Many years ago in a small flat somewhere in Braamfontein Southern Rock Magazine was born. The Editor back then was Mike Cartwright and he has kindly given us permission publish the old magazines online.
We trust you will enjoy the flashback.
We asked Mike a few questions about the magazine:
What made you start the mag?
My first experience editing a climbing publication was the Wits University Mountain Club journal with Cathy O’Dowd. Soon after that I was roped into the quarterly chore of publishing the South African Climbers Club newsletter (Kevin Smith was chairman, Andrew Ashford-Jack was treasurer and I was secretary). The late 1980s were an exciting time for climbing in South Africa: bolted climbs were starting to appear and the word ‘redpoint’ was added to our vocabulary. Under the isolation of sanctions the only national publication for climbers was the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) journal. I saw a gap and the possibility of living off my sport.
Who was involved?
Initially Cathy edited. Later Andrea Nattrass (neé Malherbe). Fran Hunziker worked on the mag as her full-time job for a while. Names of regular contributors who come to mind are Roger Nattrass, Guy Holwill, Jonothan Fisher, Andy Davies, Keith James and Gerald Camp. Of course, there were many others but you can see their credits in the magazines.
What was it like running the mag – getting content/advertisers, etc?
At the tail end of sanctions the economy was weak and most of our advertisers, such as Bergsport and Camp & Climb, were stretched themselves. One of Fran’s jobs was chasing up existing advertisers and hunting down new ones. You’ll see early adverts from startups that are now household names, such as First Ascent. The magazine was never profitable so I continued to fund it from my day job with the dream that one day it would work.
Content for the first issue was tough: we were in a hurry and we needed good colour photos and feature stories. This made the first issue a friends-and-family affair. All those photos in the Blouberg story came from Kevin and obviously the Stormwatch story is Roger’s. I picked up some flack after the first issue for having multiple photos of myself and my buddies in it. And, according to Issue One, the Cape did not exist. After the first issue it was easier to avoid that sort of thing because we started to get many more stories submitted. Soon we could choose the best ones.
What was the climbing scene in SA like back then?
This was a period of great upheaval in South African climbing. Many things happened during the short lifespan of Southern Rock:
- Power tools were used for the first time.
- The MSCA always helped fund trips that were of a mountaineering nature. Climbers, like Roger Nattrass and Jonothan Fisher, went on sport climbing trips abroad and brought these new ideas home.
- Nelson Mandela was released. Sanctions ended. Foreign climbers started to visit. Some, like Todd Skinner, helped to put us on the map and brought respect and international acclaim to a whole new sport for us: bouldering.
What happened after issue #7?
I believe there were only six issues published. There was an Issue #7 which never made it to the street. The cover shot was a beautiful Patagonia picture of Phil Lloyd. I ran out of money and had all my credit maxed. At our peak we had a mere 600 subscribers. My little adventure in learning how not to run a business had run its course.
For another two or three years Fran and I published a quarterly photocopied newsletter called Klip! which was more focused on sport climbing and was the predecessor to Fran and Andrea’s Highlife magazine. It was 100% free which helped our mailing list to grow to almost 2 000. We used this mailing list to sell guidebooks (to the Magaliesberg, Blouberg and Boven) and bolting supplies (bolts, hangars, drill bits). I started an umbrella brand for homemade gear called Scavenger. We sold everything from chalk to harnesses via mail order. Remember that this was all pre-Internet so people still used stamps and mail still actually arrived. Glenn Harrison was the most enterprising of the Scavenger ‘suppliers’ so when I left the country it made sense for him to adopt the brand as his own.
Glenn went on to make a successful career in stitched gear (think Kevlar) and Fran went on to become photo editor for a stable full of magazines at NasPers (You, Huisgenoot, etc.) in Cape Town.
Between 1985 and 1991 my day job was a CAD product called TurboCAD. It was sold to a US software company in 1991. Out of the blue I bumped into one of the owners of the American company in 1994 and he offered me the chance to work for him. In less than two weeks I was in California earning $s and paying off my Southern Rock debt.
Three months later, Michele Smith introduced me to a friend of hers: Tamara. Six weeks after that we were married.
Where do you live?
In 2000 we settled in the Seattle area. We’re about to move though: next month we’ll be on the South Island in New Zealand.
My good friend Scott says I like to “swing the pendulum”: either I’m 100% work or 100% play. We worked hard for about four or five years and then quit to go walkabout in 1998. Tamara and I have travelled on four continents, dabbled on large hills is Peru and enjoyed extended climbing trips in the southwest US and in South Africa. By 2000 I was starting to miss my computer keyboard and grabbed an offer from a Seattle startup. After that, a short stint at Microsoft and then our own little software business. So, Scott says that the move to New Zealand is simply me swinging the pendulum the other way again. He’s probably right.
What do you do?
Tamara and I have a successful little software business called Solid Documents. Some of the same programmers I worked with in 1994 on TurboCAD have been with Solid Documents for eight years now. They’re in Russia which makes it easier to move our business to New Zealand. But that’s what I do for a living. What do I do? … I am still figuring that out.
Are you still climbing?
Seattle isn’t exactly the centre of the rock climbing universe but it is easy to become a trail runner here. Both Tamara and I climb occasionally, usually as an excuse to visit sunnier places in the middle of winter. My first love is mountain running and the Cascades were perfect for this: single day, car-to-car long runs with an easy climb thrown in for good measure. Long mountain days forge excellent friendships and the Cascade volcanoes have given me several of these days out.
In March 2007 Glenn and I finished up something that I had attempted with Fran’s support back in 1993. We did a successful traverse of the Berg tagging Cathedral Peak, Mponjewane and Sentinel. At 44 hours it was longer than planned because we had to hole up in Mponjwane cave for 10 hours. In New Zealand we are in an area more conducive to rock climbing so I suspect we’ll spend more time vertical again. We also expect refugees from the dim and grismal Seattle winter to come and soak up some South Island sun.