Date
16 January 2017
Douglas Tompkins (above) and his wife Kristine developed Pumalin Park, a 715,000-acre site created to protect a swath of Patagonia. Photo: Bloomberg
Douglas Tompkins (above) and his wife Kristine developed Pumalin Park, a 715,000-acre site created to protect a swath of Patagonia. Photo: Bloomberg

North Face founder dies in Chile kayaking accident

Douglas Tompkins, founder of North Face Inc. and noted conservationist, has died after a kayaking accident in his adopted country of Chile. He was 72.

Tompkins died Dec. 8 from hypothermia after falling into the freezing waters of General Carrera lake amid high winds, the regional government’s health department said in a statement.

Bloomberg is reporting that Tompkins’s body temperature had fallen to 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) by the time the Chilean navy brought him to the hospital in Coyhaique.

“Doug was the complete man—original thinker, world-class climber and kayaker, pilot, hugely successful businessman, designer, ecological visionary, and ornery S.O.B.,” his friend Tom Brokaw said in an e-mailed statement.

The former NBC News anchor recalls that Tompkins pursued his hobbies and ideas with equal ardor.

“We kayaked through the Russian Far East together, and climbed a glacier route on Mt. Rainier, and through it all he never stopped lecturing me on deep ecology. I was in awe of him.”

In addition to outdoor apparel-and-gear retailer North Face, Tompkins started fashion company Esprit Holdings Ltd. in the 1960s.

He sold both companies and used the proceeds to acquire hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Chile and neighboring Argentina for preservation.

VF Corp., the biggest jeans maker, which is based in Greensboro, North Carolina, acquired North Face for about US$25 million in 2000.

At the time of the accident, Tompkins was traveling with a group that included Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia Inc. and Rick Ridgeway, a member of the first American team to climb to the summit of K2, the world’s second tallest peak.

Wind drove strong waves, capsizing their kayaks, and forcing the paddlers to swim in four-degree Celsuis water.

Tompkins was born March 20, 1943.

He and his wife Kristine developed Pumalin Park, a 715,000-acre site created to protect a swath of Patagonia.

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