This is the story of Andy and Heidi Brun—less about Andy's well-regarded gear company (Exped) and more about 2 people who were drawn to the outdoors, drawn to each other and strongly attracted to the idea of experiencing wilderness on its own terms, however unforgiving those terms might be.
Consider the unconventional path to romantic bliss traveled by 2 lovebirds from Switzerland shortly after their 1980 wedding while both were still in their wide-eyed 20s:
• Step 1: Agree to abandon civilization—so long to electricity, indoor plumbing and urban conveniences.
Newlyweds Andy and Heidi Brun and their hand-built wilderness Shangri-La.
Imagine, 2 people living in their own off-the-grid Eden on the edge of the Canadian Arctic. Picture the cozy intimacy that the 2 of them shared inside their handcrafted master suite. "Well, it was not such a nice cabin," Heidi concedes. "It was more like a shed." Andy: "You would call it a shack nowadays."
But the meals, enjoyed in a vast, wild setting, must have been glorious.
A 9-month wilderness adventure begins: Heidi, her gear and a departing bush plane.
The couple ran out of food in 5 days. Two days before that, a leg infection badly hobbled Andy. "So I tied some cords around my knees to pull up my legs to walk, but even that didn't help much," he says. "So we just stayed put for 2 or 3 days, when it was minus-40 degrees. That really gets you thinking."
They kept 3 to 4 fires burning around them in camp at all hours. "We took turns sleeping," Andy says. "She was down, I was up. When I was down, she was up. It was really on the (survival) borderline."
Eventually the couple mustered the strength to complete the trip. Once in Yellowknife, did they jump joyfully back into the arms of civilization?
"Though basically it's a village, we felt like, 'Oh my, everything is rushing. It's stressful here,' " Andy says. "I wanted to get out. We really felt at home in the wilderness."
Andy and Heidi s home sweet wilderness home. Below, Andy admonishes a visitor.
The son of a Swiss electrical engineer, Andy Brun (pronounced Broon) lived in Pakistan, Germany and Canada before settling in Zurich. He graduated from the University of Zurich with the European equivalent of an MBA degree ("I learned something about bookkeeping," he jokes), but more influential on his future was a wilderness survival course he took in Sweden in 1976.
"It got me to thinking, 'I don't want to be an economist,' which I am professionally," Andy says. "I should be in a Swiss bank, counting dirty money or whatever. But finally I really followed my heart."
Andy Brun shows off a canoe he equipped with a self-built mast and sail.
Did their resolve to remain in the wilderness waver? Not really, Andy says.
"We learned we are a good team, I think, or at least you really learn about each other," he says. "On the walk to Yellowknife, I learned to be, like, 'Oh, I'm happy,' even if I'm not, just to keep up the morale. It's a play (an act) that you learn when you're really on the borderline (of survival)."
After 9 months, the couple's odyssey reached its conclusion. Before flying out, they disassembled their cabin in Leave No Trace fashion.
"We made a point to totally give it back to nature," Andy says. "You won't see any of it any more. It's all gone."
By 1983, Andy (shown in a 2011 photo below) created a European distributorship for outdoor brands such as Lowe Alpine, Moss tents, MSR and others. In 1997, encouraged by outdoor colleagues, he began creating products of his own making and acquired a following among outdoor types throughout the globe.