Today is my dear friend Corey’s birthday, and he got a ratty, dyed, indestructible Patagonia climbing shirt from me.
The shirt belonged to me and my freshly-ex-boyfriend Mike. I say we, because though he owned the shirt first, it was ours. He “stole/inherited” it from his best friend in high school and early climbing partner (note the old-school tag…this goes back to the early 90’s). It used to be tan or gray, but somehow it got dyed purple during a late-night drinking incident. No one remembers what the stain on the chest is from. I think my guy was actually wearing this shirt the first time I saw him in the Gunks and I kind of knew I was going to fall in love. In my mind’s eye, Mike is flaking a rope, shy smile, blue eyes flashing, ready for the next hard line. The shirt was already old when I met Mike. He’d been through some major health problems including a kidney transplant, but he came out resilient, climbing stronger than ever-just durable. Like this purple shirt. It is the splash of color in so many memories of hundreds of amazing trips to the Dacks, White Mountains, Chatty, the Red, the New, all over Utah, Colorado, Potrero, Spain, Acadia, Cochise, Wild Iris, Vedauwoo…
It’s seen nearly every state in America, late-day bouldering sessions, trips to five or six countries and was always one of the key items in the trip bag. We sometimes negotiated over who got to wear it. It has survived so many crack climbs, so many snaggy bushwhacks, so many WTF benighted descents. I think one of us was even wearing it during an unprotected bivy in NC when the weather turned nasty, we couldn’t find the rap station and we had to wrap up in ropes and leaves to ride it out, saving our single Gu to split in the morning. Its fabric is part of the fabric of our life together.
When the relationship ended abruptly, painfully, this shirt was (impossibly) one of the things left behind. For me?
I couldn’t bear to wear it, but also couldn’t donate it, and certainly couldn’t trash it. (Sorry, Patagonia, it’s not quite ready for your recycling program).
Corey became a beloved climbing partner to me & Mike. Insane strength-to-weight ratio, fun personality, and open to learning all the technical stuff any serious climber must learn. Corey had a difficult semester last spring, and in May he did exactly what was needed: road trip from VA to CA and spend significant time climbing in the Wind River Range. We lent him some trad gear to fill in the gaps. I just saw him last week, full of life, optimistic, and radiant, in fact. This 22-year-old kid is so strong, such a talented climber, and so pure of heart. His summer climbing trip healed him and blew open his mind to all the amazing climbing out there. He’s hungry for it, and ready.
He’s gonna need a good shirt.
Cover photograph and letter courtesy of Connie Magee.