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Remembering Merrill Bitter

Merrill Bitter featured on the front of Climber’s Guide to American Fork Canyon Rock Canyon

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

1 Comment
  • Lance Merrill
    Posted at 14:04h, 13 April Reply

    I grew up with Merrill. He always had a deep love and reverence for the beauty of the earth and especially for other people. His character had such a deep vein of kindness. He could always bring peace to even a troubled interaction. I climbed with Merrill when we met up in Lone Peak’s cirque off and on for a couple of years, but I was never in his realm. I turned my efforts to another sport, hang gliding, but Merrill and I have kept in touch through the years. It seemed like the 10 year gaps in our communications had not changed anything. Merrill loved everyone. He will be missed

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