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Simon Mentz
Interview: Simon Mentz
[ More Interviews ]

Date: 10th Aug 2004
Intro: Local reader's will probably best know Simon's name as the co-author of those outstanding guide books Arapiles Selected Climbs, and Grampians Selected Climbs. Other's might have come across his name against numerous starred first ascents that are now considered classics in the Grampians, Mt Buffalo and deep in the heart of the Northern Territory where he established one of the hardest routes of the time. Simon's climbing life has taken him to more distance places like The Nose of El Capitan and the Matterhorn, but his nucleus remains the appealing country life of Natimuk where he devotes as much time to the local footy team "The Rams" as he does towards the captivating sandstone of Arapiles, just 10 minutes down the road.
[ All photos by Simon Carter of Onsight Photography ]

Notable First Ascents
** Little Boy Lost (24) 1991 Spectacular stepped arÍte established ground-up (yo-yo). Lost World, Grampians (with Louise Shepherd).
** Father Oblivion (26) 1991 Companion 2nd pitch to Sirocco on Taipan Wall, Grampians. Rap-bolted (with Andy Pollitt).
*** Tjilka (26) 1992 Amazing line through middle of limestone cave. Ormiston Gorge, Northern Territory. Rap-bolted (with Roark Muhlen-Schulte).
** Giant (25) 1993 One of the first all-free ascents up Dogface. Malcolm Matheson led the hardest pitches. Ground up (yo-yo).
*** Serpentine Gorge West Wall (23) 1993 Extremely improbable wall, climbed ground-up (no falls) Northern Territory (with Roark Muhlen-Schulte).
* The Beckoning (26) 1994

Continuation of Ostler at Bundaleer, Grampians. Rap-bolted.

*** The Totem Pole (25) 1995 FFA of wild sea stack in Tasmania with Steve Monks, Jane Wilkinson and Simon Carter. Rap-bolted.
* The Natimuk Route (22) 1995 340m  A giant multi-pitch route on Frenchman's Cap, Tasmania. Ground-up (no falls) Steve Monks led crux pitch.
Titan (26 M0) 1996 Mostly free ascent of Dog Face aid route, Blue Mountains (Steve Monks did all the hard work). Rap-inspected.
*** I'm a Believer (23) 1996

Established ground-up (no falls). Tongue Point, Wilsons Prom.

** Fuhrer (25) 1996 Historic big route freed via a variant (rap-inspected and rebolted). North Wall, Buffalo Gorge (with Adam Darragh).
** Guiding Light (4) 1998

Good easy route on Mitre Rock at Arapiles (with James Falla)


Q: Letís start at the beginning. When did you first get into climbing? Was there a particular person or event that started the ball rolling? Or as Glenn Tempest has insinuated did you take up the sport just to meet girls? ;-)

Simon Mentzís fall from grace: The Prow (27), Bluff Major, Mount Arapiles, Victoria, Australia.My first day of climbing was at Mt Arapiles with a friend (Ben Galbraith), just after we turned 18 and got car licences. We had read about Mt Arapiles and decided to drive up and teach ourselves. We had two short pieces of old sailing rope, a harness and a set of jumars (?!!). Our first attempt at climbing was Minimus (14) where we anchored the rope to the top of the cliff and devised a strange climbing/jumaring system. I came unstuck at the crux bulge when I found myself greasing out of the finger locks and unable to reposition the jumar above the knot joining the ropes. I recall my terror when I realised I was about to fall onto our horrible rope, but fortunately it held.

After failing on Minimus we then saw two climbers scramble up to the Bluffs via Alis (2) so we decided to follow them. Alis was pretty scary and we almost turned back, but we eventually pushed through and then watched the two climbers attempt Station to Station (25). The lead climber had a shaved head with a long tuft of hair and was totally ripped. I was amazed by the whole scene, but was a little intimidated by their gnarly appearance to ask questions. Later that evening we spoke to them in the campground. Their names were Chris Peisker and Chris Plant (UK) and they told us they had been living at Arapiles for quite a few months.

The whole scene made a big impression on me and so few weeks later I enrolled on a Victorian Climbing Club trip and did my first lead (D Major, 9). The following weekend Ben and I tagged along with Melbourne Uni on their Easter trip. The leaders on that trip were more interested in teaching the girls than teaching us, so they let us borrow a rope and a rack and do whatever we wanted. I have fantastic memories of thrashing up such classics as Arachnus (9), Pedro (10) and Dracula (11) with Ben and another beginner friend (Cameron Brooks). It was the same year (1986) that top German climber Stefan Glowacz was in Australia and Iíll never forget watching him solo Dramp (21) on the Plaque Area. Later that trip we saw him lead Anxiety Neurosis (26). He stopped at the crux and gave us a little wave. That really made our day!

As for girlsÖ well they were pretty scarce during my early climbing days. I had no experience with women, zilcho confidence in meeting women and was too preoccupied with climbing to even think about women. I was a bit of a late starter in that department. In later years I think I tried to make up for lost time.

Q: Like myself I understand your start to climbing had a trad/adventure beginning, something that is perhaps rare in today's climbing world with the growing abundance of climbing gyms. Do you feel this initial immersion into the scene influenced your later style/ethic of climbing?

Although Iím more into trad climbing, Iíve done my share of working routes, pre-placing gear and red-pointing (or to be more exact Ďpink-pointingí). But I do feel this approach kills the mystique of climbs and removes the judgment factor that has always been such an integral part of being on the sharp end. In my opinion, 'ground-up' ascents are where it is at with regard skill, judgement and commitment. That's where you will find, as Glenn Tempest likes to say, 'magic in the attempt'.Simon Mentz on Procul Harem (26), Castle Crag, Mount Arapiles, Victoria, Australia.

Although rarely practised nowadays, I believe yo-yoing routes (lowering back to the ground after you fall and only placing gear on lead from the ground) is a far more satisfying way to lead trad routes that are just above your onsight level. Red-pointing, pink-pointing and head-pointing have their place, but I enjoy the fact that yo-yoing tests your onsight ability every time you push past your highpoint. If your aim is to climb something without using the rope for direct assistance then yo-yoing acknowledges the process and not just the end result. If your focus is simply to link moves which are at your physical limits, then I donít understand why we donít recognise top-roping as a legitimate way to climb routes. Iíve been doing more top-roping lately and Iím thoroughly enjoying it. I canít understand the rationale of leading a route on pre-placed gear after successfully top-roping it.

Q: Victorian climbers will be very familiar with your name given that it's emblazoned next to Glenn Tempest's on the front cover of the two most sought-after and well presented guides on offer:
Arapiles and Grampians Selected Climbs. I think almost everyone would agree that the standard of these guides has really raised the bar. Can you describe the sort of effort that goes into producing something of this quality? I'd imagine a lot of field trips would be required to research each crag. Does this eat into your personal climbing time?

Writing and designing those guidebooks with Glenn has been some of the most rewarding work I have ever done. Itís a dream job producing guides to two of the worldís great climbing areas. I love waxing lyrical about climbs, particularly the easier routes.

As for the amount of work, well each guide took the best part of a yearÖ drawing maps, creating topos, quizzing other climbers and poring through old guidebooks and magazines for historical information. We climbed a huge percentage of the easier and intermediate routes and abseiled some of the harder ones, so that we could mark them accurately on our topos. There were a few months of tapping it all into the computer and coming up with the design. Glenn mastered the intricacies of desktop publishing and thanks to his expertise the final results were something we were both proud of. Any sacrifices to our personal climbing were well worth it.

Q: I believe you're very close to completing a Melbourne Area guide also with Glenn Tempest. How far off seeing this on the shelves are we?

Don't hold your breath on seeing the Melbourne guidebook in the next few months. Although we have done quite a bit of work, we keep getting sidetracked with other projects. And because I live in Natimuk, I find it hard to leave Arapiles, drive past the Grampians and then visit some little cliff near Melbourne (although some of those little cliffs have some terrific little routes). Iíve been telling Glenn that maybe he should team up with someone else to finish the jobÖ like you Chockstone boys.A very happy chappy... Simon Mentz on the summit ledge - relishing the satisfaction of a dream realized after the first free ascent of the Totem Pole.

Q: You and Steve Monks managed the first free ascent of Tasmania's Totem Pole (25), an incredibly wild-looking sea stack made famous by Simon Carter's pictures and Paul Pritchard's accident and subsequent novel. Steve led the first pitch and you the second. Prior to your route, there had only been a handful of aid ascents. How was the exposure on this wave-washed 65m free-standing pillar far from help? Were there moments of doubt or did the climb go according to plan?

When Steve Monks invited me on the trip (along with Jane Wilkinson and Simon Carter), I jumped at the chance, although I only expected to tag along and second Steve to glory. Whatís interesting is that we almost never did the free route. After reaching the summit via the aid route and doing the tyrolean back to the mainland we almost went home. In fact Steve and Jane did leave because Steve wasnít very confident about the free-climbing possibilities. I thought I had better swing back to the summit and abseil down the other sides of the Totem Pole just to make sure we werenít leaving behind a potential mega-classic. Simon Carter waited for me on the mainland and Iím sure he remembers my whoops of delight when I saw just how climbable it was.

Bolting the line and then climbing it was pretty much a formality as we had the moves sussed after checking it in on abseil. Steve had the honours on the first pitch, while I nabbed the second pitch. I spent a fair bit of time bolting the second pitch and making sure the clips were okay for shorter folk. I remember Steve complaining that I was taking too long and faffing around, but I really wanted to get it right. I could have easily climbed the thing with half the number of bolts (I ended up placing ten), but I always bolt things for the ground-up climber. One of my pet-hates is people creating ridiculously run-out climbs after rap-inspection.
Simon Mentz leading pitch two of The Free Route (25) on the 65-metre Totem Pole at Cape Hauy, Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia.Simon Mentz leading pitch two of The Free Route (25) on the 65-metre Totem Pole at Cape Hauy, Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia.
Above: Simon Mentz leading pitch two of The Free Route (25) on the 65-metre Totem Pole at Cape Hauy, Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia. Photos By Simon Carter.

Q: Was free climbing the Totem Pole something you had thought about much before you visited it with Steve Monks and Co? How did if feel afterwards? Change your life in any way? What's it like being a pin-up poster boy?

I was always interested in the idea of free-climbing the Totem Pole ever since I saw a picture of it in Joe Friend's ĎClassic Climbs of Australiaí. I went there earlier with Steve Hamilton, but we failed on the aid route and never returned.

The free ascent of the Totem Pole was certainly a highlight in my climbing career. Not only is the position amazing, but the climbing itself is quite exceptional. However the experience wasn't as intense as some of my ground-up ascents, simply because rap-inspecting and bolting a route removes much of the adventure.

As for being a pin-up boyÖ well it wasnít the first time I had been in magazines and calendars. It would be fair to say that I am far better at working photo-shoots than I am at working routes. Gordon Poultney use to quip that I was Australiaís best-known bumbly due to the all exposure I received. As a result there have been some amusing moments at boulders when younger climbers have recognised me and anticipated some serious cranking. They donít quite know what to think when they see me fail dismally on the warm-up problems. I remember the first time I visited the wall at Burnley and was met by a young Dave Jones who had been trying to link the whole thing. Dave asked me ĎAre you going to try and flash the whole wall?í Two moves later I was back on the ground and I think that was as far as I got for the day.
Simon Mentz aid climbing on The Totem Pole in 1995. The aid route was the only up the 65 metre Pole until Mentz and Monks returned a few days later and established the Free Route.After he climbed the Totem Pole by the aid route, Simon Mentz returned across the Tyrolean Traverse so that he could abseil down the pillar to check out the possibility of a free route. His smile said it all when he returned an hour later - "it goes!".
Above: Simon Mentz aid climbing on The Totem Pole in 1995. The aid route was the only up the 65 metre Pole until Mentz and Monks returned a few days later and established the Free Route. Photos By Simon Carter.

Q: I found a comment about Central Australia claiming "annual visits of Simon Mentz, who came up to climb with Roark Muhlen-Schulte. Together, they were responsible for pushing Centralian climbing standards with the first ascent of Tjilka (26) in 1992". I also believe there was controversy surrounding the Red Centre's first sport route (grade 27?). Can you elaborate on the details?

Tjilka is a huge overhanging line in a limestone cave that Roark discovered. We bolted the hell out of it and then spent a few days before finally falling up it. I graded it 27 because it seemed steeper and longer than anything else I had been on (imagine a couple of Procol Harumís stacked on top of each other). However there are no particularly hard moves and repeat ascents saw the grade settle at 26. Everyone agrees itís a pretty good route though.

Q: Your ascent of the West Wall of Serpentine Gorge near Alice Springs was a most audacious on-sight effort. Can you tell us the tale of this adventure?

The previous year we had investigated Serpentine Gorge and I thought the West Wall looked impossible for a ground-up ascent (we werenít interested in rap-inspecting or rap bolting). However Roark assured me that he had been back and had seen a weakness that we could climb ground-up.

Upon our arrival, Roark pointed out the line and I just laughedÖ ĎWe wonít even get off the ground!í We searched the cliff for other options, but everything looked too loose, too steep, too blankÖ or all three. Roark didnít want to admit that he had made a bad call, so to save face he started up something that looked okay on the first pitch, but which looked horrific on the second pitch (my pitch).

My plan was to make a token effort at leading the second pitch and then retreat with dignity. As it turned out, solid holds and good protection kept appearing so I just kept climbing. We climbed the whole route without falls (pitches of 21, 23 and 18) and were stoked with the quality. The only thing I was disappointed in was the name we ultimately gave itÖ Pre-nuptial Adventures... itís a shocker!

Q: It could be said that your ability to on-sight routes surpasses the grades you tick. Would you say that on-sighting routes is a strength of yours? Or perhaps a style that you most prefer?

I am not a very efficient on-sight climber because I get scared, place masses of gear and am very slow. But I do have reasonable stamina and when I am inspired about a particular route I have a fair bit of fight in me and tend to put everything into my on-sight attempts. Iíve never on-sighted harder than 24 though.

Q: I noticed that some of your first ascents are continuations or variant of existing routes. In the case of say Father Oblivion (26) on Taipan which offers a straighter (though apparently "reachy") conclusion to Sirocco (26), was this a case of seeing a, possibly better, line that others had missed? Also some others have requested I ask for the beta on getting past the reachy crux.

The story behind Father Oblivion was that Andy Pollitt spotted the line and then told me about it. He thought it would go at grade 24. When I asked why he didnít want to do it, he replied, ĎI donít want the easiest route on the wall!í It took me a few days before I finally worked it out (it was harder than 24). And when I finally did do it, Andy found he couldnít follow it due a massive hangover from the night before. Given that Andy was always drinking I donít know why his hangover that morning should have been any different (although he did cruise the route a few days later).
Extra height helps at the crux, but climbers shorter than me have repeated it. Iím not quite sure what sequence they use. Youíll have to ask Malcolm Matheson or Dave Jones.

Simon Mentz on his  Father Oblivion (26), Taipan Wall, The Grampians, Victoria, Australia.Simon Mentz on his  Father Oblivion (26), Taipan Wall, The Grampians, Victoria, Australia.
Above: Simon Mentz on his Father Oblivion (26), Taipan Wall, The Grampians, Victoria, Australia. Photos By Simon Carter.

Q: Can you tell us a little about some other FA's such as The Natimuk Route (22) on Frenchmans Cap, Tasmania (with Steve Monks).

The Natimuk Route was a giant multi-pitch route that was meant to be a warm-up climb prior to attempting a direct finish to De Gaules Nose (23). It was the first time Steve and I had climbed at Frenchmans and from the ground we estimated our Ďfuní warm-up climb would go at grade 18, not serious 22 which is what it turned out to be. That climb made me realise that our intended line on DeGaules Nose was extremely improbable. Despite my reluctance, Steve was still keen and so we launched up the lineÖ we were spanked!

Q: In Rock 29, you manage to appear in two separate advertisements (on the same page), endorsing Beal ropes for Kathmandu in one, and Edelrid ropes for Outdoor Agencies in the other! How was life as a (presumably?) sponsored climber?

Those were the days. Life as a sponsored climber was a whirlwind of chicks, drugs, sex, fast cars. Well, not quite. But my deal with Kathmandu saw me receive some good stuff (pack, goretex, ropes and other gear). But they made me earn itÖ I had to appear in some very embarrassing ads. As for EdelridÖ I wasnít even sponsored by them. They just used the well-known falling shot of me (by Simon Carter) and implied I was using one of their ropes.

Q: In the mid 1990's you were a frequent contributor to Rock magazine, in particular you authored a series of excellent instructional articles for beginners. Was the furthering of the sport through encouragement of new climbers something you saw as important?

The instructional articles myself and Glenn Tempest wrote for Rock were commissioned pieces. I wasnít trying to encourage others into climbing, but I was happy to point beginner climbers in the right direction. I actually find writing instructional articles pretty sterile. I would much rather be writing guidebooks where I can rave on about climbs, their history and engage in character assassinations. Thatís a lot more fun.

Q: I'm also led to believe that very few of your letters were ever published in Rock magazine? What's the story with that?

Yeah thatís right. There was a period when I was pretty critical of Rock at times. Its fluoro colours, clunky design and unimaginative articles and photos werenít befitting of the countryís leading climbing magazine. Chris Baxter (the editor) was never keen to print my letters probably because I didnít hold back with my criticisms. You need to remember that back in the early to mid-eighties, Rock was an outstanding magazine. It really stood out in comparison to other mags around the world. I still like to flick through those older editions for a bit of inspiration.

Q: In a moment of temporary insanity you and Steve Monks freed the old Blue Mountains mega aid classic 'Titan' on the somewhat temporary rock of Dog Face. What was the attraction of routes such as this?

Dog Face is a very impressive wall, with a rich history. The rock varies between complete and utter rubbish to a few patches of quality rock. I had been involved with freeing another route on the wall in Giant (24) with Malcolm Matheson and that turned out to be a pretty good excursion. The skyrocketing line of Titan showed promise as a free climb. However the rock on Titan turned out to be particularly bad and the final pitch was something of a nightmare. Fortunately Steve led all the hard, scary stuff.

Simon Mentz attempting pitch four Titan (26, 120 meters), Dogface, Blue Mountains. Simon Mentz (top) and Steve Monks contemplate pitch four Titan (26, 120 meters), Dogface, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia. The Dogface cliff was formed by a landslide in the 1930's!
Above: Simon Mentz attempting pitch four Titan (26, 120 meters), Dogface, Blue Mountains. Photos By Simon Carter.


Q: I understand you had something on an epic fall in the Glasshouse Mountains. Can you relate this story for us?

I was leading the second pitch of a route called Slick Gazelle (21) on Crookneck (QLD). Crookneck is a spectacular volcanic plug consisting of refrigerator sized blocks stacked precariously on top of each other. I was delicately bridging past one of these refrigerator blocks when it separated with the cliff. I rode it for about twenty feet until my last piece of protection (a 3 RP) held me. The block continued its way, gashing my knee, slashing one of my ropes and narrowly missing Jared McCulloch who was on a hanging belay. It hit the ground and rolled down the hill cutting a huge track in the scrub below.

Q: Any another epics, near death or otherwise?

The climb we did the previous day was pretty frightening also. It was on Tibrogagen and called Out of the Blue and Into the Black (24). I remember clipping this rusty peg on the traverse and when I got above it, the eye of the peg snapped off and it slid down the rope. Then as we tried to pull the lip, a huge barrage of rocks started pouring down from above. Some hooligans at the top were trundling them off. It must have lasted twenty minutes. We never caught the culprits. I think we would have strangled them if we had.

Iíve had a few near misses in my time, but one that sticks in my mind involved rigging an abseil for a school group at Camels Hump. I went to clip into my safety rope at the cliff top and lean back at the same time. The loop missed my screwgate karabiner and I found myself windmilling at the top of the cliff before I finally teetered back to safety. I was pretty lucky.

Q: What's the story with Dog's Knob (26) at Corruption Wall in Tasmania? It's described as a "way steep, magnificent line" that you originally bolted but the FA fell to John Fisher.

I wouldnít call it a magnificent line. It is pretty small cliff. It was simply a matter of bolting something I couldnít get up. That wasnít unusual for me.

Q: The three-star classic Mr Joshua (26) on Taipan Wall was originally bolted by Scott Camps who let you and Jared McCulloch "have a play on it". What was the result of that?

Iíve always wondered how Scott felt about that, missing out on establishing one of the best routes in the country. Scott left on an extended holiday shortly after bolting the line and told Jared and I that we could Ďhave a play on ití. Given that neither of us had climbed much harder than 22/23, I assume Scott didnít consider us a threat. It was only after Jared and I had spent a month climbing in NSW and QLD that we decided to return to Victoria to attempt the line. Jared was obsessed. I distinctly remember a conversation one evening when myself and another friend (Andrew Eastaugh) were talking about girls and all Jared wanted to talk about was Taipan Wall.

Our first attempts saw us battle to the crux but we were quite freaked by the exposure. We were also attempting it yo-yo style which meant we didnít know what lay above. Although I was first to work out the crux, Jared on his next shot pulled out all the stops and not only climbed through the crux but then climbed all the way through to the belay. I followed the pitch with numerous rests and couldnít believe how sustained it was.

Iím sure Scott must have been pissed off when he found out. Although we had his permission to jump on his project, no one had considered the possibility that one of us might actually do it. Scott handled it pretty well though.

Q: We've talked a lot about FA's, but what are some of the more memorable or satisfying repeats you've done?


Simon Mentz, Peroxide Blond (20), The Horn, Mount Buffalo, Victoria, Australia.At Mt Arapiles I was very content to fall my way up Denim (26), Anxiety Neurosis (26), Station to Station (25) and Undertaker (25), simply because I recall seeing these routes on my first visit to Arapiles and they looked outrageous. To climb them myself was beyond my wildest expectations.

Iíve thoroughly enjoyed my Sydney Sea Cliff experiences, climbing such routes as Plunging Necklines (22), The Fear (17), Lost in Space (17), Swingtime (20), Duelling Biceps (23), Boyzone (23), Acute Wot (21), Cruise or Bruise (20). Credit needs to go Mike Law and Greg Child who not only developed the Sea Cliffs, but recorded their experiences, thoughts and feelings with some brilliant articles and guidebooks. I liken them to artists who have gone off on some strange tangent while the rest of the climbing population follow the norm.

Iíve also got to say that making the second ascent of one of the Twelve Apostles with a group known as the Wasters (a motley crew whose climbing aspirations had degenerated into an orgy of drugs and booze) was also very memorable.

Q: What's the hardest graded route you ever led? Was it something that plagued you for years? How does this compare with your most enjoyable/memorable climbing experience?

Iíve never climbed anything harder than grade 26, although Iíve climbed quite a few routes at that grade. My main problem is that I lack power and Iím hopeless at pulling difficult moves. Iím not too concerned though as Iíve still been able to climb a lot of terrific looking lines on a lot of great cliffs.

Q: Has your climbing taken you overseas much? If so, which areas did you explore? Any memorable anecdotes?

Iíve done a handful of trips overseasÖ US, NZ, UK, Europe. I enjoyed climbing in the UK because of the scene, the history and the variety of climbs and also because they have some great pubs. When I was in Europe I had the opportunity to climb the The Matterhorn via the Hornli Ridge, which is the easiest route to the summit. Despite the fact that you share the climb with fat American tourists getting guided up it, I still reckon it is one of the best looking lines up one of the world's best looking mountains.

I spent a month in Yosemite and bumbled my way up the North West Face of Half Dome and El Capitan (The Nose) with various partners. Our ascents were slow and arduous, but both climbs were truly memorable experiences.

Q: When you were climbing at your hardest, did you follow a training scheme? If so, can you briefly explain it?

Iíve never followed a specific training scheme and Iíve never known much about training principles. If I had applied myself, I could have climbed a few grades harder, but for the amount of effort required I donít think I would gained that much extra satisfaction and I would have still been a pretty useless at climbing really hard routes. As it was I had no shortage of fantastic climbs to try in the grades I could climb.

When I was living in Melbourne (before the advent of climbing gyms) I would traverse bluestone walls such as Richmond bridge and later the freeway wall at Burnley (although I could never get very far along that).

Q: Do you find being tall an advantage in climbing?

Being tall is probably an advantage on vertical and lower-angled climbs because you can stand on your feet and use your full height to reach whatever. On steeper climbs it is often lock-off ability which determines your reach. Being tall means having longer levers that work against you. It also means being heavier. I weigh 15 stone (95 kilos). That is a lot of weight to drag up steep climbs.

Q: Do you have a preferred style of climbing now-a-days? (Boulder/Sport/Trad/Aid/etc). What's your opinion of sport climbing and the emergence of Matty Brooks in the early 1990s? What are your thoughts on trad new routing and 'the meaning of it all'; now vs the past, (style/shady tricks/what's acceptable) etc.
Simon Mentz, following pitch one The Free Route, on the Totem Pole at Cape Hauy, Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia.

Well, if you really want to hear a few of my opinions on climbing, here goes...

Top-roping: Good fun and should treated more as an end in itself rather than as preparation prior to doing a pseudo lead on pre-placed gear.

Bouldering: Years ago I always thought of bouldering as activity removed from all the bullshit of climbing. The few boulderering devotees I knew seemed content to climb some of the most difficult problems imaginable without any hype. Nowadays bouldering seems to be more grade-focused, more equipment-based and more hyped than climbing ever was. And there seem to be more wankers doing it.

Sport Climbing: I thoroughly enjoy it, but itís amazing how at some sport crags you can slew your way through all the classics and afterwards you canít recall a single memorable moment or even a route name.

Development of new routes: Compared to fifteen years ago, we now have an immense collection of quality climbs of varying styles. I think the climbing fraternity needs to re-examine its approach to new routes. Climbers nowadays should think twice before pulling out the drill or wire brushing sections of cliff, just because they see a piece of unclimbed rock with a few good moves.

Iím pretty disappointed that Dave Jones and Gordon Poultney have added quite a few bolts to the Strolling Buttress at Mt Arapiles recently. This is a beautiful piece of rock where the previous existing routes largely followed natural weaknesses (although Chris Shepherdís variant start took the first step in this ugly direction years ago). Weíve now got variants on variants and the bolted lines start to take precedence. Whatís annoying is that other climbers have rapped some of these lines years ago and decided against doing them due to aesthetics of the cliff and their effect on the existing climbs. Given how easy it is to rig top-ropes on this particular cliff and the fact that top-roping these routes has become popular anywayÖ why not leave them as top-rope problems?

Matty Brooks: I never had any real problem with Matty Brooks. My only comment was that if I could climb as well as him I would be doing classics on Taipan Wall, not faffing around on some of the pox cliffs he did.

Q: You're also a member (or president?) of the "The Rams"
aka the Natimuk Football Club I believe? How is the team faring? I understand you used to make trips to Arapiles to round up foreign climbers so as to make up numbers for the footy team. Is this true?

Aussie Rules has replaced climbing as my main focus over the last six or seven years. Iím fascinated by the different coordination required to play ball-sports and the transition of going from an individual sport to a team sport.

Playing football for Natimuk though is like standing at the bottom of a difficult climb and never getting off the ground. However the experience has helped me engage with the non-climbing community in a very worthwhile way. Last year I was club secretary, coach of the U16s, and ruckman in the senior team. We didnít win a game all year, but the club is still in existence which is better than a lot of small country football teams who have had to fold.
Aussie Rules is a great game and, believe it or not, it has a few similarities to climbing (gnarly trad climbing to be more exact). Fear, adrenalin and judgement are as much a part of football as in climbing, but what I like about football is at the end of the day the siren goes and it is game over. You accept the result. A lot of climbing nowadays is like playing Ďtime-oní until one eventually succeeds. Itís almost as boring as soccer.


As for rounding up foreign climbers to playÖ we have had Scots, Bavarians, Kiwis, Poms, Austrians, Irish, Dutch, Yanks all pull on the blue and gold and play for the reserves team. The locals love watching the foreign climbers play and are always impressed that they are out there having a go.

Q: Tell us about this film you've been making about the Nati Football Team titled "Rams to the Slaughter". Some have commented that it is the funniest film they have ever seen. Is this the start of a big career as a film maker
perhaps?

Rams to the Slaughter is a doco that I filmed while I was playing for the club and it chronicles our team going through a horrendous losing streak. It is a pretty raw production but it seems to entertain audiences even if they donít have an interest in football. We had a screening in Natimuk once where is it was the opener prior to an hour-long, super-slick bouldering film (Colorado Daydream). Even though the audience were predominantly climbers, they seemed to enjoy the footy film more due to the fact that it had more of a story, more engaging characters, more emotion and more humour (particularly when the club recruits UK climbers Mike and Jamie to play in the reserves side).

I think climbing is a difficult sport to capture, but I am keen to have a go at making some climbing films. Myself and Pat Ford started work on a historical doco about the climb Passport to Insanity. We have carried out interviews with the likes of Geoff Gledhill, Steve Monks, Louise Shepherd and of course Nyrie Dodd. Weíve also shot some footage of Dave Jones and Dave Musgrove attempting the route.

I would also like to make a film about the history of Australian climbing from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, along similar lines to the classic skateboarding flick Dogtown and Z-Boys. There is a great story to be told from that era.

Q: While we're on the topic, what's it like living in Natimuk? Does the small town country life and a close proximity to some of worldís top climbing appeal? What is it that you do for a living, if I may enquire?

Living in Natimuk is greatÖ small yet diverse community, cheap housing, and the worldís best crag only ten minutes down the road. And having climbers visit from around the country and around the world adds to the social scene. We also have the Grampians only an hour away and uncrowded surf beaches only two hours away.
I make a living from guidebook sales, climbing instruction, graphic design/illustration work, freelance writing, rigging and digital video. I donít earn much, but I really enjoy my lifestyle. Things will change for me later this year however, as I have just bought a building in the Main Street of town and want to open a cafť.

Q: I've been told a rumour that you tired to convince some students that a tin of baked beans would make good slung pro while teaching on a Climbing Instructors Association (CIA) course recently?

I donít recall telling that to students, but they might have asked me about an incident years ago when I led the first pitch (the grade 20 off-width) on Passport to Insanity using a modified baked bean tin to protect myself. We had forgotten our big cams, and I was so keen to do the route that I made up my own piece of gear using two empty tins with a rock in the middle. I carried it up in an extra chalkbag, wedged it in the crack and slung it. Fortunately I didnít fall on it.
Simon Mentz leading P1 of Passport To InsanityThe infamous Baked Ben Can for protection in P1 crack of Passport.Baked Bean Can Close UpChris Cope leading through the roof pitch of Passport To Insanity (27) with Simon belaying
Above Left: Simon Mentz leading P1 of Passport To Insanity (27). Above Middle: Simon's infamous Baked Ben Can for protection in P1 crack of Passport. Above Right: Chris Cope leading through the rood pitch of Passport To Insanity (27) with Simon belaying.


Q: Could you relate the story behind the naming of your climb The Beckoning (26) at Bundaleer?

I donít want to bore you with the details, but it is to do with a holiday fling which resulted in me following this particular girl to other side of the globeÖ to no avail. Gordon Poultney came up with the name. It was very appropriate.
Simon Mentz succumbing to the lure of The Beckoning (26) at Bundaleer in The Grampians, Victoria, Australia.Simon Mentz succumbing to the lure of The Beckoning (26) at Bundaleer in The Grampians, Victoria, Australia.Simon Mentz succumbing to the lure of The Beckoning (26) at Bundaleer in The Grampians, Victoria, Australia.
Above: Simon Mentz succumbing to the lure of The Beckoning (26) at Bundaleer in The Grampians, Victoria, Australia. Photos By Simon Carter.

Q: What is your favourite crag in Victoria and Australia in general? Do you have a favourite route of all time? What is the most under-rated Victorian crag?

Favourite crag: You canít beat Mt Arapiles. Itís got everything.
Favourite route: The Totem Pole (The Free Route). Unique situation and great climbing.
Most under-rated Victorian crag: Richmond Bridge (a bluestone wall in Melbourne). A great training wall for intermediate city climbers.

Q: Have there been other climbers that have inspired you throughout your climbing life? If so, who and why? I understand that you used to climb with Louise Shepherd a lot. Was that inspiring? Any interesting stories?
Simon Carter (left), Simon Mentz and Jane Wilkinson take an easy ride home, after the first free ascent of the Totem Pole, Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia. Photo Steve Monks.

There are thousands of climbers that I have found inspiring. Itís usually people doing imaginative and interesting climbs, or doing routes in good style. But I am also inspired by climbers that contribute to climbing in other waysÖ by writing thought-provoking articles, producing inspiring guidebooks or magazines (or web pages), organising environmental projects, re-equipping climbs sensiblyÖI could talk for hours about various people in the climbing scene. These are just a few comments on a few peopleÖ

Louise ShepherdÖ well I was certainly in awe of her when I started climbing (and I had the hots for her!) so it was a bit of buzz when we teamed up. I am still amazed at some of the routes she on-sighted (placing gear) back in the early eighties. Some climbers have just got that extra something and she had it.

Climbing with Ian Vickers (UK) was both inspiring and demoralising at the same time. His ability to on-sight naturally protected routes at the most difficult grades was unbelievable. Although he set a standard that made my efforts seem pathetic, he inspired me to improve within my own framework.

Iíve always loved the routes that Mike Law has put up. They appeal on so many levels. His writing and guidebooks have also enriched the sport considerably. Iíve had so many great experiences on Claw routes that itís hard to imagine what Australian climbing would have been like without him.

I feel Jon Muirís attempts to on-sight solo Trojan (25) rate as one of the most impressive efforts in Australian climbing. Jonís uncompromising approach symbolises everything I admire in climbingÖ judgement, commitment, skill and amazing control. To downclimb from three-quarters height and walk away is a lot more impressive than sussing it out with a rope and then claiming a solo ascent.

Q: So what does your future hold in terms of climbing? Do you have any 'secret' areas still awaiting development?

Iíd like to do a bit more mountaineering. I really believe mountaineering (depending upon your objective and the style you do it in) is the essence of climbing. However I also think mountaineering is ridiculously dangerous. Iím happy to wait a few more years before wiping myself out in the hills.


Photos From Simon Mentz's Collection:
Serpentine Gorge West Wall Pitches (21, 23, 18)1st pitch (Roark leading) West Wall of Serpentine Gorge
Above Left: Serpentine Gorge West Wall Pitches (21, 23, 18). Above Right: 1st pitch (Roark leading) West Wall of Serpentine Gorge.
FA I'm a Believer (23)
Twelve Apostles 2nd pitch
Above Left: FA I'm a Believer (23). Above Right: Twelve Apostles 2nd pitch.
El CapCrookneck
Above Left: A young Simon Mentz at El Cap. Above Right: Crookneck.
 



Further Reading:   Push For The Summit

Totem Pole - Photos of Simon Mentz on Tasmania's Totem Pole over on Simon Carter's website.
Araps & Gramps Select Guides - Guide books authored by Simon Mentz & Glenn Tempest available on the Open Spaces Photography website.

 

 

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