A couple from Sacramento wanted an adventurous wedding. A photographer from Sutter Creek had dreamed of documenting a marriage at Mount Everest Base Camp. It was a match made in Northern California that led to nuptials at 17,600 feet.
When James Sissom, 35, and Ashley Schmieder, 32, were married on March 16, it marked a new chapter in their lives and closed one for photographer Charleton Churchill.
Churchill had attempted an Everest wedding with another couple in 2015, but a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal while he was there making preparations the week before the expedition, killing about 9,000 people, including 19 climbers at the Everest base camp that was buried by an avalanche.
So when Ashley reached out to him on Instagram last year, wanting an adventurous wedding but without a location in mind, he was struck by inspiration, according to his blog recounting the endeavor.
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“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,” in a wedding dress and tuxedo, Churchill wrote. “They were thinking tropical or some place enjoyable. I mentioned Mt. Everest base camp, and well…here we are now.”
The couple’s adventure and his photography are gaining national and international attention.
In an article in the Daily Mail of London, Ashley said: “After much deliberation, we decided a traditional wedding was not the right fit for us. As much as we would have loved to share our special day with our family and friends, we were both drawn to the idea of eloping during an incredible vacation.”
They had experienced high altitude before, at 14,000 feet, but they were up against the “most physically and mentally demanding” challenge of their lives, she told the Daily Mail, which described her as looking “radiant in a figure-hugging embellished gown.” James looked “dashing,” too.
Churchill is an experienced mountaineer whose feats including reaching the summit of Mount McKinley, North America’s largest peak at 20,320 feet, in Alaska. He trained with the couple for a year with a plan to spend two to three weeks acclimatizing before their big day, according to Churchill.
Churchill said he endured food poisoning, James suffered through a bout of altitude sickness, and they all dealt with temperatures dipping as low as minus-8 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Both James and Ashley made for great trail partners,” Churchill wrote on his blog. “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.”