Grouse Grind record gets broken in hiking marathon for charity

Vancouver real-estate agent Sebastian Albrecht has accomplished something never done by another human being. He climbed the legendary Grouse Grind a record 14 times in a single day on June 28, raising several thousand dollars for local women’s shelters.

Walking up the steep, 2.9-kilometre North Shore trail even once is a challenge for most people. So how does someone manage to ascend the 853-metre-tall incline 14 times? “It’s difficult to explain,” Albrecht told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview the morning after his mind-blowing hiking marathon. “Basically, the entire day, you’re in a rush. It’s almost like a sprint. You need to make sure you’re getting up the mountain fast enough to make the gondola on time so that you can get the next one started early enough.”

This is the third consecutive year that the Vancouver-born agent has chosen this unusual way of raising money for the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation. By the time he spoke with the Straight, he had raised $4,000, but hoped that more donations would come in through the rest of the week. “All the money raised locally goes directly to local shelters,” he said.

In 2008, Albrecht went up the Grind 12 times in one day. He said that on this occasion, he kept food in his car, which meant he had to take extra time to retrieve it. Last year, he reached the top of the trail 13 times in a day, tying Vicki Mann for the record. He attributed his performance to the help of a crew, which kept him hydrated and fuelled. His mother brought homemade energy bars.

Albrecht also needed to maintain his electrolyte levels. These substances become ions in the human body and are essential for the normal functioning of cells and organs. He boosted his levels by dropping electrolyte-filled tablets into water, creating a sugar-free drink.

“I also drank coconut water, which I would love never to touch again,” Albrecht said with a laugh.

He started at 6:30 a.m. and continued through the day and the evening, sometimes eating on the gondola ride down the mountain. This year, there has been a fair amount of trail construction to improve safety. It’s not finished yet, so Albrecht had to take a 200-metre detour through a muddy area near the end of each ascent. “That was a bit of a challenge, particularly late last night when it got dark,” he commented.

As a result of the improvements to the trail, there are now more stairs. Albrecht noted that on natural land, you can adjust the length of your stride if you’re feeling fatigued. That isn’t possible on the man-made areas on the Grind.

Halfway through his 13th ascent, darkness descended on the mountain. “I had a headlamp, which I hadn’t worn in a while,” Albrecht recalled. “I discovered it was rather faint, which wasn’t great.”

Fortunately, he was joined by others, including the person with whom he shared the record, Vicki Mann, who kept him company on his record-breaking 14th trip up the hill. He finished around 11:15 p.m.

At the time, he said that he might never go up the Grind again, but those thoughts had vanished by the next morning. However, Albrecht doesn’t anticipate trying to break his record next year. “I think this will be it,” he said. “I’ve done it three years in a row. I’ve been told by my girlfriend and my mom that I can’t do it anymore.”

Surprisingly, several years ago, Albrecht had no interest in going up the Grouse Grind. He loved hiking, but he felt that the trail, which attracts more than 100,000 people a year, was far too popular for his liking. “Then, finally, someone convinced me to try it,” he said. “I was hooked.”

His fastest time is 32 minutes. Albrecht said that during his record-breaking 14 hikes up the Grind on June 28, his times ranged from 42 to 57 minutes per trip. He expects that one day, somebody will go up more than 14 times in a day. “The human body is amazing,” he said. “There are some determined, athletic people out there.”