Elopement Wedding

Adventure elopements marry romance with nature’s drama

It’s the wee hours along the Kent Ridge trail in Kananaskis, Alta., and the Milky Way is sparkling. Meteors dash across the sky like fireworks, almost as if on cue for the celebration. Somewhere close to the summit, dawn breaks in shades of fuchsia and blood orange.

Here, overlooking peaks that graze the sky, Natasha Savas crouches behind a rock and swaps her hiking attire for a bridal gown. Instead of walking down the aisle, she and her partner, Joe Tyson-Muir, have trekked up a mountain trail to say their “I dos.”

“We spent a lot of time in the mountains and we bonded over the mountains. It was really important for us to do something outside and in nature to celebrate our love and commitment to one another,” says Savas, recalling their marriage last August.

Savas and Tyson-Muir are part of a growing number of couples who are turning down traditional weddings in favor of adventure elopements, which are, as the name suggests, intimate celebrations set in an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.

In Canada, elopement planners and photographers like Alberta-based Willow and Wolf take couples to Rocky Mountain landscapes, backcountry cabins or remote islands to tie the knot. BC-based Coastal Weddings & Events offers magical seaside, waterfall or island ceremonies in the province’s charming Sunshine Coast area.

Natasha Savas and Joe Tyson-Muir, trekked up a mountain trail to elope in Kananaskis, Alta.

Elsewhere, companies like Let’s Knot and Say We Did bring couples on the trip of a lifetime to rugged places throughout the western United States. Adventure Pact (based in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Quito, Ecuador) offers elopements in the Las Vegas desert, the base of an Ecuadorian volcano, Panama or Peru. Aloha Zoe coordinates ceremonies in Hawaii (as its name suggests) as well as glacial Patagonia, Iceland or the Faroe Islands. Typically, couples might hike, helicopter or boat to their venue.

Just a few years ago, the concept of such far-flung nuptials may have seemed only for off-the-grid adventurers or extreme backpackers. But credit the unpredictability of the pandemic — throwing plot twists into plans — for helping the trend catch on.

“We just wanted certainty. It seemed like we could guarantee it would happen,” says Rachel Breedon, who eloped with her husband, Shaun, at Chatterbox Falls in BC After having to cancel their original wedding twice due to the pandemic, they decided an adventure elopement would be more realistic than a traditional ceremony.

It was a similar story for Richard Sequeira and Cynthia Manurung, who escaped after hiking three hours to a summit outside of Canmore, Alta., last May. “There was so much uncertainty with COVID. We just didn’t want to put our married lives on hold,” says Sequeira, noting that their wedding day had been postponed twice.

Because Manurung is from Indonesia, they also faced the challenge of dealing with travel restrictions for an international guest list. (Breedon, who’s from Ireland, and Tyson-Muir, who’s from the UK, were also confronted with this issue.) An adventure elopement simplified matters: No guests meant no complications for international couples getting married in Canada.

While a rocky, snowy peak in Alberta in -10°C weather was a far cry from Sequeira and Manurung’s original vision of a Hawaiian beach venue, somehow it just made more sense: A crumbly mountaintop made for more streamlined logistics, and it also took the stress out of wedding planning.

Plus, trekking to a summit to exchange vows just summed up the couple’s audacious spirit. So, at 2:30 am last May 22, they met their pastor and wedding photographers at the trailhead and started up the steep mountain in the pitch-black night.

They each wore four layers of hiking attire, plus toques and gloves. Manurung had spent the evening mastering her look and trekked some of Canada’s most rugged terrain in full bridal makeup. The pack, which normally stored a tent and other outdoor essentials, now contained a floor-length white gown. Sequeira trekked alongside her, with a bottle of champagne ready for the top.

Rocky Mountain hiking in the pre-dawn hours is undeniably grueling. Visibility is low, elevation is high, and temperatures are well below zero. But as the sun rose above the horizon, the worth-it-all appeal became clear as day: Bubble-gum shades flooded the sky, changing color with every minute.

“It was the most beautiful thing to get married when the sun was rising and we were up on the mountain and nobody was there,” says Manurung. “It was like being in between heaven and earth.”

Of course, old traditions die hard. For someone attached to wedding customs, an adventure elopement could seem like too much of a compromise, no matter how hard the travel bug has bitten. But couples can keep many of the same classic elements: the vows, the commitment, the memory, the photos, the dress, the bouquet.

For some, like Breedon, getting married in some of the most awe-inspiring places the world has to offer — without distraction — adds meaning to the ceremony. Keeping the day small can ensure the focus doesn’t stray from your relationship and commitment. And eloping in a dramatic landscape so far from your usual stomping grounds ensures the day is what it’s supposed to be: a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

“It was so emotional, so private and romantic,” says Breedon. “Especially with the scenery. It just felt so special and enchanting.”


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