Book — The Grind: Stairway to the Top

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The Grind Stairway to the Top

Anne Abraham Carol Kinnee

Glauce Fleury Cheryl Minns

Raven on tree stump. These birds are very common on the trail. Photo by Devin Manky.

The Grind: Stairway to the Top Authors: Anne Abraham, Glauce Fleury, Carol Kinnee and Cheryl Minns Designer: Erik Johnson Printer: Douglas College Printshop Special thanks to Grouse Mountain, Metro Vancouver, North Shore Search and Rescue, Bill Morrell (external relations at Metro Vancouver), Devin Manky (wildlife manager at Grouse Mountain), Jacqueline Blackwell (public relations manager at Grouse Mountain), Sebastian Salas (Grind record holder) and Tim Jones (team lead at North Shore Search and Rescue) Cover photo by Anne Abraham

Douglas College New Westminster, BC

Copyright Š 2014 by Douglas College Professional Writing

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Douglas College Professional Writing.

ISBN 978-1-896019-40-6

This booklet was produced by students of the Print Futures: Professional Writing program at Douglas College, New Westminster, BC.

Contents Introduction 3 History of the Grind 6 Grouse Mountain Facts The Wildlife of the Grind Safety on the Grind

9 15 18

Motivation 21 Conclusion 28

View from the top of Grouse Mountain. Photo by Chelsea Kinnee. 2

Introduction The Three Rules of Mountaineering It’s always farther than it looks. It’s always taller than it looks. And it’s always harder than it looks. — Anonymous

The North Shore Mountains in North Vancouver, BC, are home to Grouse Mountain and the Grouse Grind, a steep trail whose nearly vertical slope is growing in popularity. Every year, Vancouverites and tourists challenge themselves to make it to the top. As “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster,” the trail is a serious workout with 2,830 stairs rising to an elevation of 853 metres (2,800 feet) and 2.9 kilometres (1.8 miles) of strenuous hiking. It’s set to test your legs and feet, while offering a cardio challenge for any would-be mountaineer. Jason Daley, of Outside Magazine, called the Grind one of the world’s 10 most dangerous hikes. The Canadian trail was rated as number five, between the Kokoda Track in Papua, New Guinea, and Drakensberg Traverse, in South Africa’s Natal National Park. Hikers


on the Kokoda Track face malaria, extreme heat, frigid nights and bone-soaking rain; on the Drakensberg Traverse, they cross some of the most exposed alpine terrain in the world. That sensational and challenging publicity has failed to dampen the spirits of Vancouver’s hikers. Over 100,000 people a year tackle the Grind. Hikers range from moms carrying babies in slings to octogenarians; all ready to boost their stamina and propel themselves to the top. This book is for those intrepid adventurers ready to tie on their running shoes, grab their water bottles and take the first step. A blend of preparedness, caution and common sense will make this free hike to the top safe and enjoyable for all. Climbing the Grind requires attention to details. Check the weather, consider the season and be sure you’re fit enough for the climb. This trail will test your endurance. Are you ready?

Every stride carries the hikers up and over the set of steps. Photo by Exien (Wikipedia).



History of the Grind History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity. — Cicero

Grouse Mountain’s website reveals that the earliest record of hikers on Grouse Mountain dates back to 1894, when a hunting party shot a blue grouse and named the mountain in the bird’s honour. In those days, climbing to the top was a four-day hike. In 1911, the idea of building the Grouse Mountain Scenic Incline Railway was born. A company was contracted to build the two-and-a-half-kilometre rail line that would carry passengers to a resort hotel at the top, but the idea died three years later with the outbreak of the First World War. People continued on foot until 1926, when William Curtis Shelly, a 46-year-old businessman with a fortune made in the bakery business, decided to build a road. Shelly, active in real estate, dreamed of creating 6

a popular resort at the top of Grouse Mountain. He believed a road would not only make the top easier to access, but it would also bring in more visitors. In 1935, the road to Grouse Mountain closed when Shelly’s company went bankrupt. Grouse Mountain didn’t become a popular destination until the 1930s, when a flood of eager hikers tackled its slopes. At the top, there’s a log cabin built by Don and Phyllis Munday. They were among the hundreds of hikers who climbed the peak in those early years and the first to build. Back then, intrepid souls hiked the mountain to reach a cluster of cabins once called the Grouse Mountain Village—now, better known as the Cut ski run. Until 1981, the Grind path was nothing but a trail forged by hunters following animal tracks in the rough leading to the peak. The idea behind what is now known as the Grouse Grind was to create a challenging aerobic workout on a trail that was steeper and more demanding than the existing British Columbia Mountaineering Club Trail. The trail was a way to prepare mountaineers for longer hikes. It was completed in the winter of 1983. In the early 1990s, it was renamed the Grouse Grind in conjunction with the first Grouse Grind Mountain Run. The Grind Run is now Western Canada’s premier trail challenge race. 7


Great horned owl fledgling on branch. Hikers can sometimes spot these owls at dawn. Photo by Devin Manky.

Grouse Mountain Facts Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory. — Ed Viesturs, mountaineer

Before you go, you need to know Maintenance Metro Vancouver owns and operates the Grouse Grind. Their maintenance crews ensure the trail is safe for hikers. Crews carry out regularly scheduled checks for loose rocks, erosion and damage to the stairs to prevent deterioration of the trail. The Grind is a 2.9-kilometre trail with an elevation rise of 853 metres; construction material must be transported in by helicopter. Metro Vancouver spends $200,000 annually maintaining the Grind. Hours of operation Grouse Mountain is open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., but hikers should check the trail schedule before heading for the Grind. Decisions on opening or closing 9

the trail are made by Metro Vancouver. The Grind is closed during the winter for safety reasons. Its opening and closing dates depend on the weather, changing when daylight is shorter, when it snows at the top or if there’s heavy rain. The trail reopens in the spring, after the ice melts. Metro Vancouver advises hikers to visit their website to check the current hours of operation. Information on the Grind is updated daily. Safety Hikers should respect the Grind’s hours of operation. Metro Vancouver has erected signage at the base of the mountain to provide important safety information to the public, among them is Metro Vancouver’s waiver and release of liability for hikers travelling the Grouse Grind Trail. The waiver may be viewed in full on the Metro Vancouver website. Read the signs before you start hiking. Trail closures are posted to prevent accidental injury. Winter conditions create a slippery, icy environment with increased risk of avalanche. In 1999, an avalanche caught five hikers, killing one and injuring the rest. The Grouse Grind isn’t a walk in Stanley Park; it’s steep mountainous terrain. Be alert for your own safety. Dogs are not permitted on the Grouse Grind.


What’s at the bottom? Grind Timer Hikers who want to track their performance when doing the Grind can buy a Grind Timer Card. The card should be swiped at the bottom of the mountain and again at the top. It contains a radio frequency chip that transmits the owner’s name and time to a monitor at Alpine Guest Services in the Peak Chalet. Hikers can print the results there or check them online. Transportation and parking It’s easy to get to the Grind by public transit. Both buses #232 and #236 take visitors directly to Grouse Mountain. Hikers who prefer driving can use a pay parking lot at the base of the mountain. Options are three-hour tickets and day tickets. Consult the current prices on the Grouse Mountain website. Facilities Use the washrooms at the bottom of the mountain before you start your hike. Once you begin your trek, you won’t find any. Public washrooms are available in the Peak Chalet and at the Rusty Rail BBQ located near the Lumberjack Showground at the top of Grouse.


What’s at the top? Food At the top of the mountain, there are several options for lunch or dinner. Find fine dining at the Observatory (diners with reservations ride the gondola for free), or more casual fare from one of the coffee shops or restaurants. Food retailers are open daily. To confirm times, visit the Grouse Mountain website. Gondola Hiking the Grind is free, but you must pay for the gondola ride down. The narrow sections of trail and heavy congestion mean downhill hiking isn’t allowed. The price is $10 for the ride down, or Grouse Mountain offers a one-year membership for $99. The Skyride, popularly known as the gondola, is a tram system that provides round-trips to guests. Relax those tired legs and enjoy the ride. The system operates daily, departing every 15 minutes. Stores Remember it might be a comfortable temperature at the bottom of the mountain, but it may be cold when your hike is finished. If you’re looking for extra layers, retail stores at the top offer clothing and souvenirs to remind hikers of their visit to the Grind. Stores are open all day. Store hours can be found on Grouse’s website. 12

Tales from the trail: Break for food I love doing the Grind. It’s a great workout that has cardiovascular benefits and prevents diseases like osteoporosis. It often takes me about 50 minutes to finish the trail. This year I went through it seven times. One day I did it twice. On my first attempt, about four years ago, something definitely went wrong. Although I was used to doing exercises (cardio and strengthening), I felt weak. I had the urge to lie down. It seemed like I had run out of oxygen and I had no energy flowing through my muscles. I stopped to eat. I had scrambled eggs, rice and water. What happened is it was around 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. I had not had my breakfast because a friend of mine rushed me to get ready. — Mikko Cervas San Ramon, hiker


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Varied thrush in the rain. Hikers can often hear their soft, ringing song resonate through the forest. Photo by Devin Manky. 14 14

The Wildlife of the Grind Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. — Albert Einstein

Hordes of people hike the Grind every day. Most are too busy huffing and puffing or too tired to notice their surroundings, but if you stop and pay attention, you might hear the call of the wild. According to the wildlife manager at Grouse Mountain, Devin Manky, the chirp of chipmunks and squirrels are the most commonly heard sounds. They make a sharp sound almost like a bird call. Hikers may see songbirds, rabbits or deer, and early-morning hikers might even spot an owl. Animals There are black bears on Grouse Mountain, and sometimes, hikers see them on the Grind. To date, there have been no recorded attacks that Manky can recall. The Grind is a busy trail and many of the local animals are used to people. If you do cross paths with a bear, 15

there’s no need to call the police. Keep your distance and don’t panic. Manky suggests making noise while you hike. The sound will alert the animal, and it will move on. In general, bears avoid people, but use extra caution when hiking alone or early in the morning before the rush of hikers. There’s no harm in taking pictures of wildlife, but the steepness of the trail makes some parts of it unsafe to step off. Take your photos from the trail. Keep in mind that any animal, even a squirrel, may attack if it feels its space has been invaded. You might not believe it, but squirrels bite hard. Coyotes sometimes linger in the parking lot area and at the base of the mountain. Visitors are asked not to leave garbage in the parking lot or on the trail. Garbage attracts not only coyotes, but also mice. If you see anyone feeding the animals or littering, notify the Grouse Mountain staff at the top. Don’t forget to report any bear sightings as well. Cougars have never been sighted on the Grind, but their territory includes Grouse Mountain. Wolves are a common sight on the mountain and from certain parts of the Grind. Grouse has a pack of timber wolves raised in captivity and retired from the movie industry. They reside and roam freely within a fenced enclosure. There are no wild wolves on the mountain. 16

Animals occasionally make mistakes involving humans. In one such incident, an owl swooped down on a toque-wearing hiker. It’s possible the owl mistook the hat for a squirrel. Be cautious and respectful of the animals living on the mountain. Stay on the trail. Plants Hikers will see large tree stumps scattered through the forest as they climb. These are leftovers from the original forest logged 100 years ago. Edible huckleberries are found at the bottom of the trail, but don’t taste anything unless you’re certain of what it is. Many plants and mushrooms are poisonous and dangerous if consumed by humans. There are no plants that cause skin irritation, like poison ivy or poison oak, found along the Grind. Endangered species Grouse Mountain was once a traditional home for the northern spotted owl, but this species hasn’t been seen in the area since the late 1980s.


Safety on the Grind It is not the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe. — Robert W. Service

Jason Daley named the Grouse Grind one of the 10 most dangerous hikes in the world because of its steep incline. But Tim Jones of North Shore Search and Rescue (NSSR) says it’s not the trail that’s the problem, it’s a lack of safety preparation. Here are some of his tips on how you can prepare for your hike and avoid the dangers. Before taking on the Grind, be sure your fitness level allows you to walk strenuously. Wear proper footwear. Every year, NSSR has to rescue hikers who can’t finish the walk because of foot injuries from wearing unsuitable footwear or no footwear at all. Stay hydrated. You should have at least one litre of water before you start the walk and another litre of water during the hike. Fruit juices and sodas are no substitute for water. They won’t keep you hydrated. Dehydration may cause fainting which is a dangerous situation on a steep, crowded trail like the Grind. 18

Make sure you head up the trail with enough time to finish your walk before nightfall, when the Grind closes. NSSR makes on average 40 night rescues a year. Hiking down the Grind is banned because falling rock and debris may injure hikers coming up the trail. The Grind is officially closed during the winter and you should never attempt to hike it then. Snow and ice make hiking dangerous and the risk of an avalanche is high. Every winter, NSSR rescues hikers who try to climb the mountain. Rescues on closed trails are technically difficult. People have died on the Grind during winter conditions. Metro Vancouver suggests you be prepared before you hike the Grind—tell someone that you’re going, don’t hike alone and carry adequate water, snacks, clothing and a cell phone. The trail isn’t patrolled. Through the years, NSSR has had some unusual encounters on the Grind at night. In one situation, a man dressed in a black ninja outfit appeared on the trail after dark, surprising hikers coming down the mountain. Another encounter involved a religious sect dressed in white robes, chanting and carrying lanterns, as they ascended the Grind at night during the summer. [Editors’ note: Tim Jones passed away suddenly on January 19, 2014. He is deeply missed.] 19

Tales from the trail: Descending in the dark I did the Grind late on a sunny afternoon. We started the hike, confident we’d finish in an hour, doubting the Grind was as challenging as everyone said. Huffing and puffing, we trudged for 20 minutes convinced we were more than halfway. When we reached the ¼ mark the hikers behind us turned back. We carried on, wishing we’d brought water. Ninety minutes and many beads of sweat later, we reached the top. After a well-earned beer on the patio, it was time to head down. The gondola building was packed. The main gondola was being serviced and there was a three-hour wait to go down. We grabbed water and headed for the trail head. Hiking down the Grind is banned, but the trail entrance was closed and the sun was starting to set. We joined a group of hikers, making a pact that no one would be left behind in the dark. We hiked down, talking, laughing, and complaining. Twenty minutes from the bottom, the sun set. We hiked on by cell phone light. At the bottom, we said goodbye. I’ll never forget the people I met when I hiked the Grind. — Chelsea Kinnee, hiker


Motivation Obstacles do not have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it. — Michael Jordan

People have climbed mountains since the first cave people found a pile of rocks reaching to the sky. Journalists have asked climbers “Why?” after they’ve summited the world’s highest peaks. The answer is often a blank stare or George Mallory’s words, “Because it’s there.” Mallory, a famous mountaineer, attempted to summit Mount Everest three times before dying on its icy slopes. Grouse Mountain isn’t one of the world’s highest peaks, but hikers and visitors to Vancouver look to it with the same gleam Mallory wore anticipating Everest. The challenge to climb the 2,830 stairs and reach the plateau above Burrard Inlet and English Bay is all the motivation they need. Every climb starts with a step forward or, in the case of the Grind, upward. 21

After that, every stride will carry you up and over the seemingly endless set of natural and built steps. Muscle strength, grit and determination may carry you up the steep slope, but you need more than that to keep going. Motivation will keep you putting one foot in front of the other. So how do you summon the motivation to make it up the Grind? Mentally break the hike into manageable chunks. Each trail ¼ is marked, but the first quarter feels farther than it is. The interactive website of Vancouver’s The Province newspaper says that mark has been called “The biggest downer in the history of hiking.” The first ¼ mark measures elevation, not distance. When you reach it, you’re farther than a quarter of the way there. After that, the distance between marks shortens, but the trail steepens. Create a positive mantra. Set a song in your head or power up your iPod. Make sure your music choice revs you up. Pick something upbeat and empowering, and skip the mellow play list that drains your energy. Many hikers plug in their ear buds, crank up their music and move along. A slow and steady pace will get you up the hill. You might see some of the speedsters who passed you, gasping for breath at the edge of the trail.


As you climb, take a moment to feel good about your progress. Celebrate each ¼. Drink some water or snap a picture. When you reach a mini goal, congratulate yourself. Don’t hike alone; bring friends. There’s a strong social dynamic to hiking the Grind in a group. The motivation of being part of a common goal makes it harder to give up and turn around, even if you’re the weakest hiker in the crowd. If you’re the only one holding yourself accountable to make it to the top, it’s easier to admit defeat. Training for the Grind isn’t only about mental prep­ aration. Strength and core training build strong legs and balance. The natural and built steps are studded with loose rocks and uneven footing. Core strength provides the balance to avoid a fall. Often personal trainers suggest trying some prelim­ inary hikes before challenging the Grind. Vancouver’s North Shore Tourism website has a list of hikes found in the area. The Grind demands mental and physical stamina so only hikers in good physical condition should try it. Anyone with health issues should seek medical advice before attempting the Grind. Remember, it’s called the Grind for a reason. As you climb, try to see the trail as a challenge, not an impossible task. Reaching the top requires dedication and commitment. 23

Many teams use the trail as a bonding experience, often doing the hike on a regular basis. Individual climbers use the Grind to mark personal milestones or reach fitness goals. Finally, do some research before you go. The Grind has a Facebook page and Twitter account with comments, stories, photos and list of events. Visit The Province newspaper’s interactive website and plan your hike. If you want to compare your time to others, you can buy a Grind Timer Card. Better yet, keep your ticket and try to improve your time on your next hike. Motivation is half the battle. Physical fitness, proper footwear and good hydration are key factors to a successful hike. Plan your day and start moving. Soon you’ll be buying your ticket for the gondola ride down and marvelling at your success.

Grind record holder Sebastian Salas. Salas set his official best time of 25:01 during the 2010 Grouse Grind Mountain Run. His unofficial best time is 23:48, set during his training for the event on August 24, 2010. Photo by Grouse Mountain.


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Tales from the trail: Breaking the record I first did the Grouse Grind in 2008 with a friend. I did it around the 30-minute mark. My friend didn’t believe that I had done it that quickly. Two weeks later, I competed in the official Grouse Grind Mountain Run and won, much to my surprise. After winning the run for the second time in 2009, I wanted to beat the fastest time on the Grouse Grind. In order to do it, I had to break the 25-minute barrier. Jonathan Wyatt, the previous record holder, is a two-time Olympian and an eight-time Mountain Running World Champion. I knew that this was going to be a very difficult mark to beat, but I set out to do it and beat the record time by 34 seconds! At first, my time didn’t register with the Grouse Grind Timer system, but once I made a couple calls the time was registered. There were a few moments of panic initially, but once it was sorted I was able to relax. That afternoon was spent doing interviews and media appearances. I’m really proud of being the current record holder, as I’m from Vancouver and really feel that we should hold our own. — Sebastian Salas, record holder for fastest time up the Grouse Grind 26

Here are a few tips for people who want to improve their time and get under the 30-minute mark: 1. Diet and optimal weight are key factors. Every extra pound is going to add 30–45 seconds over the course of the climb. It’s important to be lean and eat well. 2. Pacing yourself during the first quarter of the climb is going to pay huge dividends later. Try to get to the ¼ mark in 10 minutes. The most important part of the Grouse Grind is from the ½ mark to the ¾ mark. Pacing yourself to blast this portion is going to get you down to the magical 29:59 arena. 3. Lowering your centre of gravity can help during the steep and technical bits. 4. Cross-train to build up your endurance by cycling and hiking other trails (Lions Peak, Squamish Chief and Golden Ears). 5. Have fun! Remember that a 30-minute Grind is possible only if you’re having fun and you’re decompressing from work.


Conclusion Great things are done when men and mountains meet. — William Blake

The Grouse Grind is called “the Grind” for a reason. It isn’t a leisurely stroll up the side of Grouse Mountain, but neither is it an impossible task—a fact that “Grinders” are well aware of. On any given day, hikers flock to the Grind determined to match their strength and endurance against the steep mountainous terrain. Don’t forget to stop and look around on your journey through the thick forest-covered slopes. At the top, catch your breath and take in the view of Vancouver, English Bay and Burrard Inlet. On a sunny day, the city landscape sparkles below you, a jewel backed by the Pacific Ocean. Yes, the trail was farther, taller and harder than it looked from the parking lot, but as you rest your weary legs on the gondola ride down, take a satisfied breath in and say, “I did it.” You may not have summited one of the world’s tallest peaks, but you conquered Grouse Mountain. 28

Chelsea Kinnee at the ž mark. Read her story on page 20. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Kinnee.

MORE INFORMATION ON THE GRIND Grouse Grind Metro Vancouver Information about closures, trail conditions and hours Grouse Mountain The Peak of Vancouver Information on the Grind and activities happening on the mountain Vancouver’s North Shore Tourism List of alternative hikes found in the North Shore Mountains The Province Newspaper Interactive website about the Grind, which includes a map and information about the hike. diet-fitness/grouse-grind/index.html

Downhill hiking isn’t allowed, so hikers take the gondola ride down and enjoy the fantastic view of Vancouver. Photo by Pburka (Wikipedia).

The Grind: Stairway to the Top Do you have what it takes to make it to the top? The trip up Grouse Mountain’s trail—the Grind—will carry you over a series of natural and built steps. Also known as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster,” this trail will test your endurance and get your heart pumping. The Grind: Stairway to the Top tells you what you need to know before you go. Lace on your runners, grab a water bottle and take the first step. It won’t be easy, but when you reach the peak, you’ve won the bragging rights to say, “I’ve hiked the Grind!” The view from the top will be worth your while.

Photo by Devin Manky.