Taking on Mother Nature’s Stairmaster: The Grouse Grind

Doing the Grouse Grind might be a rite of passage for Vancouverites, but that doesn't make it any less of an accomplishment worth celebrating

Credit: Jeanette Hill

Susie Hill caps off her year of gym workouts with a casual climb up Grouse Mountain

Doing the Grouse Grind might be a rite of passage for Vancouverites, but that doesn’t make it any less of an accomplishment worth celebrating

Climbing a mountain is the ultimate symbol of accomplishment. This is especially true for people like me, who have spent the past year in a crowded gym, attempting to shed the pounds put on courtesy of an unhealthy undergraduate diet (beer and nachos anyone)? 

I had survived the trials and tribulations of getting in shape, including murky health shakes, treadmills and countless lunges. I was ready for a new challenge, namely Mother Nature’s Stairmaster: The Grouse Grind.

Starting the Climb up Grouse Mountain

So there I was, at the base of Vancouver’s toughest hiking trail about to climb 2,830 stairs to the summit, 3,700 feet above sea level. I felt strangely confident in the way that novices often do and took off striding up the trail, iPod blasting. 

Five minutes turned into 15 when my breath began to quicken and suddenly the rhymes of Tupac were no longer a sufficient motivator. I glanced around desperately for the first quarter mark, but found only a hyperactive teenager in pink spandex who informed me it was still 10 minutes up the trail. When I finally reached it, I hugged the marker in relief.

Making it to the Halfway Point

People started to pass me in droves and I realized that the Grind is no stairmaster and there are no level options. The key to survival is to treat each set of rickety stone and wood stairs as a mountain in themselves, climbing one small hurdle at a time.

My breathing began to steady and I got into a nice groove, which allowed me to enjoy the scenery. Surrounded by ancient trees and streams, it is easy to get caught up in the Jack London spirit and loose your footing.

I managed to stumble repeatedly by the time I reached the halfway marker and was perplexed by people who had brought babies and small children along for the hike — were they not aware of the gondola?

Reaching Grouse’s Peak

When I reached the three-quarter mark, I felt a flicker of hope amidst my exhaustion as I realized the summit, along with the delights of civilization (bears and shops and water, oh my!), were within reach. During that last quarter, I was in the zone, mentally racing people (take that 12 year olds) until I saw the light, literally. 

The sun was shining when I reached the summit and many hikers were sunbathing on boulders amidst a spectacular view of ocean and mountains. I experienced a real sense of triumph as I looked out at the city and realized that I had come full circle from the unhealthy student I once was.

I stood there and imagined my gym below as a tiny dot in the distance, and I felt like I could crush it between my fingers.

Susie Hill is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, BC. She has a degree in political science from Simon Fraser University and enjoys conducting research on everything from environmental issues to fashion. She currently blogs for voicesforourplanet.com.