Dave Graham Launches “The Island”

Island Home Page

From the chalky, smoky, obsessed recesses of Dave Graham’s brain comes his long-awaited web project, the Island.

What is it? Who is it for? What does it all mean?

Sign up and find out.

Edit: More on the Island from Jamie Emerson / B3bouldering.com here.

Dave Graham on the Island:

“The chance to directly connect with like minded individuals gives us an enormous outlet, a chance to create opportunities, to bridge greater gaps. We are doing this for our community, which includes ourselves. We hope to connect and relate lives, individually and communally, to become a movement, a force of energy, an embodiment of all the passion on our planet, in one place. Welcome to the Island.”

I’m still not sure what it all means, but I’m really digging Graham’s Beatles mash-up, accompanied by an animated GIF of a cat eating pizza. Trippy.

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.

Peter Beal: Climbing’s Gadfly

Reading Peter Beal’s blog, Mountains and Water, can be a frustrating experience. He assumes a dour air and seems to relish poking the climbing establishment (if there be such a thing) in the eye. He can, at times, make it sound as if the world of climbing has been corrupted, hollowed out, sold up the river, and that we climbers are all somehow complicit. Though I rarely agree with the viewpoints Beal expresses on Mountains and Water, I have, of late, come to see him in a new light.

In a recent post entitled “Sell, Sell, Sell: Is There An Alternative?” Beal employs the following language to describe the current state of affairs in climbing media: “mundane,” “monotonous,” “sponsor-friendly platitudes,” “endlessly repetitive,” “feel-good bromides,” “sentiments lifted from self-help pop psychology and faux humility,” “trivial thoughts,” and “Ever crisper, more highly defined, and artfully manipulated images of nothing.” In the same post, he suggests that “the climbing environment is reaching a tipping point in terms of how much more commodification it can stand before a total vitiation of the core of the sport is achieved.”

In all honesty, I have yet to figure out exactly what Beal was getting at with his hyperbole, though he did do a nice job laying out some more valid and specific points in a follow-up post, published a week later. Regardless, for those who give a shit about climbing and climbing media, these knocks can feel very personal. Since “Sell, sell, sell,” Beal has been described publicly on the Internet as “sanctimonious” and even as a “pretentious douche.” Whether you agree with him or not, it’s hard to deny that he is an effective rabble-rouser. He seems to revel in attention, even the negative sort.

Whenever I disagree strongly with an argument, I take it as a sign. It means that argument has hit a sore spot. And any sore spot we have within us is worthy of further examination. Beal’s critiques,  and the less-than-tactful means he chose to express them, certainly made an impression on me. One minute I was making my coffee, and the next I was locked in a mental spasm, trying to formulate exactly how and why I disagreed with him. I was drawn back repeatedly to the act of poking holes in his arguments. Then, all at once, I saw that I was on the wrong path. The issue isn’t so much whether Beal’s specific points are valid, but whether his  intellectual monkey-wrenching is valuable. I have since come to think of Beal’s blog as a service to the climbing community. He is our gadfly.

The calssical Greek philosopher Socrates was famous for his use of carefully concocted arguments to stimulate thought in his fellow citizens. He saw debate as critical for the health of a society. Unfortunately, Socrates’ views so irritated the Greek state that he was sentenced to death by the ingestion of a hemlock-based poison. But before this, as recorded in Plato’s Apologia (which translates to “defense” or “explanation”), Socrates made the following statement during his trial:

“…if you put me to death, you will not easily find another, who, to use a rather absurd figure, attaches himself to the city as a gadfly to a horse, which, though large and well-bred, is sluggish on account of his size and needs to be aroused by stinging… .”

In his metaphor, Socrates is a biting gadfly on the flank of the state, a horse that is grand, beautiful, worthy of devotion and respect, but also prone to sleeping. A sleeping state, as Socrates sees it, is one that does not think deeply or consider important questions. It is the gadfly’s job to ensure the horse remains awake, that the state remains vibrant and alive.

If Beal is a gadfly and climbing is the state, then his pointed questions and critical language are intentional — it is a method to rouse us from our complacency. His acts have drawn the ire of many in the climbing community, but that is to be expected. “You, perhaps, might be angry,” says Socrates, “like people awakened from a nap.” Indeed, it is natural to take up arms when confronted by a disruptive voice. Our first response is to strike out and defend our cherished viewpoints and, ultimately, convince or compel the disruptor to be silent. But this is the wrong response — there is more good than harm in Beal’s writing, regardless of how “right” or “wrong” we might deem him to be. Already, his posts have had an effect. Editors from Alpinist and Rock & Ice have responded to his discontents, and quite a few commenters have weighed in on his posts. Discussion and reflection have been stimulated.

Socrates suggests that, without him, the people of the state “would pass the rest of [their] lives in slumber…” Perhaps he was right; it is all too natural for humans to settle into a comfortable existence, where one is to be had. Although I do not compare Beal to Socrates on other fronts — Beal is not the progenitor of Western philosophy, for example — I do see the value in his incendiary tactics. With a few sharp strokes of his keyboard, he has stung the flank of climbing. It is no mortal wound — only a small drop of crimson has sprung up — but the gadfly has served its purpose. The state is awake, at least for a little while.