It’s popular, and infamous. It’s in, hip and fashionable. It’s crowded. It’s steep. It’s mean. It’ll kill you if it can. It’s Vancouver’s baby. It’s the Grouse Grind.

They’ve called it a “High-angle Social Club” and “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”. The mountain trail‘s numbers are harsh. Bottom altitude: 300 m. Top altitude: 1100 m. Elevation gain: 853 m or 2800 ft. Trail length: 2.9 km. Horizontal distance traveled: 1.36 km. Average slope: 63%.

One goes there to suffer, there’s no better way to describe it. But to suffer in good company is already a little easier. So in addition to a few lost tourists and even fewer normal Vancouverites of all ages, the main crowd is young, fit, often single, and focused.

The traffic up the Grind is almost completely one-way: up. No winding turns here, the trail simply heads straight up. On many occasions, hands are needed to steady the climb, so steep it is, and I’m not talking about clutching trees but the ground itself. Then to go down, you either ride the gondola back or use the slightly less vertical BCMC trail to the east.

Today was my first encounter with the beast, at last. We gauged each other, evaluating the opponent’s weaknesses and strengths, trying to figure out a way to break him. I think we ended up with a tie. I wouldn’t dare say I did brilliantly, far from it. But my last real trail run went back to last November, so all and all, the legs and knees did ok. No way to run up the Grind today, though. I could not have managed it, and there were way too many people going up the hill, in an almost Himalayan-like procession, with the same bottlenecks around steeper steps.

So I opted for a fast walk up, and made it in 52 min. Before anybody starts cheering, let’s remind ourselves of a humbling fact:  that’s 50% slower than the trail record which is 26 min! Gulp.

But when I got to the top, apart from shaky legs, I still had an urge for some real running. So I took a break and then escaped the crowds and headed uphill again. Behind the station, left of the ski slope, is a beautiful large trail that heads west and north towards Goat and Crown Mountain. It’s still mostly snow-covered but allowed me to run for 25 more minutes, alone in the forest, reaching the cloud base and disappearing in it, in a much cooler air that forced me to put my windbreaker on for the descent back to the chalet.

Friends were waiting for me there and as the sky cleared up and turned sunny, we had coffee, watched a wonderful airborne documentary about B.C. at the Theatre in the Sky and then went on to the lumberjack show, which turned out to be funny and impressive.

I’m not sure I’ll do the Grind too often with summer upon us and hordes of people preparing to attack it, besides it’s not quite what I expect from the perfect trail run. But it was a fun morning, the physical and mental batteries have been completely discharged and recharged, and now I know what all the fuss was about. ;-)