The legacy of Doug Tomp­kins

Patagon Journal - - DOUGLAS TOMPKINS -

Like the rest of Patag­o­nia, Lago Gen­eral Car­rera in the Ay­sen re­gion, the se­cond-largest lake in South Amer­ica, is prone to volatile weather. Pow­er­ful west­erly winds reg­u­larly come in from the Pa­cific, gather in the An­des, then swoop down to the lake in a full-force gale turn­ing its wa­ters into a ver­i­ta­ble ocean. The morn­ing of De­cem­ber 8, 2015, changed dras­ti­cally af­ter Doug Tomp­kins to­gether with five of his friends set out on the third day of an ex­tended kayak trip.

The sea kayak with Tomp­kins was pounded by big waves and cap­sized. Tomp­kins fought in the icy wa­ters for more than an hour be­fore a he­li­copter as­sisted in bring­ing him to shore. He died a few hours later in the re­gional cap­i­tal Coy­haique from se­vere hy­pother­mia.

Dou­glas Rains­ford Tomp­kins, 72, was an ac­com­plished pi­lot, ski­ier, climber and pad­dler, a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man, a pub­lisher, de­signer and film­maker, but most of all Tomp­kins' pas­sion for na­ture as an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and phi­lan­thropist will mark his legacy.

Born in Ohio, he grew up in up­state New York. He dropped out of high school to try to make the U.S. na­tional ski team and partly, sur­mises Yvon Chouinard, founder of out­door cloth­ing com­pany Patag­o­nia and Doug's part­ner in count­less out­door ad­ven­tures since they first met when he was 12 years-old, “be­cause he thought his teach­ers had noth­ing more to teach him.”

It was also as a young man, in 1961, that he first trav­eled to Chile and Patag­o­nia to ski race. Through­out his adult life he would travel the world over to pur­sue his pas­sions in the out­doors. In Chile, he is cred­ited with 21 first de­scents on its rivers. Among his many climb­ing achieve­ments, in 1968 he con­vinced Chouinard, Lito Te­jada-Flores, Dick Dor­worth, and Chris Jones – the “Fun­hogs”–to drive from Cal­i­for­nia in a se­cond-hand van for 6 months to make the third as­cent of Mount Fitz Roy in Ar­gen­tine Patag­o­nia. The jour­ney was im­mor­tal­ized in their film, “Moun­tain of Storms,” and some 40 years later, the pop­u­lar doc­u­men­tary 180 De­grees South. In an in­ter­view with Buenos Aires news­pa­per La Na

cion in 2013, Tomp­kins de­scribed him­self as an “in­tense man, fo­cused, with de­ter­mi­na­tion and a strong sense of irony.” Such traits no doubt con­trib­uted to his suc­cess in busi­ness, co-found­ing out­door brand The North Face in 1964, and in 1968, co-found­ing the Esprit cloth­ing com­pany with his first wife Susie. By the time he sold his own­er­ship stake in the late 80s, Esprit was gar­ner­ing 1 bil­lion dol­lars a year in world­wide sales.

I first met Tomp­kins while work­ing in Cal­i­for­nia as an as­sis­tant to the late Amer­i­can en­vi­ron­men­tal leader, David Brower. Later, I made my first visit to Chile, to ex­plore and visit friends, and to fol­low-up with Tomp­kins. Months ear­lier, Brower and I sent a pro­posal via fax to Tomp­kins: a col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­ject to seek United Na­tions World Her­itage sta­tus for Pu­ma­lin Park to demon­strate to Chile and Chileans, who at the time were largely

hos­tile to the ini­tia­tive, that there was in­ter­na­tional sup­port for the park. But Tomp­kins in­sisted that there was no need for such an ef­fort. He was con­fi­dent that his own ap­proach would even­tu­ally win over Chile. And it did.

The last 25 years of his life he lived full-time in Chile and Ar­gentina, de­vot­ing the for­tune he ac­cu­mu­lated in busi­ness to­ward the pur­chase of al­to­gether an as­tound­ing 917,000 hectares (2.2 mil­lion acres) in both coun­tries for con­ser­va­tion. His ini­tial land pur­chases formed Pu­ma­lin, the world's largest pri­vate na­ture re­serve. Three na­tional parks in Chile and Ar­gentina (Cor­co­v­ado, Yen­de­gaia and Monte Leon) have been es­tab­lished due to his gen­eros­ity, he has added lands to a fourth (Per­ito Moreno), and the rest of his lands are pro­posed for in­clu­sion in eight more na­tional parks. Tomp­kins also was a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to var­i­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paigns in Chile and world­wide, count­ing among his vic­to­ries the de­feat of the large-scale HidroAy­sen dam pro­ject in Chilean Patag­o­nia.

In an in­ter­view with Patagon Jour­nal pub­lished in our in­au­gu­ral is­sue four years ago, Tomp­kins said that we are com­ing into “an ecol­ogy cen­tury and the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment is just un­stop­pable.” True to form, he opined about how to ul­ti­mately get us out of a global “eco-so­cial cri­sis.”

“If I had an­other life­time, then I would put it 100 per­cent into farm­ing,” said Tomp­kins. “If agri­cul­ture can´t be turned around there is no hope. It has the big­gest im­pact on the land­scapes, wa­ter and cli­mate. We need a whole new model of agri­cul­ture and food pro­duc­tion.”

Tomp­kins helped usher in the ecol­ogy cen­tury with his tremen­dous gift of sav­ing many of Patag­o­nia's last wild places. Patagon Jour­nal is proud to of­fer this spe­cial trib­ute to one of the world's great­est con­ser­va­tion­ists. Thank you, Doug. (Jimmy Lang­man)

From the left / Desde la

izquierda (clock­wise): Tomp­kins with his wife Kris McDivitt; Dur­ing his first as­cent with Yvon Chouinard of Mount Shinn, Antarc­tica’s third-high­est peak, in De­cem­ber 1985; Talk­ing with ex-Chile Pres­i­dent Ri­cardo Lago at the launch of Cor­co­v­ado Na­tional Park, Jan. 2005; Dur­ing one of his out­door ad­ven­tures.

Tomp­kins con su es­posa Kris McDivitt; Du­rante su primera as­cen­sión de Monte Shinn, el ter­cer pico más alto de la An­tár­tida, en di­ciem­bre de 1985; Con­ver­sando con el ex-Presidente Ri­cardo La­gos en el lan­za­miento del Par­que Na­cional Cor­co­v­ado, enero 2005; Du­rante una de sus aven­turas al aire li­bre.

One of the sev­eral large-for­mat books Tomp­kins pub­lished on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues; A North Face poster from the 60s, Tomp­kins sold his own­er­ship in the com­pany in 1968. Uno de los var­ios li­bros de gran for­mato pub­li­ca­dos por Tomp­kins so­bre temas am­bi­en­tales; Un car­tel de North Face de los años 60, Tomp­kins vendió su par­tic­i­pación en la com­pañía en 1968.

Above / Ar­riba:

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