When Doug Bruns left Portland two weeks ago for a trekking trip in Nepal, the 59-year-old outdoorsman thought the hike to Mount Everest’s base camp would be his “last hurrah.”

But on Saturday the Himalayan country’s worst earthquake in 80 years stopped Bruns and his fellow trekkers in their tracks two days from their destination – and redirected them to a new mission.

As Bruns, his son, a friend and other hikers they met along the way return in the next few days to Lukla for a flight to Kathmandu and then home, they’re using their money, manpower and contacts back home to help the remote Himalayan villages that have yet to receive aid since being devastated by the disaster.

“Life in these villages is hard, harsh and often deadly … and ignored by the government,” Bruns wrote Wednesday via Facebook messenger from the village of Namche Bazaar.

Earlier in the day, he and others had bought all the tarps and noodles they could carry and hiked for three hours to the village of Thame, where Bruns’ son Tim had happened upon the destruction the day before.

When they arrived at Thame with the supplies, village leaders gathered members of each family who lived there and explained who the hikers were, what they were doing there and what they planned to do in the near future.

“Heads nodded. People smiled. Then we emptied our packs,” Bruns wrote.

That was the immediate mission. Planning for the longer term continued when the hikers got back to Namche Bazaar.

“The goal right now, as we see it, is to address the earthquake destruction – and to do so before winter sets in, in October,” Bruns said.


Bruns and his son were among several Mainers who were in Nepal when the deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck, setting off avalanches in the mountains, killing over 5,000 people and stranding many more. A yoga instructor from Augusta, Dawn Habash, 57, was hiking about 20 miles north of Kathmandu and remains among the missing.

Bruns and his wife, Carole, the longtime owners of an office furniture company in Maryland who moved to Portland in 2009 to retire, had set up a nonprofit about 10 years ago to cover expenses for students who want to volunteer in Third World countries, after their daughter did similar volunteer trips to Guatemala and Tibet.

Using the charity they had already established, Images for Change, and a GoFundMe account they started for the relief efforts in Nepal, the group is collecting donations to help rebuild the villages’ schools, homes, orphanages and tea houses, as well as provide health care and other aid to the people who live there.

“We want to specifically bring our aid to villages, like Thame, that are not on the trekking circles, not part of the tourism industry,” Bruns said.

This is Bruns’ third trip to Nepal and likely his last. At his age, he said, he’s “not as interested in adventure and far-flung travel.” Plus, he’s not as nimble as he used to be. His wife said she calls him the “bionic man,” rattling off the joints he’s had replaced.

Still, Bruns couldn’t turn down the chance to trek to Everest base camp with his 32-year-old son, who brought along a friend.

The three men dubbed themselves “the gentlemen of the trail,” a moniker that turned into a hashtag that Bruns, an amateur photographer, used while documenting their trip on Facebook and Instagram.

“The adventure was going swimmingly,” he said. “Then the earthquake hit.”


On Saturday, the trio was at a tea house in Dingboche called “The Lucky Hotel,” after a morning climb to acclimate to the elevation, when they heard a rumble that they believe was the avalanche at base camp that killed at least 18 climbers.

Then the building started to shake. Someone shouted “run,” and everyone rushed for the door, he said. They ran outside and waited for the earth to settle.

On his Facebook page, Bruns described standing in the falling snow.

“A Sherpa guide standing next to me said to no one in particular, ‘This is bad. This is very, very bad,’ ” he wrote.

The next few days were filled with worries about “landslides, aftershocks and the sudden unknown,” Bruns said. “But then the reality set in: Our adventure had come to an abrupt and unanticipated end.”

First, there was disappointment and a singular desire to get home safely. “But in the process, we became aware of the local folks and their plight,” Bruns said.

They had seen the helicopters coming from base camp to a small medical station in a village called Pheriche, “bringing in the injured … and presumably the dead,” he said.


On Wednesday, Habash’s daughter, Yasmine, said the family learned that someone had spoken with her mother the day before the earthquake between Kyanjin Gompa and the village of Langtang, which appears to have been destroyed and its 600 residents killed. The family wrote on Facebook that she was likely in the village during the quake, but she may have been closer to Kyanjin Gompa, which is at a higher elevation.

Yasmine Habash said it’s unclear which direction her mother was traveling. However, she said that on Thursday, hikers will be airlifted from the area around Kyanjin Gompa, where Israeli media have reported that some of their nationals are stranded and others have died.

“If she’s in that village, she’ll be out tomorrow. If she isn’t, we’ll have to wait and see,” Yasmine Habash said. “So, that’s all we know.”


After Tim Bruns’ hike to the decimated village of Thame – where two people had died, others were cooking and sleeping under tarps, and no help had come – they decided they had to do something.

Coordinating with their families back home by texting online, the group set up the fundraising mechanism and now is trying to partner with a non-governmental organization “that can provide boots on the ground to execute our vision,” Doug Bruns said.

They’re working to secure that partnership before their flight home Wednesday.

For now, they’re taking their time getting back to Kathmandu, where residents are still waiting for aid while others try to flee the destruction.

“The last thing those folks need is three hapless trekkers trying to find water and safe shelter,” Bruns said.

To contribute to the Bruns’ relief effort, go to www.gofundme.com/remotenepal.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.