Remembering a Utah legend who lost his life in the backcountry

Jan 21, 2022, 6:00 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 4:25 pm

SALT LAKE COUNTY — Utah’s climbing community is remembering a legend among them who tragically lost his life in the backcountry of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The body of Merrill Bitter, 68, was found early Thursday morning in Grizzly Gulch.

He had gone skiing in the backcountry on Wednesday, but never returned home.

Bitter was considered to be one of the premier rock and ice climbers in Utah, with articles and pictures appearing in climbing books and magazines over the years.

“I think we are all pretty much in shock,” Shingo Ohkawa, a friend of Bitter’s, said.

Ohkawa is one of the co-owners of IME Utah, a hardcore climbing shop in Salt Lake County. It’s also where Bitter worked for the past 22 years.

“You have to understand that he started climbing at a time when it wasn’t as widespread. There were no indoor climbing facilities and it was very obscure,” Ohkawa said.

Paul Harvey, another owner of IME, said Friday was a very sad day.

“It’s losing a dear friend and a figure in the community — one you could trust. Implicitly honest,” he said.

Climber Bob Gray said Bitter helped him nearly 20 years ago, when he was a poor college student, find $15 climbing shoes.

On Friday, Gray showed up at IME with $120. He said he wanted to return the favor for someone else who may need help buying their first entry level climbing shoes.

“I thought I would give $120 for these guys to decide who the next person that needs a pair of climbing shoes. I will buy them in honor of Merill Bitter,” he said.

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Remembering a Utah legend who lost his life in the backcountry