Apr 07, 2022 Remembering Merrill Bitter
Merrill Bitter passed away on January 20, 2022, while backcountry skiing in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Bitter was an active rock climber, skier, and outdoor enthusiast. He was well-known for pushing rock climbing grades and always offering advice and assistance as a former REI manager and IME employee. These traits of respect, dedication, perseverance, and genuine helpfulness are reflected in both Bitter’s oral history and oral histories with other climbers.
Within the oral history with Bitter, he reflected, “We all admired each other.” Bitter also described that “IME to a larger extent is a much more intimate experience for a lot of people, I think, in the sense that you got a lot of one-on-one assistance… you tend to create a sense of community with your customers at the same time. People you know, always coming in, so there’s a real sense of community that develops around the shops…”
Evident in the Outdoor Recreation Oral History Project, Bitter was admired by others too. Stuart Ruckman stated, “probably the climber who at that time had the biggest influence on us was Merrill Bitter, who maybe wasn’t climbing new routes, but who was climbing at a level that, you know, we could only…sort of hope to aspire to” (pg 8). Leslie Ellison stated, “Some other great climbers that sort of cut their teeth in the Wasatch were Drew Bedford, Hank Armontrout, Jim Dockery, Rick Wyatt, and Merrill Bitter. These are all people that sort of honed their skills in the Wasatch, and then proceeded to become great climbers throughout the world” (pg 15).
Bitter’s role in contributing to the climbing community, both in and outside of the gear shops, was reflected in others’ oral histories too. James Garrett stated, “there was more of a climbing community… if you were a climber, even a 5.7 hack climber, like I was, and you went to Little Cottonwood Canyon, you knew all the other guys. You know, you met Steve Hong, you met Les Ellison, you met Merrill Bitter. All these guys are really great… You know, great to hang out with and pretty…they would share their information, you know, beta and stuff” (pg 16-17). Neal Carroll stated, “Merrill worked at REI for a long time, and so, obviously you could get good information from him. But anyway, IME was, um, yeah, it was just sort of like…it was the local spot and those guys, you know, were always smart about helping people out and always smart about not being elitist and always being smart about just being as nice as they could possibly be” (pg 34).
The Marriott Library extends our deepest condolences to Merrill Bitter’s family and friends.
Written by Librarian, Tallie Casucci