After I did the Vancouver Marathon May 1, I got the brilliant idea I could become a badass trail runner. I blame Born to Run. I even had dreams of ultra running.
Accordingly, I vowed to get out to North Vancouver and do the Grouse Grind this summer. I ran Mount Doug and Mount Finlayson. I hiked Gros Morne mountain in Newfoundland. I did not shy away from The Hill (yes there is one) when I was in Regina.
When I put out the call for fellow Grinders on Twitter and Facebook, my friend David (a runner from Central Saanich who runs with the Frontrunners gang) and Eric (from Vancouver) responded. We were on. August 21 was Grind Day.
6:25 am: I pull up near David’s place and he’s waiting outside, mostly because I’m five minutes late. It’s already warm, heading towards one of the hottest days of the year on the west coast.
6:40 am: We’ve decided to go public transit, so we leave my car at the ferry terminal and walk on. Despite my lack of sleep, we talk – really talk – the entire trip. No, not just the ferry crossing, I mean the ENTIRE trip which involves bus, sky train, sea bus and another bus before we get to Grouse Mountain.
7:30 am: I’m not hungry, but David convinces me I need to eat breakfast. I will thank him for this later.
10:30 am: after the epic public transit adventure (see above) we arrive at Grouse Mountain guest services to check our bags. “You should know the trail is very strenuous. You can’t climb down after you start up, you have to take the tram…” begins the spiel. “We know. We’re marathon runners, we’ll be fine,” we say.
10:45 am: We meet up with Eric at the trailhead and start off. Thinking Grouse is much like Mount Finlayson, which starts out relatively flat and then climbs, with the occasional flattish spot to pick up the pace, I want to run as much of it as I can. So we start out running.
10:46:32 am: We (well – er – it was me actually) stop running and start hiking. I am sucking wind, heaving like a rusty bellows. The Grouse Grind is nearly three kilometres straight up on awkward, uneven shored up trail. You can’t take short steps because of it. Quite frankly – it’s – a grind.
I blame my poor performance on my prairie upbringing and lack of latent athletic ability. David assures me I’m doing just fine as he slows down with me. I tell him to go ahead if he wants. He’s a Boston Qualified marathoner after all. And I’m — not.
“Why would I do that?” he says. “We came all the way over here to do this together. It wouldn’t be any fun if I went ahead of you.”
10:59 am: It occurs to me, after I get my heart rate down, after all this slowing down and sucking wind, that David is a lot like my last climbing partner Pete. Easygoing, just wanting to share the love of the sport and have a great time. Not out to prove anything. It’s all about the camaraderie, the adventure together. The more the merrier.
11:00 am: I realize how much I’m going to miss my friends in Victoria when I move to Vancouver.
11:15 am: the mountain is packed with people. I can’t believe the number of young children on this trail. Did their parents not get the message? (This blog post warns against taking young children.) I didn’t see anyone carrying a child up, but I did pass a lot sitting by the side of the trail. Meh, who am I to judge? I also saw some very spry (yet slow) older people making their way up.
11:30 am: I wasn’t the only one sucking wind, that’s for sure. It was also a very hot day. Silly me, I had forgotten my running hat at home. I took off my shirt so I could wipe sweat from my eyes, baring my midriff in public for the first time in years. It’s a little more cushy than I remember it from years ago when I ran in the Saskatchewan heat wearing only shorts and jogbra. I feel a little exposed, but soon I don’t care. I’m just concentrating on climbing.
12:05 pm: Success! One minute I’m hauling my very tired legs up that damned hill. Next, I turn a corner and surprise! There is the chalet!
Our total climbing time was 80 minutes. Apparently the average is 90. That’s what our waiter told us when we sat down to order beer and burgers, and enjoy the view from up there.
Eric had to head off to UBC for a conference, but after we finished lunch David and I decided to head right to the summit, another 20 minutes, but much easier hike to the top of the ski area. We watched some hang gliders take off and took the ski lift back down to the chalet. There we picked up the bags we checked at the bottom and changed into clean, dry clothes. Even I was starting not to be able to stand my own stink.
The tram ride all the way down is one of the highlights of the trip, even though it was packed with people. I’m sure they all appreciated that we had changed clothes.
We caught the bus to Lonsdale Quay, where we detoured for gelato before getting back on the sea bus. What a gorgeous day!
We got to Tsawwassen in time to catch the 7 pm ferry, 12 hours from the time our adventure started. I catnapped for about 10 minutes, then David and I just kept talking (albeit at a slower pace than before).
Back on the island, I dropped David at his place, and by the time I got home at about 9:45 pm I was exhausted, but still stoked from such a perfect day.
Overall impression of the Grouse Grind? It is indeed a grind: but with Guest Services at the bottom, a beer and burger at the top, and a tram ride down, you can’t go wrong. I’ll be back to do it again soon.