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ALPINE LAKE ISLAND HIKING ELOPEMENT
MARIAH + MATT
When Mariah and Matt met me at the trailhead at 4:30 in the morning in Buena Vista, Colorado on their elopement day, we were greeted with a rich, dark sky dotted with the most gorgeous display of stars.
Even with the enormity of the day in front of us — their elopement, their first time hiking the dark, the realization that today was the day where they were truly committing their lives to each other — we couldn’t help but stop and stare at the beauty of it all.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The moon was nowhere to be found. It was a pure, dark sky with a stunning star masterpiece laid out before us.
Matt and Mariah picked this hike, this gorgeous location, off of my own suggestion — it was a high alpine lake surrounded by gorgeous peaks. And the best part? Smack dab in the middle of the lake was a rocky, forested island. It fit everything they were looking for.
I’d found this specific trail to the lake nearly four years before I hiked with Mariah and Matt. I’d never photographed an elopement there, but I just knew it would be the perfect place for a couple to take the ultimate adventure together.
We hiked up in total darkness, guided by our headlamps. Mariah and Matt had never hiked in the dark before — they admitted to being a little bit worried that it might be scary. But they found — like I mostly do when I hike in the dark — that it was calm and peaceful. There’s no pressure to try to take in everything around you, you’re just putting one foot in front of the other, letting the quiet sink in.
The hike took no time at all (which, is something I often tell couples — hiking in the dark typically feels so quick!). We arrived early at the alpine lake where they’d have their first look, say their vows, and embark on an incredible adventure together, so we didn’t have to rush to get them ready. Instead, we sat on a blanket together, drinking coffee and eating breakfast, just absorbing and enjoying the quiet, the stars, the stillness of everything.
Before the sun began to rise, in that pre-dawn, pre-glow moment where everything is warm and beautiful, Mariah and Matt had their first look. It was in this moment, in the midst of their tears and their embraces, that it suddenly happened — the most spectacular alpenglow.
It was like an incredible firework show happening all around them. Pinks and oranges and warmth everywhere, so perfectly mirrored and reflected in the stillness of the alpine lake.
In my life, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful things that I can hardly believe are real — things that are so stunning that they seem like they’re straight out of a fairytale. But nothing — and I mean nothing — felt quite as unreal, magical, and unbelievable as the way the alpenglow reflected off of this high alpine lake with an island smack dab in the middle of it.
It was so beautiful I almost don’t believe it’s real. And I was there.
Mariah and Matt spent the rest of the sunrise basking in its beauty. They trekked around the lake, exploring with each other and absorbing every moment. They found a rocky spot overlooking everything — you could see the crystal-clear lake, the island, the peaks towering above.
They took each other’s hands and read private, intimate vows — vows no one else would ever hear — from their vow books. It was emotional and sweet and entirely unreal — there they were, in this place, promising each other forever.
I’d brought a 2lb pack raft with me — just in case Mariah and Matt were game to paddle out on the lake and explore that island. Turns out, this adventurous couple was totally on board. We blew up the raft, and they paddled out, one at a time, to the island. They explored, they danced, Matt spun Mariah around at the top of the island.
They couldn’t believe it. “You told us this would be magical, but this is unreal — but we never knew it could be like this,” Mariah told me after they’d paddled back. “I’m getting in a pack raft in my wedding dress and paddling out to an island in the middle of an alpine lake and we haven’t seen a soul.”
It was truly so unreal.
But Mariah and Matt’s day wasn’t over. Sure, it had been almost 6 hours since we first stepped out into the darkness, hiking up the trail at 4:30 in the morning, but it was their elopement day, and they’d pulled out all the stops to celebrate the way that was the most meaningful to them.
After we finished exploring and hiking back to the trailhead, we made our way to a breathtaking mountain pass where both of their families were waiting for them. They found a beautiful, little spot overlooking the mountains. Mariah’s dad walked her down the aisle, but he also officiated a heartfelt, tearful ceremony that was incredibly emotional and sweet. They did vows (again), but this time, more official, ceremonial vows—keeping their private, intimate vows they spoke to each other earlier that morning just between them.
After their mountaintop ceremony with their family, we all made our way back to their Airbnb for the most glorious, delicious spread of amazing food from an incredibly gifted chef (who just so happens to be my favorite chef) who absolutely pulled out all the stops.
I mean, forget the food for a second. They had crafted the most spectacular Bloody Mary bar I have ever seen in my life — 12-15 different kinds of pickled toppings, wild game meats on kebobs, maple whiskey bacon, pepper-infused vodka. It was truly incredible.
Mariah and Matt are the perfect example of what I love most about elopements — it gives couples the freedom to do exactly what they want, exactly how they want it. It gives them the freedom to get married in their own perfect way, in a way that’s entirely unique and special to who they are.
For Mariah and Matt, their perfect day was exploring a secret trail and pack-rafting to an alpine lake island. But it was also having a small, sweet ceremony in front of the people they loved the most. They didn’t have to compromise; they didn’t have to choose between the two. They just did exactly what made the most sense to them — both.
And that’s the thing with elopements — you can have both. You can have anything and everything you’ve ever wanted.