Tom Taplin dies at 61; mountaineer was victim of Mt. Everest avalanche

Tom Taplin, a filmmaker and mountaineer, was killed in an avalanche triggered by the Nepal quake. He was 61

Over the years, Tom Taplin scaled some of the world's highest summits more than once. In the Andes, he was climbing Aconcagua — at 22,841 feet the highest mountain outside of Asia — when he tumbled into a crevasse and broke his arm, painfully managing to haul himself out as other mountaineers came to his rescue.

Several years later, he climbed it again.

"One thing about climbers: That kind of thing doesn't deter you at all," his brother Ted Taplin said Wednesday.

Tom Taplin, 61, was among at least 18 people who were killed Saturday when an avalanche triggered by an earthquake thundered 2,500 feet down Mt. Everest and devastated the base camp where he was filming a documentary.

More than 5,200 people in Nepal have died in the 7.8 quake, and the toll continues to rise.

It was Taplin's fourth trip to the Himalayas, his wife, Cory Freyer, said this week.

"He had a passion for the Everest region," said Freyer, a retired teacher of wilderness skills.

From their Santa Monica home, the couple set out on treks through mountainous backcountry in far-flung spots. They climbed in Patagonia, Japan and New Zealand. He climbed Alaska's Mt. McKinley, popularly known as Denali, the highest peak in North America. On vacation in 2005, they joined a tour tracing the ill-fated Antarctic expedition mounted by British explorer Ernest H. Shackleton in 1914.

"It gave the trip a raison d'etre, rather than just scenery," Freyer later said.

Taplin, a filmmaker and videographer who did TV commercials, music videos and several documentaries, had been at Everest's base camp, whose elevation is about 18,000 feet, since April 14. He initially had planned to film there until June, but, with bleak weather and sufficient footage, he was planning to leave sooner, his wife said.

In a brief interview on Romanian TV not long before the quake, he chuckled as he said: "Guess what? It's really crowded and it's really snowing and it's pretty crazy."

But, he added, he had been "really fortunate to meet some amazing climbers from all over the world."

Taplin's documentary was to focus on the evolution of the base camp from remote outpost to small tent city. Much of his footage came out with a crew member who started trekking back to Kathmandu the day before the devastation, Freyer said.

Born July 10, 1953, in Denver, Thomas Ely Taplin Jr. acquired a taste for climbing as a teenager at wilderness camps in Colorado. He also became an expert skier and, as an adult, hosted his friends for annual weeklong Soul Ski reunions at the family ski chalet in Vail.

"They'd ski hard all day, and eat and drink all night," his brother Ted said. "It wasn't just about the skiing — it was about the spirit of it all."

In 1975, Taplin graduated from Lake Forest College in Illinois with a bachelor's degree in English. Four years later, he received a master's degree in film from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.

Taplin was a longtime associate of the French filmmaker Agnes Varda and became her business liaison in the U.S., Freyer said. He was an executive producer of Varda's 2008 autobiographical film, "The Beaches of Agnes."

In 1992, he wrote an account of his first Aconcagua climb, called "Aconcagua, the Stone Sentinel: Perspectives of an Expedition."

Taplin and Freyer married three years ago but had lived together for 25 years. They met in Los Angeles but were set up by their mothers, who were friends in Denver.

In addition to Freyer, Taplin's survivors include his brothers Ted, Buzz and Frank, and their mother, Beatrice Taplin.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com
Twitter: @schawkins

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