The North Face founder Douglas Tompkins dies in kayaking accident in Chile

Mr Douglas Tompkins founded The North Face in 1964 with a partner, and later helped his first wife, Ms Susie Tompkins Buell, establish the clothing brand Esprit.
Mr Douglas Tompkins founded The North Face in 1964 with a partner, and later helped his first wife, Ms Susie Tompkins Buell, establish the clothing brand Esprit.PHOTO: AFP

SANTIAGO (AFP) - Mr Douglas Tompkins, the American co-founder of the outdoor label The North Face, died in a kayaking accident in Chile's southern Patagonia region, a doctor who tried to save him said.

The 72-year-old succumbed to "severe hypothermia" after capsizing on Lake Carrera and slipping into its near-freezing waters, Dr Carlos Salazar, the emergency room doctor, told Biobio Radio.

Mr Tompkins was kayaking with four other Americans and a Mexican on the lake when violent winds sprang up in the afternoon, generating waves that tossed them all into the water.

A Chilean navy ship rescued the group and Mr Tompkins was taken by private helicopter to the hospital in the town of Coyhaique where, despite doctors' efforts, he died.

Mr Tompkins founded the American outdoor clothing and camping label The North Face in 1964 with a partner.

Four years later he helped his first wife, Ms Susie Tompkins Buell, establish the clothing brand Esprit and grow it into a big business before their divorce in 1989.

After selling his stakes in The North Face and Esprit for a fortune, Mr Tompkins retired to Chile in 1990 and became a noted conservationist and philanthropist.

He worked to create a string of natural parks, and donated 8,000 sq km to Chile and Argentina to help preserve a forest region on their border.

According to the last interview he gave, published in November by a magazine called Paula, he attracted criticism from some Chilean politicians, who accused him of leading an ecological sect and of trying to control key Patagonian waterways.

"Lately I've been paying more attention to my biological clock. I tell myself to hurry up, that I have to do everything before death catches me," he told the magazine.