I Survived the Grouse Grind

Grizzly housed at Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife

Grizzly housed at Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife

Looking for something to do during your visit to Vancouver, British Columbia? Do you consider yourself physically fit? Put yourself to the fitness test and do the Grouse Grind.  I did, and have earned a great deal of respect for myself for doing so.

Located 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver at the upper terminus parking lot at the end of Capilano Road, Grouse Mountain is a favourite site among hikers – locals and tourists alike. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 people do the trail per year.  The Grind is a 1.8 mi (2.9-km) hike, a 2800-foot (843 m) incline, 1.5 times the height of Toronto’s CN Tower. With grades as steep as 45 degrees, this trek is often referred to as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster.”

After working out three days a week for a mere five weeks, I decided to “climb to the top of a mountain.” As I was already physically healthy prior to joining the gym, my personal goal was to make it to the top in the average length of time – 1.5 hours. After four minutes of climbing, I realized that this was going to be a long haul. My heart had reached target heart rate already. Though there are no actual flat stretches, my cousin Kym and I took a lot of short breaks either to take a sip of water or catch our breath. We

stretched our calf muscles just before the half way marker. At about the ¾ marker, the hike was somewhat more treacherous. The ground was a little wet, which explains the closure of the trail in winter months, since too much moisture would make the trail unsafe. Our upper leg muscles had become somewhat exhausted, but we kept on going. We were already past the point of no return and at no time did I consider turning back.

We noticed that people of all ages were climbing this trail. An elderly man hiked past us in a sure-and-steady-wins-the-race manner.  We even came across an obviously pregnant woman and her friend.  The two women had stopped on the side of the trail to take a break.  It was apparent that the non-expectant of the two women could not keep up with her friend. This is not to say that anyone can do the trial, as these particular people were obviously in peak physical condition already which is needed to meet the cardio-vascular requirements that the trail demands.

Once at the top, I looked at my watch for only the second time since we’d started. I had surprised myself, and beat my goal by five whole minutes!  Kym and I rejoiced in our triumph and walked around to find the other three members of our group – two of whom had made the hike in 55 minutes, the third whom opted to take the tram to the top. This stroll helped our muscles to cool down.  I was not fatigued in the least, and my muscles didn’t ache. That was quite shocking too. Pacing ourselves was the key.

We took in some of the sites atop the mountain.  Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife housed four grizzly bear cubs each with a similar story. Grinder was found wandering on a logging road in a terrible condition and without his mother. Coola was sighted at the side of a highway after his mother had been killed by a car. Cari and Boo’s story touched me the most.  They were orphaned June 4, 2002 after a poacher shot and killed their mother while she was feeding at the side of a highway outside Quesnel, BC.  A group of witnesses had warned the hunter that there were cubs nearby as they had been taking pictures of the trio all week. Dozens of bear cubs are orphaned each year and are normally euthanized, but these four were lucky. Conservation Officers brought all of these cubs to the refuge atop Grouse Mountain.  They enjoyed two fenced enclosures in the research project. The natural habitat is complete with dens for hibernation. Grinder and Coola provided us with some entertainment for a few short moments seemingly taking an opportunity to pose in a stretching position for the snapping cameras of the tourists. Cari and Boo remained more elusive in their separate enclosure and have since been moved to a new location at the Kicking Horse Resort near Golden, BC.  The hunter has been fined $9,000 for killing their mother.  And Grinder and Coola’s neighbouring habitat now houses four grey wolves that arrived in the summer of 2004.

Other summer activities on the mountain include helicopter rides, tandem paragliding, a World Famous Lumberjack Show, and mountain biking. Of course one can participate in skiing, sleigh rides, and skating in the winter months. The spectacular views of the city below can be enjoyed at anytime of the year. While at Grouse, we marveled at some of the incredible large wooden statues on the way back to the Alpine Chalet.

If you were fortunate enough to enjoy the scenic hike up the Grind, you have options on how you can get back down the mountain. Of course you can hike back down the way you came up, or on a variety of other routes. We, however, opted for purchasing tickets in the Alpine Chalet for a mere download fee of $5.00 per person on the skyride. Grouse Mountain Skyride is North America’s largest aerial tramway system. The gondola holds up to 100 people. A roundtrip journey from the bottom would have cost us $29.95 (adult price) per person for a ride of approximately eight minutes each way. For those afraid of heights, I’d recommend standing in the inner portion of the gondola. The gondola sways even on a calm day after each of two towers as you ride above the treetops.

However, if you do not suffer from acrophobia, the panoramic view of the skyscrapers, treetops, and Burrard Inlet below is spectacular. Squeezing your way near a window in the aerial tram can net you some very nice snapshot opportunities.

As a “fitness guru wannabe,” GrouseMountainwas my favourite Vancouver destination. The pride I had in accomplishing my personal goal was almost thwarted, however, when I got back to the gym about a week after my climb.  I was relating my vacation to a former co-worker, when a man on the treadmill next to me informed us he had done the Grind in a mere 38 minutes.  Looking at his body, I realized he was not overly new to this fitness business, and have since come back to terms with my time. I would highly recommend this grueling trek to any fitness minded individual who loves nature.

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