Me Versus the Mountain

For the last four years or so, I have lived in North Vancouver, which means I am treated to the beautiful scenery trifecta of mountain, ocean and cityscapes simply by turning my head.  But with this privilege comes a certain implied responsibility.

By stereotyped definition, people from British Columbia are expected to be tree-huggers and outdoor activity enthusiasts.  Personally, I support the tree-hugger philosophy politically; I just cringe thinking of the critters that might crawl on me if I were to actually hug that tree.  I tend to like my nature in a controlled, park-like setting.  But in BC, those of us who prefer to avoid, say, dirt… bugs… extreme sports or hungry animals, are seen as freaks who should just move to Toronto if that’s the way we feel about it.

If you live in North Vancouver, the litmus test of your belonging is your enthusiasm for “The Grouse Grind.”  Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  It has a reputation for being pretty brutal, and being a sensible soul, I’ve managed to avoid it for the last three summers.  That ended today.

For non-locals, Grouse Mountain, as you can probably tell from the name, is a mountain.  I know there are places that have hills that they call mountains and people are ok with that because there are no actual mountains around to compare them to and say, “Hey, those aren’t mountains.  Those are just hills.”   BC is not one of those places.  The Grouse Grind is the hike up this mountain, available as an option from late spring to some time in the fall, depending on the weather.  It is not an easy hike.

Now this isn’t “mountain climbing” in that you don’t need special equipment.  They have cut in steps and supported them with some wood and rocks and there are tree roots you can use too.  So it really is just a hard hike.  Apparently the best time of this season was 29 minutes.  Based on today’s experience, I’m pretty sure this is untrue and impossible, but it’s what they are claiming.

About ten minutes into this, I am already gasping for air and a bit embarrassed by that, to be honest.  Five minutes later, everyone else is too, so I felt a bit better.  It is very true that misery loves company.  I start to feel quite bonded with my fellow strugglers as the steps go on.  (And on.  And on.)  I choose to believe that the few people who are not struggling are not actually human beings, but rather space aliens, hired on by the mountain to inspire us or something.  One of them passes me wearing a shirt that says, “No one ever drowned in sweat.”  Quite possibly true, but is that seriously supposed to make me feel anything other than disgusted?

Being a life-long fan of the path of least resistance, I secretly (ok, maybe not so secretly) want to give up pretty quickly, but I am pushed onward by my irritatingly upbeat husband, who has done this before and been trying to get me to do it for a while.  “You’re doing great,” he says.  “We’re nearly there,” he says.  “I’m pretty sure the half-way marker is just around the next corner,” he says.  We hike and we hike and we hike and no such marker appears.  “Maybe they’ve taken down the marker,” he says, “I’m sure we’re almost at the top.”

It’s foggy and the trees block out a lot, so I have no way of verifying what he is saying, but as much as I would love for him to be right, the cynical side of me has a suspicion that he may not be giving me the whole truth here.  Yes, I’m exhausted, but if we’re actually almost at the top, then this trail has not earned its fearsome reputation.

Then we come around the next corner and I finally see the marker sign.

And I want to cry.

Here is what it says:

You have reached the 1/4 way point.  [!!!!!!!!!!!]  Please note that the trail becomes much steeper and harder from here.  Carry on at your own risk.

Now, I don’t know.  Maybe a lawyer made them put that up so people with heart problems could make an informed decision about whether or not to go on, but I’m pretty sure they couldn’t have chosen less motivating wording if they had tried.  Ignorance is better, as you can at least fool yourself into thinking the end is near.  But no, now I know that I have to do what I just did THREE MORE TIMES before I can get to the end.

At this point I am very much ready to turn around, but my own personal cheerleader is having none of that, of course.  So, like a good girl, I suck it up and try not to whine.  And the steps just keep going on.  “Just think, every step brings you closer to the top!”  (I am extremely proud of my restraint in not responding to this in the way that my nature dictates.)

Eventually we do make it to the top, despite the conclusion I had reached that this mountain doesn’t actually have a top and is really some sick Sisyphian trial that someone invented specifically to punish me for something.

Only now that I am home and showered do I start to feel accomplished in finishing this.  I had been disappointed to find that there was no brass band awaiting us at the top.  Nor did anyone give us medals.  I think either of these would have been acceptable acknowledgement of our efforts.  But thinking about it, medal or no medal, I can now say, “I climbed up a mountain.”  I’ve never been able to say that before.  I can’t say I’m in any rush to do it again; it was hard and slippery and muddy and humbling.  But here’s the score:

Stephanie  – 1

Grouse Grind – 0

Take that, mountain!

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