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Jake Merrill: an adventurous life

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Jake Merrill: an adventurous life

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Jake Heckathorn Merrill, 23, of Bellingham, died in an avalanche in the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon on February 11. He was guiding clients in a party of eight when an avalanche from above caught four of the backcountry travelers, killing Merrill and Shane Coulter, 30, of Seattle and injuring two others.

Jake was born and raised in Bellingham, studied in Western Washington University’s outdoor recreation program, worked for Backcountry Essentials and guided for Mt. Baker Mountain Guides, WWU and Wallowa Alpine Huts. He was a contributing writer to Mount Baker Experience magazine.

In 2012, Jake and two friends completed a true summit traverse of the Twin Sisters range on skis in the winter, a major mountaineering accomplishment. The riveting story Jake wrote about the adventure rings with the voice of someone who was truly passionate about the outdoors. You can read it here.

Jake boldly pursued his love of the mountains, and the fact that he died doing what he loved is a small grace in the face of a tragedy. I didn’t know Jake well, but the few times I met him at Backcountry Essentials he left a big impression on me. Vibrant and positive, with a great sense of humor, he was easy to talk to, kind and down to earth. He was the type of person I would be proud to call a friend, and his death is a major loss not only to his family and his wide circle of friends, but to the outdoor community and the community in general.

Jake is survived by his parents Glenn Merrill and Jill Heckathorn, his many aunts, uncles and cousins, and his grandma, Virginia Heckathorn of Brighton, Michigan. A celebration of Jake’s life will be held Sunday, March 2 at 2 p.m. in the Viking Union at Western Washington University, 516 High Street in Bellingham.

A scholarship at WWU has been established in Jake’s honor. Gifts can be made to the Jake Merrill Outdoor Leadership Scholarship: Online at www.wwu.edu/give (Please indicate that your gift is for the Jake Merrill Outdoor Leadership Scholarship), by phone by calling 360/650-3027 and by check with checks payable to the WWU Foundation, with “Jake Merrill Outdoor Leadership Scholarship” on the memo line. Mail checks to: WWU Foundation, 516 High Street, OM 430, Bellingham, WA 98225-9034.

The scholarship seems like something Jake would approve of, and a fitting way to honor his vibrant life. Another way to honor Jake would be to remember him when adventuring in the mountains, always have fun and always stay safe.

– Ian Ferguson