“Personally, I’ve never been attracted to danger. It’s not my sort of thing. I am more attracted to pubs and cafes. The known, safe and comfortable world.” Bill Bryson
One of the first things I wanted to do when I arrived in Vancouver this year was hike the Grouse Grind. But my brother, Ross, who I was visiting, cautioned me. Apparently, Outside magazine had named it as one of the world’s most dangerous hikes. Did I really want to risk it?
Of course, Ross was joking. He handed me an article from The Vancouver Sun, which basically labelled the Outside article as ludicrous and included some humorous comments from locals:
“In response to the Grind being called dangerous, Gary Ross tweeted “Blindfolded maybe”. And on Facebook, Eric Tran wrote: “There’s an effing chalet at the top with cold beer, and a gondola ride down.” Comedian and blogger Torben Rolfsen, writing on The Province website, joked that “dangers include spilling one’s latte, not bringing enough money for beer at the top, and having to call the North Shore Rescue helicopter if the gondola breaks down.”
To read the full article click here.
The truth is the hike is somewhere in between. It’s definitely a challenge. In less than three kilometres, the trail climbs more than 850 metres, and its nickname is “mother nature’s stairmaster”. You also don’t see many people chatting and laughing near the top; because it is a grind to get to the finish. But dangerous? I think not.
The first time I attempted the Grouse Grind was in 1996. I hiked with a couple of friends – Mary from Australia and Bruno from Switzerland – and we were fresh off a trip to Alaska, where we’d done plenty of hiking. We looked at the sign at the foot of the trail, which suggested the hike could take anything from 90 minutes to three hours, and set off. In those days, admittedly, the trail was pretty rough. There was some scrambling involved. You did need to be careful of some loose scree. And there were times where the trail wasn’t clearly marked. Not that the latter was a problem. It was basically straight up!
I remember feeling a bit unwell about 20 minutes into the climb; needing a few breaks to take some deep breaths. But that is normal for me. It doesn’t matter where I hike, or how fit I am, I’m always very sluggish at the beginning. Before I ease into a steady rhythm.
My friend Bruno was very competitive, so he took off, completing the hike in an hour. Mary was 15 minutes behind him, while I took 90 minutes. I was totally thrilled that I’d come in at the minimum suggested time for the hike. It was still pretty slow, considering the record time is around 24 minutes, but, that’s okay. I’m never in a hurry!
This year, the first thing that struck me about the hike was the vast improvement to the trail. After all, it’s been 17 years since I first did the Grouse Grind and the hike has become very popular. Each day, about 3000 people hike the trail, with even greater numbers on the weekends. So, by necessity, the trail is very well maintained – wooden steps have been built to prevent erosion, there is no chance of losing the trail, and there are even some guard rails.
Once again, I took my time. I’d been training for an upcoming hiking tour in the US, so the Grouse Grind was a way to gauge my fitness. But I was also catching up with my friend Aldona and we chatted for the first half of the hike. However, by the halfway point, conversation ceased and we concentrated on placing one foot in front of the other. The hike hadn’t gotten any easier since the first time, and I took two hours on this occasion. But, honestly, I felt great.
The Vancouver Sun weren’t the only publication questioning Outside’s article. A Quick Poll by Huffington Post asked its readers the question: What do you think? Is the Grouse Grind up there with the world’s most dangerous hikes? An overwhelming 92 per cent replied: “No. Most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard.”
So, even though I’d love to say I’ve survived one of the world’s most dangerous hikes (twice), I’ll just add my name to those who laughed out loud when I saw the headline. While it’s not a Sunday afternoon stroll, it’s far from dangerous. There’s also refreshments at the top, a wonderful view, and a gondola ride back down.
And… if I ever feel the desire to do a dangerous hike, I might try this one (with thanks to Adventure before Avarice for bringing it to my attention).