Fear and Loathing on the Grouse Grind

Ahhhhh the Grouse Grind. Also referred to as Mother Nature’s stair master and for deluded masochists, like myself, I get very excited about it every year around the month of May. You see, it is closed to the general public for the better part of the year, as it’s an actual mountain…covered in snow.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Grouse Grind, it’s a hike up the face of Grouse Mountain. Here are some delightful “Trail Facts” that I pulled from their website:

Length: 2.9 kilometres (1.8 miles)
Elevation Gain: 853 metres (2,800 feet)
Base: 274 metres above sea level (900 feet)
Summit: 1,127 metres (3,700 feet)
Total Stairs: 2,830

Easy, Breezy Right!  Ok, now on the scale of general fitness capability, I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m not in really good shape, nor am I completely out of shape. However, did I mention that.it’s.a.mountain! I feel I should remind you of this, as this seems to elude me every May when I have a flareup of what I refer to as RAGGA. Re-occurring Annual Grouse Grind Amnesia. Additionally, every year I tell myself that I’m going to make this “hike” my bitch.

Now the Grouse Grind experience will obviously be different for everyone. For some, sure…it probably is “just a hike.” For me…not so much.  So, for the duration of this story, I would like to invite you into my brain so that you can experience with me the various stages that my mind goes through while I put myself through the Grouse Grind experience.   So c’mon in, stay a while!


Stage 1: Denial – Pre Grind. This occurs for the better part of the day leading up to “the hike.” I tell myself “Oh, Rachel you silly girl, it’s not that bad. It’s just moving one foot in front of the other” combined with incorrectly recalling that I once did this in an hour. You’ve Got This! I self high 5 myself.  This will totally be the year I do this in 45 minutes! I rationalize the upcoming commitment by telling myself “what’s an hour of hiking really?” and “In the grand scheme of things, it’s only 1/24th of your day – Pfft EASY!” Before even doing the first hike of the season, I decide to buy a season pass for the gondola ride down. After all, it will be the cost effective thing to do. I’m clearly going to do this at least 2 times a week, so with all the money I will save from repeatedly riding the gondola at a discounted rate, it’s almost like they are paying me to do this. I am going to make money by doing the Grouse Grind.  Why isn’t everyone doing this?  By the end of the summer, I’m also going to be so fit. The lower half of my body is going to look like it was chiseled by Michelango himself. Butt Models Incorporated is going to find me, track me down and dedicate the Fall issue of their magazine to my fabulous ass!

It’s time to begin, but please allow me to set the scene as if you are watching a Law and Order episode.

This….is my crime scene story.

Grouse Grind
North Vancouver
Random Weekday

I arrive with my friend who has this bizarre ability to conquer extreme physical situations despite any level of fitness he is currently experiencing.  We have often had the following conversation:

My Friend: I just completed a 1/2 marathon with a personal best!
Me: Weren’t you out drinking last night?
My Friend: Yeah, crazy huh!
Me: I hate you.

With neither us us wanting to lug a backpack up the mountain, he takes our stuff to the gondola to have it ready for us when we reach the top.  I’m satisfied with us both doing this at our own pace, but I’m totally.going.to.kick.his.ass!  See ya up there soon suckaaaaa – I say with cocky and devilish optimism, and as he turns his back I make a competitive throat slit gesture. I look around to see healthy, beautiful, fit people everywhere: stretching, socializing, enjoying life, smiling and posing like they belong in Hikers Monthly magazine. I strike a quick stretchy lunge pose too, obvi, because I am totally one of them! This is short lived though because honestly…pre hike-stretching, who needs that!? I get myself psyched up by popping on the playlist I designed specifically to motivate me on this “hike” and for the next hour (but seriously, probably only like 45 minutes) it will be me and the fastest beats per minute that I could find.  I strut through the entrance like it’s my runway and I’m owning it like I’m Naomi-Freaking-Campbell.


5 minutes in, uhhhh ok this isn’t right, quads hurting a bit – I’m good though. Just getting the body warm.  SQUEAL! a flat bit…I like this – no stairs. I should pick up some pace on this part. You know, capitalize on the opportunity like when you are running down hill. Ok, flat bit – c’mon push yourself Rachel! Elderly woman walks past me.

2 minutes later…flat bit over…never-ending winding stairs ahead. I think I’m breathing really loudly. Where are the other flat bits! I WANT MORE FLAT BITS!. Some guy has just casually passed me and has looked at me funny. I might be breathing really loudly. I can’t tell with my headphones in, but I’m pretty sure it’s happening! I should try to stifle this by attempting to breathe exclusively through my nose….ok, NOPE…not working. My nostrils are not large enough to accommodate this increased expulsion of breath. Do I turn around?!?! I cannot be the person that walks out the entrance…unless I devise a strategy to fool everyone that is still stretching at the base. Yes, I’ll walk out, talking on my phone saying things like “WHAT?!?!? There’s an emergency that I must attend to immediately!”, “Timmy fell into a well?!?!?!” and “There’s a Fire!!!” Rachel, no – you are being dramatic. You can do this, you only have 45…..maybe 50 minutes of this left.


…20 minutes later.

I think I’m in the labyrinth. Nothing but trees, stairs, dirt and rocks and I’m pretty sure I’ve already walked past this tree, dirt and rock formation.  To re-motivate myself, I pretend for a moment that I’m in the Hunger Games. Within 30 seconds, I swiftly realize that I would be the first person to die in the Hunger Games. I could literally be offered 1 million dollars to do a perfect jumping jack right now and it would be the equivalent of trying to do it after waking up and finding all of your limbs have fallen asleep and gone numb.

This….this is when…the anger stage sets in.

Grouse Mountain
North Vancouver
Random Weekday

Stage 2: Anger – One foot….in front <DEEP GASP>…of the other.  An 11 year old passes me with ease, but ever so slightly bumps past me at the same time.  When he is far enough away to not want to come back and attack me, from a desperate kneeling position I raise my limp arm into the air, pump my fist pathetically and yell “One day you will not have unlimited energy – respect your elders!”

I find a tree, lean up against it and finish my water as if I’ve been lost in the desert and I just found an oasis.  As I’m doing this a passing hiker says, in an excessively encouraging manner, “Hang in there – you’re doing great!” and gives me a thumbs up, as if it’s apparent to him that I need encouragement. How dare he!  Can you not tell I am a middle of the road athlete and that I’ve Got This!!?  I stomp forward, motivated by personal rage; however, I’m sure I look like a slow walking zombie instead. WHYYYYYYYYYYY!!!


A few minutes later, my friend trots by and throws up a high 5.  All I can do is leave him high 5 hanging. Why did my friend just trot by and try to high 5 me. Can’t he see I’m dying….DYING….slowly. No, I do not want to take a selfie! Fine, I’ll take a selfie…but, let me see it first. Why am I sweating more than everyone here?! There is dew clinging to every tiny and minute hair I have on my face and it it looks like I have a water beard. That’s it, I am not talking to him for the whole drive back to the city. Friendship off!  He forges ahead and yells “See ya at the top!” SEE YA AT THE TOP – that was my line! GRRRR, I stumble 5 more minutes and see a sign…..1/2 way…..1/2 WAY!  Oh god, I just assumed I had forgotten to look at the trail length markers and that I was much farther along than that. I need to take a break, but the teenagers are congregating in the rest spots. THIS IS NOT THE MALL!  I am bordering on threatening to call their mothers, but none of them have broken a sweat and they have the ability to successfully swarm me.  WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR YOUTH!  I will walk until I find a resting spot safe from teenagers.  I look to my left….IS THAT PERSON IN JEANS AND SANDALS!   My brain explodes.

And this…this is when….the bargaining stage sets in.

Grouse Mountain
North Vancouver
Random Weekday

Stage 3: Bargaining – Water…..water! I didn’t ration my water. I need water. I am going to have to offer my iPhone to the next person that walks by and has a water bottle. I practice asking in my best Oliver Twist sounding voice.


I start praying…I’m not even religious!  “Divine Leader – I will cut out my worst vices for a week if you give me the strength to survive this mountain journey.”  I will give up coffee, refined sugars, pretzel M&Ms’s, “Anything dear Lord!!” I lean up against a tree. I see a babbling brook in the distance. It’s waaaay off trail, but I either DIE up here or I get the water that my body so desperately requires. I am thinking about the various handshake agreements that I can make with people as I have nothing but my iPhone and the sweat drenched clothes on my back to offer. There were 900 people at the bottom, why have none of them passed me in what feels like an eternity. I will offer to clean houses and apartments (ok, no that won’t work considering the state of my own home, that would just not be fair)…OK, scratch that idea. I will offer a prized pair of concert tickets to a show I’ve been eagerly anticipating. I.WILL.DO.ANYTHING.  I wait….and wait…..

And this…this is when…the depression stage sets in.

Grouse Mountain
North Vancouver
Random Weekday

Stage 4: Depression – This is where it all ends for me. I left my apartment in a mess, my poor parents won’t know what to do with themselves when sifting through my belongings, should I not make it out of here alive. They will see that I have expired food in my fridge and my mother will convince herself that I couldn’t afford milk and vegetables in my final days.  Truth is, I just got lazy…Why Universe…WHYYYYYYYY!!!


Should I call my mother….no, she will just worry and probably dispatch 911 to send a rescue helicopter. The local news stations will cover this.  I can’t be on the news for this. Being the person encased in one of those rescue sleds dangling from the helicopter is too mortifying to live through. I must make peace with nature here. I’m just going to lie down for a while and listen to Tori Amos and Radiohead songs. An elderly man walks past me and says “Hang in there!” I look up from the bed of leaves and pine needles that I built to entomb my body and he’s a vision – light illuminating his form as if he’s heavenly.  I pick myself up and find the strength to take a few million more steps towards the final stage…Acceptance.

Grouse Mountain
North Vancouver
Random Weekday

Stage 5: Acceptance – I can see sky above me. Beautiful, blue, glorious sky! I get to the end of the mountain trail and I rejoice. The world around me turns into slow motion.


The fact that I still have to navigate a massive bolder and an uneven rocky surface to get to the clubhouse is fine.by.me! I am amaaaaaazinnnnnnng! High 5’s around, I just climbed a mountain! The view is just gorgeous!


I think I’ll do this again tomorrow, I will be sooooo fit by the end of summer – leading me to the final stage that my mind goes through during the Grouse Grind experience…

Stage 6: DENIAL – Also known as Stage 1 and the cycle repeats itself all over again.

5 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing on the Grouse Grind

  1. Isn’t it better for someone to encourage you and high five you during extreme physical and mental activity. It’s like a mental injection of Powerade.


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