A Climber Wedding on The Incredible Hulk

By Outdoor Prolink content creator and resident dirtbag Sara Aranda. Sara likes to climb, trail run, travel, test gear and write all about it. She currently lives in Yosemite.  

Wedding season is in full swing and I was definitely a part of it this year. But I didn’t want the norm, or even the “unconventional” outdoor-themed wedding. My life and passion for climbing and the wilderness is not just a theme, it’s a hard-and-dirty lifestyle, and I wanted my wedding to reflect that.

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With inspiration from Brian and Mandy Fabel’s adventure wedding, I knew that not only did my to-be husband have to be psyched on my ideas, I also wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just any climb with easy access, as many modern climbing weddings utilize.

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I wanted The Incredible Hulk, an iconic feature and climbing destination in the heart of the Sierra Nevada. A five mile approach with 3,000 ft of elevation gain brings you to an alpine wonderland that friends and climbers alike spoke so remarkably about. The alpine granite was apparently some of the cleanest you’d ever find in the Sierra Nevada, and the views, breathtaking. I had never been there, and neither had Patrick, and once he agreed to my proposal for an adventure wedding, my brain went to work.

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So how do you plan for a climbing wedding? Well, finding and hiring a climbing photographer was the first thing on my agenda. The reality of this type of wedding was that none of my family or even some of my closest friends would be able to attend. So my goal was to have someone photograph and document the the climb and the ceremony for a video we would then share at the reception two months later. Luckily, through mutual friends, I had met Cheyne Lempe (http://www.cheynelempe.com) in Yosemite a few years ago, when he worked for Search and Rescue. Then, last year, I ran into him briefly at a Reel Rock event at the Gear-CoOp in Southern, CA. He was sharing footage from his life-changing trip to Baffin Island for the first time. As a Mountain Hardwear athlete and rising cinematographer in the outdoor industry, I knew he had the experience I sought for my wedding. He was also just an extremely nice guy. So I wrote to his wife, Jess, through Facebook asking if they would be interested.

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By luck or whatever forces were at work, they said yes. Wow! I couldn’t believe I was going to have someone so talented document my wedding. And with that off the to-do list, the next step was figuring out who would officiate at the summit. I left that task up to Cheyne, because whoever it would be would also rope-gun the route for Cheyne so he could focus on filming us below. About a month before the wedding, Cheyne sent me a text saying his buddy Drew Smith (http://drewsplan.blogspot.com/) would be the guy. Drew, who currently works for Search and Rescue in Yosemite, also photographs for companies like Patagonia, and I was just super ecstatic. A few days later, I went to Camp 4 to visit with some SoCal friends.

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It happened to be a Climber’s Coffee morning, and my friend Bri and I walked over to check it out. Two friends I hadn’t seen in awhile, who work for SAR, were there and I realized there were other SAR folks as well. So I asked Bud, “Hey, is there a guy named Drew Smith here?” Bud pointed across the circle of people, “Yeah, right here.” Drew looked at me curiously. I had a huge grin on my face. “Hey! You’re officiating my wedding!” I exclaimed, laughing, and everyone standing around started laughing, too. We shook hands and joked about the randomness of our official meeting. He informed me how he had just finished obtaining his “license to marry” online days prior. He was super stoked.

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With all the key players set in stone, it was now just about logistics. We chose the Red Dihedral route, the easiest route, a 1200’ ft climb rated at 5.10b. Being that it was an alpine route, starting at 10,000’ in elevation, weather was one of the biggest factors for the date – and unlike all weddings, we couldn’t set an exact date. We chose a whole week in July to serve as a weather window, gambling for a void in summer thunderstorms. Permits were necessary and would have to wait for the day we were to hike in, which was another gamble. The Incredible Hulk is a relatively popular place for trad climbers to go and test their abilities, and overnight permits were very limited in that area. With high hopes, we continued planning with the assumption that everything would work out. We printed topos and copies of the ceremony script I had crafted – multiple copies! We also finalized that it would be a 3-day venture: hike in and camp, climb and sleep, then hike out the last day.

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For a while, all Patrick and I could do was focus on training. But the true obstacle was finding time off together. My job in Guest Recreation in Yosemite was in full swing, with hundreds of thousands of tourists flooding the gates. We were understaffed and management just didn’t seem to care or maybe they just couldn’t get their shit together – it was a new company this year and things were a mess. I was promised time off with Patrick, as they were well aware of my wedding plans, but reality told a different story. I often ended up working overtime or would be given random days off on the weekends when everyone is in the Park trying to climb something. I was frustrated and wanted to quit so many times, my hand on the phone in the dinky tour kiosk, ready to voice my discontent. Luckily I had some key climbing partners who did have time off when I did. A huge shout out to the badass ladies who climbed with me!

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To add to the challenge, I also injured my foot while running one day, and instead of immediately taking time off, I kept running on it. It got bad enough to where I wondered if it was a stress fracture, so I finally stopped running for a month, which proved tricky when I needed to make sure my cardio was still up to par. I kept climbing on it, but it didn’t instill confidence. I bailed on a 5.10c splitter crack on one of my training days, as my foot started to feel like it was going to snap in half from the jamming. My wedding was just around the corner and I was nervous, but I only told a few people about my injury – I was honestly just going to push through whatever I needed to for the Hulk.

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When there were only days to go, it was time to lay out the gear. We needed to be as light as possible, which is hard to do when you’re backpacking with all your climbing crap. I used my Bergans of Norway Helium Pro W40 pack because of the awesome and beefy waist belt, which really helps with heavy loads. For shoes, I need padding and support for my foot, but I also needed something that would help me kick ass on the rugged elevation gain. I went with my Scarpa Neutrons. We were also bringing my ultralight Osprey Rev 12 Hydration pack for the climb itself, which has proven to be an exceptional climbing pack. Another key piece of gear we chose to bring was the two-person alpine quilt I had made from a kit designed by Ray Jardine. It unzips into two pieces that are easily packed. Other critical items included our JetBoil, SeatoSummit 10L folding bucket, CleanWaste WagBags, my Patagonia R1, and my Craghoppers NatGeo CompressLite jacket – a super durable, waterproof/windproof, insulating layer that I ended up wearing on half the climb!

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For fun, I had a friend sew up a short veil to wear on my Petzl Elia helmet. It fit snugly into the headlamp clamps. I also purchased a simple garter to wear over my spandex pants. More or less, I wanted to remind myself to have fun and play into the traditions of a wedding. I was also bringing up a simple, white dress to change into at the top. Patrick bought a new Prana button-up and new Prana climbing pants for himself and we were ready to look classy for the camera.

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Then it was time. Our friend Brian Kimball was going to hike in with us and offer his support from basecamp. He had rented a super-zoom lens to shoot with from afar. His fiancé Rocky was going hike in with us as well, but not camp, as she wasn’t given the time off from work. She proved critical, however, because we were so packed to brim in our 40L packs, we had no room for our food. The whole week had nothing but sun when we checked the weather, so we decided to hike in on Monday, July 11th. Patrick and I woke up early in Bridgeport and stood at the door to the Ranger Station, thinking there might be a line. There wasn’t, but with previous reservations for that specific trailhead, there were only 5 permits left. Coincidence or not, we had exactly 5 people who needed permits.

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Fast forward and well, everything went so perfectly. We couldn’t plan for how perfect it went. Rocky surprised us by appearing the night of our climb. After descending the route and reaching camp, she sprung up from the bushes with a six-pack of beer and pie from the local restaurant at the Bridgeport marina. She had hiked out the previous day, drove the 2 hours back down to Yosemite Valley, worked a shift the next morning, then drove back up, and hiked back in…with pie! Keep in mind this hike is not the easiest hike in the world. You’re scrambling over talus and large snow fields to get to the Hulk. She was definitely our hero. Having only eaten 500 calories at most during our 9 hours of climbing (including ceremony time), we devoured anything thrown our way that night. And what a night it was. Epic stars, a purple and blue Milky Way, and serene silence. To top it all off, of course, I was now hitched to my best friend and most supportive adventure partner.

Want to read more? Sara has written a poetic account of her wedding experience on her blog, bivytales.com. Keep an eye out for the wedding video, artfully crafted by Cheyne Lempe, which will debut online after September 23rd, this year.

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