If you had asked me a few years ago if I would ever think about doing the Grouse Grind once a week, I would have laughed and written you off as a nut. If you are from Vancouver, you likely know all about the Grind. If you have never hiked it or you’re not from here, allow me to briefly summarize.
The Grouse Grind is a 2.9km (1.8m) hike up the face of Grouse Mountain, North Vancouver’s most popular local mountain resort. While completing “Nature’s Stairmaster”, as they call it, you will climb 2800ft in elevation over 2830 stairs. The average hike time, according to their website, is about 1.5 hours.
The Grind is one of Vancouver’s most popular recreational activities, averaging 100,000 hikers a year. If you’ve ever done the Grind, you know MANY of these hikers had no idea what they were getting themselves into.
The stories of novice hikers are plentiful and hilarious. My mom once saw a woman in heels perching at the half-way mark (God knows how she got that far), and just last weekend and I saw a young family coaxing their 2 year old up a step taller than he was. It’s not rare to see a rescue team helping the unprepared back down the hill or hear sirens below in the parking lot as you are hiking along.
But for regulars, hiking the Grind has become a cultish test of endurance, pain threshold, and sheer mental focus. It is with strong disbelief that I have found myself an emerging member of this cult.
In no ways am I fit. I can do what is expected of me as a 21 year old, but if you ask me to run a block, I will be out of breath and likely cursing. So, when I began hiking the Grind as a pre-teen, making it a once-a-summer punishment for too many popsicles, my time was somewhere around 1 hr and 35 minutes. For the last three quarters of the trail, I would usually take a few steps and stop, repeat, and then upon completion, swear I would never do it again. But every summer, the mountain would peer down on me as I sipped iced tea with a book in the backyard, mocking me, betting me I couldn’t, wouldn’t, do it.
This summer was different. Over the past year, I had met some people who were enthusiastic about challenging themselves and enjoying the outdoors. I knew I hated the gym, wasn’t a runner, and didn’t have the cardio to bike up many hills. I thought – “why not take my age-old summer nemesis and show that mo-fo what I’ve got!” Yes, I said it exactly in those words.
In fact, I didn’t have much. The first Grind this season was much like my usual, stopping and starting, feeling nauseous by the one half mark. I clocked in around 1.5 hours and met my friends at the top, who had been waiting for about 40 minutes.
Their ridiculously good times further fueled my motivation to prove myself on the trail. I utilized Facebook to make a weekly Grind group where I could always find a Grind mate, providing much more motivation that just relying on my own plans. Since then, every Sunday I have conquered the Grouse Grind (except for one Sunday. We’re not talking about that though). Every Sunday since, I have also shaved down my time. I went from 1.5 hours, to 1 hour and 15 minutes, to 1 hour and 10 minutes, to most recently, 1 hour and 7 minutes. I know that is still slow compared to most people my age, but my goal is to get under an hour by the end of summer.
Over the weeks, I have acquired some Grind skills that have helped me have a more enjoyable and quicker hiker. I start slow, right off the get go. If I have energy, I speed up at the end. I don’t stop. If I do stop, I keep moving, such as walking extra slow while having some water. I stretch at the half way mark. I take longer strides. When I get the nice level stairs, I embrace them. I straighten my legs after long periods of stairs to stretch out my calves. I listen to a live recording of my favourite musician; hearing the cheering and chanting of the crowds pump me up. I don’t look at the time.
My favourite part of the Grind remains the finish line, and the hot shower afterwards. Exercise highs are not something I am used to, but damn I feel amazing when I hit the chalet for a post-hike snack. And later in the day, when I look up at the mountain I say to myself with a proud little smirk – “I climbed that today”.
So call it a cult, but I’m hooked.