When I said I didn’t have any he put me in his car and took me to his house and lent me a pair of Bass boots from the collection from his boys, Billy, Mannie Jr. and Buttons. He taught me about wearing two pairs of socks and the importance of having the right fit. When my mom heard about what happened she purchased me the very same pair of boots I wore that day but a size 10 even though I was a size 9. Luckily within a year my foot settled at size 10 for the rest of my life.
In college I wore other boots my mom gave all us boys (my 3 brothers) for Christmas 1969-70. That boot lasted all the way through college. I’d buy it right now but I never saw them anywhere ever again. After college for a while I didn’t hike at all. However after a trip to the Alps in 1980 all that changed. While in Chamonix, France I went to Sandglard Sports, a famous alpine center in Chamonix, and was fitted for a pair of Degree 9 Solomon boots. They traced my footprint and crafted the footpad to my foot and then inserted it into many boots until it all fit perfectly. Until this day no boot has ever fit better or was better than that pair. Now I own perhaps 9-10 pairs of Solomon boots; some high top, some low top. I even have an $800 pair of Matterhorn boots that I never hike in but wear around because they remind me of Zermatt. Also in the collection is a pair of Koflach High Mountain Boots that I wore when I summited Mt. Blanc (the tallest mountain in the Alps) with crampons attached to the bottom of them. I even have a Timberland pair I bought at some Vermont outlet for $10 and some Asolo boots I bought in the Italian Alps when I needed a pair while hiking there.
Each boot has multiple stories of trips in the White Mountains, the Green Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, even Camp Hero in Montauk. As I get older I slip them on usually during horrible rainy days and sit in my bedroom leather chair and dream of those adventures, some with my daughters, some with friends and some all alone.
I know my days of summits in the Alps and high altitude adventures are over. Even a climb up Mt. Washington three years ago was difficult as a sixty-something but in my heart and in my mind I still feel that breeze I felt at 15,781 ft. on the summit of Mt Blanc watching the sun rise over all of Western Europe.