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The Grouse Grind

This is a guest post from Karl Woll. Grab a bit more information about Karl at the bottom.

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The Grouse Grind, also known as Nature’s StairMaster, seems to have a love or hate relationship with Vancouver’s local hikers.

For many, they love the challenge up pushing themselves up the steep slope to the top of Grouse Mountain as fast as they can. They love the reward of reaching the top in a new personal best time, and of logging their season stats with their Grind Timer. They love the view from the patio once the challenge is over, and the beer that accompanies it. They love seeing the grizzly bear habitat, the Birds in Motion show, and the other back country trails that are accessible once at the top.

For others, they hate the overcrowded trail, packed with tourists and first-time hiking newbs climbing in jeans. They hate fighting their way up against people hiking back down the narrow trail. They can’t imagine paying $5 (well now, $10, but more on that later) to pay for the Gondola ride down should you choose to obey the “No Hiking Down” signs. They can’t imagine doing this when there are so many other less crowded trails on the North Shore.

For me, after having done my first full season of Grinds last year, its a love relationship. But, what exactly is the Grouse Grind, and why is it so popular (attracting over 100,000 hikers each season)?

The trail is maintained by Metro Vancouver. From their website:

The Grouse Grind Trail is located in North Vancouver, B.C., at the base of the Grouse Mountain Resort ski area. It is an extremely steep and mountainous trail that begins at the 300-metre-elevation and climbs to 1,100 metres over a distance of approximately 2.9 kilometres.

Hiking times vary considerably depending on each hiker’s individual fitness level. The Grouse Grind hike is difficult and those planning on climbing the trail should be in excellent physical condition.

The Grind actually has a very interesting history, which was profiled in the latest issue of Explore. Pick it up if you get a chance, but you can read an article excerpt here:

The story behind the Grouse Grind: How two hikers created Canada’s busiest trail

Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira didn’t commute every day by foot to their makeshift set atop Grouse Mountain. But at least once during the Winter Olympics, the NBC Today Show hosts trudged to their job by way of the storied hiking trail that the world now knows about too. The Grouse Grind inhaled the co-hosts at the parking lot and coughed them up at the summit, 2.9 kilometres and 2,798 vertical feet later. If Vancouver was Heaven—as the anchors daily suggested it was—then they had discovered the Stairway. The makeup guy that day didn’t bother with the rouge.

Rotund weatherman Al Roker took the tram. But Matt and Meredith, see, they didn’t really have a choice. If you’re a reporter in Vancouver trying to take the temperature of the town, you must engage with the Grind. Must. Because the Grind isn’t just some local recreation option. It’s a crucible, a social phenomenon, a cosmic test of character. Hereabouts, your relationship with the Grind is a metric of what kind of Vancouverite you are.

People talk about their “Grind time”—which turns out, handily, to be about the same as their 10K time. A rule of thumb is that if you can do the Grind in the same number of minutes as your age in years, you’re really fit. (For most people, that only starts to be a possibility in their thirties or forties, like shooting their age in golf.) There are Grouse Grind swipe cards that trip a sensor at a timing post on the bottom and again at the top. Each year the Canucks hockey club tests its crop of prospects on the Grind. (The best time—and it won’t surprise you they had the same result—belongs to the twins, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, at around 32 minutes.) Wilderness-therapy programs have rehabilitated at-risk kids on it. Monks have carried a heavy brass Buddha up it, each taking a few steps and passing it along. There are Grouse Grind dating strategies, Grouse Grind playlists. And there’s a local realtor who completed the Grind 13 times in one day. (As his brain-fog cleared on the last gondola down at 11 p.m., he calculated that he’d burned 14,000 calories.)
These days, well over 100,000 people do the Grind every year.

If you could harness the energy output of all those hikers, you might not need the new 1.5 MW wind turbine just installed on the peak to help run the resort. In a way, Grinders do power Grouse. They amount to a windfall for the Grouse Mountain ski resort management—which never, truth be told, wanted a staircase up their mountain in the first place, but are now quite happy to take a million bucks of Grinders’ money to the bank every year.

It’s hard to imagine Vancouver without the Grind. But you don’t have to go back too far in time to do it….

But from its humble beginnings to today, its hard to explain why its so popular amongst locals. There are no shortage of alternative trails, like the BCMC which runs adjacent to the Grind, and spits you out at the same atop the mountain at the same place. For me, one of the things that draws me to the trail is it can be done quickly after work, when you only have an hour or so to spare before the sun goes down. It’s familiar, you can Skyride down, and there are amenities at the top. I also enjoy clocking myself with the Grind Timer chip. Its a great motivation to push yourself for better times and fitness levels. The Grind Timer allows you to scan your card at the bottom, and again at the top, then go home to login on the website. It gives you all the stats you need: your season times, other’s times, and all time records for most Grinds ever, or in a day:

Speaking of records, local realtor Sebastian Albrecht recently broke the record for most Grinds in a day, at 14, to raise money for charity.

So that’s the Grouse Grind in a nutshell. But before you hope on the Ferry and head over for your first hike up, here’s a few more things you may want to know:

  1. This season, Grouse Mountain doubled the Skryride fare, from $5 to $10, which has upset many hikers. There are concerns this will only encourage more people to hike back down against the crowd to avoid the fee. For Grouse, its undoubtedly a way to cash in on a huge demand, and encourage more people to buy an annual membership.
  2. This year there is a Grind for Kids program benefiting the BC Children’s Hospital. Simply get people you know to donate $1 for each time you do the Grind.
  3. If you want to race, the annual Seek the Peak relay is a great event, going from ocean to mountain peak. There’s also the BMO Grouse Grind Mountain Run.
  4. There’s lots of cool stuff to check out at the top, from grizzlies to a wind turbine (check their website to see what’s going on).
  5. Straight.com has you covered with a Grouse Grind rookie guide

Happy Grinding!

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Karl Woll is a passionate outdoor enthusiast who shares his adventures on OutdoorVancouver.ca, a blog about all things outdoors in the Vancouver area. He also puts thoughts to 1’s and 0’s on his personal blog, Kwollity.com.

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  1. […] is familiar with the Grouse Grind. Not everyone, however, knows that a winter version of the trail exists. Last February, Grouse […]