What I learned from climbing the Grouse Grind—twice—while chugging beer

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Get the best of Vancouver in your inbox, every Tuesday and Thursday. Sign up for our free newsletter.

      Sometimes finishing in last place can be a good thing.

      This past weekend I took on a bit of an extreme challenge: I signed up for the Vancouver Vertical Beer Mile on Grouse Mountain. I had to hike a distance of 6.5 kilometres while covering 1,600 metres of elevation—all while trying to race others and finish a beer before every 400 metres. This translates to doing two laps of the Grouse Grind.

      True to its name, it was a grind.

      Upon arriving at the meeting spot, I quickly found out that I was the Grouse rookie in the group, having never climbed it before—whereas most participants had done the Grind close to 100 times, some even having climbed it 15 times in one day. I was encircled by elite athletes, triathlon runners, and ultra-marathon runners. I knew I had my work cut out for me, but I used this unique situation to ask them questions, learn from them, and see what the best way to survive this challenge could be.

      This was one of the most gruelling things I’ve ever done in my life. You could fill up a five-gallon bucket with my sweat. The first one-eighth of the challenge was the most difficult mentally and physically, with me trying to convince myself it was something I could accomplish, and trying to rationalize why I thought it was a good idea in the first place. 

      Every step was pain, each marker a reminder of how much was left, and how it would take an eternity to finish. Then suddenly, at the 400-metre elevation mark, I found energy in friendship. One of the friends I had stupidly convinced to take part was “enjoying” her second beer and joined me to complete the rest of the race. Having her with me meant it was easy to take my mind off how much my thighs and calves were burning. It was still brutal, but at least someone was there to keep me accountable to a pace and laugh through the pain.

      We eventually made it to the top of lap one—panting, sweating, and nearly dead. I almost tapped out and considered calling it quits. But the voice in my head wouldn’t let that happen. I rested for a couple of minutes, composed myself, chugged a beer, and set sail for another leg-busting 800 metres of elevation.

      The second lap was easier. I knew the path, knew how to step and pace myself, and understood the challenge more than before. We quickly made it to the halfway marker and sat to enjoy what I thought would be my final beer. In chatting with one of the elite athletes chosen to be our beer “sherpa,” we got on the topic of challenges and pushing ourselves to accomplish what we may not know to be possible. This resonated with me, as I was doing exactly that. He then offered me a bonus beer, which I promptly accepted and chugged.

      The final half of the challenge was difficult, but somehow flew by due to following our sherpa’s blisteringly quick pace. At last, we made it to the apex and the challenge was complete.

      Two hours and 53 minutes is how long it took me to climb 1,600 metres of elevation (6.5 kilometres of distance) and chug five beers.

      After finishing my second lap, I found new energy and motivation. I wanted to go again: try another dry lap, and see how quickly I could do it. The feeling of completing the challenge was a moment I continue to be in utter disbelief of. I can’t seem to believe that I could complete a challenge like that—and yet, the remainder of my weekend was spent trying to find other challenges and convincing my friends to join me. This was the hardest hike of my life, and I can’t wait to do it again next year. I want to keep elevating myself and challenging myself to accomplish more things I didn’t expect to be possible.

      In January, I began a mental health and fitness journey to turn my life around. For the past few years, I have been struggling with intense anxiety, ADHD, body weight issues, and a generally sedentary lifestyle. Since then, I have sought out the help needed to turn my life around. With the help of those around me, including my ever-supportive fiancee and local professionals, I have made dramatic changes to my life that just a year ago I would have never imagined.

      My weeks now include walking, biking, or running a total of 60 kilometres a week, eating much healthier, rarely having anxious thoughts, and finding more joy in the things around me. Whereas two years ago I jokingly said I wanted to run a marathon, having never run more than 200 metres since high school track and field, I am now putting in the work to make that joke into reality, and hope to hit the starting line in May 2025.

      All of this is to say that being able to admit, “I can’t do this alone,” and empowering yourself to find the support needed to improve is the way you move forward and find the tools to build yourself up. Seeking help isn’t a weakness—it’s a strength that builds more strength.