“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me” – Winston Churchill
Driving through Lassen Volcanic National Park, I knew it was now or never. For nine days I had carried an engagement ring around California. Despite having traveled up mountains, across snowfields, through cities, and down to rivers, the ring had never been removed from its concealed location inside my climbing pack…until now. It was the last real day of our California vacation and I finally moved the ring to the top of my pack. For almost two weeks I had lived in fear of the ring being discovered, losing the ring, having our car broken into and the ring stolen, and most importantly, the fear of actually giving her the ring. If I was going to propose in California, the clock was ticking.
I don’t know what my hold up was. She is clearly “the one,” and if I didn’t know it before, she went out of her way to prove it in California. Over the prior nine days, I had dragged Ashley up Mount Shasta twice. The first time was a 15-hour epic courtesy of some unfortunate navigation that unintentionally led us up Casaval Ridge, one of Mount Shasta’s longer and more technical routes. The second ascent followed an adamant refusal to climb the mountain again (proving the old adage “the best mountaineers are the ones with the shortest memories”). She achieved both ascents in such ill-fitting footwear that the second time she descended from Horse Camp (8,000 feet) to Bunny Flat (6,900 feet), she did so in just her socks, rather than spending another minute in her rental boots.
Not only proving her mettle climbing, she was faced with some pretty adverse conditions throughout the entirety of the trip. Our first night on Shasta turned out to be an in-car bivy. She will assure you nothing equates to a good night’s sleep more than sharing a mid-sized SUV with three guys and eight bags of luggage. Following our on-mountain epic, Ashley once again got to experience cramped confines as the four of us shared a room at Motel 6. A real gem, our room at Motel 6 featured an air conditioner that blew hot air and a giant hole in the window screen. With everyone’s climbing gear strung around the room to dry, and unable to open the window or circulate fresh cool air, the room quickly took on a potent funk made even worse by the ever-rising temperature inside the room. It’s no wonder in the end she went back to the mountain—anything was better than that room.
Not only was she subjected to physical trials, she was subjected to psychological torment as well. Picking our friends/climbing partners up at the airport she was greeted with the “has Tim proposed yet?” question. Having no idea I actually intended to propose, they kept the joke running all week. Like most climbing trips, there is a fair amount of down time to fill and whenever a down moment arose, it was filled with proposal humor. Our climbing partners even brought wedding cake chocolates to the summit the second time (I would have been more pleased if they brought champagne). If getting out of the Motel 6 didn’t get her up the mountain a second time, the thought of a proposal might have.
By the time we arrived at the visitor’s center marking the end of the 30-mile main park road, the ring was still in my pocket. A lifetime procrastinator, I knew the proposal would be done, like most things, at the last possible minute. Wisely on our journey along the main park road I scoped potential proposal locations for the way back out of the park, looking for the perfect combination of natural beauty, solitude, and soft landing places in case she fell over. I settled on Emerald Lake, a gorgeous, secluded lake surrounded by towering peaks. With the sun beginning to set and my heart beating, I asked her to stand by the lake, turned the timer on the camera (something we had been doing all day), walked over to her, got on one knee, and asked “Will you marry me?” She made a weird sound! Either like she was trying to catch her breath or a derp—it’s hard to say which and I don’t remember as clearly as I would like to. But after a second or two she composed herself and said “Yes!”