3 things I learned from 180° South

180 degrees surfing

“Real adventure is defined best as a journey from which you may not come back alive, and certainly not as the same person.”

― Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman


In 1968, Yvon Chouinard, then, blacksmith and creator of climbing gear, and Doug Tompkins, friend and outdoor enthusiast, closed up shop for a long season to take a 10,000 mile road trip to Patagonia, Chile. Beginning with dreams of a once in a lifetime climb of Mt. Fitzroy, they jumped in their humble van, and began a journey to put up a new route climbing to this stunning peak that had never been accomplished… or even attempted. Yvon and Doug eventually summited the peak on that trip, and created a new route to the top. The trip didn’t stop there. From the moment then began their decent back down, life would never be the same.

Yvon Chouinard is the adventure loving, surf fanatic, and conservation-minded man behind the outdoor clothing and equipment brand Patagonia. He still claims his trip in 1968 was the best adventure of his life. The natural beauty was clearly the inspiration behind the name of his company, and the environmental issues became the core value behind how they operate. It was the bigger picture of conservation and enlightenment that truly enriched his life and many others. Doug Tompkins, later became the very successful founder of The North Face. His love for all things outdoors, along with Yvon’s, sparked from their most humble beginnings of subsistence to continue climbing and surfing as a lifestyle, and their business success that many would find enviable.

Recently, I saw an independent film, 180° South: Conquerors Of The Useless, chronicling a nomadic traveler, Jeff Johnson, and his retracing of Yvon and Doug’s 1968 journey after finding their home movie footage of the trip.

Originally, I was looking for a 1hr adventure documentary. What I found reignited my passions for the outdoors, and left me with strong, humbling lessons.




There’s always a way, but expect detours

Jeff’s route was entirely different than Yvon and Doug, but the destination the same. His 10,000 mile journey was by sea. He had no means of transportation until locating an acquaintance who needed to get his sail boat back home to Chile. No formal training – he became ‘first mate’, and was on his way. Off the coast of South America their mast snapped due to a faulty rigging line. 12 hours of work, they finally pulled the huge mast out of the water extremely damaged, but the haul was fine. Thankfully, they had enough fuel to run the auxiliary motor to Easter Island for repairs. They rigged up a section of the mast over the course of weeks, enjoyed some surfing, and brought on a new mate. They managed to salvage roughly half of the mast, and sailing continued, though not nearly as effectively.

Finding a means to achieve our goals is what we do each day. We need to look outside of the normal boundaries and our ‘limitations’ to learn what we are capable of beyond the simplicity of ‘the goal’. As Yvon said, we cannot compromise the process of the journey. 

“The goal of climbing big, dangerous mountains should be to attain some sort of spiritual and personal growth, but this won’t happen if you compromise away the entire process.”



You can make progress by turning around

During Jeff’s summit of Corcavado, Yvon had joined the small team, mentioning this might be the last big climb of his life. After days of climbing vertical brush, and making it above the tree line, Yvon decided to turn around and head back alone. His decision was unexpected, but calculated. He had made the summit once before in 1968, his tone was very mentor-esque, and his satisfaction lied in the success of the team. He would feel no more accomplished to make this dangerous trek again. With a smile on his face he made his descent back to the base. With the greater good of the group in mind, and his own risk factored in he felt he made the right call.

“In response to those who say you can’t go back; what happens when you get to the cliff, and you take one step forward, or you do a 180° turn and take one step forward? Which way are you going? Which is progress?”  – Doug Tompkins



You will make mistakes, but trust in the good

Years after running a number of successful businesses, Doug, and his wife Kris, set out to pursue his passion of conservation. His love for the land and the wild outdoors of Chile became his sole goal to save, protect, and give to the people their own pure land back. Initially, Doug’s intentions of spending his life savings to purchase land was met with the push-back and resistance from the Chileans and, especially, the gauchos of the region. They trust their government far more than we as American’s, and don’t have the presence in their culture of philanthropy that the US does. It has been a struggle for the native Chileans to understand a rich businessman’s intentions to buy, then, give. Through Doug’s efforts he and his wife have amassed over 2 millions acres of protected habitat, and created the first National forest in Chile. His efforts have lead to a movement that is helping to protect the rivers from damming an industry. Over decades of work, he has won over the people, and become their rallying point for change and protection of this beautiful land and the gaucho way of life.

 “The way I see it… the risk of something negative coming from this [conservation effort] is small compared with taking an exploited approach. If we make errors they are going to be rather small, as I’m sure we are. The thing is to minimize those errors.” – Doug Tompkins


180° South is fantastic and inspiring documentary. In the interest of not giving away key details or the ending, I will leave the list at three. I highly recommend this film, and Yvon’s book “Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman”.