The Past is Present

Australian Editor’s note to issue three of Vertical Life. Click here to download the full magazine.

In Chelsea Brunckhorst’s excellent article in this issue, ‘El Toro’, she writes about walking into the crag with ‘60s climbing legends Bob Bull and Peter Jackson: “It is a scene that is familiar to me. The dry humour, musing over epics, and generally revelling in one another’s company.” Perhaps the scene is familiar to Chelsea because there is a timelessness to this banter – it could be from any era, from any crag and between any two climbers who have long climbed together.

It reminded us here at Vertical Life of two competing yet coexistent ideas: that change is irresistible and that there is nothing new under the sun. Despite appearing in opposition, the two don’t have to be reconciled for after all, life is nothing if not a messy milieu of contradictions.

Often hand-in-hand with this idea of change comes a poetic interpretation of entropy – the process of collapse that sees systems go from an ordered state to a disordered one. The cliff will always crumble and fall to Earth but never draw itself up and reform. The crux hold on the Equaliser (28) will always snap off and fall to the ground but never rise up from where it lays and return to the cliff of its own accord.

This process is expressed in a societal sense as nostalgia. The valorisation of a bygone time that came before an imagined ‘fall’; an era when things were better, more real, more pure. And climbing does not escape this sentiment that the past was superior with many an old climber lamenting its passing and many a young one holding it up as a mythic paradise.

Reading Chelsea’s article we felt a sense of timelessness free from the collapse of entropy. Indeed, it makes us ask has much changed at all? Will climbing always at its core be the same, with different faces and different gear on different routes but governed by the same human interactions? The routes may be harder or of a different style, the scene larger, but there is still the same piss-taking and camaraderie, the same competing with nemeses and co-operating with companions, the same search for peace or validation, the thirst for thrills and the moments of calm spent staring over treetops, alone in your mind and totally content.

Peter Jackson says about the ‘60s, “I think probably there was a golden age of weirdos. And there was this standoff, separation, from the rest of the society because we knew we’d found the golden cup of what life was all about, which was climbing.” If you asked climbers from the ‘70s what was the golden age of weirdos was, we are confident they would say the ‘70s, and it would be the same for climbers from the ‘80s, the ‘90s and Noughties. Similarly, Chelsea writes of Bob and Peter belonging to a clique of climbers who dubbed themselves the ‘Piss Flaps’, it is a name designed to shock, which to us is just an antecedent to more modern cliques who came up with their own amusing titles for their loose and unruly confederations; the Wasters, the International Turkey Patrol, the A-Team, TGL. And the discovery of a climbing ‘golden cup’ that imbues an individual’s life with meaning seems as timeless a concept as we can imagine.

Even to those who have lived through historic events – those who ‘were there’ – it seems the passing of time is often a veil that makes the past appear totally removed from the world we live in today. Nostalgia is a powerful filter, it colours events in ways that make it hard to discern what really happened. Add the blurring of time’s passing, the gilding of storytelling and humanity’s penchant for creating legends, and it often feels as if the past was so very different to now.

The truth, though, is that wrestling with the human condition is largely the same. When you read a story like Chelsea’s, you can easily recognise the echo of your own experiences, and perhaps this is what allows her tale to leap the gap between past and the present, and 50 years fade to nothing.

Chelsea’s article provides a clue that maybe the past wasn’t so different, that we are all – regardless of the era in which we climb – simply fumbling through this thing called life, lurching around, entering each other’s circles for brief periods, then spinning off into other orbits, looking for solace or a sense of place, and using the rock to bring us together as people, and to bring our lives together with meaning and purpose.
Simon Madden + Ross Taylor, Editors


While he has been with us since the first issue, we would like to officially welcome our NZ Editor, Tom ‘Gomez’ Hoyle on board in the truest sense: this issue sees him writing the first of what we hope will be many editorials for Vertical Life.

Once again, thanks to all our contributors, featured climbers, advertisers, designers, dirtbags, videographers, advice-givers, hand-holders, web gurus, belayers and Adventure Types – your passion and enthusiasm is humbling.

Vertical Life is a home to many voices, if you would like to be one of those voices, be it expressed in words, photography or video, send us an email at: or

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