So regulars will know I live near Vancouver, BC. We have pretty much every option for outdoor entertainment and adventure within easyish reach. The North Shore Mountains (Cypress Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour) are very popular ski destinations in season. You can pop there after work and get in a few hours of floodlit skiing or boarding pretty regularly. Much more convenient, if admittedly less spectacular than Whistler/Blackcomb.
I’m no ski/boarding fan. To this day I remember a primary school teacher calling me Barbapapa because I couldn’t walk the length of an upturned gym bench without falling off. Funny what sticks in your mind from when you’re about 8, eh? I don’t have what you’d call a highly developed sense of balance. Of course, I have also been explicitly called unbalanced, but that’s something different for another posting. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes – North Shore Mountains. So anyway, Grouse has done a particularly fine job of making its non-ski persona nearly as profitable as its ski self. There’s a bear sanctuary, wolves, a modern windmill (“Eye of the wind”) with a viewing deck, a year round lodge to allow you to buy over-priced tea and coffee. Coconut milk. The usual. The mountain itself is liberally adorned with trails allowing the resolute or foolish to walk to the top. The main route has become very well established as a common local cardio exercise, and The Grouse Grind has gradually turned from an annual race into a daily challenge for many city workers. There’s electronic timing stations top and bottom, and for $100 or so you can get an annual pass that will allow you to time your ascent each trip, and give you free passage down on the Swiss-made Skyride gondola.
Not long after we moved to Canada we did the Grind as a family, replete with granddad – then already well into his 60s – and last born who at the time was about 4 years old. Like the Grand Old Duke of York, we marched right up to the top of the hill, had a cup of tea and an ice cream, and marched right down again. At the 1/4 mark (3/4 of the way down), we pulled to one side to let the after office hours crowd have their turn. I was amused, as we stood there all cool and collected at the stage whispers and loud tuts of “fancy bringing a kid up HERE”. One particularly sweaty gentleman grinned at first born and said encouragingly “keep it up son – you’re already 1/4 of the way there!” I hadn’t the heart to tell him we’d already been up and most of the way down.
But that was over ten years ago. In the interim, probably many thousands of boots and trainers have pummeled the poor hillside. The path of the Grind has now apparently been “improved” – a euphemism for covered in hardcore and steps. I haven’t seen it myself. As a proponent of Leave No Trace, I am willing to sacrifice a small percentage of the natural beauty underneath such “improvements” if it avoids the steady broadening of the path, and destruction of the woodland as more and more feet try to find purchase in mud and other less favourable walking conditions (it rains a lot in BC). The Grind is now extremely popular with the Lululemon and “look at my abs of steel” crowd, and even early risers, I am told (I would never have personal experience, after all!), can find the path crowded.
So these days, it’s one-way. Up only! The fact it’s $10 to come down on the Skyride, and Grouse has a living to make is neither hear nor there. So back to the hiking…
Regulars will recall my tales of The Stawamus Chief up in Squamish. Well, after the 10 year absence, I decided a few weeks ago to try Grouse again. But I just couldn’t face the madding crowd (and the quite distracting Lululemoned bottoms, it has to be said.) Instead I took the path less travelled – The Flint and Feather trail. Named after a collection of poems by Mohawk/English Canadian Emily Pauline Johnson, it starts and ends at the same place (read “bottom” and “top”) as the Grind, but runs off a little to the East. Not for the faint of heart, it includes a little scrambling and rock climbing. Much more peaceful though. The way nature should be experienced. Without being intrusive. Next time up – a couple of weeks ago – I took the BCMC trail. Positively genteel by comparison. But longer. Roughly a two hour ascent.
Last night, I went with a few guys from work, and Mrs E asked to tag along too (I don’t think she believes I actually go up!). Again we did the Flint and Feather… but not the one I did the first time! Started the same. Ended the same. The bit in the middle? Not so much…
At the end of the day though, if you keep heading up and stay on a path, you can’t go much wrong. Unless a bear gets you. Or you fall. Or get lost. Or it goes dark…
I took a couple of snaps with my BlackBerry from the rock outcrop. Wonderful views all around. You get a sense of the steepness of the hill from the pictures, I think.
So, if you’re in the area either with or without Lululemon, why not find something to Grouse about?