The Legacy of Doug Tompkins


Doug Tompkins (left), Rick Ridgeway (middle), and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard during the filming of the 2010 documentary ‘180 Degrees South’ in Chile.

By Rick Ridgeway

Rick Ridgeway, one of the North Face founder and conservationist’s closest friends, survived the kayak capsizing that killed his lifelong buddy. Here he reflects on their awful ordeal, on his friend’s burial, and on the lasting gifts that Tompkins leaves behind.

In the days since our friend and mentor Doug Tompkins lost his life in a kayaking incident, we have experienced an outpouring of condolences from thousands of people around the world. The sense of loss from people who never knew Doug, but did know his work, is palpable.

A few days ago, at the headquarters of Tompkins Conservation in the Chilean town of Puerto Varas, we had a service for Doug attended by people from up and down the country and Argentina. Kris, his wife, opened the ceremony and spoke in Spanish of her boundless love for Doug, their love of wildness and their deep commitment to the protection of wilderness and wildlife, and their work to save, then donate, two million acres of land to the people of Chile and Argentina—and to all of us. She spoke with dignity and power, with a force that welled from a place in her we had never witnessed. She gave her full power to each sentence and paragraph. Drained, she paused, breathed, and with each breath the power would rebuild until she continued with an even more profound power that none of us had seen before.

The next day, we flew with Doug’s body in a private plane south to the Patagonia National Park project near the town of Cochrane. The clouds began to break and in front of us the summit of Cerro San Valentin, the highest peak in Patagonia, appeared above the clouds. Kris moved to the cockpit, and our pilot and close friend, Rodrigo, circled the mountain at close distance. It was a spectacular last flight for Doug.

Patagonia National Park was initiated with the purchase of a large sheep estancia, and the cemetery that was part of that ranch is now part of the new park’s buildings and infrastructure. We buried Doug in this cemetery. The dozens of workers and friends in attendance carried in rotation Doug’s casket—simple but impeccably crafted from the wood of the alerce by some of the staff that stayed up the full night finishing it—in a long procession that began from Doug’s beloved Husky airplane, parked in front of the beautiful stone restaurant, and continued along the dirt road past the lodge to the cemetery.

Kris once again showed her mettle and gave a heartfelt tribute to Doug and to the Chilean team who were gathered. After Doug was lowered into the grave, Kris, with great solemnity and dignity, tossed flowers on his coffin. Then, one-by-one, all of us in a procession tossed a handful of dirt on the grave.

The trip started as a four-day paddle along a remote section of Lago General Carrerra, in Patagonian Chile. There were six of us on the trip in two single and two double kayaks. Between us we had well over a hundred years of combined experience. But Doug and I also had a double kayak with a finicky rudder. On the third day of paddling a growing crosswind created challenging conditions, and with our faulty rudder Doug and I were unable to avoid a broaching wave that capsized us.

We knew immediately we were in a grave situation. As the wind and current pushed us toward the center of the lake, we had no way of knowing whether our companions in the other boats—who were ahead of us and out of sight around a point we had been working to round—knew of our predicament. We realized we had about 30 more minutes to survive; the water temperature was perhaps 38 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit. We tried and failed four times to right the boat and paddle it, but the wind and waves were too strong for us to maintain balance and the boat was too flooded. Eventually, we had to decide whether to attempt to swim or to stay with the capsized boat. The boat, pushed by a perpendicular current, was drifting towards the center of the lake. Staying with it was putting us in an even more difficult if not impossible position.

We decided to abandon the boat and began to swim toward the point. It was tough and I realized, against the current, it was likely impossible to reach the point. Time was also against us. I was slowing and even with a life jacket I was pushed under by the larger waves. I could see Doug and assumed he was in the same situation. I was hypothermic and I was starting to drown. For a few minutes I gave in—just let it go—but then snapped back. Then I saw our companions paddling towards us against the wind—now at about 40 knots with gusts much stronger to 50 knots and more (later confirmed from weather measurements for the lake that day).

Two of our companions, Jib Ellison and Lorenzo Alvarez, reached me in a double kayak. I hung onto the stern loop, still in the water, while they paddled into the wind to reach an eddy behind the point. Between the waves and the wind, there was no point for me to try to get onto the boat. I had to dig deep—I think as deep as I’ve gone. It seemed to take forever. I remained focused on my hands and holding on to the loop until I realized I was on a rock. Then I lost consciousness and my next memory was of lying in front of a fire.

Doug was not so lucky. Our other companion, Weston Boyles (who had been paddling with Yvon Chouinard but left him in order to attempt Doug’s rescue), gave a supreme effort—attempting to paddle Doug to safety but unable to overcome the power of the wind and current. Doug held on for another half-hour, kicking as much as he could, but lost consciousness. Weston risked his own life to keep Doug’s head above water as he fought to reach shore. By the time they landed, Doug was too hypothermic to survive.

In the days that have followed—days that seem like years—“survival” has been a theme that every one of us has raised independent of the other. Specifically, it is this profound realization that Douglas Rainsford Tompkins is surviving, more strongly than ever, inside us. He is pushing on us already, reminding us that “no detail is too small,” inspiring us “to commit and then figure it out,” helping us realize that the first commitment is to beauty because out of beauty comes love, and only with love can we hope to approach his inextinguishable tenacity to protect what is beautiful, what is wild.

After the last handful of earth was tossed on Doug’s grave, one of the locals who had come to pay respects—an older but forceful looking woman—stepped atop the rock wall surrounding the cemetery, raised her fisted arm to the sky, and shouted loudly, “Patagonia Sin Represas!” (“Patagonia without dams!”) The entire crowd returned the call-to-arms: “Patagonia Sin Represas!”

The torch was still lit and the fire still burning brightly.

Rick Ridgeway is Patagonia’s Vice President of Public Engagement and the author of six books. His passion for mountaineering and exploration have taken him around the world, including the summit of K2 where he was part of the first American team to climb the peak in 1978. This article was originally published on Patagonia’s blog, the Cleanest Line, on December 15, 2015.

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Douglas Tompkins: A Force for Nature

Kris and Doug Tompkins

Douglas Tompkins


Press release from Tompkins Conservation [Foundation for Deep Ecology, The Conservation Land Trust, Conservacion Patagonica]

December 8, 2015

Douglas Rainsford Tompkins, 72, one of the Earth’s foremost conservationists, died today following a kayaking accident on Lago General Carrera in Chilean Patagonia. Through charitable organizations he and his wife, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, founded, the Tompkinses have acquired roughly 2.2 million acres of conservation land, part of which comprises the world’s largest private nature reserve, Pumalin Park in southern Chile. Using persuasive advocacy and land donations to the national park systems of Chile and Argentina, the Tompkinses have helped create five new national parks in South America, expand another, and are working to establish several more. For his parklands protection efforts and organic farming projects, Douglas Tompkins received numerous honors.

A mountaineer with first ascents on multiple continents, Douglas Tompkins was known as the entrepreneur who founded The North Face outdoor retailer and cofounded the Esprit clothing company with his first wife, Susie Tompkins (Buell).  After leaving the business world “to pay his rent for living on the planet,” as Tompkins frequently said, the businessman-turned-conservationist spent the last quarter-century of his life living in South America. Through a suite of charitable organizations (see he worked to create parks, buy and restore degraded farmlands, and help advance conservation activism.

An American citizen, Tompkins’s land acquisitions and environmental activism were sometimes controversial in his adopted home, although he worked with two Chilean presidents of different political parties to establish national parks and was similarly successful in Argentina. His participation in the multiyear campaign to prevent a massive hydroelectric project that would have dammed wild rivers in Chilean Patagonia was crucial. That fight was ultimately won due to the tenacity of dam opponents and Tompkins’s funding and strategic input.

Deeply influenced by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, Tompkins was a supporter of “deep ecology,” believing that a shallow, reform-minded environmentalism was doomed to fail. Only through deep structural changes to society and adoption of an ecocentric land ethic—a belief that humans were but a member of the community of life and not lord over it—would humanity reverse its rush toward, as Tompkins often said, “the dustbin of history.” A vocal critic of megatechnology, Tompkins devoted considerable funding to technology criticism and was widely read in the literature on that topic.

At his core an activist for nature and beauty, Tompkins possessed an incredible love for the wild world he explored in climbing and paddling trips. He combined this with a refined aesthetic sense reflected in the scores of buildings he designed through the years for his parkland and farm restoration projects. After “cheating death” so many times on perilous climbing expeditions to some of the planet’s most remote places, Tompkins was enjoying a kayak camping trip with friends on South America’s second largest lake when the accident occurred.

Douglas Tompkins leaves behind his beloved wife Kristine Tompkins; his mother Faith Tompkins and brother John C. Tompkins of Millbrook, NY; daughter Summer Tompkins Walker and son-in-law Brooks Walker and their children Brooks Thomas Walker, Della Walker, and Susie Kate Walker of San Francisco; daughter Quincey Tompkins Imhoff and son-in-law Dan Imhoff and their children Gardner and Willa Imhoff of Healdsburg, CA.

For those who wish to support the continuation of Douglas Tompkins’s life work, we welcome your contribution to Conservacion Patagonica and the Conservation Land Trust. The work that Kristine and Douglas Tompkins began decades ago is ongoing. Thank you for helping us continue this vital work to restore wildness and create new possibilities for nature and people in Patagonia.

Contact information: Tompkins Conservation (415) 229-9339

Tom Butler,


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Yendegaia National Park Book Launch Gathers Political Figures and Environmental Media to Santiago and Punta Arenas

Fotografía oficial presentadores-Santiago

Presenters and speakers at the Santiago book launch at Catholic University, from left to right: Tompkins Conservation Chile Director Hernán Mladinic, Minister of the Environment Pablo Badenier, former President Sebastián Piñera, Douglas Tompkins, and book photographer Antonio Vizcaíno

Puerto Varas, April 6, 2015 – Yendegaia National Park has been identified as one of the most pristine wilderness areas in Chile. The park is home to ancient forests, glaciers, and unique freshwater ecosystems, the conservation of which is of significant biogeographic importance on a regional and national level. In September 2014, Fundación Yendegaia officially donated 38,000 hectares of land to the state of Chile for the creation of Yendegaia National Park, in parallel with a donation of 111,832.19 hectares of adjacent public land by the Chilean government.

On March 24th the Conservation Land Trust hosted the first of two book launch events for the newest book in the national parks collection, Yendegaia National Park. Over three hundred people attended the first book launch event, which took place at Catholic University in Santiago. At the event Douglas Tompkins was accompanied by the Pablo Badenier (Chile’s Minister of the Environment), Hernán Mladinic (Director of Tompkins Conservation Chile), former President Sebastián Piñera, and the book’s photographer Antonio Vizcaíno. The second release event was held on March 31st at the Regional Museum of Magallanes in Punto Arenas. Hernán Mladinic presented at each event along with Nicolo Gligo, the former director of Fundación Yendegaia, and Jorge Flies, the Regional Governor of Magellan.

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The celebration of the publication of Yendegaia National Park served as an occasion to show the power collaboration between public and private organizations can have in the world of conservation. The event also promoted discussion on the continuing value of national parks and generated enthusiasm for the preservation of wildlife in general.

The newly created park protects 13.9% of the Andean ecosystem in Magallanes and increased this type of conservation work on a national level by 55.6%.

Fotografía Aula Magna Universidad Católica- Santiago

Douglas Tompkins presents at Catholic University in Santiago

Expositores Punta Arenas Hernán Mladinic y Nicolo Gligo

Tompkins Conservation Chile Director Hernán Mladinic and former Fundación Yendegaia Director Nicolo Gligo present at the Punta Arenas book launch

Asistentes lanzamiento Punta Arenas

A packed house at the Punta Arenas book launch

Doug y Piñera- Santiago

Douglas Tompkins and former President Sebastián Piñera share a congratulatory handshake at the Santiago book launch

Hernán Mladinic junto al Intendente Regional de Magallanes Jorge Flies- Museo Regional Punta Arenas

Hernán Mladinic with the Regional Governor of Magellan Jorge Flies in Punta Arenas

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Available Now: The Entire CLT Collection of National Park Books


Goff Books, in partnership with the Conservation Land Trust, is set to release all five books in the National Parks series. Each book shares essays from world-renowned conservationists and stunning photographs of some of the world’s last truly wild places.

Each book in the collection features a different wilderness area: Corcovado National Park and Yendegaia National Park in Chile, Monte Leon National Park and Perito Moreno National Park in Argentina, and the Esteros del Ibera region in Argentina, where conservationists are making great strides in restoring endangered species and working towards a national park designation in the future. The Conservation Land Trust, and related organizations under Tompkins Conservation, has helped establish, expand, and protect each of these world-class wildlands.


Photo: Esteros del Ibera, Goff Books

“These new park books, with their high production quality and stunning images, represented a great opportunity to showcase the work of CLT and expose the general population to what a truly wild place looks like,” says Goff Books publisher Gordon Goff. Goff has worked with Doug Tompkins on activist-oriented books such as Welfare Ranching and Fatal Harvest.

Publishing is not a new role for CLT or the Foundation for Deep Ecology (FDE), both of which operate under Tompkins Conservation and have been creating books for the last twenty years in an effort to inform, educate, and inspire action in the public sphere on behalf of wild nature.

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Photo: Perito Moreno, Goff Books

According to Tompkins, “a large-scale combination of dramatic photographs, attention-grabbing captions, and informative essays could draw attention to previously overlooked environmental battles,” which is why the books have become a favored and effective campaign tool. These books have raised the level of activism on conservation issues through systematically laying out the arguments against various deleterious practices and industries and bearing witness to the widespread destruction they create.

Additionally, in a rare move for booksellers working in a very constricted market, Goff Books and CLT have agreed to use proceeds from the sales of the books to go directly toward continuing conservation efforts at the parks detailed in each of the books.

In the end, the publishing program accomplishes the goals of CLT and other organizations fighting to protect wild spaces, but these beautiful books also celebrate the elegance of our Earth’s most wild, and therefore, most sacred places.

The books are available to purchase on

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Photo: Yendegaia National Park, Goff Books

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Douglas and Kristine Tompkins Awarded the 2015 Kiel Institute Global Economy Prize

February 25, 2015 – Professor Dennis J. Snower, President of the Institute for World Economics, announced the recipients of the eleventh annual Kiel Institute Global Economy Prize, which honors masterminds of a cosmopolitan, market oriented, and caring society.

The prize was awarded to Kristine and Douglas Tompkins for their work as entrepreneurs in the textile industry (The North Face, Esprit, Patagonia) and as founders of Patagonia Park in Aysen, Chile. The prize was also awarded to Mikhail Gorbachev, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former head of state of the USSR, Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric and economic adviser to US President Barack Obama, and Sir Christopher A. Pissarides, British professor of economics and politics at the London School of Economics and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics.

The Kiel Institute Global Economy Prize is awarded to honor influential personalities in politics, business, and science. It is meant to highlight those who have been pioneers in finding solutions to global economic problems, who have been willing to participate in a dialogue with people from other walks of life, and who have championed a society based on individual initiative and responsibility.

The prize, which is not endowed with prize money, will be awarded in person on June 21, 2015 at Kiel City Hall in Germany.


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