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The Grouse Grind

July 14, 2011

The grouse grind, a phrase that can conjure up feelings of fear in even the most ardent of hikers, and for good reason.  It is a 2.9 kilometer uphill hike that rises 853 meters.  On paper (or screen) that doesn’t sound as intimidating as the hike really is.  It is nearly impossible to capture the grueling, unending climb in words.  There is no downhill, not even any level along the way to rest your legs, just step after step, climbing and climbing up the side of the mountain..

Still, the Grouse Grind offers a challenge of fitness to all.  This is the gold standard of fitness tests.  Known as ‘Mother Nature’s Stairmaster’.

“What is your time on the Grind?” is the measure of your fitness, your worth as a Vancouverite.  “When was the last time you hiked the Grind” is the follow up if you thought you could use an old time to fake a level of fitness clearly no longer evident in your phsyique.  A little warning though, every year the route is fixed and upgraded a little, so be prepared to talk about the newest changes if you foolishly try to pass off a years old climb as current.

My First Grind

I remember the first time I did the grind.  It was years ago and I was tremendously unfit.  I went with my wife who had been doing it for a couple of years.  I am not sure if she was trying to kill me or humiliate me into exercising, but  I had a few weeks notice of the impending climb so I went to the gym and climbed onto the Stairmaster every chance I got.  This may have saved my life.

On the potentially fateful day, we started out together but within minutes I could barely see her ahead and above me.  I struggled up that mountain.  I had been warned that the 1/4 mark is so much further along than you think it is, and even then I thought “I must have missed it and I am narrowing in on the 1/2 marker” when I saw it.  It sent a shock through my system.  If this was a 1/4 and I was halfway to dead, I didn’t have to be a mathematician to figure out I was going to be carted off the mountain in a body bag.  Truth be told, the 1/4 mark is actually 1/3 of the way up the mountain, at the end of a massive uphill vertical climb (If you look carefully right now (early July 2011), you can actually see some orange spray painted marks showing the actual 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 marks.  I am guessing they will be moving the large signs shortly, possibly right after the Seek The Peak this weekend.  I will miss the discussion).

I ended up finishing the hike, and I have no idea how long it took because my wife turned off her stopwatch after she reached the top.  I am sure it was probably about an hour and a half.  I was happy I completed it, I could finally join in discussions with other grinders.

Deciding to Climb the Grind

The fact is, most people can complete the grind.  It may take awhile.  Grouse Mountain Resort suggests that you give yourself 2 hours to get up there.  That is a pretty safe suggestion.  Take plenty of water and maybe a snack and stop when you are tired.  There are a number of spots to the side of the trail that you can stop and rest at, although if you are planning on completing in under an hour, you really can’t afford to stop at all.  I certainly don’t recommend you climb the grind if you are not in reasonable shape and if you have not been hiking recently.  Try some of the easier hikes around Vancouver before attempting the Grind.  As well, although climbing down the Grind is strictly prohibited, a lot of people climb up to the 1/4 mark and then climb back down.  If you want to get a feel for the Grind that is a great way to try.  Still, you have to know that the climb gets very steep at the end and the first 1/4, although daunting, isn’t entierly indicative of the whole climb.  If you are traveling to Vancouver and wanting to do the Grind when you get here, try building up to an hour on the Stairmaster in your gym.  If you can do that you should be fine on the actual hike.

Last year I hiked the Grind a dozen times and it got so that it wasn’t so miserable.  I would like to say that I came to enjoy it, but that just isn’t possible.  I imagine the Grind is a lot like giving birth.  The first time you don’t have a clue and are just excited to take the journey.  You get nervous as the time gets closer.  There is some discomfort and a little pain in the start and you wonder, is this all there is… As time progresses and you get further along you are in agony wondering when this will all be over, you don’t think you can take any more and you are praying for death and you realize you are at the 1/4 mark…  You reach a peak of pain that you cannot keep in your brain while you realize you have been doing this for longer than you can remember… just as the things brighten a little you realize the hardest part is behind you and you are just about done and thankful to be done.  Later, the whole thing behind you, time passes and you remember how good you felt finishing it (not that you may have shit yourself half way along), and you start to romanticize the whole thing and downplay the pain and someone suggests you do it again and it doesn’t sound so bad and next think you know you are starting down (up) this path again and you think… ‘Oh God, What did I agree to????’.  In any case, that is my take, recognizing that I am a man with no past or future plans of giving birth…

I was completing in about 56 minutes last year.  The year before I hit my peak time of about 49 minutes.  I was rocking it.  According to Grouse Moutain “The official course record to date for men is 25:01 held by Sebastian Salas set at the 2010 BMO Grouse Grind Mountain Run®.For women, the record is 31:04 held by Leanne Johnston and set at the 2007 event. Unofficially (that is, a record set outside the annual Grouse Grind Mountain Run®) the course record is a blistering 23:48 that is also held by Sebastian Salas. He set this time on August 24, 2010. The previous record of 24:22 stood for six years and was set by two-time World Mountain Running champion Jonathan Wyatt of New Zealand. Jonathan set the record in June of 2004 while visiting Vancouver. The renowned runner has also participated in the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games. ” In my experience a fit amateur should complete things at about twice the time of the best professionals, so I was quite proud of 49 minutes.

The average time is about an hour and a half.  Over 100,000 people per year attempt the grind and I am betting that number is climbing.  It certainly isn’t a serene solitary walk in the wild, but the reward for climbing the mountain is the ability to look down from the top and know, you climbed this:

Mind you, if that isn’t enough of a reward, you can always sit out on the patio deck from where the previous photo was taken and enjoy an ice cold beer, a meal and on Wednesday nights, a DJ and prizes…

I have done the Grind twice this year and have yet to break an hour.  My first hike was 1:03.  My second was 1:01.  Earlier this year I won second place in my age category for the Grouse Snowshoe Grind and one of my prizes was a Grind Timer.  I was so pumped because, A- I had never won anything before, and B-I wanted a Grind Timer.  I used it yesterday.  It was cool, but perhaps cooler was the fact that for the first and I hope only time in my life I was passed on a 30 degree continues hiking slope by a guy with an umbrella!! (Sorry for the picture quality but I didn’t want to slow down and my iPhone was getting soaked in my hand).  It was a torrential downpour and the hike was more of a waterfall than a path at some points.

So, have you hiked the Grind?  What was your time?  What did you think of the experience?  Is this the toughest hike you have done?  Please put your answers in the comments below…

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