Two local women survived the deadly Nepal earthquakes |

Two local women survived the deadly Nepal earthquakes

Vail Valley local Donna Tolley and a woman from Chhekomparo, Nepal try to provide a little comfort for one another following the earthquakes that killed more than 10,000. Tolley was trapped in Nepal, and spent her time working with relief efforts. She is home now helping raise support for the people there devastated by the earthquakes.
Special to the Daily |

The Sherpa Foundation

Several Vail Valley locals have formed The Sherpa Foundation, a non-profit to provide aid directly to the people in Nepal who have been devastated by the earthquakes.

Pemba Sherpa and two local volunteers, Barrett Langendoerfer and Tyler Wells, leave Monday for Nepal for two months.

They can still use help.

To donate, go to

EAGLE COUNTY — Jaye Catherine Clare just wanted to study art. Donna Tolley wanted to study some of the ancient art of massage.

They don’t know each other, but they both know this: As impossible as it sounds, life in earthquake ravaged Nepal got harder. The monsoon season, which just ended, poured torrential rain on thousands of homeless people.

Both Vail Valley women found themselves in the throes of the Nepal earthquakes that killed more than 10,000 people and left many times that number homeless.

Tolley and Clare weren’t seriously hurt. However, they were stranded half a world away from home, surrounded by death and devastation.

After the earthquakes and aftershocks subsided, after the toll could begin to be calculated, they pitched in to help doing anything … everything. But here’s the thing. The Nepali people they encountered asked Tolley and Clare what they could do for them.

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“The people who lost their homes and everything they had were willing to share with us without hesitation. Their generosity is so inspiring,” Tolley said. “Those who had homes invited us to stay with them. They offered us food even though they had no idea whether they’d have any food for themselves or their families. They’re the most generous people anywhere on earth.”

Tolley made her way back to Kathmandu, a trek of several days, where she did everything she could to help as many people as possible.

Finally, she decided the best thing she could do was come home and rally some help.

“All their resources were so limited,” she said. “Instead of using them, we’re trying to provide more for them.”

Treasures’ treasure

Clare works at Treasures, a consignment store in Eagle. In early April she left with a group of 15 artists for Asia, headed by an art professor from Louisiana Tech University.

On April 25, the day the first earthquakes hit, they were on the road from Kathmandu to the Tibetan border. They were about to cross into Tibet and head to Lhasa when the earthquake struck.

“We were running for our lives. Everybody was running. Everyone was in a panic. But there was nowhere to run,” Clare said.

They were doing drawings of some of the world’s most breathtaking sights. The before-and-after unfolded right before their eyes.

“We were the last of the artists to see some of these places before, then we returned to them afterward,” Clare said. “I have a new respect for our earth.”

Now that she’s home, it makes more sense. Tectonic activity is how the Himalayas were formed.

“We were hit in the hardest-hit area, and we could see the devastation. It’s so remote and so many people were uprooted, but they have nowhere to go,” Clare said.

She doesn’t have any personal pictures. Her camera died in the earthquake.

They were lucky, Clare said.

“The rocks and boulders were coming down from up upon us. We were very fortunate that no one in our group was injured, although several people all around us were,” Clare said.

They were in Nepal for two and a half weeks and were to be crossing into Tibet when the first earthquakes hit.

“We could see Tibet. Our passports were in Tibet. Our porters were in Tibet with all our gear,” Clare said.

They had only what they carried into the refugee camps, which was another paradigm shift. Americans do not become refugees in other countries; refugees come to us.

“It was quite an experience. Who would have thought that this 70-year-old could be a refugee? It creates a sense of how fleeting all this can be,” Clare said.

What to expect?

Luke Destefano, one of the leaders of Tolley’s group, observed that even in the face of all that death, life somehow goes on. The prayer wheels are still turning in the Boudanath, one Nepal’s largest temples, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, he said.

“Each day, this great Stupa reminds me of the resilience and strength of the people here and in the valley. The steadfast devotion. Still standing. Slightly crooked, a little cracked, but still standing,” said in an email to those in Tolley’s group.

Devastation and death change your life.

“The earth broke beneath our feet and revealed a new paradigm where being in service became not only a mission but the only thing to do,” Destefano said. “We were shaken out of our beliefs, out of our comfort zones, even out of our minds … and from that very uncertain place, I think we have all found something to be truly grateful for. I can’t help but smile at the memory of our opening circle, and as the talking stick passed between our hands, many of us shared, ‘I’m not sure what to expect.’”

Here’s what to expect

Nepal’s Himalayan winter is what’s next for one of the world’s poorest countries.

Vail Valley locals have organized to help.

Local business owner Pemba Sherpa, a Nepal native who started Sherpa Painting, launched the Sherpa Foundation along with a few other locals to create a sister city arrangement with the Khumbu region.

Pemba and two local volunteers, Barrett Langendoerfer and Tyler Wells, left Monday for Nepal for two months. They’ll start in Pemba’s home village of Chelplung, located on the road to Everest. Wells is with Alpenglo Media, and will help chronicle the rebuilding effort.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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