On December 8, 2015, Doug Tompkins died in Chile at the age of 72. Known as the founder of clothing lines Esprit and The North Face, Tompkins is a generous man who used his fortune to conserve millions of acres of land in Patagonia.
In the statement released by the Chilean Navy, Tompkins and the rest of his group were paddling through General Carrera Lake in Southern Chile when violent winds and large waves caused his kayak to turn over. From there, the exact sequence of the events remains vague.
Pedro Salgado, a local prosecutor, said that Tompkins might have spent a “considerable amount of time” in the freezing waters, resulting in his death. While he died of hypothermia, all others survived.
News of his death quickly spread throughout the outdoor industry he helped establish back in the 1960s. Filmmaker and photographer Jimmy Chin expressed his sentiments on Tompkins demise through words and recalled the times they journeyed together. He said, “It’s hard to even comprehend what this guy accomplished in his life. He took his success in the business world, and instead of living a big fat life, he used his money to do something good for the world. He and Kris have protected more land than anyone in history.”
In 2007, Chin spent about two months in Patagonia with Tompkins, Yvon Chouinard, and Rick Ridgeway to work on a film called 180 Degrees South. It is a documentary that aims to recreate the 1968 legendary expedition they call Fun Hog, where they traveled from Ventura California to the peak of Tierra del Fuego.
Two months after their adventure, the team then built a snow cave below the mountain, where they stayed for 35 days and experienced the notorious Patagonian weather. When the clouds cleared, they slowly made their way up. Since it was a ground-breaking first ascent, they called it The California Route.
Apparently, the expedition changed the course of the lives of the group. Chouinard even said, “The experience led to an unlikely fate for a couple of dirtbags. We became philanthropists.”
Tompkins has also led the group to another memorable Patagonian adventure. It was very memorable as it was only within an 800,000-acre park that Tompkins established. “Tompkins was always out front,” said Chin. “He was super fit and intense. And so well appointed. He was classy but still somehow exuded this minimalist style.”
Aside from Chin, business partners and friends of Tompkins also spoke of his achievements and kind deeds. Though he was a drop out of the Pomfret School in Connecticut, he managed to fix his life, establishing one of the first mountain guide services in the Sierras in the early 1960s.
In 1964, he and his wife started a small business in San Francisco, which they called The North Face. Despite his lack of formal training, he seemed to have a feel for functional yet stylish designs. Soon enough, his business boomed. From simple clothes for trekking, The North Face was already manufacturing state-of-the-art backpacks, tents, and sleeping bags.
In 1989, he then created the Foundation for Deep Ecology. Since then, he and his wife Kris have been buying up farms and ranches to create a mostly neighboring property that currently encompasses 2.2 million acres.