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Wild Weddings

Want a ceremony that reflects your passion for the outdoors? Here's everything you need to know to pull off a wilderness wedding.

Like all soon-to-be-married couples, Jen and I were sweating over last-minute details the day before our wedding. We scanned the list one more time. Pepper spray? Check. Backpack for my future mother-in-law? Check. Extra fleece? Check. Three days of food and wine for 25 people? Check. We didn’t need a wedding planner. We needed a Sherpa.

At this point you might ask (my mother certainly did): What sort of bride and groom show up with an expedition-size mound of packs and supplies to divvy up among their guests? The answer is simple…if you’re a backpacker who’d rather walk up a trail than down an aisle.

Alternative weddings have caught on in recent years. Couples exchange vows while skydiving, scuba diving, skiing, and impersonating Elvis. Specialty wedding planners coordinate marriage ceremonies with themes ranging from Disney to the Renaissance. Couples routinely say “I do” at spectacular, easily accessible places like Yosemite National Park’s Glacier Point and Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

Large or small, formal or untucked, religious or county clerk-whatever flavor wedding you opt for, the big day figures to be one of the most memorable events in any couple’s life. For those of us who live and play in the outdoors, what better way to celebrate than gathering friends and family for a hike?

After weighing wedding politics (we’d have to trim the guest list to a good-size hiking party) against what we really wanted to do (get married in the wilderness), Jen and I had decided to tie the knot in Montana’s Glacier National Park. To that end, we booked beds at an historic, hiker-only shelter in the park’s backcountry; sent out invitations with a packing list, a map of the Highline Trail, and tips on avoiding grizzly bear encounters; and spent considerable time humoring my mom, who was convinced that my 4-year-old niece wouldn’t make it (she did, with only one Barbie bribe) and my dad’s bad back would flare up (it didn’t, thanks to a handful of painkillers).

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