Big Days

The Wedding Vendors Who Will Literally Climb Mountains for the Perfect Shot

When couples get hitched in the wilderness, they can still get professional hairdos and photos.

By Allison Williams May 13, 2024

Sometimes walking down the aisle is vertical when Meghann Grah photographs a wedding.

It was midwinter and 23 degrees near Mount Baker when stylist Sheilynne Midili knelt on the hard-packed snow to bandage blisters on the bride's feet. The upside: it was so cold that the hairdo Midili had crafted on the bride's head had stayed perfectly in place. As the sun dropped behind the mountains, the temperature plummeted into the single digits—but the bride got married.

Midili is part of a special wedding niche: adventure ceremonies. Hanging from a cliff, floating on the water, halfway up a mountain; it's all fair game in the Pacific Northwest. And when couples marry or elope in a far-off place, they don't always want to forgo the photographer or the hair stylist. Enter the adventure wedding industry.

Though the outdoor nuptial experience was already growing in the 2010s, Seattle wedding photographer Emett Joseph saw it explode during the pandemic. "There was a huge demand for getting married in smaller groups," he says. A 2022 study (done by a diamond company, naturally) found that 62 percent of couples were interested in an "elopement-style" wedding. Joseph wanted to be part of couples getting hitched in "crazy, wild, beautiful places in nature" and pivoted his company toward adventure ceremonies.

Photographer Emett Joseph (top left) will travel anywhere for a wedding.

But elopement isn't necessarily what you're picturing, says Puyallup photographer Meghann Grah. "People think elopement means running away in secret, it needs to be last minute, you can't involve guests," says Grah. "Like what is shown in Pride and Prejudice." On the contrary, modern elopements can be meticulously crafted getaways to a mountain meadow with a few close pals, she says. Sometimes it's just an engagement shoot somewhere beautiful.

For one job, Grah joined a couple and their friends backpacking near the Pacific Crest Trail. The couple threw a party at their backcountry campsite before ducking out to get married solo at sunset; the whole thing wrapped up with a hike back to the trailhead and a quick change back into wedding attire for the final half-mile. 

That kind of multiday commitment from a vendor adds up. Grah charged around $10,000 to document the wedding but says inflation would make it even costlier today. Still, couples can save on the other usual wedding costs like venues, catering, and accommodations; bills for an adventure wedding tend to be things like a photography permit for Mount Rainier National Park ($50–250 application fee) rather than an open bar for tipsy Great-Uncle Harold.

So far, Joseph says, he has yet to find a couple that has found the limit of what he'll do for the "I do" shot. He's snapped a bride and groom scaling a rock wall at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon and has ridden a seaplane to a lake in the North Cascades for a ceremony. Sometimes, as the photographer, Joseph is the only one present beyond the couple and maybe an officiant; he says he's learned to deal with the long silences of a big trip.

Meghann Grah (top) combined her love of adventure with her wedding photographer business.

While photographers are the most common wedding vendor to interest scaled-down couples, there are also musicians, officiants, and private chefs that will don hiking boots for a gig. With her company Pacific Brides, Midili does hair and makeup—and sometimes first aid—for backcountry ceremonies. On a practical level, that means wireless tools ("I can curl hair anywhere," she says), a satellite communication device for emergencies, and the knowledge that skin needs help staying moisturized in dry or snowy conditions. After working on sets in the film industry for seven years, she learned to make do in strange locales.

The biggest challenge for all involved is usually weather. The photographers warn that in the backcountry, conditions can have a bigger impact than in town; you can't just throw up a big tent and keep your guests dry. Grah also cautions couples that weekends can get crowded at popular trails and viewpoints: "Get married on a weekday if you're going to get married on public lands."

Still, the unpredictability is part of the adventure. There's only so much Midili can do in the hair and makeup department if it rains, she says, "but everyone in the Pacific Northwest looks incredible and romantic when their hair is all wet in their face. It kind of works out."

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