As an adventure photographer, I never know what request may come my way. I was recently honored when a friend asked if I would be interested in photographing her wedding on top of Quandary Peak, the 13th highest mountain in the State of Colorado. This mountain is one of the 53 peaks in Colorado that reach above 14,000ft, referred to as a 14er (if you would like to read more on 14ers, check out 14ers.com). While I frequent these mountains during the summer climbing season, I’ve never stood on the summit in winter, and for good reason, as they can be substantially more challenging in winter. Having said that, it had been a goal of mine to climb a 14er in winter for quite some time, and I jumped at the opportunity. This wedding was among the most challenging shoots I’ve had, and I’m so happy that I was able to document it.
The alarm went off at 5AM on a cold Wednesday morning in Breckenridge, Colorado where I got dressed in multiple layers, and stuffed a backpack full of food and photography equipment. I left the hotel to reach the trailhead by 6AM in order to meet up with the lovely couple, Marya and Nick, their friends Matt and Amy, and our guide/officiant for the wedding, Leslie Ross of Summit Celebrants. As we started the long hike, we could not have asked for a more perfect morning as we were blessed with beautiful skies above, relatively mild temperatures (by winter standards in the mountains) and no wind.
One of the amazing things about the Rocky Mountains (and any mountain for that matter) is how they create their own weather, and manage to change it almost immediately. I like to call them moody, and you always want to climb when they are happy! This day was no different, and in a matter of minutes our beautiful calm morning evolved into a winter storm complete with snow, wind and white-out conditions. I’ve often said that mountains will fight to get in your head and try to talk you into turning around before reaching the summit. But this day was different; it’s as if the mountain was challenging Marya and Nick, testing their resilience and commitment to one another as a final assessment before they united in marriage. I wondered for a little while if we’d make it.
However, these thoughts were never more than a simple flash in my mind. Every time one came along, I looked around and saw the smiles on both Marya and Nicks’ faces. While I may have worried a bit they were having the time of their life!
Before I knew it, we were approaching 14,000ft, and one of my favorite shots of the day set up naturally when Marya and Nick were climbing above me and stopped, facing one another to take a break, with Nick about 30ft above Marya. It is a shot that, if posed, would never look right. However, it set up naturally in a moment that spoke perfectly to why we were on Quandary Peak that day. Marya and Nick were hiking the same trail, it was the final push to the summit, the air was thin and it took a lot of effort, but the goal made it worthwhile. For me, it tells the story of this adventurous couple who had chosen to hike together for the rest of their lives, face obstacles together, and to jointly overcome the challenges to reach the summit. The story it tells made me fall in love with this photo.
Shortly thereafter we reached the 14,265ft summit of Quandary Peak, and as we did, the snow lightened up to nothing but a few flurries, the clouds lifted slightly to beautiful views and the wind became (somewhat) more manageable. It’s as if the once challenging mountains were now welcoming Marya and Nick to married life with a break in the weather.
Our Summit Celebrant, Leslie Ross, married Marya and Nick in a beautiful ceremony. If you are interested in an outdoor adventure wedding, definitely check out her website at www.summitcelebrant.com, or send her an email, email@example.com. This wedding wouldn’t have been the same without her.
Of course now it was time to party, but first we had to descend back down the mountain. Right as we began the down-climb, the wind howled again. I like to think that the mountain was celebrating with us and yelling congratulations and good luck!
Back at the trailhead, the champagne cork was popped, and the celebration continued with laughter, smiles, friendship, and of course, the happiness that spilled from the newlyweds.
It’s always fun to share life events with people, and I was truly honored that Marya and Nick wanted to involve me in their adventure wedding. Adventure photography is about photographing challenging experiences of any kind, and this hike up Quandary Peak in the winter was no different- it was a ton of fun with some excellent shots, good friends, and overall temperamental winter weather.
Happy Trails everyone!