The first few post-wedding weeks have been a whirlwind for Sacramento State alumna Ashley Schmieder ’13 (Government/International Relations). Getting used to married life, going back to her day job as an executive assistant, and, of course, being interviewed by the Today show, the BBC, and People magazine.
You know, typical newlywed stuff. Assuming you got married on Mount Everest. Which Schmieder and her husband, James Sissom, did on March 16, the first couple to do so in full wedding attire.
“It was completely surreal,” says Schmieder, who has been obsessed with the world’s highest peak since reading Into Thin Air while a freshman at American River College. “I would have never imagined this was what my wedding day would turn out to be. It was just kind of weird to fulfill not only a long-term goal” – visiting Everest – “but also get married there. It was incredibly special.”
Schmieder and Sissom exchanged vows at Everest Base Camp, 17,598 feet above sea level. And there to capture stunning photos of the moment – images that have subsequently been seen worldwide – was former Sac State student and self-described “adventure wedding photographer” Charleton Churchill, who wrote about the experience and published the images on his blog.
Schmieder grew up in the Bay Area before moving to Sacramento, and she transferred to Sac State because she enjoyed living in the region and wanted a college that had a small-campus feel where students could receive personalized attention.
“I loved my experience (at Sac State), she says. “My professors were amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”
When she met Sissom, they shared a mutual love for the outdoors, hiking, and climbing. But they didn’t plan on getting married on Mount Everest. They only knew they wanted to go on a big trip and have an “adventure wedding.” Schmieder had learned about Churchill and reached out via Instagram to discuss possibilities. Churchill, who had attempted to photograph a wedding on Everest in 2015 before the Nepalese earthquake forced a cancellation, suggested the location.
“It just happened that we had a background in hiking and trekking,” she says. “It was a perfect fit.”
It took nine days to get to their final destination, and as expected when traveling to one of the world’s most remote and unforgiving environments, the trip was not without its challenges. Churchill got food poisoning. Sissom, who has asthma, had difficulty breathing while trying to sleep the night before they reached Base Camp and needed an oxygen tank (he felt much better the following day, allowing the group to continue on). A storm system delayed the helicopter that was supposed to take them down the mountain. And then, of course, there was the challenge of wearing a sleeveless dress in a location where temperatures can reach below zero.
“Luckily we weren’t out there taking pictures, exposed, in our attire very long,” Schmieder says. “After 5 to 10 minutes, I would put my down jacket back on, and once I started to feel comfortable and warmed back up, we could continue.”
Churchill posted updates online and streamed parts of the ceremony – they exchanged vows, but no minister was present – so that the couple’s families could follow along. Though it’s described on his blog as an elopement, Schmieder says their relatives were aware of their unusual wedding plans.
“They were shocked at first because they didn’t expect me to go that route,” she says. “What was really cool was they got on board, and they were really excited.”
To read Churchill’s account of the wedding and view more photos, visit charletonchurchill.com/mount-everest-base-camp-adventure-wedding-elopement.