Nfld. & Labrador

Sweat, nausea and tears: a Gros Morne Mountain proposal

Tony Leitao wanted to propose to his girlfriend in a dramatic fashion. And drama, he got.
This picture-perfect moment was anything but behind the scenes. (Submitted by Tony Leitao)

Everyone loves an engagement story. But what about one that involves toil, drudgery, and dehydration?

That's the tale that Genevieve and Tony Leitao, of Ontario's Niagara region, will be telling for the rest of the lives.

Tony Leitao had a secret agenda when the couple decided to take a road trip to Newfoundland in July of 2012: he wanted to propose atop Gros Morne Mountain, via helicopter.

"I was watching Rick Mercer, he did a helicopter tour. So I was like, OK, that sounds like a good idea," Leitao told CBC News.

"But, it didn't really go that way."

Gros Morne Mountain is the second-highest peak on the island, and is a central landmark of the park. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Parks Canada turned Leitao's request down flat: No choppers would touch the delicate top of the mountain, the second highest peak on the island, at 806 metres.

But Leitao's dream lived on, despite his and his fiancee-to-be's utter lack of hiking skills.

"My next step was to climb up, that was the idea. Looking at some pictures we saw from the top of the mountain — I was like, this is it. So I'll try to do everything I can to get up, and of course, have her with me," Leitao recalled. 

"Once I started searching for the climbing, and how hard it was supposed to be, I was like, OK, we're beginners. I mean, how hard can it be?"

Famous. Last. Words.

'I don't want to do this anymore!'

Genevieve Leitao was clueless about the impending proposal, but game to take the big hike her boyfriend, for some reason, had his heart set on.

She was a little less game a few hours into it, as the couple completed the first — and least strenuous portion of the 16-kilometres — a four-kilometre trek, a fairly gentle ascent through trees.

"We didn't even get to the base of the mountain, and I said, 'I don't want to do this anymore! I have a migraine! I want to turn around!' And he got upset with me," Genevieve (now) laughs.

"Normally Tony never gets mad at me. So I thought, OK, it might be a big deal. So I pushed through, and the climb just got longer and longer, and challenging — and I got nauseous." 

The couple was all smiles before the toughest part of the hike. (Submitted by Tony Leitao)

The couple found themselves in the midst of a demanding ascent, 500 metres in elevation, up the mountain. The route to the top, through a gully, scrambling over rocks, can knock a serious hiker out of breath. 

Another intimidating factor: you can't hike down the way you came up.

Parks Canada's trail is marked out as a loop, with the descent down the side of the mountain. Trying to turn around isn't really an option.

That's where Genevieve Leitao got severely nauseous, and Tony got worried.

"She was feeling very sick, and I look at my phone, and there's no reception. This is not good." 

Race against time

Genevieve managed to settle her stomach enough to make it through the last tough stretch to the top. 

"But then when we got right to the top ... we saw the perfect view. That gorgeous view, of the water and the mountains. It was so exciting," she said.

"And then I wondered ... where was Tony going?"

Tony was frantically scouring the flat-topped mountain trying to find the perfect vista, and wrangle his camera gear, in order to capture the proposal on-camera in epic fashion.

Meanwhile, Genevieve had gotten caught up in conversation with a fellow hiker.

Genevieve Leitao tackles the most challenging part of the ascent up Gros Morne Mountain. (Submitted by Tony Leitao)

"I saw the sun going down, I was like, this is not good, can you please finish talking," said Tony, who finally managed to wrangle his would-be-wife away from chit chat, to more important matters.

And important matters to Genevieve involved looking good against such a beautiful view.

"I took down my hair, started fixing it, 'Is it OK? Do I look OK?' He was like, 'Yeah, you look good, you look good!'"

And with everything finally in place — Tony hit the self-timer on the camera, and counted down the ten seconds to the big moment.

"I thought, what's he doing? After we were waiting for the ten-second shot. He got down so quickly on his knees. It took me by surprise," Genevieve recalled, her voice swelling with emotion at the memory. 

What goes up ... must come down

Amid the engagement euphoria, a little bit of reality snuck in: The two were on top of the mountain at dusk, and still needed to get back down, no easy jaunt in itself.

"It was so dark," said Genevieve.

The view from Gros Morne Mountain's summit looks down at Ten Mile Pond, an inland fjord. (Melanie Pattern/Canadian Press)

"The very funny part, is when she was in such pain going up, going down, she was so happy, and I was the one that was in pain," said Tony.

"Cause I kept looking at my ring," laughed Genevieve.

The two managed their way down the side of the mountain, but they'd drank their two litres of water in the blazing heat during their ascent, and hadn't packed a snack. 

At around the 12-kilometre-mark, things started to get weird.

"When we got lower down, to the base, rocks were looking like crouched people sitting down, 'cause we didn't eat — we'd only had breakfast, we didn't eat all day — and we were dehydrated," said Genevieve.

On such a sunny day, the couple had drank their water supply before reaching the summit. (Submitted by Tony Leitao)

"It was pretty scary."

By the time the two wound their way back to the parking lot, they had been hiking for 12 hours.

On its website, Parks Canada estimates the mountain is usually done in seven to eight hours, "at a leisurely pace."

"We pretty much went way over," said Tony.

The pain fades, but the memory remains

The Leitaos survived, albeit a bit sore, and got married in October 2014.

But that day has never strayed far from their hearts.

"Even just on a random day, we just talk about it," said Tony. "We think back, and there's nothing we would have changed about it."

"I like that we were by ourselves, that no one was there, and it was just the two of us on the top of the mountain. I just loved it," said Genevieve. 

Tony agreed. "It's worth the pain."

The two are planning a return trip to Newfoundland this summer — but remain undecided if they'll trek back to the top of Gros Morne Mountain.

After all, how could you top that first time?

Genevieve and Tony Leitao were married in October 2014. (Submitted by Tony Leitao)


Lindsay Bird

CBC News

Lindsay Bird is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in Corner Brook.