Asked to describe the Grouse Grind in a phrase, most will use the word “challenge”, others “busy”, some even equate it to a pilgrimage to the cold beer you know awaits you at the summit. But the resounding feeling is one of accomplishment.
Thirty minutes from the heart of downtown Vancouver, Grouse Mountain is an outdoor enthusiast’s mecca. In the winter, skiers and snowboarders alike take advantage of the Olympic class slopes, and families pack the open air ice rink. After-work parties frequently take in the snow shoeing or tubing.
In the summer, a trail opens that has become every Vancouverite’s rite of passage. The Grouse Grind, a 2.9km hike up the face of the mountain, isn’t for the faint of heart! Starting at 274 metres above sea level at the base, the trail climbs to the summit of Grouse Mountain at 1127 metres. With over 2800 man-made and natural steps, it is affectionately nicknamed “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”! In 2010, a runner named Sebastian Salas recorded the current fastest time of 25:01 minutes, but most hikers can expect to complete the climb in an hour and a half.
As soon as it opens in mid May (official opening times are dictated by weather conditions), the trail becomes packed with veterans, first timers, families, couples, locals, and tourists. Another word that springs to mind when considering the Grind is camaraderie, and hikers will sacrifice a minute or two on their finishing time to help struggling strangers scramble over the huge Douglas Fir roots or up the sheer rock faces.
Watching the variety of faces emerge at the top of the trail, through the pain and exhaustion, there is a resounding sense of relief and achievement. Once at the peak of Grouse Mountain, there is a wide range of refreshment options; hot chocolate is a popular choice, as is a cold Granville Island beer at the Altitudes restaurant.
Whichever method is chosen to ascend this magnificent tourist attraction (non-hikers have the option of an 8 minute gondola ride giving great views of the whole city), there is no shortage of entertainment at the top. A daily comedic lumberjack show never gets old, delighting tourists and locals alike. Birds in motion is a fascinating display of local birds of prey, and climbing the tower of the wind turbine is becoming increasingly popular. It’s also possible to experience zip lining, and there are even helicopter tours around the mountain.
My personal highlight is a visit with Coola and Grinder, the 11-year-old rescued Grizzly Bears who live in the wildlife refuge. Rangers are always on hand to answer any questions and throw the bears’ favourite snacks into the enclosure – that would be carrots, not tourists, fortunately!
Whether tackling the Grind or swaying above the trees in a gondola, a visitor to Vancouver should not miss Grouse Mountain and the myriad of activities it has to offer.
Locals should never take for granted the proximity of this world-class attraction. I know I never will!