The Grouse Grind

I’m in anything but the best of shape and far be it for me to say that I’m an expert in the field. Even so, I’ve gone up the Grouse Grind on enough occasions to have learned a few lessons. It’s one arduous journey up “Nature’s Stairmaster.”

For those of you who are not as familiar, the Grouse Grind is a famous (or even infamous) hiking trail located in North Vancouver. You could take the easy way out and ride the gondola to the top of Grouse Mountain, but the hike is quite the adventure in and of itself. Much of it has quite a steep incline, but they’ve installed some semi-natural “stairs” along several portions to help with your footing.

The fastest among us can do it in about half an hour, whereas the average person can do it in about an hour and a half (or less). First-timers, particularly those who aren’t in the greatest of shape, will want to heed some advice from those of us who have been there, done that, and also aren’t in the greatest of shape. I took to the trail with my mom yesterday and here is some of the advice I gave to her along the way.

1. Make Sure You Hydrate

Water is your friend. As you make your way up the Grouse Grind, you’ll be sweating a lot of it out, so make sure you replenish your body’s supply of the wet stuff. Don’t worry about rushing to the washroom, because your body won’t let you. My suggestion is to take some seriously good gulps before you start and bring along a good-sized water bottle for the ascent. Ration it accordingly, because it’s not like you can go back to the gift shop for a fresh bottle. That’ll have to wait until you get to the top.

2. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The first time I did the Grouse Grind, I got way ahead of myself. I took off like a bullet, rushing up the first several steps like I had an endless supply of energy and enthusiasm. Then, it hit me: this is hard. Don’t underestimate the Grind. You’re much better off starting with a decidedly slower pace and sticking with it all the way up the mountain, taking as few breaks as possible. I wouldn’t worry too much about “making good time” if it’s your first visit to the Grouse Grind. Just finish it, take your experience, and use that knowledge for next time.

3. The First Quarter is the Hardest

Each quarter on the Grouse Grind is marked. As you can see in the photo above (which I took with my Nokia E71), there’s a blue placard indicating that we are one-fourth of the way to the top. These markers are based on elevation and not distance traveled. The trail gets steeper the higher up you go, so the first quarter is the longest and the last quarter is the shortest. The first quarter is additionally challenging, because you are likely still adapting to the thinner mountain air. By the time you make past the quarter mark, you should be better acclimated.

4. Mind Over Matter (and Body)

There are going to be instances when you think that you can’t possibly make another step. You can. You just have to believe you can. Absolutely, this is a physical challenge, but it’s also a mental one too. The more you’re able to push yourself over the next hump, the closer you are to getting to the finish line.

5. Don’t Forget the Bug Spray

As with so many outdoor activities, whether it be visiting the zoo or hitting up the night market, it’s a pretty good idea to use some bug spray. This is particularly true of “outdoorsy” activities like the Grouse Grind. You are in the middle of the forest, after all. I’ve also noticed that the more you stand still, the more bugs you attract. That’s another motivating factor to keep you moving forward.

From a logistical standpoint, it’s best to get the $5 all day parking just in case. Also know that the “download” ticket for the gondola is now ten bucks per person. There is a current promotion, however, that reduces it back to five bucks if you buy a bottle of Whistler water (for about $3).

Any other locals want to chime in with how to tackle the Grouse Grind?