The Only Way Is Up
I recently spent some time in Vancouver, Canada. One of the reasons I went was to take on the challenge of climbing The Grouse Grind. The Grind, as it’s known, is a hike up Grouse Mountain - straight up the mountain! It’s a 2.9-km (1.8-mile) ascent, with an elevation gain of 853 metres (2,800 feet). Part of the climb has steps - 2,830 of them! It’s so steep that downward travel is prohibited.
The only way is up!
I’m not a great fan of heights but the Grind is up through the mountain rather than climbing around the edges, although you climb steeply from the moment you arrive at the heavily forested trail, you don't really get a sense of the height as you actually climb. I was climbing with my good friend Rachel, who lives in the city and does the Grind often. I was really nervous, not really helped by a massive yellow sign at the entrance warning hikers of the extreme difficulty of the trail, the possible presence of wild animals - bears, cougar! And a warning that you climb at your own risk. Oh well, I thought, I’ve come a long way, I’d spent time visualising the climb, used self hypnosis. I was well prepared. Off we go!
My fitness level is OK but there were a lot of things that worried me about the Grind. The height, the difficulty, did I have enough water, will I be the slowest ever climber, will I make a fool of myself, what happens if I really can’t do it, will mountain rescue have to come and get me? There are markers at every quarter, though regular Grinders say they are not that accurate. The climbing starts from the moment you arrive, it was a lovely warm morning, I was pleased we’d started early & stunned at the amount of people on the trail. Already there were at least a couple of hundred hikers.
Despite the amount of climbers, it’s a beautiful peaceful environment, smelling of pine trees and earth, the tree canopy keeps it shady and fairy cool. The first quarter is very uneven, rocky with some wide steps, it’s hard work both physically & mentally, constantly having to think about where to place your feet, scrambling over the rocks. By the time we reached the quarter mark I was wondering what I’d let myself in for!
The second quarter was mostly steps, which I found really hard, some steps were small, others really high. Lungs & legs being to burn! 10 steps, 5 seconds rest, on and on, up and up. Passed by a group of young teenagers, the shame. Half way, a stop for a snack and more water. This is really hard work, my calves were cramping, I was puffed out hot and sweaty.
Then it hit me, we have the same distance again to climb and it’s getting even steeper. I was very very tired, my legs were burning and I have absolutely no choice but to carry on however long it takes, the only way is up. But you know what, far from worrying me I was totally energised by that realisation. I have to keep going, I will make it because I have no choice but to reach the top. I can’t turn back, I can’t quit. I just need to keep at it.
It struck me how often we give up on things simply because we can, we have a choice to keep going or to stop, go back to where we started. When you don't have any other option, no choice but to keep going, you just do it.
Now I can’t say it was easy, absolutely not, it was very hard work. I had a lot of different emotions, quite scared when I had to scramble over large rocks on my hands and knees, the odd glimpse of how high we were, worrying that I was getting in the way of faster people and the sheer physical effort. I was covered in dust & earth too!
But in every photo Rachel took I’m smiling! I loved it, really loved it. I kept on, just doing it. The very last quarter, which is actually quite short, is tricky, proper rock climbing in my opinion with the added bonus of people who have come up the mountain in the gondola peering over the edge watching you clamber inelegantly up. Then we were there, at the top.
I climbed the Grouse Grind! Once I’d got my breath back and looked out at the view I was stunned by how high we had climbed & what a view to reward us.
I took a moment to think about what I’d done. I learnt I was fitter than I believed I was, that I could become even stronger and fitter, that effort is rewarding.
And, most importantly to keep going. To stop using choice as an excuse to give up.
The only way is up!