The girl looked, no, winced at me. As her eyelids thereafter rose I enquired about the lift ticket. It was around $50 AUS including tax.
My original intention was to mix it with the birds and the bees. The wonderful (as per their advertising) bird show had, however, closed for the season….as had the bees and the butterflies’ pavilion.
I pointed pleadingly outside to the glorious sunshine and almost cloudless sky. Surely the birds and the bees would be loving it? Apparently not, so I’d come around to the cable car option but, after the price had been uttered, plan B emerged. I’d heard of the Grouse Grind and, my mind kept saying, “You can do it” and so I asked the girl, who was from Sydney, and she sympathetically replied that it would take 1-1 ½ hours (insert wince where appropriate). I then budgeted for 2 ½ and set off.
I walked outside and a kindly lady walked me back through the carpark to the start and off I went….to be greeted by strange people, in pixie uniforms and such, dancing around on the start of the trail. Tutus apparently were de rigueur for the day, I felt embarrassed I’d left mine at home……not. It was something to do with their office but I didn’t really want to know.
The path takes only one direction – UP. The only variance is degrees of up. It ascended at a steady rate, not one that you could comfortably push yourself on, especially if you were carrying camera gear and a tripod. In hindsight I should have left my 5kg of it at the base.
You may twist and turn on this trail but, believe me, there is only one direction that you’ll ever remember, and that direction is UP. There are little markers, 1 of 40, then 2 of 40 etc., and they, as best as I can figure, are vertical indicators. In addition, there are humorous boards that someone with a lovely sense of the absurd has posted. There was one more sign, it read “Living in the moment could be the meaning of life”. I would have cause to reflect on that later. Another said, “We’re smiling right now – Lungs”.
I plunged on, the track often had smooth slippery rock steps cambered downwards and prominent “DANGER” signs were plastered here and there. The main problem was that it was uneven, making your leg muscles work overtime.
Around 16 of 40 the ¼ WAY sign loomed up. 5 different groups had passed me earlier, now it was my turn. Moving slowly and methodically carrying all my unwanted camera gear, I kept up a pace I had taught myself in the German Alps. Slowly enough so you don’t have to stop so much and your body can keep up with your mind.
I inched by five groups of climbers by the time I was 1/3 distance but the track was deteriorating. Mostly there were no made steps, just clambering up uneven rock after uneven rock.
Passing the other hikers had made me feel mentally good, but, at the half way mark, I was a wreck. There were seats here and most climbers were stopping. I was also stuffed, really stuffed; pulling up and taking a drink and having a chat to others also resting. They probably weren’t as relaxed when I took my shirt off and exposed my torso.
In the middle of us all was a sage man of some years who spoke without expression, “It gets steeper from here”. His poker face denied any emotion but it was clear he was crazy, it couldn’t get any steeper.
What had gone before seemed benign as I loaded again and laboured up with my baggage. My shirt was off and tied around my waist and the sweat was running down all over my frame. It must have been somewhat frightening for the kiddies and young girls I chanced upon but my comfort was paramount.
All I focused on now was the fact that I’d reached halfway and that every step beyond that was closer to ¾, a point from which I knew I could make it.
Occasionally, there were some lovely wooden steps, at times with handrails, and what a blessing they turned out to be. You could grab something to either rest or pull yourself up. Sadly, they were only teasers, soon it was back onto the rocks again whose surface continually unbalanced you and my weights seemed to exaggerate that fact.
At times I lurched in an unsound manner from side to side, grasping ropes when they were available, taking time out here and there for a drink and recovery. Just after the 34 of 40 the ¾ mark appeared, from here I could taste the end and it was lashed with succulent relish. Somehow the infusion of such thoughts takes away some, but not all, of the pain.
A middle aged German who’d been tagging along just behind me for some time moved past as I paused for refreshment. He informed me he had medical qualifications, had worked on oil rigs; knew about underwater resuscitation. “Fat lot of good that will do me here,” I thought, as I prayed for an end to the misery.
I thought I must be nearing the end but, nay, there was a sign saying, “The last ¼ is the worst”. I was shattered, surely not.
Then you’re looking for a gap in the trees, hoping the light will stream in, an indication of the end of the tunnel of torture. No more gasping, a place to sit and relax, enjoy the view. Still the steps keep coming, there’s supposedly 2,830 in total. It’s only 2.9kms but it ascends 854 metres in that time. Every metre a step…..arrgh!
Suddenly I can see the chair lift again, and a restaurant. This coincides with an awful sound emanating from immediately behind. Someone was severely dry reaching, just the thing to brighten up your day. “What’s the time, what’s the time,” he blurted out between dry vomits just before he collapsed.
Stripped down to bare essentials, this guy had run the Grind, made it in under 40 minutes and was now paying for his efforts. His body was sending him a message; perhaps he’ll heed it more next time.
I took about an hour longer, but with no upheaval of the stomach, just gasping for breath. I consoled myself with the fact that few 69 year old plus Australians would have bothered to attempt such a feat, and I can’t blame them for that, but it does give you boasting rights when you get home.
The stairs to the cafe seemed like someone’s sick joke as I laboured up them and purchased a smoothie. Because it was frozen it took ages to drink, which was probably a good thing as I collapsed in a bench seat.
If the walk had been for the view I’d have been disappointed. A hazy, smoky sky took the edge off the panorama over Vancouver and I was glad the fare down was only $10. This is mainly due to the fact they don’t want walkers going back down the trail.
After about 20 minutes I finally got on a cable car, joining the throng who’d mostly caught it up. There were other things to see on the mount that I hadn’t bothered with, but not birds or bees.