Vancouver, Canada. September 2014.
ME: So what’s this thing we’re doing before we go zip lining?
HER: Oh don’t worry about it; it’s nothing, a small hike.
What appeared to be a rather innocuous pre-zip lining activity turned out to be anything but, yet it resulted in one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences a traveler could undertake.
That “small hike” was Vancouver’s Grouse Grind; the spectacular 1.8 mile hike up the steep, winding trail of Grouse Mountain. Standing at 2800 feet from its entry point to the final step, the trail boasts varying difficulties of steepness that fluctuate from 17 degrees to a calf-busting 30. For those not so hike-inclined, all those numbers mean that it’s a damn steep mountain; one that proudly claims the nickname “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”.
The climb has become regular exercise for extreme fitness nuts, easily spotted as those running (yes, running) up as you huff and puff to stop every 10 minutes. The fastest recorded times clock in at less than 30 minutes, which, when you start climbing the grind, you realize is borderline insanity.
We had hiked a fairly decent trail around one of Tofino’s islands just days prior but what preparation is big enough to stand in the shadow of a mountain?
The gravity of the hike dawns on you at the foot of the trail, emblazoned with substantial warning signs and disclaimers warning those with poor health and rickety hearts to stay away. But with every quad-breaking step amongst the endless trees and rock, you begin to take in the enormity of the task at hand. And with every step, the opportunity to hit reset and trek back down the walk grows smaller and smaller. It’s a challenge that is only rewarding if you push through, fight the urge to quit and soldier on to the top.
After an hour into the hike, we really did feel like dying, and as what seemed like the last embers of strength faded in our search for respite, a marker finally twinkled at a distant, just barely out of our reach. The ¾ marker? The halfway point? Our anticipatory glimmer of hope was crushed as the ¼ marker made its much belated appearance. At this point, we really did just have to sit for a moment to pull ourselves together. Some water, a pep talk and new found determination later, we decided there was no room for quit.
Ten minutes at a time.
Through our ascent we noticed the wide range of people who took the climb. From the elite athletes who run the trail multiple times (we met someone who did the Grind 4 times in one day), to those like us, looking to challenge themselves, it really is a wide slice of society that finds themselves mountainside. Yes, there were those who were hopelessly unprepared for the trek too- lost tourists in jeans, young female socialites who couldn’t part with their heels(!), and for some odd reason, those toting their laptops up with them.
Yet while we huffed and puffed our way to the top, we would have been remiss not to stop as often as we did. Partially to catch our breath, but also to enjoy and to take it what a glorious setting it really was. We sat there, where the trees opened up to the view, and revelled at exactly where we were: the hard yards of a beautiful journey to the peak of accomplishment. While our feet grew weary, our hearts and minds grew stronger, more inspired in every sense as we neared the peak. You often see those tacky inspirational quotes shared across social media, one-liners and phrases meant to lift you. But there are few things more uplifting for both the body and mind than an accomplishment like climbing a mountain.
It’s why the Grouse Grind should be on your list of life’s accomplishments. It’s a fantastic way to test your body and mind while taking in some terrific scenery. It’s free, and if you’re so inclined, there’s plenty of paid activities once you get the top. Clocking in at about 2 hours, the completion of the trek was exhilarating, and endlessly rewarding. Yes, you’re tired, but with a renewed sense of adventure, we powered through two hours of zip-lining across the mountains which in itself, is a breathtaking way to fly through the clouds.
You’ve seen and heard how motivating the outdoors can be; living active, living strong. It’s an old mantra that continues to be one of life’s most simplest, yet most giving ways to get the most out of everything. If Vancouver is a stop on your next holiday and you’ve got plenty of nightlife and shopping on the list but need something with a bit of gruff, consider the Grouse Grind as a perfect antidote to the sometimes draining nature of modern living. There’s nothing out there but you and the mountain. Sometimes, that’s the only way to live. And let me tell you, that first beer I had when we made it to the top of the mountain was the best beer I ever had in my life.