Depends how you look at it…

20 06 2013

It’s Thursday today.

I’ve tried to do the Grouse Grind regularly on Thursdays, after work. Today was my fifth time this season. Tenth since I paid for the timer chip and started officially recording my ascents last August. The first time I ever got officially timed (last year) I did it in an hour and 20 minutes. Not especially quick but I was quite pleased with it. You may recall that last April I did the Sun Run for the first time, and so by August I was arguably reasonably limber. Well – compared to my former self. The other timings of the year didn’t bear that out though, and on average I was a round 1:30.

If you have the timer chip, your time is displayed on a wide screen monitor at the top of Grouse in the chalet. It’s quite scary to see. There are plenty of people with times in the 30-40 minute range. There are also plenty of names that appear multiple times – meaning the person has ascended the Grouse multiple times that day alone. Last week a name was there TEN times. The slowest time was still less than an hour! It’s only about 3km, but it’s 1,231m high… and there’s a lot of steps. Some natural, some man-made to minimise the erosion.

I began this season reasonably well with an hour and 26. The next couple of times I was within a few seconds at around 1:24. Things were looking up. I might even be getting fitter, and might get back to last year’s all-time best! (I’m also trying to lose some weight and generally try and not die any time soon).

Then came last week. I was 30 minutes slower at 1:56. Weird! A whole half hour slower?! It was really humid though, and the top of the mountain was actually shrouded in cloud. I’m not making excuses you understand… I just couldn’t figure out how I could suddenly be so much slower. I was actually overtaken by the “sweepers” – a couple of super-fit Search and Rescue lads whose role is to amble up the Grind after the gate is locked and nominally nobody else is ascending that day. (In practice people circumvent the fencing, so plenty of people popped out at the top even after I made it up there). I did question the benefit of having sweepers at all if they actually left stragglers (me) behind, but I guess that given the fact that there was no practical way (due to fence hoppers) of telling who the last person actually was, it made no difference.

Anyway tonight it rained. A lot. I ummed and ahhed about whether to go at all. Nominally my son was going to take the SkyRide and wait at the top taking photos until I burst magnificently into the late sunshine out of the woods at the top of the Grind. He bottled out due to the bad weather. Or maybe because his girlfriend made him a better offer. Not sure. It may be a pertinent fact that as I write this at 11:45pm he has yet to come home.

Anyway – I got decidedly wet on the Grind. It’s a tough call for appropriate clothing. You want to travel light, typically in running gear with rugged trainers, contrary to the usual scout “be prepared” preference I’d have – carrying a 75l rucksack with stuff that would allow me to live comfortably on the mountain for a week no matter what happened. I tend to actually carry a small day sack – primarily to hold a 1l water bottle and leave my hands free. I also carry a lightweight fleece jumper in case I meet a nasty accident and have to wait for an extended period waiting for the embarrassing rescue that hopefully would arrive eventually.

(When hiking or going into the back-country ALWAYS tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back in contact. Nobody plans to have an accident…).

Today though – I half expected it’d still be raining, so I also took my super lightweight running shell. It’s not really that waterproof, but it cuts the wind and helps keep you warm if you need it.

And a cap. I’m not big on caps, but I wear glasses. Glasses are really good at correcting faulty vision… unless they steam up or get rained on (I wore contacts for many years purely to avoid steamed up glasses when I transitioned from wet dales hikes in Yorkshire to the “prize” of a pub at the end). A cheap peaked cap does wonders to keep the bulk of the “liquid sunshine” – as we call it Vancouver – off your glasses. I set off in reasonable time (i.e. I wasn’t caught up by the sweepers this week), but by the half-way mark, I was already at an hour, and it was obvious that I’d be logging another poor time. And this started me thinking of an earlier conversation I’d had about the psychology of challenges.

Many years ago, I was a Venture Scout Leader in the UK. I took a group of teenagers on a challenge hike – 40 miles overnight around the moors around Sheffield. The route passed various TV aerial masts, and was called The Masters Hike. It snowed. A couple of the teens wanted to drop out and despite my cajoling them through one more checkpoint, they finally quit. I exited the event at the same checkpoint. As we waited the 10 minutes or so for the “body wagon” – a long wheelbase Landy – to pick us up with the other folk exiting at that checkpoint, I got my second breath. Too late – I was already marked as “out”.

It was a huge lesson to me. I was about 25 at the time, and I vowed I would never quit such an event again purely on “mental grounds”. After that I went on to do many other challenge hikes including “Endurance 80” – an 80km (50mi), 24hr hike through the night. Glad to see that one’s still going strong.

So every time I start up the Grind, I have these little arguments in my head.

“Are you mad?

Eh?

Are you mad? You’re nearly 50!

So?

You’re pre-diabetic and have a heart problem.

Again – so?

Well this is just asking for trouble. You’ve barely started and you’re panting.

It’s good for you. It’s called “cardio”. The doctor said I should do more of it…”

And so it goes on – often all the way up to the halfway mark, at which juncture I point out to myself that even if I were to give in, it’s as far to the start as it is to the end, so I might as well continue. But behind it all is the memory of that terrible feeling I had as a young pup when I gave in for no other reason than a weak mental moment.

And so I keep going.

One. More. Step.

That’s one closer to the end. Well – do it again then!

And so on. Despite often sounding like Thomas the Tank Engine when I finally emerge at the top, I am rarely achy or physically exhausted. It’s way more a mental challenge than a physical one.

And the point of all this diatribe, you might ask?  Having taken 1:50 tonight, I initially thought “You’re getting old. Slowing down. Everyone passed you. You’re last”.

But then I thought:

“Yes. But I finished. That’s 10 Grouse Grinds since I started logging them. Probably about 15 altogether. All these people were faster than me today. But what about all those who are at home watching TV? Or who caught the SkyRide up to the top? How many of them have even done it once?”

And I smiled. And I ordered my usual cup of tea and fruit scone in the café. And I felt smug as I rode the SkyRide back down… 20 years the senior of everyone else who was muddy and in shorts.

I hope to keep winning the arguments with myself.





Snow joke

31 03 2013

Yesterday, my son joined me for another trip up The Snow Shoe Grind, up Grouse mountain. This is actually a hike up to the top of Dam Mountain, and despite having achieved the summit all but one of the 8 or so times I tried (I was on a timetable the first time I attempted it), I’d never seen the supposedly amazing views from the top. Despite the many adverts and photos, I’d also never seen “The Eye of the Wind” turbine up Grouse, except from a long distance, like driving over the Lions’ Gate Bridge.

But yesterday was a lovely day. Mid to high teens easily. We walked in T-shirts. The snow was terrible – like a snow cone mostly, and even like slushy porridge near the chalet where it was less protected from the sun. I think this will be the last snowshoe trip of the season. It was just too hard going in the slush. Even at the top, where arguably it should be coldest.

The view, however was amazing. We could see all the way to White Rock. We could see Washington State’s Mount Baker. And we could see the wind turbine!

A lovely day out “bonding” with the boy too. Topped off with the traditional London Fog tea latte, and a fruit scone when we got back to the chalet. (He had chicken strips and chips). In places the snow was down to the tarmac, and the timing post for the SSG was poking out a good metre, rather than being buried under the snow like in previous times earlier in the season.

But you know what this means? The regular Grouse Grind is hovering just over the horizon!

The view from Dam Mountain... with labels

The view from Dam Mountain… with labels





Of Yetis, Sienna Miller and Snowshoeing

9 02 2013

So my father-in-law just got a new car, in the UK. A Škoda Yeti. Here’s a great Top Gear piece showing how good they are if you feel the need to land a helicopter on the roof of your car, open a mobile (off-roading, no less) tattoo parlour… or casually pop Sienna Miller into your glove compartment.

Top Gear – Skoda Yeti road test – BBC – YouTube.

Seems like Jeremy Clarkson approves, so it can’t be bad at all. He’s from Doncaster, I believe. God’s Own County. Despite that… he’s still a bit of a plonker. Must be the water in Chipping Norton where Wikipedia tells me he now lives. There had to be a good reason…

While this car acquisition news was making its way through the internet, I was off doing the Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run, with Mrs E. I’d like to say it was “bright and early”, but as Rick Cluff on the CBC’s Early Edition says, it was actually “Dark and Early”! I was up (at least corporeally) at 5am. The upside was that the roads were nearly empty and I got a prime location in the Grouse Mountain car-park only an hour after setting out from White Rock. I can’t remember the last time I’d managed to park so close to the SkyRide.

Checking in was painless, and Mrs E and I signed away all our rights to everything including our first born and any superfluous kidneys we may be in possession of. In return we were given shiny racing bibs with some neat RFID strips on the back. I smiled, as I knew my own time could be just as easily tracked with an hour-glass or a sun-dial (the latter admittedly being less reliable at this time of year in The Lower Mainland).

We then joined a throng of far too energetic youngsters on their way to learn how to be Canada’s future Olympic Team. They had Nancy Greene Ski League bibs on and looked like they knew how to make a pair of skis fly. The SkyRide gondola was packed, which made it swing more robustly than usual as it went past the two pylons on its way to the Chalet. Let’s just say Mrs E didn’t enjoy it quite as much as most…

Source – Grouse Mountain: SkyRide Gondola

Now technically, as one might infer from the title of Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run, it’s a race you’re supposed to run. Well me and technicalities don’t always see eye to eye. Or even eye to navel. I had registered just to say I’d been there. That I’d taken part. We were up at the Chalet in plenty of time, and sat comfortably as the other competitors started to gather. (Forgive the blurry crappy BB photo.)
North Vancouver-20130209-00099

I thought it was the first time the race had been organised, but it turned out to be the third time. It was only my own fourth ascent to the race’s high point at Dam Mountain. On my last ascent (last weekend) I’d seen one of the competitors… twice! Plainly real training is necessary if you are serious about the numbers you leave to history on the Race Results Page. At the time, I’d just thought he was bereft of a social life. (It’s easy to be critical of people when you’re out and about… alone; bereft of a social life. :))

As Start Time approached, everyone made their way outside and donned their weapons of choice.

North Vancouver-20130209-00100

I was surprised at the variety. Some of the hard core had proper running snowshoes. Essentially these were a pair of trainers with snowshoes bolted directly to the soles. There were no bindings except the laces used to tie on the running shoes. They looked very lightweight.

The route, according to this Grouse Mountain map, is 5.5km in length (much of it shared in both directions,) and has a height gain of 800′.

SnowshowGrind Mountain Run 2013 route

Snowshoe Grind Mountain Run 2013 route

Now 800′ doesn’t sound like a lot… until you’re looking up at it! Actually, the two or three steep bits were way worse coming down. The Dam Mountain loop at the top was new to me, and not a part of the usual Snowshoe Grind route. It was a sensible addition though, as it avoided congestion at the rather sharp and small peak at Dam Mountain. People could flow off the peak and around the loop, rejoining the up-coming traffic at a much broader part of the trail.

There was one small downside though. As I mentioned in earlier posts, the “high heels” on my new snowshoes are awesome at aiding you climb steeper sections. There was something cathartic about reaching the peak and ceremoniously flipping them back down flat. “It’s all downhill from here!” Except now I was into this new-to-me route in the Dam Mountain loop. It wasn’t a particularly steep descent off the backside of the peak… but it had lots of fresh loose powder. For a little while, I forgot I was in a race, and waited patiently behind an older lady as she gingerly picked her way down. Then I remembered, exclaimed “sorry”, and took off past her in a flurry of powder and sweat. Not 20m later, I was skidding on my arse through virgin snow as my reward. Oh well – it helped cool me off a bit. Then came the downside… this Dam Mountain Loop has ascent in it! As it comes back to rejoin the main trail, it has some elevation to reclaim. Having mentally checked out of “the up bits”, this was a bit of a demoralising realisation. No matter though. We were in the guts of a low cloud, and I put my head down and dug in.

The event is well organised and there were probably a dozen or so marshalls at strategic points whooping and encouraging you on, as well as pointing you in the right direction. As is common in BC’s ski resorts, they mostly had Australian or UK accents. Students or world-travellers enjoying what BC has to offer and getting a little pin money while they’re at it. Almost at the peak, one particularly enthusiastic supporter had been cheering on the older lady and assuring her she was nearly there. When I got to her, I put on my best straight face and calmly asked if this was the bus-stop for the return shuttle.

There were only 69 entrants in all, which looking at previous years’ results seems par for the course. There were prizes for each age group, and extra prizes for “best dressed”. This guy won one of the two prizes … for being best undressed! The other (bending over) didn’t quite go so far, and wore a pair of cut-off denim shorts and a particularly dodgy red vest. As well as being best (un)dressed, the guy in tights was also fastest in his age group.

North Vancouver-20130209-00101

I managed to put in a bit of running on the return leg, despite the hiking boots, and so in spite of the addition of the Dam Mountain Loop section, I actually managed a time that was easily 5 minutes faster than my previous best SSG time. Despite telling myself I was there for the experience not to race per se… I couldn’t help a sprint finish and burning off 3 other competitors with the finish line well in sight. So  I wasn’t last either! :)

The best prize – available to everyone – was the full cooked breakfast in the comfy Altitudes Restaurant after the race. There was plenty of scrambled eggs and crispy bacon, as well as some quite zingy ginger and carrot juice concoction. I quaffed a litre of Whistler Water (one of the sponsors), and managed to studiously avoid the pancakes and rather delicious-looking potato chunks. There were some random prizes for entrants, based on your bib number, and Mrs E (who was very leery of even entering the race) managed to snag a pretty cool Molsons Canadian ’67 T-shirt (they were also a sponsor).

As we left, I realised I’d not had a hot drink, and managed to acquire two Earl Grey “Mighty Leaf” tea-bags on my way out. This brand is definitely better than average… though still not sufficiently so to justify the high prices charged for tea in such places. I suppose it might be considered stealing, since I had no intention of making tea right then. However, I figured after my busy morning, and given that the breakfast was fundamentally free… I’d bloody well earned them!

Would I do it again? Hell yes!





H2O – solid and liquid

12 01 2013

Busy day.

Began early (for a weekend at least) with a trip up one of the local “North Shore Mountains” – Seymour. Mrs E and a colleague joined me for a return visit to Dog Mountain via snow shoes. It’s a route I’d travelled a couple of weeks ago, but the intervening time had delivered quite a bit more snow, and the pretty sharp ups and downs were now much less daunting, requiring no hands in cold snow to steady my course. It was a lovely day, and despite hovering around -4 Celsius, the exercise kept things very pleasant. Almost at Dog Mountain we bumped into another colleague who had just left there with his girlfriend – the trails were busy with many people enjoying the pleasant day and spectacular views of Grouse and the city.

Later, Number 2 offspring joined me for a walk to White rock pier to catch the sunset and fool around with long exposures down by the beach. Here’s a few of the more choice results. I really enjoyed the “classic” trick of smoothing out the sea’s ripples into a milky smooth average over several seconds. Dusk was the perfect time to allow long exposures without losing colour.





2 for 2 – a weekend outside

9 12 2012

Well, I had a mighty fine weekend thank-you. Oh – you weren’t asking? Well I did anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Just go with it, OK?

Still here? Good! Where was I? Oh yes…

I became aware of an opportunity to go snow-shoeing on Saturday, so I added my name to what I felt would be a long list of hyper-fit 20-something year olds and awaited developments. In the end it was just myself and one Rover Scout. We opted for “Dog Mountain“, just off of Seymour Mountain, one of Vancouver’s “North Shore” ski resorts. In the end it was a great day, with around 3 hours on the hill. We were in low cloud, so the usual spectacular views of Vancouver and Stanley Park eluded us. However, we were treated to the cheeky Whiskey-jacks (see their January escapades on the same mountains here) once we reached the peak.

Today I had to go into town to pick up a Craigslist purchase – some Ilford Multigrade filters for my recently acquired B&W enlarger, and took the opportunity to check out the recent snow fall on Grouse Mountain – the middle of the three North Shore Mountains – with another snow shoe trip. During summer, the Grouse has “The Grouse Grind“, and they’ve tried to keep people coming by introducing a winter snow shoeing trail – “The Snow Show Grind”. I didn’t get to the top as I had to get back home for a promised trip to the REI outfitters in Bellingham. Coming down was – how shall I say? – interesting! It was fast and undignified. Let’s leave it at that.

So – I might not have been running of late, but I did get out and about and hiked around 2 of the 3 local peaks. I feel glad for that – we have such lovely scenery here in BC, and it really is a joy to be out there sharing it. You really do feel you’re in excellent company – there are like minded folks around, you’re breathing fresh air, and sharing very special moments in space and time.

There may well be no “meaning to life” beyond propagating our Selfish Genes, but hey – if I get to share those moments on the hills: “Frankly my dear… I don’t give a damn!”





Grouse shooting season – Telegraph

12 08 2012

It’s my dear departed mother-in-law’s birthday today. At least I think it is. The date is definite – August 12th. I’m just not sure if you still get birthdays once you shuffle off this mortal coil. With or without your Norwegian Blue parrot.

We used to playfully poke her about being born on “The Glorious 12th” – the start of the grouse shooting season. Since Victorian times this has marked the day when “the haves” pay (not a lot to) “the have nots” to be beaters, and encourage the grouse to rise from the heather and offer themselves up to be shot. Unlike pheasant, they are apparently fast, low-flying and hard to hit. A bit like the RAF. I recall a Scottish friend from years ago recalling how Famous Grouse whiskey was often ordered in bars as “a low flyer”.

Grouse shooting season – Telegraph.





What have you got to Grouse about?

3 08 2012

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.

Wikipedia: Grouse Mountain Skyride

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 a go – 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?

A view of Vancouver from Grouse Mountain

Mrs E and a work colleague about 2/3 of the way up Flint and Feather trail, Grouse








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