Celebrating Love: A Ruth Mountain Elopement

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, hear the love story of two mountaineers and their mountain-top nuptials.
Kristina Ciari Tursi Kristina Ciari Tursi
Membership & Communications Director
March 20, 2021

Escape. Flee. Run away. Most likely derived from the 1500s Middle Dutch word lopen, the meaning of the word elope has shifted over time. From its origins describing a simple, non-romantic escape, elope morphed to mean a scandalous affair wherein a married woman ran off with her lover. The affair disappeared, but the scandal remained, when eloping changed once again to mean a secret marriage without parental consent.

Today, many of us associate eloping with a small destination wedding. Or, in 2020 terms: the only type of wedding option available. I know a handful of folks who faced the impossible decision of postponing or drastically reducing their weddings last year, but, as with many things during the pandemic, they found silver linings. More flexibility. Fewer people to coordinate. Not needing to stress over things like décor, bridesmaids dresses, and cake flavors. These details are fun for some but stress inducing for others.

A few of my friends were secretly excited to have an excuse for a smaller wedding. With the pandemic, they got to do things their own way. One such couple was Ashley McLoud and Molly Kirk. On July 25, 2020, high atop Ruth Mountain, the two shared their vows in a small ceremony, forever weaving their love for one another with their love of the mountains.

“I didn't know that people could be this outdoorsy!”

Molly and Ashley first met when Molly was finishing the Everett Basic Climbing Course. Molly, with her easy-going nature, love of all things colorful, and self-professed ability to be both a morning and a night person, postponed their first date a few times because the mountains were calling. “Molly was climbing like, a big mountain every weekend when I met her,” said Ashley. “I didn't know that people could be that outdoorsy!”

No wallflower herself, Ashley, with her huge smile and warm, magnetic personality, always kept bouldering shoes and art supplies in her car. They spent their first weeks together outdoors, hiking and scrambling and backpacking. When Molly wasn’t off with The Mountaineers, she and Ashley explored the areas around Stevens Pass and spent long weekends backpacking through pristine areas like the Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness. “It was an intoxicating world to enter into,” said Ashley.

They’d been together a few months when Ashley signed up with The Mountaineers and enrolled in Basic Scrambling. The following year, with Ashley taking the Basic Alpine Climbing course and Molly helping to instruct, they continued to grow their community within the Everett Branch. Before they knew it, Ashley’s calendar was as busy as Molly’s, but they worked hard to make sure they could still get out together as much as possible. They also both savored the freedom and the ability to grow as individuals as their relationship deepened.

In October 2019, a little over two years after they met, the couple set out on a hike up Easy Pass to view the larches and enjoy the stunning views of Fisher Valley. With a few friends in tow, Molly knew this was the perfect trip to propose. She’d been thinking about it for months.

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Ashley and Molly. Photo by Sarina Pizzala.

At their destination, she handed a friend her camera and whispered a quick, I’m going to propose, get photos.

“I walked out to Ashley and told her how much I cared about her and how great life is with her,” said Molly. “Then I handed her a card I had an artist make with an illustration of a dolphin on the front. Ashley loves the water, and if she were any animal a dolphin would be it.

“On the back I had written, ’Will you marry me?’ She kept looking at the card, and was staring at it for a solid 15 seconds. I thought we’d be standing there forever. Finally, she turned it over and said, 'Yes!'"

Thrilled, the newly engaged couple began planning their wedding. While they knew they wanted to have something in town, they also wanted the mountains to play a role in their big day. “We'd been planning to get married in the mountains,” said Molly. “It wasn't just a pandemic thing. We had already blocked out this weekend in our spring planning session to do the ceremony.”

Both Ashley and Molly felt strongly that if they were going to elope on a mountain, they needed to do it for the right reasons. “There has to be a connection to your values with why it's important to you,” said Ashley. “I think our values have been that marriage is important to us, but we don't necessarily believe it's a pivotal moment where you become a different person or a different couple.

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Molly and Ashley married just before sunset. Photo by Sarina Pizzala.

So much of our commitment has been in stages and through conversations. Reflecting on our values, both in how we see our relationship and in what’s important to us, it made sense to have a mountain elopement.”

“It was a celebration of the community we’ve created in the mountains.”

With two different dates to choose from, they opted for the second in hopes of better weather. Mother Nature delivered and the crew enjoyed hot, sunny skies for their two-day, one-night wedding. All of their guests were folks they had met through The Mountaineers.

After a bit of stress around wedding licenses and last-minute permit challenges, their crew of 12 set off from the trailhead at 7am with huge packs in tow. In a pre-trip planning email, Ashley invited the guests to bring lights and any other surprises, and the open invitation resulted in a night to remember. Friends carried Ashley’s dress and can upon can of champagne. Even though fancy clothing was completely optional, most everyone opted to bring nice attire for the ceremony too. At the trailhead, everyone’s excitement was proportionally reflected in the size of their packs, but if anyone minded the 50+lb loads, they didn’t say.

Twelve hours later, Ashley and Molly were married in a sunset ceremony near the summit of Ruth Mountain, enveloped in the love they felt for one another, the mountains, and their community.

While so much of the day was truly memorable, both Ashley and Molly said their favorite part was the toasts. And the cake. “People hauled up like, 10lbs of cake, and we were all just eating it with our hands,” said Molly. People brought champagne too, and each, in turn, delivered a heartfelt message for the newlyweds.

“It was a celebration of the community we’ve created in the mountains,” said Molly. “I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”

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Photos by Sarina Pizzala.

Ten Tips to Plan a Mountain Elopement

By Ashley McLoud and Molly Kirk

If you’re feeling pulled toward a small mountain wedding, check out these tips from the newlyweds to aid in your planning. Start first by thinking about what will make you happy and fulfilled. Plan your wedding with those reasons in mind.

Location

Ruth Mountain had always been on our bucket list, and when we realized it was a relatively short approach, it felt like the absolute right choice. Think about who you are planning to invite, and pick an appropriate location, or, if location is most important to you, be mindful that it will limit who can attend. Don’t pick a location just because of the scenery. At the end of the day you might not get great weather, and you want the ceremony to still be meaningful.

Planning

We had two dates picked out, which was a good idea, and we recommend giving yourself a lot of lead-time for logistics. Apply for your marriage license early to be sure you’ll have it in time, and as soon as you decide on a location, look into what permits you’ll need. Plan to coordinate permits for everyone in your party if you can, and communicate with your small guest list early and often about expectations. It’s much easier to have a group of folks who can take care of themselves on the big day. On the day of the event, put someone in charge of timing on the hike in. Give yourself HOURS of extra padding. For example: avoid stressing about arriving at sunset for pictures and plan instead to arrive midday or go the night before.

Guests

Because we were going to have an in-town ceremony and a mountain ceremony, we had already invited friends and family to the in-town celebration. Because of the pandemic, we had to share the news that our elopement would be our only celebration for now, and honestly, that was the hardest part. You might decide to keep your elopement a secret for this reason. Whatever you decide, be sure you have a good communication plan before you make any announcements.

Registering

We ended up getting a ton of questions about where we registered, which was a surprise. We hadn’t registered yet, but in retrospect, we should have. Go ahead and do it, that way if people ask, you have something quick and easy. Then, be sure to send thank you cards.

Safety

We had to think about mountain safety and COVID safety, and we were sure to have a lot of discussion with everyone who was coming. We knew about their mountain competencies, but discussed comfort levels with COVID protocols and decided on a set of norms we collectively agreed to. It wasn't a risk-free event, but at the end of the day, we’re Mountaineers and we have risk management conversations all the time. Be open, honest, and respectful, and you’ll land in a place where everyone is comfortable.

Attire

This is your event. You should wear what you want. If you’re planning two events, don’t feel like you need two dresses. Wear what you want, where you want. However, having your clothing be lightweight isn’t a bad idea if you’re hiking with them. We also recommend you fold everything carefully so it won’t wrinkle, and pack your clothes in a place that they won’t get smashed or have anything spill on them. We definitely recommend changing right before your ceremony rather than hiking in your wedding attire.

Décor

We invited our guests to bring lights for their tents and any other surprises. This open invitation was incredible and displayed how excited our friends were for us. We had twinkle lights, another friend made us the “Just Married” sign, and we had 10lbs of cake complete with beautiful cake toppers. Our friend Rob even brought up a bouquet of cams. You don’t have to go all out to have a few special touches, and they’re well worth the extra weight.

Mini-moon

We got married on a Saturday and were back at work early on Monday morning. Having something planned, even if it was just going to stay at an Airbnb close by, would have been a nice way for us to unwind and enjoy a few special days together. Plan a mini-getaway, even if it’s just to stay at home together without other obligations. We regret that we didn’t have time together immediately after to let our experience sink in.

Sun protection

The weather for our big day was a dream, but it was hot and the sun was brutal. You can see sunburns on a few of our guests in the photos, and we didn’t come away unscathed either. If sunburn/tan lines in your photos are going to be a bummer for you, be sure to cover with sun protective clothing and lots of sunscreen.

Photography

We could not be more thrilled with the amazing photographs by Sarina Pizzala (@sarina_pizzala). We weren’t originally going to have a photographer, but are so glad we have these memories of our special day forever. Great photographs end up being especially important in sharing your wedding with everyone who didn’t attend. Get a photographer. You won’t regret it.


This article originally appeared in our Spring 2021 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.

LEAD IMAGE OF Molly Kirk and Ashley McLoud sharing a kiss behind a "Just Married" sign, hand-crafted by guest Laurel Geisbush. PHOTO COURTESY OF Sarina Pizzala.


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