Why you should care
Because why get on the treadmill when you can dash 2,800 feet up a mountain?
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The 20-minute drive from downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, to Grouse Mountain is much like the mountain’s signature hike: The Grouse Grind — a straight ascent, steep and windy — can be clogged with traffic, and is much better when it’s over.
The Grind, as it’s known, is appropriately named. It sucks, frankly: a 1.8-mile trek straight up the face of the mountain with steps carved into the rock and solace found only in the form of rope to steady yourself, with rocks, stone, sod and trees to lean on for rest. The popular destination offers hikes for nature, hikes for relaxation and meditation, and hikes for a day outside with friends and family, but none of those reasons is why you’d take on the Grouse Grind. Rather, you’re looking at about an hour of punishment — the challenge of getting to the top while also getting some kick-ass cardio, which, according to Julia Grant, communications manager at Grouse Mountain, is kind of the point. “Being so close to the city, it’s pretty easily accessible, so rather than go to a gym, you can climb a mountain.”
Hikers have sought out the Grouse since at least 1894, Grant says, when the mountain was named for the blue birds hunters would encounter there. It went through a modern revival in the 1990s and today, the trail sees about 150,000 hikers annually.
A timer program allows those interested to swipe a card or smartphone app at the start and end to track personal progress. The official course record was set by local hiker Sebastian Salas in 2010 with a time of 25:01. The official records are taken during the annual Grouse Grind Mountain Run, which completed its 26th annual edition in fall 2017.
The views from the summit make the punishment worthwhile.
Of course, the Grouse Grind offers more than just a great workout. Though the hike is secluded with little to take away from the monotony of the 2,800-foot ascent, the views from the summit make the punishment worthwhile. Climbers can see straight to Vancouver to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Plus, as Grant points out, “it’s great to be able to go in and sit down and have a nice cold drink and maybe a plate of nachos after you’ve finished.” (There’s a restaurant at the top.)
While current conditions have the trail closed for the season, it’s worth keeping an eye out for famous faces when it reopens in the fall. The NHL’s Vancouver Canucks have been known to send their younger prospects to the Grouse Grind for training, and in September 2015, a campaigning Justin Trudeau completed the hike in 55 minutes, which brings my record to 0–3 against the PM in the looks/influence/Grouse Grind triathlon we’re conducting in my mind. “Keep an eye out,” Grant advises. “You never know who you might run into.”
Grouse Mountain underwent an ownership change in July 2017, with Chinese investors holding a prominent stake in the new ownership group. Chinese wealth flooding into Vancouver — an accessible city and a part of Canada’s stable economy — has contributed to the city’s outrageous real estate prices, but for now, the new ownership group has insisted Grouse Mountain will undergo no changes. And since the Grouse Grind is 90 percent managed by Metro Vancouver Regional Parks, devotees shouldn’t worry about the course taking on a new look anytime soon.
In addition to taking in the views and refueling after your hike, the top of Grouse offers skiing, snowshoeing and skating in the winter and can bring you close to wildlife. Just remember: no touching the grizzlies.