Software entrepreneur turned environmental advocate Doug Walker set out this New Year's Eve with a pair of snowshoes and the goal of climbing Granite Mountain, a 5,633-foot peak in the Cascades of western Washington. This last hurrah for 2015 should have been a cinch. After all, Walker was an experienced climber — and president of American Alpine Club (AAC) —who had tackled the Granite Mountain Trail, 45 miles southeast of Seattle, some 200 times before.
On this day, however, Walker's two hiking companions decided that the winds were so strong that they preferred to return to the trailhead without approaching the summit. The 65-year-old pushed onward. When Walker failed to return some two hours later, however, his friends began to fear the worst, according to the King County Sheriff's Office.
Search-and-rescue volunteers poured into the Cascades Thursday evening, ditching their New Year's Eve plans to scour the area for any sign of the beloved outdoorsman. But it wasn't until the winds died down on Jan 1 that a helicopter was finally able to locate a body. Officials with the King County Sheriff's Office said Walker was found dead in a debris field, likely swallowed up Thursday afternoon in an avalanche.
A South Carolina native, Walker moved to Seattle in the 1970s for graduate school at the University of Washington and amassed his wealth as one of the founders of the pioneering software firm WRQ. He was also a co-founder of donor network Social Venture Partners and a director at outdoor retailer REI for 12 years (including three years as chairman of the board from 2005 to 2008).
A climber with more than 40 years of experience, Walker dedicated his later years to both promoting the sport and ensuring the conservation of mountain landscapes as the president of the AAC. "Doug Walker's leadership at the AAC was the secret weapon that cemented the Club as one that welcomes and represents all climbers," AAC CEO Phil Powers said in a statement.
Walker served on the boards of a number of not-for-profit organizations, including the Wilderness Society, the Conservation Lands Foundation, the Sierra Club Foundation and the Land Trust Alliance.
One of his more recent philanthropic endeavors involved helping kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds get into the wilderness through projects like the YMCA's BOLD and GOLD expeditions programs. Just two weeks ago, Walker reportedly went to the White House to meet with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, a longtime friend from his time at REI, to discuss new programs to help get city kids into nature.
Condolences came pouring in over the holiday weekend as the climbing and outdoor communities came to terms with the loss of one of their most influential advocates.
Mountaineer and author Conrad Anker thanked Walker for the changes he helped create in the world. "Doug Walker was a man who cared deeply about wild places. He was a man of vision and wild energy," Anker said in a note on Facebook.
Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams said Walker would be a sorely missed environmental supporter. "[His] legacy will always be a part of our fight for protecting America's parks and wild heritage."
King County Executive Dow Constantine said the Seattle community had "lost a great civic leader, conservationist and philanthropist who had a passion for the outdoors, and instilled that same passion in others."
"Doug brought a boundless energy to everything he tackled, from climbing the highest peaks to connecting the high-tech community to environmental preservation," he added.
Walker is survived by his wife of 43 years, Maggie, and an adult daughter, Kina, who was a frequent climbing partner. Memorial contributions can be made to the Doug Walker Fund through AAC. Donations will help continue Walker's legacy as a champion for conservation.