An hour long near vertical ascent up a mountain may seem like an unusual holiday highlight – but the heart wants what it wants, and the Grouse Grind was one of my favourite parts of my time in Vancouver.
Arriving in Vancouver, we knew one thing: we wanted a challenge, and we had 24 hours to find one. When the guy who we rented our camping gear from (more on that in a couple of weeks) mentioned a tough hike up Grouse Mountain, our minds were made up.
Also known as ‘nature’s stair master’ The Grouse Grind is a 2.9k trail that consists of no fewer than 2,830 stairs and 830 meters of elevation gain. It starts next to the Grouse Mountain car park and ends just shy of the mountain summit. The less actively inclined can choose to take the chairlift.
The trail is closed throughout the winter months, and when we arrived raring to go, we were told that it hadn’t opened for the spring yet. We asked the girl at the front desk who confirmed that, yes, the trail was indeed closed. We were bereft – where were we going to get our endorphin high from now? The receptionist mentioned a gentle walk around the corner; I don’t think she read her audience.
We decided to chance it anyway, and as we headed towards the starting point found some Vancouver locals who said the trail was fine to hike despite being closed. The guard by the entry fence was similarly nonplussed – the trail was ready to open, with just a few dodgy steps left.
Having got past the starting line, there was nothing to do but go for it. The grind starts as it continues – with lots of steps. I’m an exercise masochist so love uphill climbs, meaning the grind was exactly my type of thing. It was a perfect intensity – enough to get your heart pumping, not enough that you felt you were going to die. Signs let you know your progress, so you aren’t left wondering how much is left to go. Our fellow walkers were a real mix – trail runners aiming for a personal best, families having an active day out, older tourists taking it easy. We were in the middle – we hiked fast enough to feel good about ourselves, but took breaks to take photos and enjoy the view. The only tricky bits came near the end of the trail where there were a few stairs that hadn’t been repaired yet.
Our biggest surprise was when we got ¾ of the way up the mountain and saw the first hints of snow. Vancouver was in the middle of a heatwave at this point, and we were clad in strappy tops – it hadn’t occurred to us that the top of Grouse Mountain would still be cold. As we completed the final thrust, we caught our breath as we emerged onto a snow-capped mountain. We were thankful that we’d packed some warm clothes in our daypacks. With burning thighs, we layered up and headed off to grab a well-deserved smoothie. We’d managed to do the Grind in 1.10 – twenty minutes short of the 1.30 average time. Given that we could have pushed ourselves much harder if we hadn’t stopped for selfies we were pretty happy with our time.
Once you’ve finished the grind the fun isn’t over – Grouse Mountain is a well-developed tourist trap, with lumberjack shows, grizzly bears and a well-stocked cafe. We wandered around marvelling at the fact that we were now in what felt like a ski resort before dropping some cash in the shops – full of really great outdoor brands, included some North Face Ground Grind gear which we were very tempted at buying. After a couple of hours, we got the chairlift down, glad that our Pacific Northwest trip had ended on a high.
Helen Cross | @Helen_Estelle