The Vertical Year or “If you will it, Dude, it is no dream”

North Ridge Weisshorn

An abridged version of this article was originally published at Vertical Life. You can find it here.

A couple of months ago, I was working in the Numinbah Valley, a picturesque locale in the Gold Coast Hinterland. Within shouting distance of the NSW border, a return journey to Brisbane takes somewhere in the order of three hours. Nevertheless, it was worth the trip to hear about Josh Worley’s plans for 2018, even though I didn’t have time to enjoy the delicious dinner his partner had graciously prepared… sorry, Bec!

Not long before the event, Josh and I had discussed our philosophy on climbing after a session at Frog Buttress. Both of us experienced what I can only describe as a spiritual awakening (which is the best I can do to translate the experience and hopefully not come across as too wanky, white and millennial) when we embarked on our first alpine climb. His was in the Swiss Alps, mine in New Zealand, but both sent us down similar paths in the world of climbing. In short, it fostered aspirations to become competent all-rounders, something that involves a jack-of-all-trades approach to the various disciplines of climbing.

In light of these similarities, Josh hinted that his new project would be right up my alley. I was intrigued. I had to know more. This is how I ended up driving 90 minutes each way to find myself in a cramped New Farm apartment with a bunch of strangers.

Lardy Lady's Lats

Josh shakes it out on Lardy Lady’s Lats (22), a Blue Mountains classic.

Josh Worley is a humble guy. He’s certainly not a dab hand at self-promotion, but also has great conviction in his beliefs. When he spoke to the group that night, it seemed to be with some reservation, but also with an undercurrent of determination. He was outlining the broad strokes of a plan which he calls Vertical Year.

So… what is the Vertical Year? Well, like any grand plan, it started life as a tiny seed. It was sown in Josh’s mind during a recent trip to the Alps, establishing deep roots in the fertile ground to be found there. Soon, the idea had taken on a life of its own, forming a complex web of branches that spread across the globe and encompassed all styles of climbing.

“Soon after I was introduced to alpine climbing, my dream became to independently climb a technical route on a 6000m peak by the time I was 30. Everything I’ve done since then has been slowly taking me towards that goal. In addition to improving my alpine climbing, I love the way that the various disciplines of climbing require different skills and mindsets. It seemed logical to use this opportunity to embed those skills as best I can.”

And so, what was originally planned as a short trip with a single objective soon became something far greater. The timeframe soon swelled to encompass an entire season. But a narrow focus on ice and snow would be a disservice to his development as an all-rounder, Josh reasoned. So a season became a year. And why not? If you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right.

Josh initially envisaged an ascent of Alpamayo, a peak which more than makes up for its 53m deficiency of his 6000m criterion with sheer aesthetic majesty. Vertical Year will still aim to tick this iconic peak, but it will now form one of many feathers in the cap of an 11 month odyssey that will cover 3 continents, 33 individual peaks, more than 80 primary objectives and over 34km of technical vertical terrain. This trip will have it all – ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies, 6000m peaks in the Peruvian Andes, big wall climbing in the Sierra Nevada and summer alpine routes in NZ. Perhaps most significantly, the project aims to raise $100,000 and the equivalent amount of awareness for two charity organisations – the Climate Council and ReachOut Australia.

When it came to question time, mine was characteristically pragmatic – “Where’s the ticklist?” I demanded.

I could see the way in which his (and, ergo, my) climbing philosophy was neatly encapsulated within the diversity of the objectives, but the move toward altruism was not a consideration I would have arrived at had I been in his shoes. And, in fact, I didn’t. As many of you would be aware, my partner Morag Stewart and I have our own epic climbing trip planned for 2018. We call it La Carretera Alta, and will be driving from Las Vegas to Torres Del Paine, climbing everything in between. Whilst planning this vast, overland adventure, raising funds for charity never once crossed my mind. For Josh, the decision was an organic part of his thought process.

“When I sat back and looked at it, I thought about how incredibly lucky I am to consider doing such a trip and how climbing is an inherently selfish pursuit,” explains Josh. “No-one else was going to benefit from this awesome trip, so I looked for ways in which I could give something back. When I started to think about charities I could partner with, my thoughts constantly revolved around two themes; conserving the amazing environments I love and promoting the positive impact they can have on our personal development and mental health.”

For Josh, raising both funds and awareness, as well as using the trip as a vehicle to inspire other weekend warriors seemed like the natural path to take. With these aims in mind, he eventually partnered with the Climate Council and ReachOut Australia, and the Vertical Year project was born. Engagement with these two particular charities stems from the core values by which the project stands, with environmental stewardship being the most obvious of these.

“If you want to access the outdoors then you have a responsibility to ensure that future generations have that same opportunity,” Josh explains. “I believe that supporting an organisation which addresses the factors associated with climate change at a systemic level provides the best value for money.”

The idea of promoting mental health is less commonly associated with environmental causes, but for Josh, the two are inextricably linked. The outdoors are our greatest classrooms, he argues, and have the power to positively affect the lives of many.

Josh (right) and climbing partner Felipe after a successful ascent of the North Ridge of the Zinalrothorn.

“Whenever I go into the mountains, I learn so much about myself – about mental strength, problem solving, about dealing with personal conflict or fear or anxiety… the list goes on. Navigating these issues during your youth is not easy, so I wanted to partner with an organisation that was working to help enable every young person to reach their potential.”

“Sustain” and “Inspire” are two of the watchwords of Josh’s campaign. In these, it became clear that the mission of Vertical Year and that of Zen and the Art of Climbing shared some common ground.

Sure, Zen is not here to raise money for charity, but we believe that contribution can come in many forms. We’ve set ourselves a mandate to entertain, inform, inspire and empower the everyday adventurer. Our aims are similar to that of Vertical Year in those two key values – sustain and inspire. We aim to educate climbers with environmental and ethical knowledge so that the sport might continue in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner. We also hope to promote the fact that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary achievements, a goal shared by Vertical Year.

Neither Josh, Morag nor I are superheroes. We’re not sponsored athletes, nor are we anywhere near the cutting edge. We’re just Average Joes with average jobs, and we want others to know that they are capable of grand adventures as well, if only they allow themselves the chance.

“I worry sometimes that modern society has lost the ability to dream big,” says Josh. “Or even worse, dream big and then convince ourselves our dreams aren’t achievable. Hopefully my journey can help others to look at their own dreams and start to challenge their perspectives about the barriers they construct against them.”

If you will it, Dude, it is no dream.

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
August 2017

Zen and the Art of Climbing is proud to announce that we have partnered with Vertical Year to share Josh’s journey… literally. As well as running a monthly column on our blog, we’ll be lucky enough to meet up with Josh in Peru, sometime in the middle of 2018. We’ll be there to help him quest upward to the summit of some of his alpine objectives in the Cordillera Blanca.

You’ll be able to find some of his dispatches here, and the rest of which you can catch on Facebook, Instagram or at his website: www.verticalyear.com. You can also donate to the campaign there. Remember, Josh does not take any cut of these donations to fund the Vertical Year – all donations go directly to the two charities.

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?