Grouse Grind

I like to do the Grouse Grind and I'm often asked what it's like. The following is an attempt to give people who have never done the Grind a little idea of what it's like.

What is the Grouse Grind? It's a trail maintained by Metro Vancouver that runs from the parking lot of Grouse Mountain, in North Vancouver, BC, to the main lodge of Grouse Mountain. Essentially, it starts where the gondola starts and finishes where the gondola finishes.

How long is the Grind? It's reportedly only 2.9 km long, but this doesn't really give any indication of how long it is because of its vertical nature. The elevation gain on the trail is approximately 800 metres (a half-mile). The start of the Grind is located at an elevation of approximately 300 metres (985 feet) and the lodge is located at approximately 1100 metres (3610 feet).

How steep is the Grind? Given the elevation gain of 800 metres and the reported length of 2.9 km, the average inclination is 28% or 15 degrees. However, parts of the Grind are steeper than 40 degrees, which may not sound like much, but consider that an average residential staircase has an angle of inclination of 35 degrees. The Grind has very few flat parts. Some people refer to it as "Nature's Stairmaster".

Is it a "nice hike"? The short answer to this is 'no'. Many hikers that I know do not like the Grind for various reasons. And many people who do the Grind regularly, myself included, would not describe themselves as avid hikers. I view the Grind as a workout. It's a fabulous workout. Hikers complain that it's too steep, too crowded and that there are very few viewpoints. All of these are valid points.

What do you need to wear? Unless it's cold and rainy, you should wear clothes that you would be comfortable going for a run in. Shorts are better than pants because they won't inhibit the lifting of your knees (which you'll be doing a lot of). On your feet you can wear pretty much anything. For years I wore trail runners with stiff soles. My wife wears proper hiking boots. But lately I've been doing the Grind in my Vibram 5Fingers, and I've even seen someone doing it barefoot. For your first time stick with running shoes. They are perfectly adequate. You don't need to worry about hats or sunglasses because you'll be in the shade the entire way.

How often do I do the Grind? The first time I did the Grind was Friday, September 14, 2001. I thought I was going to die going up and came close to giving up about a third of the way up. I did it a handful of times over the next two and a half years. Then on May 1, 2004, after having lost a significant amount of weight over the preceding year, I purchased a pass and decided to become a 'regular'. I did it 34 times that first season and now I've done it over 300 times, although I'm down to only a couple of times per year. There are a number of people who do it much more frequently than I used to do -- for some it's a daily, or even twice daily ritual. The single day record is held by Sebastian Albrecht who did the Grind 14 times on June 28, 2010.

How long does it take? That depends ... my first Grind took 90 minutes, and that's what I tell first-timers to expect. I've taken quite a few people on their first Grind and the times have varied from 51 minutes to 105 minutes. Every person that I know who does the Grind regularly times themselves. I keep a record of every Grind that I've done since May 1, 2004. My personal best is 41:07, but on an average day I'm happy if I do it in under 50 minutes. There are many factors that will influence your time. I don't do very well in the heat; some people don't do well when it's cool, or wet. The second fastest Grind ever was by Jonathan Wyatt of New Zealand, a 3-time World Mountain Running Champion. On June 12, 2004 he went up in 24:22. Sebastian Salas holds both the official record for the Grouse Grind Mountain Run, completing the race in 25:24 in 2009, and the fastest Grind ever in 23:48, done on August 24, 2010. The race starts and finishes in different spots than the actual Grouse Grind, making the course a bit longer.

How much of the Grind do I run? I don't run a single step. To get a really fast time (under 35 minutes) you would have to run some parts of the Grind, but I prefer not to run any of it. I think that the risk of injury skyrockets if you decide to run. Choosing your footfalls is tricky enough when you're not running; if you run it's just too easy to slip and fall. Besides, there's no need to run. You can get an amazing workout without running a single step. As a result, and also because your muscle contractions are primarily 'concentric' while going up, you will not have muscle soreness the day after. If you go down the Grind, your muscle contractions will be primarily 'eccentric' and you will experience some muscle soreness the next day. [ref. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy]

I am indebted to my good friends, Michael Cho and Marc Williams, for introducing me to the Grind and getting me hooked!

Take a look at the slide show below (or in Picasa). All pictures were taken on June 3, 2007. The start of the Grind was redesigned in 2011 and the first few minutes will look quite different from what you see in the pictures. But everything else is pretty much the same.

Feel free to send me an e-mail if you have questions:

Grouse Grind