True North - Page 2
As with every true trail town there are the "must dos." At the top of North Vancouver's list is undoubtedly Grouse Mountain's Grouse Grind. "The Grind," as it is fondly known, is a staircase to heaven, or hell depending on your definition. The stats alone are sure to get your heart pumping—with 853 meters of elevation gain in 2.9 kilometers and a mere 2830 stairs to conquer en route, this workout is not for the faint of heart. A guy by the name of Jonathan Wyatt (six-time World Mountain Running Champion and two-time Olympian) once held the speed record of 24:22, set in 2004, until in August 2010 local Sebastian Salas smashed it. The new mark now stands at 23:48; the average hiker takes well over an hour to complete the journey.
The trail commences straight out of a parking area where you are initially teased by a 50-person gondola, built in 1966, that would deposit you at the 30,000-square-foot Mountain Top Lodge in under 20 minutes. Once you overcome your "easy-way-out" thoughts, though, you are lulled into the climb with a few hundred meters of lower-angled terrain before you are thrown straight into the leg-torching fire with a nearly vertical ascent. The trail is often referred to Mother Nature's version of a Stairmaster.
"The Grouse Grind has to be one of, if not the most challenging hill-climbing courses in the country," says Salas. "And I'd wager that it would hold its own against even some classic European climbs. It's an absolute must do for any visitor."
The Grind is a local favorite, and by 7 a.m. on weekends the parking lot is already jam packed. If you're interested in a head-to-head battle against the best local runners, an annual race, held in September, attracts nearly 500 participants and offers a $5000 purse. The event is held on a slightly longer course, due to the number of participants, and it adds in two smaller loops (25:24 course record by Salas).
Also, Grouse Mountain offers a unique opportunity, issuing its "Grind Cards" for a small fee (not mandatory), which you swipe at timing stations at the bottom and on top. You are automatically entered into the system, so it will take more than a simple Facebook-status-update to claim the record. The second you complete your journey, on the TV screens inside the bustling chalet, you can view your exact stats, and how you stack up against the fastest climbers.
The tram features extensive views out over Vancouver, the Stanley Park green space, Lion's Gate Bridge and the hundreds of islands that dot the Georgia Strait, which is the body of water separating Vancouver from Vancouver Island. Many runners choose the tram ride down to salvage their quads and knees from the pounding descent, and also tack on a well-deserved brew or two from either the Altitudes Bistro or the Observatory Restaurant.