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Sunrise Wedding in the Columbia River Gorge
This Columbia River Gorge wedding began when I met Samantha & Matt at a trailhead at 3 a.m. They were getting ready in their sprinter van – freshly-made hot coffee steaming from their mugs – and Samantha had already packed her wedding dress into her backpack. She added the finishing touch by strapping her bouquet to the outside of her bag with a bungee cord, then clipped her heels to hang below it. We began the 7-mile hike with headlamps in the dark, but it was pleasantly not too cold despite the early hour.
Dressed in a flannel and hiking boots with her makeup already done, Samantha hiked up the steep fern-lined trail with a smile on her face – none of us were pushing too hard, to avoid breaking a sweat. Blue early morning light was just beginning to brighten the sky as we reached the top of the trail. The view was absolutely breathtaking! It honestly reminded me a lot of New Zealand with the golden grass rideline overlooking the Columbia River below. The peak of the ridge jutted out over the river, givins us 360-degree views of the gorge spread out below. It’s hard to believe we could hike out to a place so beautiful, totally private, and less than an hour drive from downtown Portland.
We all set down our packs and took in the views before Samantha and Matt began changing into their wedding attire. Even though we were on an exposed mountain, they managed to dress somewhat privately with their backs toward each other. I was able to photograph them both together, but they didn’t see each other until their first look. At one point I thought to myself, “Samantha is such a badass!” as she put her heels on first and was in the process of slipping into her dress – half naked on a chilly morning outdoors standing in high heels and totally stoked!
The joy on their faces when they turned around was something unforgettable – both of them began crying! Samantha smiled through teary eyes and spun around to show off her dress. Matt posed and laughed while showing off his own forest-green suit – the date they met embroidered on the collar as the sweetest detail. Due to the covid-19 pandemic disrupting their plans, Matt didn’t know what date they were actually going to end up getting married, so he put the date he met Samantha on his suit and it was such a meaningful reminder of the time they’ve spent together to reach this moment.
After the excitement of seeing each other dressed up for the first time, they sipped some coffee (remember, it’s still before 6 a.m. at this point) and we all went about exploring the ridgeline for portraits. The rising sun brought out the birds, who we watched flying around catching bugs. White flowers began to light up the hillsides as they reflected light. It was such an honor to get to witness Samantha and Matt enjoy their location, while also being so goofy together! I was often out of earshot, taking photos while they spent time together, but I could see from a distance that they were teasing each other and laughing so hard. We had the whole place to ourselves – we didn’t see another person until we were hiking out.
After exploring the ridge, we hiked back up to where we’d left our bags and popped some champagne, which they drank out of camp mugs. Then, Samantha and Matt hiked down in their wedding attire. Along the way we passed a waterfall and admired all the epic massive trees. After returning to their sprinter van, we drove back to their AirBnb to meet up with family for the official ceremony.
Intimate Backyard Wedding near Mt. Hood
I followed Samantha and Matt back to their Airbnb to meet up with their family and friends who had all traveled in from Arkansas for this celebration. Everyone was waiting for them, so excited to hear about the morning adventure! I showed off some of the photo previews while Samantha and Matt freshened up from their hike.
The backyard for beautifully decorated – Samantha and Matt’s florist had crafted a phenomenal forla arch as a backdrop for their vows, and behind that was a perfect view of Mt. Hood. In fact, it was just the day before when Samantha and Matt saw their AirBnb for the first time that they called me and we switched their ceremony spot because the views from their rental were so good! Originally the plan was to have a small ceremony at a public site in the Columbia River Gorge, which is beautiful but there still might have been some other hikers around. Now, Samantha and Matt were able to have a 100% private wedding experience with their closest loved ones.
At the beginning of the ceremony, Jasper and Tilly (their dogs) walked down the backyard “aisle” with wreaths of flowers around their necks – Samantha followed, with her father on her arm. It was a beautifully informal ceremony. Sometimes even the most relaxed elopements get kind of serious for the vow exchange, but this felt like simply a gathering of friends who were SO excited for Samantha and Matt! Tilly was trying to be the “flower dog” but refused to hold the basket of rose petals for more than a few moments, and the dogs ended up running around the ceremony space to everyone’s delight. It didn’t matter that the hem of Samantha’s dress might have gotten a paw print or two – this was their version of a perfect wedding!
Samantha’s sister officiated the ceremony, and it was punctuated by laughter and happy tears as sweet sentiments were shared. Even the private vows were meant to make each other laugh, though they also cried – especially when Samantha took part of her vows to speak directly to Matt’s two children. After the ceremony, everyone hugged and grabbed a bloody mary or mimosa – the spread was breakfast pastries as everyone took some time to catch up.
It was at this point when I heard everyone had chosen to go white water rafting the day before. Apparently, the joke had been that someone was probably going to end up with a black eye before the ceremony, but everyone was fine despite the group opting for the “hard” line and rafting over an 8-foot waterfall! I took some more photos of the group as they recounted their adventures. Then, Samantha and Matt stepped away to take a nap before we all planned to reconvene in the evening.
Hours later we met back up at a winery overlooking the Columbia River. This place was gorgeous – there was a tasting room up on a hill above the gorge, and a garden area tucked away for Samantha and Matt to share a private reception with their family. The catered food plus the local wine was delicious, and I couldn’t help but take note of how comfortable everyone was with each other. These were two families celebrating coming together, but it felt like they had already been friends for years! I think every single person in attendance at one point made a toast to the happy couple.
As the sun began to set, Samantha and Matt danced on a deck in the winery garden to their favorite Brandi Carlile song. Everyone sat around on lawn chairs overlooking the beautiful grounds, and there was even a trampoline for their kids (and adults). It was such a fun, and gorgeous way to end a wedding day – the sun dipping below the horizon cast magnificent pink hews over everything and the group gathered together for one more portrait to commemorate this day.