ADVENTURE WEDDING, MT. EVEREST BASE CAMP
JAMES AND ASHLEY ELOPEMENT, MARCH 16, 2017
ADVENTURE WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER: CHARLETON CHURCHILL
WE DID IT. James and Ashley married at Mt. Everest Base Camp (EBC) and became the first couple to exchange vows in a wedding dress and tux. And I, as an adventure wedding photographer, have been wanting to photograph a real wedding (with a wedding dress and suit) at Everest base camp since 2011. It’s one of the most epic and beautiful locations in the world that’s difficult to get to, and nobody’s done it before. So we are thrilled to have finally pulled it off.
We trained for the year and planned to be on the mountain for 2-3 weeks in order to acclimatize our way up to base camp so James and Ashley can get married and get a few photos. The actual hike to base camp after landing on the mountain from Kathmandu took nine hiking days, but you plan for three weeks from the time you take off from your home airport to return home. I’ve trained much of my life in the outdoors, climbing many mountains, training in high altitude mountaineering, leading teams, photographing, even to the summit of the highest peak in north America, Alaska’s Denali, Mt. McKinley, at 20,320 ft., in colder and harsher conditions. I have even fell in a crevasse, but was roped in and rescued.
I had attempted base camp with another in 2015, but the devastating earthquake of Nepal including the massive avalanche that swept EBC, turned everyone around off the mountain. I wasn’t sure if I would find another couple to get married on Everest anytime soon.
Last year, our bride Ashley, who was following me on Instagram, reached out me. She said she wanted an adventure wedding and hadn’t chosen a destination, asking for my opinion. They were thinking tropical or some place enjoyable. I mentioned Mt. Everest base camp, and well…here we are now.
Both James and Ashley made for great trail partners. We were like family. Ashley is tough girl who crushed it on the mountain trail and maintained a great pace. James is a great man who took care of Ashley, always looking after her needs. Plus he’s a comedian who made us laugh often. It can be difficult after a few days on a long mountain trek with all the pressure and lack of resources to maintain a smile, but we did well.
Now saying this was an epic and amazing trip is true, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share it came with some suffering, doubt, fear, anxiety, and physical pain. Often times when striving for something great, there’s usually a cost. There’s no glory without suffering. We worked hard for these images with much less time to photograph a short wedding than we planned. It started snowing hard a few days into the journey. According to our Sherpa guide, it dumped more snow on us than it had all winter. The temperatures ranged from -8 degrees to 10 degrees Fahrenheit from 14,000 ft. camp and above, so your hands would quickly freeze if left out of the gloves, like when I tried to film and take photos. I actually had to turn a live Facebook filming off because my hands were burning cold. I had to start over and rewarm my hands. Also, James and Ashley married in the -5 degrees to 5 degrees Fahrenheit range, and in her wedding dress. We especially had to keep her warm, on top of keeping warm, downing soup, food, drinking hot liquids, and moving, all vital.
Besides enduring the frigid temps, food poisoning kept me up a few nights at high altitude, trying to get sick, but I just couldn’t get anything out. The first night I didn’t sleep at all. It was rough and made it difficult for me to hike for a few days, had to push through the wall I was experiencing. James had the Khumbu cough which became worse and deeper the higher we ascended.
The night before Everest base camp at Gorak Shep, 16,942 feet, after we had hiked just below Kala Patar at 18,514 feet for acclimatization hike, James woke up catching his breath feeling like he was suffocating, tight chest. We searched for our guide around midnight and the doors were locked to the lodge, we threw small rocks at windows whispering loudly, I walked around this lodge trying to find a way to get in, and found a back door into the kitchen that was open, and finally found him. Our guide and another Sherpa hooked up the oxygen mask/tank to James, and he slept on oxygen for the remainder of the night. The stories of hikers getting medevaced out from our location didn’t help. Just a bit over a week prior to us, an Australian died of high altitude sickness from base camp. We decided to fly out in the morning to be safe, not attempt base camp, and get married later. After waking up and having a discussion with our guide, and James feeling better, he mentioned that we can get to base camp carrying oxygen, photograph a short wedding, then fly out on a helicopter.
When we arrived to base camp, we were told we have 1hr and 30 minutes to eat, get married, pack up, and get on a helicopter. So, we ate, drank, and got married in an hour. James and Ashley exchanged vows at Mt. Everest Base camp right in front of the famous Khumbu ice-fall where people use ladders to maneuver over crevasses, and with the beautifully carved Nuptse Face in the backdrop. Their epic wedding was surrounded by all these famous mountains. It was beautiful, short, and we captured a few photos before packing and getting ready to leave. When thirty minutes passed, and then an hour, and then losing cell service (because cell service runs off solar), more time passed, we realized the helicopter wasn’t going to make it and we would have to sleep overnight at base camp, which I thought was great, but bad for James. However, we would have him on oxygen the whole night, which was all good. The weather became worse, which was unsafe for the helicopter to arrive that evening. Our next chance would be the early morning, and that is exactly what happened.
After sleeping on the glacier hearing the cracking below us, on top of hearing the thundering avalanches all night,…the helicopter came, and early. The faint but ascending juddering sound of the helicopter in the distance was a beautiful sound. I saw the look on James and Ashley’s face, and they were relieved, we all were excited. The pilot, hooked up to oxygen, took James and Ashley first because the air was too thin at base camp to take all four of us and our bags. They dropped James and Ashley off at a lower altitude, and then returned to get me and Naga, our guide. We headed to Lukla Aiport which is at the base of the mountain, the renowned and most dangerous airport in the world because of it’s short landing strip and cliff that follows. Within a few hours, we were back to Kathmandu on a bus, warmed up, and back to our hotel with some of the creature comforts we missed while on the mountain.
Here are some of the images I photographed while on the mountain. Originally, we tweaked the calendar to allow two nights at base camp to capture as many wedding photos as possible. I had many image ideas to massage with them, but because of the circumstances, we only had so much time to capture them in the freezing cold. However, even with the small amount of time we had to capture James and Ashley and their wedding, I think we nailed it.
Thank you everyone for following along, on Facebook, Facebook live, Instagram, the news, etc.. I will be posting more images behind the scenes on Instagram, so you can follow there. We just created a Youtube site where you can view video of behind the scenes as well. Also, please drop a comment at the bottom of this blog, I would love to hear from you, what country or state you followed from, what you enjoyed the most, and anything that moves you.
Lastly I would like thank the wonderful supporters and friends of this epic adventure who believed in our work and photography enough to invest their confidence in me.
Profoto – Profoto B2 Light
Nikon & Nikon NPS– All my Nikon Gear.
BHLDN – Stylish wedding Dress Attire
Sierra Mountain Outdoors – Sutter Creek, Ca.
Lacie Rugged Drives – These rugged drives get banged up and last me.
Black Rapid – Camera straps for my hiking weddings
Trillo & Leather Co. – My stylish leather straps for non-hiking weddings
Light and Motion – Headlamps and Stella lights
Borrowlenses – Camera and lens rental
Marmot – Clothing & camping needs
My amazing wife Kelly and three daughters who not only support me, but encourage me to live adventurously.
Here’s James and Ashley flying from Kathmandu to the base of the mountain to prepare for our wedding adventure. It’s a 35 minute flight with a view of the Himalayan mountain range if you get clear skies. It’s a nice flight, unless the wind picks up, and then your small plane gets whipped around like ours did on the return flight.