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Doug Tompkins, Climber and creator of parks in Patagonia Doug Tompkins, the American climber and single-handed conservationist of more than two million acres across Patagonia, died on December 8, following a kayak accident in Argentina.


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Doug Tompkins, the American climber and single-handed conservationist of more than two million acres across Patagonia, died on December 8, following a kayak accident in Argentina.

Doug Tompkins, the American climber and single-handed conservationist of more than two million acres across Patagonia, died on December 8, following a kayak accident on Lago General Carrera, on the Chilean-Argenine border. Doug, along with five companions, including Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, capsized in rough weather. He was rescued by helicopter, but succumbed to severe hypothermia. He was 72.

Doug grew up in Millbrook, New York. In 1964, he founded The North Face to make and sell outdoor equipment. Doug first came to Chile in 1961 to ski race; he returned numerous times in the following decades, gaining experience of the country’s wildest rivers and mountains.

In 1968, he headed south on a road trip to Patagonia to climb Mt. Fitz Roy, surfing, skiing, and climbing along DougTompkins(1)the way, an adventure documented in the film Mountain of Storms. Tompkins established the California Route on Fitz Roy with Yvon Chouinard, Richard Dorworth, Chris Jones, and Lito Tejada Flores. He fell in love with the region and took on a personal responsibility to protect it.

In the 1990s, Doug began buying up large tracts of land in a Chilean rainforest with the fortune he amassed from the sale of another hugely successful he had co-founded, the women’s wear brand Esprit. He said he was done “making clothes and countless things no one needs.” Doug claimed he didn’t make much money on the sale of The North Face.

In Chile, as in Argentina, Tompkins inspired suspicion, resentment, and at last, admiration.  With his second wife, Kris McDivitt Tompkins, the CEO of the clothing company Patagonia, Tompkins bought over 2 million acres of land in Patagonia to set aside for conservation, with the hopes of one day building a national park.

Few Chileans believed that someone would take millions of acres of land out of production, return it to a natural state, and give it to the government for free. The Tompkins faced accusations ranging from working for the CIA to stealing Chile’s water to ship to Africa.

DougTompkinsToday, Pumalín Park is well-visited by Chileans and foreign tourists. Official Chile eventually came around. Working with Chilean conservationists and the government, the Tompkins conserved nearly 2.2 million acres across the Patagonia region and won national park status for three parks that didn’t exist before they got involved.

According to many sources, the Tompkins have protected more land than any other private individuals in history.

Doug was a man of passion and vision. Among his climbing and kayaking friends he was famous, or infamous, for his boldness – as one of them put it, “He had a balls to brain ratio that was unmatched.” In the classic Fitz Roy film, as the climbers start the final push to the summit, Doug is heard to say: “Today’s the day, boys, today’s the day.” Chris Jones, one of Doug’s partners on the Fitz Roy climb, said, “that is exactly what I remember him saying – he was so damn enthusiastic, so excited.”

He always brought great wine on any trip. “Doug arrived at our wedding reception with a case of Chianti Classico hoisted on his shoulders,“ remembers Chris Jones. “The perfect gift. It was always special when we pulled out another bottle of Doug’s wine.”

 

 

 

 

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