December 9, 2015

"North Face co-founder turned ‘eco baron’ Douglas Tompkins is killed in Chile kayaking accident."

The Washington Post reports:
Tompkins grew up in New York in the 1940s and 50s, the son of a decorator and an antiques dealer living in a tony village outside the city. But he struggled to hew to his parents’ aristocratic ideals. At 17, he was expelled from his prestigious Connecticut boarding school for one-too-many infractions — “I wasn’t great on heeding authority,” Tompkins told Humes, who wrote about the millionaire environmentalist for his book “Eco Barons.” Tompkins never got a high school degree.

Instead, he took off for the mountains out West, where he became a climber, ski bum and all-around adventurer. He met his first wife, Susie (now the entrepreneur and Democratic donor Susie Tompkins Buell) while chopping trees in California’s Tahoe City, and in 1963 they moved to San Francisco, where they opened a small shop peddling high-end climbing and camping equipment from Europe. They called it the North Face....

He was done “manufactur[ing] desires to get people to buy our products,” he told the Guardian, “selling people countless things that they didn’t need.” Fashion was “intellectually vacuous” he said, and it was part of the problem of environmental degradation. If he wanted to save the planet, he wasn’t going to do it by selling clothes.

Tompkins divorced his wife, with whom he was often fighting, and sold his shares of Esprit for a reported $150 million....
Remember Esprit? I wore a lot of Esprit things in the 80s. Anyway, Tompkins bought "40,000 acres of dense forest and precipitous fjords" in Patagonia, his first conservation project. He married "Kristine McDivitt, the former chief executive of the Patagonia outdoor wear firm," and they "bought up hundreds of thousands of acres in Chile and Argentina to be maintained as wilderness."

And then yesterday he was kayaking on General Carrera Lake in Chile, the boat capsized, and after too much time in the cold water, he died of severe hypothermia. He was 72.

51 comments:

Ignorance is Bliss said...

...he died of severe hypothermia.

Is that better or worse than dying of mild hypothermia?

FullMoon said...

Anticipated a lesson on the word "peddling". Seems derogatory to me.
Anyway, the guy died doing what he liked. Suffered, no doubt, but much better than a lingering illness.

Rick said...

(deep ecology is profoundly anti-nuclear,

The identifier between people who seriously believe in global warming and those who say they do as social signalling or to disguise efforts at increasing taxes or government control is whether they support nuclear energy. So "deep" ecology isn't the serious version.

Given his reference to his epiphany I surmise it's a euphemism for eco-mysticism.

“People will walk on these lands,” he said. “Don’t you think that’s more beautiful than a tomb?”

mccullough said...

Not a heroic death

vanderleun said...

Big life.

Michael said...

Have a look at 180 South, a movie about a trip he took with Yvon Chouinard to Patagonia when they were kids. As it happens Yvon Chouinard along with Rick Ridgeway were on this ill fated kayak trip. They survived. Interesting man who made a lot of money from North Face and Esprit, the two clothing companies he was involved with. Too young. RIP

buwaya said...

Fashion was “intellectually vacuous” he said,

Absolutely true.
All sorts of fashions.
Those in the mind as well as those on the clothes racks.

Clayton Hennesey said...

To the best of my knowledge, kayaks don't capsize. What usually happens in fatal events in still water like this one is that the kayak gets rolled over upside down for some reason, the kayaker can't right it rapidly enough, and they drown. A novice recently perished that way on the temperate TX-LA border. A 72-year-old, even one as experienced as Tompkins, experiencing hypothermic shock in such a situation could easily become disoriented long enough to end up losing his life as a result.

The TNF of today is a sad runway flounce of the one Tompkins founded. I've still got a VE-24 from the late 60's that's still bomb proof and going strong. Many of the products they've peddled since have proved as ephemeral as tube tops.

chuck said...

A kayak seems like one of those countless things that people don't need.

Ipso Fatso said...

And now those thousand of acres he owned will be developed into Taco Bells, In & Out Burgers and land fill. Yee Haw!!!!

traditionalguy said...

Gaia brings another worshipper home to cold, cold Mother earth as he thought to himself exhaling his last breath of CO2, "Where is Global warming when we really need some?"

mikee said...

Patagonia being part of Argentina, land of interesting politics, do the property rights remain with his estate, and is ownership vested in his heirs, or will the land revert back to Argentina by one route or another sooner or later, legally or through corrupt practices?

I ask only because I have heard tales of the difficulties that exist for foreigners in legally purchasing and then keeping land in some countries down south of the US border. But perhaps the laws work differently for the wealthy than for simple retirees who want a condo. And because his wilderness might be up for sale one day, and hey, I for one love me some cold wet weather and rugged scenery.

Birkel said...

He got all the way to Chile -- which is another country far away from the United States -- while still maintaining his role as an "eco-baron"?

First, I would bet that is not his only trip abroad. Second, I would bet he transported himself via plane or yacht.

If these Meanie Greenies didn't have double standards, they wouldn't have any at all.

~ Gordon Pasha said...

Trendy hi tech clothing for sale, but I see he's wearing a Barbour and Wellies.

tim in vermont said...

"The identifier between people who seriously believe in global warming and those who say they do as social signalling or to disguise efforts at increasing taxes or government control is whether they support nuclear energy. So "deep" ecology isn't the serious version."

Deep ecology assumes that when they finally succeed, we will all be living in collective yurts and milking our horses for food, so it is quite consistent with not caring whether power generation works to maintain our Western lifestyle. After all, even though on a clear night you can look across the sky and see the sky powdered with the light of nuclear reactions, or that on a sunny day we are bathed in the light of one, it is important to remember that they are not natural!

holdfast said...

Are his wilderness lands properly managed to address fire risk and other issues? Or are then unnatural tinder boxes like much of the land under US Federal management?

Skipper said...

Why do people turn "eco-nuts" only after they acquire unimaginable wealth from marketing stuff?

surfed said...

Yvon Chouinard just lost his best friend. That said Doug died with his paddle in the water. I'm thinking that's way better than spread across the highway from a traffic accident. Doug lived a large life and did good deeds in Chile. 180* South is a must see movie with him and Yvon in lead supporting rolls free on Netflix. watch it tonight.

Larry Nelson said...

A life well lived, he walked the walk

AReasonableMan said...

A relatively good death. The things that made him happy all carried some physical risk. There is an interesting documentary about the him and his partners efforts in Patagonia on Netflix.

paul kraamer said...

this is why I'm retiring in Boca.........

Anonymous said...

Great life, though.

Anthony said...

We used to call them 'Esprit-year olds'. In somewhat derogatory fashion.

Matt said...

The fact that he attempted to preserve thousands of acres of land from development was significant and important. Wish more were like him. Not sure why so many conservatives are so cynical about wanting to preserve the beauty of nature and land from development. It has nothing to do with eco-mysticism. It's very real. It's land preserved for all to enjoy.

MayBee said...

North Face founder dying of hypothermia not quite as ironic as Seqway owner plunging his Segway over a cliff to his death.

JCC said...

Tompkins was well-loved, except in Chile where he was not llked so much, seen as a hypocrite who got his millions but now wanted everyone else to go to sustenance living. Tompkins bought up huge tracts of land and then denied the citizens of the country access or use or the means to make a decent wage. He believed in strict population control, small scale industries, etc. This from a guy who lived in a lakeside lodge on thousands of acres of pristine, fenced-off land, accessible only by a private plane and then boat, and so on.

Kind of like those 40,000 people who flew to Paris for the climate talks, partied all week, and then demand that the rest of us quit using SUV's and start riding bicycles or something.

n.n said...

Environmentalism includes a green backyard, precludes human habitation.

Oh, well. There is a negotiable line separating environmentalism and conservation.

Coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TomHynes said...

Please create a "kayak death" tag. You last kayakblogged in May 2015, about the death in New York.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Matt said...Not sure why so many conservatives are so cynical about wanting to preserve the beauty of nature and land from development. It has nothing to do with eco-mysticism. It's very real. It's land preserved for all to enjoy.

Not to answer for all conservatives or anything, Matt, but personally I don't have any problem at all with an individual or group purchasing land and setting it aside, preventing development, keeping it wild, etc. I think it's great! If you want to spend your money to do that, good for you, and if you can convince lots of other people to also spend their money to do that with you, great for you. I'll probably even kick in a few bucks. If you want someone to stop development on their land, buy it away from them, no problem there, everyone wins. I daresay a large proportion of people who hunt and engage in outdoor activities are conservatives, and I'm sure they enjoy the wilderness and would be happy to see more of it preserved.

Where conservative-types disagree, of course, is when people use the coercive power of the State to take land and/or reduce it's value by restrictive regulations without compensation to the owner. If you want to keep a plot of land wild and you own it, good. If you want to keep a plot of land I own wild and you buy it from me (or pay me not to develop) good. If you want to keep a plot of land I own wild and instead of buying it or compensating me you pass a law that says it must be wild/can't be developed/can't be sold AFTER I've bought it, bad. You've stolen something from me and your justification is just that you want it--you're not willing to pay for it but you're happy to force me to bear the cost of your desire. That's theft, and that's bad. It's really not a tough distinction.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

He was done “manufactur[ing] desires to get people to buy our products,” he told the Guardian, “selling people countless things that they didn’t need.” Fashion was “intellectually vacuous” he said, and it was part of the problem of environmental degradation. If he wanted to save the planet, he wasn’t going to do it by selling clothes.

Interestingly enough when I was in college North Face jackets were the one of the must-have fashion items for the frat/sorority crowd (along with Oakley sunglasses, Ugg boots, and so on). I'll bet those fashion sales helped buy quite a few acres, but "rich merchant disdains his customers/finds his trade crass after achieving success" is an old story.

Achilles said...

What is it with Progressive icons being belligerent fascist hypocrites?

tim maguire said...

If he died doing what he loved, then it's a good death, but he lived doing things he processed to hate and then used his riches to keep others impoverished. He may well have been a good person in a "fellow well met" sense, but in a citizen of the world sense, I can't bring myself to mourn.

Paddy O said...

"you're happy to force me to bear the cost of your desire."

Pax Obama

Humperdink said...

Tried to save the planet and the planet bagged him.

Larry Day said...

I used to work with Doug's wife Kris and some of the guys that were boating with Tompkins on his fatal outing. They're good people, if more than a little bit eccentric. After all, you don't travel to the "end of the world" to climb mountains and kayak in some of the worst weather on earth and call that "fun" if you're altogether normal. A few details that weren't mentioned in the article. They were attempting a point to point paddle of about 18 miles. That's not crazy far but a pretty fair distance for older guys on a flat water paddle, definitely more work than sliding downhill with the current on a river. The water was very cold, something under 40 degs. F. I haven't heard mention of wind, but it must have been blowing very hard. It is reported that they capsized in ten foot waves. Yes, kayaks sure as hell do capsize, and even if the paddlers successfully rolled back upright, in ten foot seas they may have capsized repeatedly until exhausted. At that point they become swimmers in 30 something degree water and ten foot waves. I hope they were wearing dry suites, if so that may be the only reason that five out of the six survived, that and a rescue boat and chopper. Talk about luck, I'm not sure you could count on that in Patagonia. Anyway, I feel very sad for Kris and my other two friends who lost the friend of a lifetime in Doug. After losing so many of my friends from my days as a climber and a mountain guide, I quit keeping count after twenty, I've toned things down a lot in my old age but I'm a still a boater and a crazy ass fly fisherman. If my time on earth ends in the outdoors it's likely to come as a result of cold water drowning, or as lunch for a grizzly bear. Not that that's my plan, at 65 I'm having the time of my life and plan to keep on keepin' on for many years to come.

Matt said...

HoodlumDoodlum
I can agree with what you say for the most part. However [and I don't know the history but] if it took the federal government to take land from land owners to create places like Yosemite or Zion then the argument is a pretty tough one. There are times when the land you love was gotten in the most outrageous ways. Better not to know and just enjoy the land.


tim Maguire
I'm not sure he kept citizens impoverished. The companies who want to buy the land and exploit it would just as soon let the citizens of the area suffer in poverty too so long as the company makes a profit. So if at the end of the day the land remains for all to enjoy vs. the land is ruined by development for only wealthy people to enjoy then I will side with the land remaining free. The long run favors the land and the people's relation to it.

veni vidi vici said...

I dunno... sounds like a life well-lived to me.

rhhardin said...

I have a Gerry pup tent from the 70s, and a Cabalas full-length -40degrees snow suit with no pockets to warm your hands in (all pockets are outside the insulation.). The tent at least works as imagined.

Terry said...


I'm not sure he kept citizens impoverished. The companies who want to buy the land and exploit it would just as soon let the citizens of the area suffer in poverty too so long as the company makes a profit. So if at the end of the day the land remains for all to enjoy vs. the land is ruined by development for only wealthy people to enjoy then I will side with the land remaining free. The long run favors the land and the people's relation to it.

Unless the people need to eat.
I assume you live in a cardboard box in the woods somewhere, Matt.

Terry said...

Sorry, Matt, that was unkind.
A lot of the conflict between the industrialized world and the developing world is due to the industrialized world's desire to keep the developing world from, er, developing. There is a saying that globalism is the new colonialism.

SGT Ted said...

rich merchant disdains his customers/finds his trade crass after PUTTING ALL THE MONEY THEY SPENT ON HIS PRODUCTs THEY "DIDN'T NEED" IN HIS BANK ACCOUNT AND LIVING THE GOOD LIFE. is far more accurate. It's the typical lefty bullshit.

I'm sorry he lost his life, but there are worse ways of going.

m stone said...

I think a good death is one where you have enough sensibility to impart last thoughts and wisdom to people around you. Provided you have wisdom and faith.

These days, people die alone whether in a kayak rendered unconscious or medicated to the point of silent bliss and anything learned in a lifetime is lost. Personal histories tell us that last moment of clarity is an apogee.

Paul said...

I wonder how big his carbon footprint was?

Terry said...

Oh, what would the world be like if all the humans were to die?
There would be no immense flocks of birds flying through empty blue skies. 'flocks of birds' is a human concept. It has no meaning without humanity. A blue sky, with all the thoughts and feelings associated with it, would be meaningless. It wouldn't be a calmer world, or a cleaner world, or anything like that. Even be-ing is a human concept.
I believe that the deep greenies are monotheists. They imagine the world empty of beings that could perceive the world would still exist as a thinking being perceives it.

Tarrou said...

Founder of North Face dies in Patagonia. Oh the irony.

William said...

North Face should bring out a line of waterproof thermal underwear. There's certainly a use for such a product, and this unfortunate death allows for a great amount of synergy in the marketing and branding.

Clyde said...

What was his stance on global warming?

tim maguire said...

Matt, the reason people work in sweatshops is it's better than what was there before. Granted, I'm not expert on Doug Tompkins and know little more than what I'm reading now, but it sure sounds like he was content to condemn thousands to what was there before so he could take a nice walk in the woods.

Rusty said...

40,000 acres in Patagonia?
What?
Was that like a prize when you bought a Prius?
What was second prize? A hundred thousand acres in antarcrica?

gerry said...

Was his kayak made of petroleum-based materials?