North Face Founder Doug Tompkins Passes Away in Chile

North Face Founder Doug Tompkins Passes Away in Chile

doug tompkins

(Image courtesy of Sam Beebe)

Iconic climber, conservationist, and founder of The North Face, Doug Tompkins, passed away in Chile last night following a tragic kayaking accident that took place on General Carrerra Lake in the Patagonia region. He was 72 years old. 

Tompkins, along with five other paddlers, was kayaking on the lake in rough conditions that included large waves and high winds. At one point, all of their boats were capsized, dumping them into frigid waters with temperatures that were well below 40ºF. A military patrol boat later resuced the group, and Tompkins was flown to a nearby hospital where he eventually succumbed to complications from extreme hypothermia. No other members of the group were seriously injured in the incident.

A skilled climber and avid outdoorsman for his entire life, Tompkins started The North Face as a local gear shop in San Francisco back in 1964. He would later go on to found the Esprit clothing line as well, helping to build both companies into billion dollar empires. He retired in 1989, and moved to Chile where he used his wealth to purchase large tracts of land in the Patagonia region both there and in Argentina. Much of that land was later turned into a private preserves to help keep developers from destroying the fragile ecosystems that exist there. He was continuing those conservation efforts right up until he passed away, with plans to create new parks in the near future. 

Tompkins was part of a legendary climbing expedition that took place in Patagonia back in 1968. He, and a group of friends that included Yvon Chouinard – the founder of the gear company Patagonia – opened a new route on Fitzroy. That adventure was documented in a film entitled Mountain of Storms, which is still seen as one of the top climbing films ever produced. 

The Gear Institute would like to express our sincere condolences to Doug’s friends and family. His visionary leadership in both the outdoor industry and the world of conservation will be sorely missed.