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Doug Tompkins in Patagonia; Photograph by James Q Martin

North Face Co-Founder and Conservationist Doug Tompkins Dies in Kayaking Accident in Chile

Update: For more on the life and legacy of Doug Tompkins, read “How The North Face Founder Went From High School Dropout to Millionaire Conservationist.” 

North Face co-founder and conservation luminary Doug Tompkins, 72, died yesterday in Coyhaique, Chile. He succumbed to hypothermia resulting from a kayaking accident that took place in Patagonia’s General Carrera Lake, a 200-kilometer body of water that straddles the border of Chile and Argentina at the tip of South America. Details regarding the accident will be reported as they become available.

According to a report published by the Chilean Navy, around 11 a.m. on Tuesday, December 8, six kayakers—Tompkins, Patagonia executives Yvon Chouinard and Rick Ridgeway, as well as Weston Boyles, the founder and executive director of Rios to Rivers, a Colorado-based non-profit that protects rivers, Rio to River board member, Jib Ellison, and Lorenzo Alvarez—capsized in Lake General Carrera after strong winds produced big waves in the area. The morning dawned clear and calm, but wind developed in the area around 10:30 a.m., according to a local source.

The Navy launched a rescue effort at 1:10 p.m., after the Port General Carrera received a call requesting help for “of a group of six foreign kayakers, who were adrift in the sector Hazel.” The Navy immediately deployed a boat, which rescued three of the kayakers. A private helicopter assisting the operation flew three kayakers, including Tompkins, to a hospital in Coyaique, Chile, the capital of the Aysen region, where Tomkins succumbed to hypotherma. According to the New York Times, he had lost consciousness and wasn’t breathing when he arrived at the hospital.

Tompkins is best known for launching the North Face in 1966, but in recent years he had focused his efforts on environmentalism and conservation. To that end, he founded the Foundation for Deep Ecology, the Conservation Land Trust, and Conservacion Patagonia. These conservation groups are dedicated to protecting wild lands worldwide, with an emphasis in Patagonia.

In partnership with his foundations, Tompkins endeavored to create a system of parks in Chile modeled after the United States’ national park system. In 2005, Tompkins and the Conservation Land Trust bought over 700,000 acres of land in Chile’s Palena region, and created Pumalin Park, a nature reserve. Conservacion Patagonia is currently developing Patagonia Park, a 650,000-acre park in Chile’s Aysen region.

His death follows a year of tragedy for the adventure sports community. In September 2014, JP Auclair, founder of the ski and outerwear manufacturer Armada, and ski mountaineer Andreas Fransson perished in an avalanche in Patagonia. In a separate incident on the same day, professional snowboarder Liz Daley died in an avalanche near the Argentine adventure outpost El Chalten. Several months later, in May 2015, base-jumping pioneer Dean Potter died in a wingsuit accident in California’s Yosemite Valley.

This story will be updated as information becomes available.

Update: For more on the life and legacy of Doug Tompkins, read “How The North Face Founder Went From High School Dropout to Millionaire Conservationist.”