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Doug Walker. Photo via the King County Sheriff's Office.
WRQ co-founder Doug Walker was the consummate outdoorsman. Photo: King County Sheriff’s Office.

Doug Walker, who co-founded the Seattle software company WRQ in 1981 and later went on to become one of the city’s leading philanthropists, died in a hiking accident on Granite Mountain on New Year’s eve. He was 64.

An experienced hiker and outdoorsman, Walker was snowshoeing with two friends Thursday afternoon on the popular trail near North Bend.

After emerging above the tree line, the two friends decided to turn back, in part because of the high winds. Walker continued in pursuit of reaching the summit of the 5,629-foot peak, according to Sergeant Cindi West of the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Search and rescue workers on the scene at Granite Mountain. Photo via King County Sheriff's Office
Search and rescue workers on the scene at Granite Mountain. Photo via King County Sheriff’s Office

Walker was last seen at 1 p.m. on Thursday and he was first reported missing four hours later after he failed to return to the trailhead. His body was found Friday morning after an extensive overnight search, with rescue workers noting that he was located in a debris field, which was consistent with an avalanche.

West said that Walker was well-equipped to be in the mountains, with proper gear and plenty of experience. “This appears to be a tragic accident and could not have been avoided, other than not hiking,” she said.

Walker’s body is being removed from the mountain Friday afternoon, and it will then be taken to the medical examiner’s office where a cause of death will be determined.

Walker was well regarded in Seattle’s tight-knit technology industry, and many tech leaders mourned his death on Friday afternoon.

“Doug was incredibly important to the development of the tech economy in Seattle with his early founding of WRQ and later support for other entrepreneurs and tech startups,” said Tom Alberg, the co-founder of Seattle venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group. “He was an equally important supporter and leader of major environmental causes and will be greatly missed by all of us.”

Walker served as a strategic director at Madrona, and worked from the firm’s downtown offices for a number of years after WRQ was sold to private equity firms in 2004 and later merged with its longtime rival Attachmate.

“Incredibly tragic,” added Alberg, who knew Walker and his family well.

Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, said Walker’s untimely death is a huge loss.

“It’s impossible to convey what Doug — always along with his wife Maggie — has meant to the Seattle community,” said Lazowska.

In the 1980s, WRQ grew to become one of the top 20 software companies in the U.S., building software that helped integrate and connect mainframe computers with desktop computing environments.

In addition to that legacy, Walker was actively engaged with civic life and philanthropy, including time spent with The Seattle Parks Foundation, The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, MOHAI and Social Venture Partners, an organization he co-founded with the mission to get more people involved in charitable endeavors.

A South Carolina native who lived in the Northwest for decades, Walker was often spotted bike commuting from his home in Shoreline to downtown Seattle, according to HistoryLink.org.

“He scales formidable mountain walls.  And, with wife Maggie, Walker challenges his community to greater levels of giving,” the entry in HistoryLink notes.

Added Lazowska: “A truly wonderful human being.

Always passionate about the outdoors, Walker served on the boards of The Wilderness Society, The Sierra Club Foundation and the Conservation Lands Foundation.

He was also on the board of outdoor retailer REI for a number of years, including a stint as chairman from 2005 to 2008. That’s where Seattle entrepreneur and former REI board member Michael Smith first met him.

“Doug was the consummate Northwest outdoorsman,” recalled Smith in an email to GeekWire. “He was outdoors every chance he got.  He loved taking others out as well, especially newbies.  My first mountain to climb when I moved out here was snowshoeing up Red Mountain with Doug.  It was a great introduction to climbing in the northwest. He was also intensely curious and loved puzzles and mind games.  He would throw out these little brain teasers as we hiked, or interesting fun facts. He had a big heart and a ready smile and is a real loss, not only to his wife, Maggie, and his family, but to the broader Northwest and outdoor communities.”

Sally Jewell, the former CEO of REI who now serves as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, described Walker’s death as a “huge loss for our country.”

“With the passing of Doug Walker, our nation lost an amazing entrepreneur and true champion for access to the great outdoors for all people, especially youth,” said Jewell. “As a brilliant mathematician and devoted outdoors-person, Doug, alongside his wife Maggie, dedicated their time, energy and resources to many educational and environmental organizations, ensuring that young people from all backgrounds have an opportunity to experience the natural world.”

As recently as two weeks ago, Walker was working to support President Barack Obama’s “Every Kid in a Park” initiative and the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.

That was just “another example of Doug’s national leadership and dedication to the wellbeing of future generations,” said Jewell, adding that she “marveled” at Walker’s commitment to getting kids of all economic backgrounds into nature.

Walker was always comfortable in the mountains. A fun hiking and climbing companion, Jewell and Walker completed dozens of mountaineering and hiking adventures together. Those expeditions included summits of Mount Rainier and Mount Baker, as well as hikes on Granite Mountain where Walker lost his life.

Along the way, Walker would often toss out math brain-teasers or Civil War trivia.

Jewell described Walker as a competent outdoorsman and one of the best route and trail finders. “He was a mountain goat, and hard to keep up with,” she said.

“My heart goes out to Doug’s wife, daughter, family and friends — he will be missed, but his presence will continue to be felt by everyone that he touched with his commitment and kindness,” said Jewell.

City of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray added that he was “heartbroken” by the news of Walker’s death.

“Seattle has lost one of its most passionate and inspirational civic leaders in business, philanthropy and conservation,” said Mayor Murray. “Doug’s seemingly endless amount of energy and dedication to our region was infectious and inspired everyone around him to engage and help make a difference.”

Added U.S. Senator Patty Murray: “Doug was a pillar of the community who had a passion for the outdoors and an even greater passion for helping others. I know I join with so many others in saying how much I will miss his friendship, his energy, and his infectious commitment to community, country, and the environment.”

Here’s the full press release from the King County Sheriff’s Office:

A 64 year old man was found dead near Granite Mountain this morning by search and rescue teams who had been searching for him since yesterday when he was reported missing while hiking with friends.

The group had been hiking together when the man became separated from the friends he was hiking with. The friends called police around 5pm last night when he did not show up at the trailhead.

About 60 search and rescue members from the King County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit, Seattle Mountain Rescue, Everett Mountain Rescue, Olympic Mountain Rescue, Snohomish County Search and Rescue, King County 4×4 Search and Rescue, and King County Guardian 1, searched for the man all night. He was found in a debris field about 2 miles up the mountain just before 1030 this morning.

Search members believe he may have been caught in an avalanche because he was found in a debris field consistent with an avalanche having occurred. King County Search and Rescue leaders said it will take a group of team members about 4 hours to bring him down the mountain. The man was said to be an experienced hiker and well equipped for the hike.

The King County Search and Rescue Unit have had five search and rescue calls in the last few days. They want to remind people who are backcountry hiking or skiing to be aware of avalanche dangers and to be properly dressed and well equipped to spend the night if necessary.

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