There are so many ways in which climbing is seen as a salve though probably the least reported is the positive impact on mental health. Father and son Steve and John Morris know exactly how climbing outdoors can lift the spirit and the mind, and they want to share it with everyone.
The two lived it first hand when they embarked on a project to climb more together, and then somewhere along the way they decided to create a book of the project. On the release of their book, VL chatted to the two about climbing, depression and publishing.
(Steve and John will be launching 17 Down Under this weekend at their beloved Mt Arapiles. If you find yourself at the Mount this Sunday (8 March) get along to the picnic area just below the Pines campground at 9am to enjoy free scones, jam, cream tea and celebrate the joy of moderates.)
VL. The story of this book is a very personal one; can you tell us a little about how it came about?
S: At aged 14, our son John was being counselled for depression. As parents, Kerrie and I thought that regular weekend trips away could be the circuit breaker we were looking for. Spending quality, one-on-one time with someone in a neutral environment can be good for your soul. We discovered peace and tranquillity in the outdoors and over several years, John’s anxieties were replaced with a passion for rock climbing. 17 Down Under is a seven-year journey of a father and son climbing and photographing 50 of the best rock climbs in Victoria , grade 17 and under.
VL. Arguing about whether one route is better than another is a common campfire past time, how difficult was the process of route selection?
S & J: The selection process for our top 50 list was not too difficult. These are the climbs that John and I enjoyed and we have experienced many of them together. All were awarded two or three stars by the first ascensionists and many are considered classics. Choosing which areas to include proved problematic, however, we believe our 11 areas best represent a broad selection of rock types and climbing styles across the State.
VL. In comparison to other states, Victoria is particularly well situated with very high quality climbs at relatively modest grades, what role do you think has played in establishing the climbing culture?
S & J; Victoria is blessed with an exceptional array of climbs grade 17 and under. Mt Arapiles is a unique place and features heavily in our book and it deserves to be. We consider it the trad climbing capital of Victoria and Araps definitely plays a large role in our climbing culture.
VL. What is your favourite route that’s grade 17 and under, and why?
S; Brolga (16) Mt Arapiles. First climbed at aged 50 and memorable because John wanted to climb it with me for my birthday.
J; Where Angels Fear to Tread DF. (17) Mt Buffalo. A test piece of sustained crack climbing on my favoured granite and a proper adventure.
5. What changes did you see in yourselves and each other as a result of undertaking the project?
S & J; As individuals we have become more flexible in our thinking. Our project would not have been completed if it had not been for constant compromise.
VL. Father-son relationships can be both incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding: what would be your advice for ensuring a good relationship with a son?
S; Being friends first is paramount. Trust and respect develops over a long period of time. If you genuinely want the best from any relationship you have to treat other people the way you would like to be treated yourself. This includes family first and foremost.
VL. Did you find any deeper meaning in your climbing as a result of the project?
S & J; Towards the end it felt like the project was consuming. Self-imposed deadlines started to detract from the climbing. I guess we both discovered that our passion for climbing was deeper than the project and so we did not always take the camera when climbing.
VL. What do you think this book and the story you tell says about the modern world?
S & J; We are not ignorant of the modern world, however, it would be nice if it could slow down just enough to enjoy some of life’s simple pleasures, like sharing a pot of tea. The link between humans and nature is slowly eroding and perhaps it is time to stop looking down at a phone and look up. You may be surprised at what you will see.
VL. What do you hope will be people’s reaction to the book?
S & J; We hope the book will inspire climbers to tick off our top 50 list with a family member or friend. It would be nice to think that someone might consider rock climbing for the first time. If one person is motivated to get off the couch and go into the outdoors for some natural therapy, we would feel proud.
VL. How long did the whole project take?
Over seven years.
VL. Why did you choose to publish your journey as a book?
S; Someone once said there are three things in your life you should do to ensure a legacy – have children, plant a tree and write a book. 17 Down Under completes the hat trick.
VL. What did you find most challenging about compiling the book?
S & J; Settling on the physical layout . What you see in print is about our seventh incarnation. We are grateful to our graphic designers and editors for getting us across the line.
VL. What can you tell us about the process of self-publishing?
S & J; Don’t do it, publishers exist for a reason. Would we do it again, hell yeah!
VL. You’ve long had a passion for climbing gear – indeed you sell it – what is it about climbing gear that you love?
S; I guess when you are passionate about something , you become slightly obsessed with everything to do with that subject. There is not enough space here to write about why I love climbing gear. That could be another book…
VL. If you were to choose a piece of gear that you thought best represented yourself, what would it be, and why?
S ; DMM Wallnut #11. I trust that I am bomber. I am not going anywhere…
J; A Nut Key. I come in handy at solving problems when you get stuck.
VL. And most importantly, how can people buy the book, 17 Down Under?
S & J; In person at Rock Hardware, 38 Neale Street in Bendigo. Or from the 27th of February online at www.rockhardware.com.au.