The build up to the opening of the Grouse Grind was interesting to say the least.
We first arrived in Vancouver in the winter months and our only experience with Grouse Mountain was on those clear evenings where the city backdrop was lights atop a not-too-distant mountain lighting up a beautiful snow field – it’s part of what makes Vancouver such a picturesque city.
Sadly, it didn’t last long. The snow started to melt and the talk turned from ‘we’re hoping for one more big snow fall’ to ‘this was one of our warmest winters’. The snowfield on Grouse closed.
Then all of a sudden we were heading into May and the talk turned to the annual opening of the Grouse Grind.
So we ended up doing what apparently everyone else in Vancouver did on Saturday 09th May. We boarded the Seabus from Waterfront and crossed the harbour to North Van with a ferry full of what we didn’t realise were just some of the hoard also making their way to the base of Grouse Mountain.
We positioned ourselves near one of the ferry exits, got off and walked quickly over to the Lonsdale Quay Bay 8 bus stop where Bus 236 was waiting patiently. It got full very quickly – so much so not everyone from the ferry was able to board.
Some 15 minutes later through the suburbs (including the stop at the Capilano Suspension Bridge), we ended up at the Grouse Mountain Skyride base carpark.
From here you have two options. Pay about $45 per adult and take the cosy Skyride 10 minutes to the top, or spend the next hour-and-a-bit climbing nearly 3km of man-made stairs up almost 800m of elevation.
We were there to do the latter. And yes, it’s called the Grouse Grind for a reason – it’s not a hike, it’s not a trek, we were following the crowds up the Grouse Grind vertical stair climb. It hurts. You will sweat and you will stop, a lot. But, I think if you don’t do it, you’re not part of Vancouver. Do it once, good on you. Do it twice and you’re crazy (especially if you do it more than once in a day).
We passed a lot of people climbing in jeans and sweaters, seemingly unprepared, but still doing it. We had water and brought energy bars (just in case) but what we did not expect was the sheer number of people doing it.
Sure, it was the second day and the first weekend that the Grind was open. But still, hundreds of people of all ages and fitness levels, some moving fast, most taking their time, there were young kids (including babies being carried and toddlers learning to walk) and the not so young people in their 70s all tackling this annual ritual.
We did it in an hour which isn’t fast, but it isn’t slow. I read somewhere the average time for a novice is around an hour-and-a-half, so pretty happy with our time.
Then you reach the top and you don’t really know what to expect. What you see first is half the climbers sprawling along the rocky finish, recovering, hydrating and reminiscing. Then you see the building in front of you, where you take the steps upstairs and you’re confronted with the masses buying coffee and their Skyride tickets to get down.
Not all the shops were operating when we did it, but the shows were running. After a walk around and some cloudy/hazy city views, we went back to the main building for a bite to eat and a beer (standard alpine food and prices). Rested and recovered, we then had to get down.
So here’s the catch. There are two ways to get you back down to the carpark and bus stop area. You can pay $10 for a one way down only Skyride (in which everyone who boarded looked like they were squished in like sardines – and yes, you seriously have to pay) or take the BCMC trail just off to the side of the Grind.
For many reasons, including your safety and the safety of others, you can’t, and shouldn’t go back down the Grouse Grind.
We took the BCMC trail (when you’re standing at the exit of the Grind at the top, go to your left about 10 metres and look for a couple of small tags nailed into the tree that say BCMC).
Not only was the BCMC a nicer, natural trail, more likened to a hike than the Grind, but it was so much quieter – we passed only a handful of people and a couple of dogs on the BCMC trail.
Going down was a lot harder on the knees and it was also a damp, muddy and a typical slippery forest floor– so you had to be careful and a lot more surefooted.
The BCMC trail is also a little longer than the Grouse Grind. Overall, even though we were going down the mountain, it took us five minutes longer going down that it did going up…
You then end up back at the starting point, back on the bus, back down to the Quay, back onto the Seabus and back across the river, sweaty, smelly and tired, but glad you did the Grouse Grind at least once.
Have you done the Grouse Grind? Loved it? Smashed it? Couldn’t finish? Went down it instead? We’d love to hear your comments…