North Face Founder Doug Tompkins Dies in Kayaking Accident in Chile

20151208 20151209 A15 BZ09NORTHFACE~p1

There is sad news for the outdoor adventure community today as it was announced last night that Doug Tompkins, the founder of The North Face, has passed away in a kayaking accident that took place in Chile. He was 72.

According to reports, Tompkins was on a kayaking trip in the Patagonia region of South America. He, and several others were paddling across General Carrerra Lake in high winds and strong waves, when six members of the team, including Tompkins, capsized. They were all waters that were below 40ºF (4ºC) for an extended period of time, which led to Tompkins eventually passing away due to extreme hypothermia.

Doug founded The North Face back in 1964 as a local gear retail shop in San Francisco. Later, he would also found the Esprit clothing company as well. Both would grow into billion dollar empires. Tompkins retired from the business back in 1989, and moved to Chile where he purchased thousands of acres of land, both in that country and Argentina. Most of that land was turned into a private nature reserve to help keep the Patagonia region free from developers.

Tompkins’ legacy will of course be The North Face, and his important work in conservation. But in 1968 he was part of a four-man team that spent six months traveling to Patagonia and climbing there. He and the team put up a new route on Fitzroy, and documented their efforts in books and films. One of the other members of that squad included Yvon Chouinard, who would go on to form Patagonia and also go to great lengths to help preserve the natural landscapes of Chile and Argentina.

None of the other members of Tompkins kayaking team were seriously injured in the accident. Unfortunately, he succumbed to hypothermia in the intensive care unit of a Chilean hospital. I wish to extend my sincere condolences to Doug’s friends and family. He will certainly be missed.

Kraig Becker