25 October 2013

Footwear for the Mountains

It is now well over 60 years since I started wearing boots into the mountains.  The first pair were borrowed, all leather and were clinker and hobnail shod. They were stiff and unyielding.  My father had suggested that I should toughen up my feet and get them accustomed to the boots.  I had a good set of blisters even before the four day trip began - I struggled through the trip but had to spend some time in bed after with badly infected blisters. Mainly a case of young unhardened feet.  I was only 13 at the time but I still remember those boots.

Nevertheless, those early boots were suberbly crafted and the soles were adorned with a variety of clinkers and hobnails.  They gave good grip on most mountain rock but not so good on smooth hard metamorphosed rock For some time before the rubber sole became the norm, tricounis were manufactured in Geneva and famously used on the first ascent of the north wall of the Eiger

In my 60 years in the hills I calculate that I've had at least 20 pairs of mountain footwear.  Some, the early ones I've just described, were bit hard on the feet. but the more recent ones, while easy on the heels etc don't last the distance. I've had the seams fall apart, one after a single day trip and another after a three day trip.  The problem with these was the seams being abraded by the rock and unravelling. Another common fault with modern boots is the detachment of the sole, which while of quite reasonable grip is attached by a heat-set glue.  These soles look good when you buy them but after a few New Zealand trips involving wading in water, start detaching.  Once they start this process it just continues until the whole sole detaches - despite repairs.

Still in Good Order

There have been great advances made with the development of soft rubber soles for rock climbing but these are for specialist use. I find the general purpose boot for tramping trips which involve continual wetting and rock abrasion are just not up to the mark any more.  It will be a sad day when we have to carry our replacement boots on trips - such is the rate of wear and tear. Or do they just make boots for easy tracked trips on easy country?

Last Trip

Old friends of many a mile
foot faithful you’ve been
each after the other
taking turns at the lead

one last trip upstream.
Oh, unfeeling friend
how many pairs must
suffer this indignity

of bearing his next lover
through riverbed and scrub.

On Whitcombe Pass
under Lauper’s snows
you are laid to rest
stone anchored

on a high rock
not a resting place or fate
for seamen’s boots
but of a mountaineer's.

At night I wake to see you there
moss and lichen clad

tongue tied and silent
alert to the sound of the keas
awaiting the return of feet

eyes open to mountain flowers
the grand view
the call of dawn.