Vancouver Hikers — Rite of Passage

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Just north of Vancouver lie the North Shore Mountains where Grouse Mountain, a popular winter and summer destination, is located. Reach the top of Grouse Mountain and you have before you one of the most beautiful views in North America. To the right and to the left are the balance of the North Shore Mountains and right before you is the city and urban sprawl of Vancouver, which just hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. One way to reach the summit is by Tram. The Grouse Mountain Tram climbs to the top of the mountain, providing skiers access to winter activities such as alpine and cross country skiing and snowboarding. In the summer, folks ride to the top for vistas, hiking, dining, Theatre in the Sky or the World Famous Lumberjack Show.  It's one of Vancouver's popular attractions.

One other activity attracts the local crowd to Grouse Mountain and that is the Grouse Grind. This is the most popular hike in the area and climbs over 850 meters, 2499 feet, virtually straight up. But people come from all over the area to conquer the trail. It is so popular that, while some try to hike it just once to say they completed "the Grind", many use this hike for routine exercise. For locals, it's customary to measure how long it takes to complete "the Grind". As of this writing, a new record was just posted 23:48 minutes. For mere mortals, expect the climb to take from 90 minutes to 2 hours. Even charities take advantage of the hike's popularity by encouraging hikers to raise money from donors based on the number of "Grinds" they complete. These are great causes and encourage many to hike that might not normally do so.

My experience reminded me that there is a proper way and a not-so-smart way of approaching a hike like this. For Astute Traveler, I was researching a Vancouver Day trip so I had multiple things I was trying to accomplish that day. I started a bit late with a morning hike at Cypress Mountain. So, mistake one, the Grouse Grind should be your first and only hike of the day. I also knew that I would be having dinner at a popular restaurant in Vancouver and accordingly, I did not have the right clothes for this hike. You want to hike with comfortable shorts for the high stepping and reduced resistance on your legs. Further, knowing you are going to sweat, make sure to wear light layers, which can be quickly shed. I wore blue jeans which quickly became weights dragging me down. Smarter hikers were passing me like I was standing still with spandex shorts and hiking shorts which were much better choices. Finally it would have been much better to hike with a pack or belt that held water bottles. While I tried to hydrate before hiking, I had no idea what I was getting into. The hike was shaded and the air temperature was in the low 60's (around 15C), how much fluid could I possibly lose? Plenty!! This is one big "shvitzing" experience.

At my hotel, I remember telling the concierge that I was climbing "The Grind". With a hint of a smile, he sized me up and said it would probably take me an hour and a half to complete the hike. All along the way I was thinking about this. "90 minutes to scale the top. Just 90 minutes, you can do it", I told myself. So while I am 56 and in pretty good shape, living in the flat lands, there is no way to prepare for 90 minutes of hiking straight up.

The trail is marked into quadrants. I remember hiking and hiking, none-stop, for about 20 minutes before taking my first look up. "Just one step after another", I was thinking. But with each step, I was blowing harder and harder until I felt nearly delirious. OK, time for a break. Huff and puff, huff and puff, I am ready to begin again. Shortly thereafter, I reached the first "¼ of the hike" marker. "You are kidding, only a fourth!!", I thought. Slowly a new reality began to dawn on me. While I am in this for the long-haul, I was going to have to come up with a better strategy: slow, steady and deliberate. This was no walk in the park. Not easy, not even close. As I watched 10 year olds and several folk over 60 pass me by, I was going to have to bear down and get through it as a matter of survival.

Without more of the gory details of my hike, I found it most interesting to watch the variety of the people hiking the Grind. Beyond the world class 20 something athletes that were in top shape and top form, there were more children (over 10, I would say) than I expected. Another interesting thing was how I would pass people and some would pass me over and over during the balance of the hike. I would challenge myself to not let this person pass me or that person. Each little mind game helped in its own little way until I popped (stumbled) up to the top of the rocks near the Grouse Mountain Lodge.

Endorphins and exhaustion were the only thing to greet me on top. After about fifteen minutes, I began to regain my senses and strength. That was a good thing because I soon realized there is a lot to do once you reach the summit. You have scenic vistas, trails to stroll and nourishment to consume. But I was proud. I had accomplished the hike and earned my "rite of passage" as a Vancouver hiker on the Grind in a less than glorious but respectable 87 minutes. Another great thing: It is forbidden to hike down the Grind so I gladly paid my $10 for a tram ride back to the car.