How to Make a Climbing Meme

I'm not saying it was aliens… but it was aliens

In case you haven’t noticed, climbing memes are SHRN. Less than six months ago, an Instagram account called Rawk Tawk started posting climbing memes commenting on and lampooning various goings on in the climbing scene. They have already garnered more than 12,000 followers. Another climbing meme account, Rockclimbingprobs, has cultivated similar visibility. My friend Brendan ocassionally has fun with climbing and outdoor memes on his blog.

Like emoji and animated GIFs, memes have become a staple of internet communication. At their best, they offer biting, hilariously accurate micro-insights into life, luck, and human nature; at their worst, they’re dumb and don’t make any sense. Most fall somewhere in the middle, causing us to LOL due to their purposeful inanity and shallow humor.

Side note: what I’m calling memes here are more accurately referred to as “image macros,” a subset of internet memes comprised of “captioned images that typically consist of a picture and a witty message or a catchphrase.” The images overtop of which people write text often grow to become popular internet memes, such as Good Guy Greg, Bad Luck Brian, and Ermahgerd Girl. But “meme” is far more commonly used and understood than “image macro” and for our purposes here will do just fine.

All that said, here’s how you, too, can create a climbing meme in four easy steps:

1. Find a picture

You can source a climbing-specific picture if you like, but it’s not necessary. Some of the funniest climbing memes use the same stock images as memes of a more general ilk. If you want to use one of the web’s many popular meme characters, you can use the tool on or other meme-generating sites. If you choose to create your own meme, be sure to use the right font: Impact, in white with a black outline. Here’s a tutorial on how to do it right, because Sharma forbid you use Futura or Comic Sans—that would be embarrassing.


2. Think of something funny that only climbers understand

The thing that makes a good climbing meme is that it speaks in a code that climbers will understand. For example, that guy at the gym (maybe it’s you?!) who just can’t keep his sequence straight, or the fun that isn’t when you’re waiting in isolation at a climbing competition, or the special padding needed for a certain well-known crag. It’s a fine line though. Get too specific or too personal and you’re bound to lose people. But maybe that’s OK—better to slay it with a niche audience than bore the masses.

3. Write funny thing over top of picture

The typical meme uses two lines of text, one at the top and one at the bottom of the image. In this configuration, the top line is the set-up and the bottom line the delivery. Of course, it’s not necessary to structure your memes this way. Some only have one line of text, others multiple, others no text at all. The most important thing is that the image and the words must clearly connect and reinforce each other in some way. A weak or simplistic connection between the image content and the tone of the words will result in a fail.

Goes to new gym … "you'll have to take a belay test"

4. Post to internets

This part is important. Memes are like genes; ones adapted to their environments will replicate and flourish. But to spread they need a medium. Thus, the interweb, with its billions-strong reach. When you make a meme on a site like imgflip, it becomes public (unless you choose to keep it private) at which point users can up or down-vote it, increasing or decreasing visibility. Social sites and forums like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, further help your meme spread (replication), where others may riff on it (mutation). Or not. It’s important to remember that your meme, while it may seem a precious nugget of genius to your biased eye, is probably not that funny to other people. That’s OK—memes are free and easy to make, and as with anything, practice makes perfect.

As for the why of climbing memes? That’s something you’ll have to answer for yourself. Good luck…

Inside Out

Mountains in the Wasatch

The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

I stare into the glow. My mind races. Images and words scroll by without end. The river of information, of which I see only one tiny rivulet, rages on, a mighty Ganges of human experience from the absurd to the sublime.

As I scan, my mind dances through a chaotic jumble of emotions: delight (kittens, baby sloths), envy (pics from friends’ exotic vacations and climbing trips), annoyance (knee-jerk political posts, chronic over-sharing), frustration (all the intractable problems of humanity’s own making), confusion (what does it all mean?!)… . There is so much information “out there,” but staring into the screen only pushes me deeper into my own head, creating a cacophony of disembodied voices and stoking a sourceless anxiety that feels all too real.

I set down my phone (does anyone else think it’s ridiculous to call these things “phones” anymore?) and drive up into the nearby canyons of the Wasatch. I park my car and walk away from the road as quickly as possible, rock-hoping up a steep talus slope towards a different headspace.

An hour of slow plodding later, perched on a high boulder with the noise of the road a faint shush, I get a view out across the facing slope of the canyon and to higher peaks in the distance. A large bird lands on the twisted old branch of a long-dead tree and watches me across a wide expanse of open air. We sit like this for minutes, both of us the most recent representatives of our respective, billions-of-years-old evolutionary trees. The scale of this place starts to pull my gaze out towards the world, away from my own special blend of worries and desires. The considerations that earlier had filled my entire awareness now feel small and inconsequential.

“How important is a constant intercourse with nature and the contemplation of natural phenomena to the preservation of moral and intellectual health!” wrote Henry David Thoreau in his journal back in 1851. Sitting on a plank of granite, feeling its cool rasp, following the acute green arrows of a hundred thousand pine trees all pointing in unison towards distant peaks and cloudless skies, I cannot help but agree.

Now the metaphors of the natural world begin to present themselves. There are lessons in the talus fields (something about chain reactions and unintended consequences). There is meaning in the bushwhack (a funny realization that you can only really be off-trail if you have a destination in the first place). Looking out over a landscape marked only faintly by human passage, I start to get the sense that the separation between “here” and “there,” between “me” and “it” is much fuzzier than it felt just hours before. Like the moon in the daytime sky, these realizations were always present, just hidden.

My phone is in my pocket, just in case: maybe I’ll score a selfie with the local moose, or need to call for help when that seemingly stable talus block shifts ever so slightly onto my tibia. Later, I’ll use it to map the coördinates of the boulder I found, as big as a McMansion, near the top of the ridge. Later still I’ll open up my laptop and start typing this blog post. I’ll use Google to find that Emerson quote I was thinking of and to look up the etymology of the world talus (disappointingly, it’s French for “embankment”). There’s nothing inherently wrong with the world of the screen, after all, just the eyes with which we regard it.

That night, half asleep in my room with the window open, the crickets chirp so loudly and in such synchrony that for a moment I think the neighbors alarm system has been triggered. A stormy wind respirates the curtain in and out. Thunder rolls back and forth across the sky. The trick of taking lessons from nature is, I think, carrying them with us wherever we go: at home, to the office, in the subway, on the airplane. It’s keeping the perspective that nature offers us on our tiny but integral place in this world and on the even tinier worries that loom large until we hold up a finger and realize they’re no bigger than our thumbnail and no closer than the moon.

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.