Inside a sunrise elopement in the Rockies

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Sean Deschamps, who works at a consulting firm, and Monica Tran, a chartered accountant, met three years ago on a dating app. Pre-pandemic, their wedding was scheduled for September 2020 in Quebec, but when Covid derailed their plans, they decided to elope in August. Here’s how it happened.

Sean: We met on a dating app called Coffee Meets Bagel. I thought she was absolutely stunning, and when we started chatting, I noticed her intelligence and amazing sense of humour. I really want to meet her.

Monica: We went to Hemingway’s on our first date in August 2017. I liked that Sean was always game for random activities—we even went paddle-boarding in Lake Ontario on an early date. He had the adventurous spirit that I was looking for.

Sean: On another date, we went to Canada’s Wonderland. The lines were long, but time seemed to pass so quickly—we never ran out of things to talk about. We started to see each other a lot after that, and I introduced Monica to my parents when they all came to tour a new condo I bought in Leslieville.

Monica: I’m Vietnamese, and in my culture introducing your partner to your parents is a big deal. So I was taken aback when Sean casually introduced me to his parents three to four weeks after our first date. My parents didn’t meet Sean until a week before we were engaged. They immediately loved how calm he is.

Sean: After we discussed getting married, I bought an engagement ring in March 2019. The plan was to propose on a trip to Vietnam three weeks later. But I couldn’t wait—I proposed in our living room that same evening.

Monica: I cried with joy when he proposed. But I was also anxious because Vietnamese weddings are so big, usually with hundreds of guests. I was worried a wedding of that size wouldn’t feel intimate.

Sean: The plan was to have a destination wedding in early September 2020, and we cut the list down to about 40 guests. We fell in love with the Fairmont Le Château Montebello in Quebec, which was secluded and woodsy. Our invitations were ready to roll out in early March when Covid hit. We let our guests know that the wedding was off, but we still wanted to get married. During the summer, friends suggested we have a cozy backyard ceremony or get married at city hall, but neither of those ideas appealed to us.

Monica: Then, a co-worker told me about a once-in-a-lifetime deal at the Fairmont Banff Springs. I immediately started researching elopements in Alberta.. Soon, I landed on the BDFK Photography website and saw a beautiful sunrise hike wedding, which tied in perfectly with our outdoorsy and adventurous relationship. We’d always wanted to explore the Rockies, and this way no one would be offended if they were left out of the ceremony.

Sean: When Monica shared the idea, I was like, No way. We aren’t doing this. I’m not a morning person and couldn’t fathom being up that early. But we didn’t want to wait until after Covid was over, and eventually she convinced me. Our photographers, Marcin and Dorota, helped us book our officiant and get a licence. Then, in August, we took a Covid test, doubled up on face masks and boarded a flight to Alberta. On the eve of our wedding, we went to bed in the afternoon and set an alarm for 11 p.m. so Monica could do her hair and makeup while I packed our bags. When we woke up, we drove out to Kananaskis Country for a 3 a.m. hike to reach the peak in time for sunrise two hours later. We had hiking boots, poles, backpacks and sun protection.

Monica: For six weeks before the wedding, we went on hikes and hill runs around Toronto, but nothing prepared us for the Rockies. It was really, really steep and cold. I was also carrying my dress on my back, so that was an extra challenge.

Sean: The adrenalin and excitement made our day even more memorable. Marcin and Dorota were warm, friendly and experienced back-country hikers. After a couple hours on the mountain, we made it to the summit, which is about 2,800 metres above sea level. Monica had curled her hair for the day but by the time we got up to the peak, it was completely straight. I was a little intimidated before we started, but once I saw the sunrise, it took my breath away. I was so glad Monica had convinced me to do it. We arrived at the peak before sunrise and shared a couple of beers with our photographers. Then, we changed into our wedding outfits, did the shoot, then hiked down to meet our officiant at the base on the other side of the mountain. We livestreamed the ceremony and vows to friends and family watching from home.

Monica: After the wedding, we drove back to the Fairmont and called our friends and family. We didn’t have cell reception the entire day and they were anxious to hear from us.

Sean: We were energized after the hike, but the evening was a different story—by dinnertime, we were exhausted, so we ordered room service and champagne. The next night, we had dinner at Sky Bistro atop Sulphur Mountain. It was a beautiful way to celebrate.

Monica: We’d told Marcin and Dorota that on one of our early dates we’d rented paddle boards on Toronto Island. So they asked us if we’d be willing to go paddling on a glacier lake, and a few days later we headed to Bow Lake. We had underestimated how cold the water would be—it was about 1 or 2 degrees—but the experience brought back memories of our first paddle date.

Sean: Then, we spent two weeks hiking and cycling around Alberta—we even had a couple close encounters with bears. The whole experience was surreal, and we learned we could tackle any challenge that comes our way. Once things open up again, we’re hoping to go back-country canoeing in Jasper for our next adventure.

Cheat Sheet

Date: August 18, 2020
Photography: BDFK Photography
Bride’s outfit: Willowby by Watters, Kleinfeld
Venue: Mount Shark, Kananaskis Country
Officiant: Nate Polsfut, Urban Officiant

Here’s a few more photos from the trip: