Doug Walker, a leading civic and conservation activist who helped usher in a new era of charitable giving and commitment to access to outdoor recreation, was found dead Friday after a hiking accident on Granite Mountain.
A software entrepreneur who became a founding member of the innovative philanthropy Social Venture Partners, Walker, 64, was reported missing Thursday while snowshoeing on the mountain. Search-and-rescue volunteers found his body Friday morning.
Walker, a Seattle resident, had been hiking with friends when winds intensified. His companions decided to turn back and wait for Walker, who continued climbing. He likely was caught in an avalanche, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.
“He has done this easily 200 times, he just does it for exercise,” said Karen Daubert, executive director of the Washington Trails Association and a close friend who has climbed the same route with Walker. “I have been up several times with Doug, including in winter.”
When Walker did not return to the trailhead after his friends had waited about two hours, they called for help. About 60 members of the King County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit and other organizations searched for Walker all night, but did not find him.
Winds were too strong to search by helicopter until Friday morning. Walker was discovered in a debris field about two miles up the mountain, just before 10:30 a.m.
“He’s a person who loved life and loved his family and was not prone to recklessness,” said County Executive Dow Constantine, who said he was alerted to the search Thursday evening and briefed through the night. “He was careful out there and he hiked and climbed incessantly over the years. This was just a bad set of circumstances, and we lost someone who was tremendously valuable to his community. And obviously it is a terrible tragedy for his family.”
Walker is survived by his wife, Maggie, and daughter Kina.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Walker, a friend since the two started out on the board at REI in 1996, “was a champion of access to the outdoors for all people.” Walker gathered with senior staff at the White House just two weeks ago to discuss private philanthropic support for government programs to boost access for all kids to the outdoors, Jewell said.
He also helped launch and fund the BOLD and GOLD summer outdoor expedition programs through the YMCA to get city kids from all kinds of backgrounds and communities into the outdoors.
When Walker climbed he talked constantly, Jewell said, peppering her with riddles and brain teasers, from Civil War history to Shakespeare trivia and mathematical puzzles.
He took countless people up into the mountains for the first time, Jewell said, and was with her the first time she climbed Mount Rainier with her son.
He loved Granite Mountain: steeper than Mount Si, and with a good, tough rock scramble, Jewell said, and its views into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness make it one of the most popular climbs in the Mountains to Sound Greenway. On the back of the mountain, the sounds of Interstate 90 fade, and you feel as if in another world, she said.
She was with Walker on other climbs when she urged him to turn back, saying “it feels avalanchey,” and he readily agreed, Jewell said. “He knows when to call it quits; I wish that had been evident to him yesterday.
“Avalanches are capricious, mountains are capricious. You minimize your risks by being sensible and experienced, and Doug certainly was those things. Sometimes your number comes up in nature, and I think that is what happened to Doug.”
Known for boundless energy and straight talk, Walker broke new ground in conservation with his passion for getting youth onto trails and out into the woods.
“He was on the extreme side of recreation’s importance,” said Daubert, of the trails association, “that if we don’t have roads and trails in our public spaces, then people can’t explore them and won’t be motivated to protect them.”
Walker’s death was all the more shocking because of his experience in the outdoors. “To say Doug was an ‘experienced hiker’ understates and mischaracterizes who he was,” said Martha Kongsgaard, chairman of the leadership council of the Puget Sound Partnership. “He was a climber’s climber. He lived to share the joy of the high alpine with anyone, from his climbing partner, daughter Kina, to the unsuspecting junior development director of the boards he served on, to the inner-city youth who were, thanks to Doug’s persistent efforts, able to experience the great gifts of the wilderness his beloved ‘wild nearby’ had to offer.”
Said Constantine, “We’ve lost a great civic leader, conservationist and philanthropist who had a passion for the outdoors and instilled that same passion in others.”
A native of South Carolina, Walker took to this region as his own, investing in it financially and personally.
“He was a transplant whose sense of place, of this specific place, was profound, and his protection of same knew no fiercer advocate,” Kongsgaard said. “I can hear him say in his Southern drawl, both as a standard hello and goodbye, ‘Let’s go climbin’ sometime.’ ”
Walker was one of the partners who founded the software company Walker, Richer & Quinn (WRQ) in 1981. In addition to co-founding Social Venture Partners, he was a founding member of the Seattle Parks Foundation, and was immediate past chairman of the board of trustees of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He also had served on the Wilderness Society’s governing council since 1988 and recently served as the council chairman.
“Doug’s work to advance charitable causes — particularly conservation recreation and access for all to our shared public lands — serves as testament to his commitment to making the world a better place,” Jamie Williams, national president of the Wilderness Society, wrote in a prepared statement.