RIP Urban Climber Magazine

Just got this on my Facebook feed:

Urban Climber magazine, which launched in October 2004, has shipped its final issue to the printer.

The August issue, one of our best ever, will be on newsstands and in subscribers’ mailboxes in a couple of weeks. Subscribers will be given the option of receiving Climbing magazine for the rest of their subscription term, or getting a refund. Instructions will be provided with the August issue.

On behalf of everyone ever involved in creating Urban Climber, we’d like to thank you for supporting us. It’s been quite a ride!

I worked with Urban Climber from the first issue, in 2004, until early 2010. I started as a freelancer, doing energy-drink reviews and event write-ups, then became Senior Editor and ultimately took the Editor-in-Chief seat. I accepted the latter after the publisher canned my friend, Joe Iurato. It was a painful decision, and I sometimes wonder what might of happened if I’d turned the job down. But things are what they are, and I’ll take that experience as one of the many I learned from during my UC Mag tenure…

An aside: Although I primarily wrote and edited other people’s writing for the magazine, some of my proudest contributions to Urban Climber were the cover shots I took, below. The one on the left features my good friend Robin Maslowski in Boulder, Colorado’s Movement gym; the one on the right is Jen Vennon crushing Jesus Wept, in the Red River Gorge


Back in the day, there was a lot of energy around UC, the way there is around any new venture. The first editor, Matt Burbach was motivated to do something new with climbing media. Joe, then a contributor, was bursting at the seams with genuine stoke. With the rapid growth of a climbing gym culture, of a new generation of climbers grown in the cities and suburbs, a new type of magazine seemed like a good idea — a necessity, even. It would be gritty and funny and raucous, more of a skate mag for boulderers and sport climbers who didn’t know what a “snow picket” was for and didn’t give a shit.

But over the years, the magazine’s budget stayed small when it needed to grow. Contributors who had been happy to offer up words and images on the cheap, as a way to get their foot in the door, eventually found their patience wearing thin. This contributor frustration trickled up into the editor’s psyches, making the job even more stressful than the long hours, short deadlines, and tiny staff. Often, there was just one dedicated editor and one part-time designer editing, writing, and laying out an issue of Urban Climber. Everyone’s idealism began to show cracks under the strain of real-world pressures. To be fair, UC wasn’t alone in its difficulties — the magazine industry was in deep trouble, thanks to the growing specter of the World Wide Web and its endless stream of free media. But that didn’t make the ride any less bumpy.

At the time I quit working for Urban Climber, it seemed that there were just too many climbing titles for our relatively small community to support. In 1991, when I started climbing, it was Climbing and Rock & Ice. In early 2012, there was Alpinist, Climbing, Dead Point, Gripped, Rock & Ice, and Urban Climber, plus a proliferation of online climbing mags, athlete blogs, and other personal blogs like Climbing Narc, Evening Sends, Mountains and WaterPimpin’ and Crimpin‘, Splitter Choss, and on and on…

In the end, the decision to close UC was likely simple math. I can only imagine ad sales weren’t where the publisher, Active Interest Media, wanted them to be. For myriad reasons, all magazines have had a hard time converting their print offering into a successful online offering, probably because people still don’t like to actually pay for online content, even when it replaces the paid content they used to consume. From my perspective, Urban Climber’s failure isn’t necessarily that interesting, but the bigger questions it points to are: Where should the climbing magazine industry go from here? How will existing titles thrive in a digital world? With all the videos and blogs and news aggregators out there, what is the role of a climbing magazine, anyway?

To some of us back in 2004, Urban Climber looked like the future. Now, it just seems like it was a stepping stone between the old days when Climbing Magazine ran over 200 pages, and today, when my RSS feed is full of blogs with titles like “No, I don’t give a shit that you work at the gym.” Nonetheless, I’d like to tip my hat to Matt Burbach, Joe Iurato, Andy Outis, Andrew Tower, and all of the people who I had the honor of working with at Urban Climber Magazine. It was a fun ride while it lasted.

[Vid] Aid Climbing 2.0?

Listening to the Marketplace Tech Report this morning, I heard a quick news bite about the suction-cup tech that the University State University is developing for the military. Like the Atlas motorized rope ascenders (which allow “reverse rappelling”)  this promises to make moving in the vertical plane more accessible than ever.

Of course, we don’t climb just to get to the top, and making things easy is almost never the goal, so I don’t imagine this will have much appeal for climbers. Still, with the smooth, sweeping granite faces found in popular climbing zones like Yosemite, could such a suction cup rig supplement typical rope systems and help rescuers reach climbers stuck on the wall? Well… probably not. Still, I wouldn’t say no to a test drive. The real question: can you get inverted with these bad boys?

Along these lines, when are those anti-gravity boots coming to market? I’ve been saving up…


Photo Friday: Sorry for the Lack of Posts

I’ve been out o’ town lately (in Denver — see photos below), shooting a video with the inimitable Timmy O’Neill and the talented Mr. Jim Aikman. Plus I’m getting hitched next week to the wonderful Kristin M–, preparations for which event have had us running around like a pair decapitated baryard fowl.

Life is good, but busy. Too busy to post anything of substance. I’ll get some more stuff up soon after our wedding. Until then…

— The Blockhead Lord

The ever-patient Kristin M--.
The ever-patient Kristin M–.
Timmy O-- freeing "The Nose" (and "The Eyeball") of a public sculpture in Denver, Colorado.
Timmy O– freeing “The Nose” (and “The Eyeball”) of a public sculpture in Denver, Colorado.
View of the Coors Field from our crash pad in Denver.
View of the Coors Field from our crash pad in Denver.
Denver street art.
Denver street art.
Officially sanctioned outdoor art installation (street art?).
Indeterminate Line, by Bernar Venet.
Indoor art at the Hyatt across from the Colorado Convention Center.
From a walkway leading to a side entrance of the Colorado Convention Center.
From a walkway leading to a side entrance of the Colorado Convention Center.