Speed Hiking

Recently Kate and I visited Vancouver, B.C., and went on a number of different hikes.

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One of these was the “Grouse Grind”, a short (<2 mi) but pumpy (2800 ft) walk up to the top of Grouse Mountain along a very well-manicured trail/footpath/staircase.

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At the top, there was a nice lodge complete with bathrooms, cafes, restaurants, gift shops, and a gondola that can take you down to the bottom for $10 (photocredit).

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There was also a sprawling amusement-park-thing with a bird show, a couple of grizzlies, a wind turbine with lookout station, totem poles, ranger talks, helicopter tours, a lumberjack show, and various other attractions. When it’s cold, they switch over to ski lifts and wintersports.

One particularly interesting feature of hike was the community-wide competitiveness it’s fostered (and pushes on you all over the place lol). At the bottom and top there are electronic timers you clock in and out of via an RFID card. These record how long it took you to walk/jog up (alternatively, it looks like the phone app can record your time with GPS), and the best runs of the year are displayed alongside recent completion times on TVs at the top. From what I could tell, people routinely try to set personal and global PRs on this hike, and there are yearly competitions both for speed up in a single run and most runs in a day (photocredit).

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I’d have loved something like this growing up. [WARNING: NARCISSISTIC BRAGGING AHEAD] In high school, speed hiking and trail running where my “sports” – my junior and senior years, I hiked maybe ~50 miles a week (usually 5-10 on weeknights and 20-30 on weekends), much of it focused on pushing myself to achieve better times. The two “popular hike” PRs I most remember setting were 11ish minutes up the 1.2mi/1300ft Echo Canyon Trail – 14ish to get down – and 31ish to hike up the 3mi/2900ft Siphon Draw Trail. A preoccupation with speed was not without drawbacks, however – I remember one hike up Flatiron where I leapt up into a sharply jutting rock, spilling what, at the time, seemed like a huge amount of blood and probably sustaining a mild concussion (the scar still adorns my forehead). When I got to college I toned the hiking down a bit, going out every weekend and only *some* weeknights – I did a ~5 mile loop around Radnor Lake well over a hundred times, I reckon, and did all “60 hikes within 60 miles” of Nashville at least twice (though several I did dozens of times). I certainly got slower (gaining 50 lbs’ll do that!) but could still maintain a solid pace – on the Appalachian Trail the Summer after my 1st year, I averaged a respectable ~20 miles a day for about a month and a half (including neroes/zeroes)(photocredit).

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To digress further, one of my favorite college “ha, gotcha!” speed-hiking moments was on the Routeburn Track in New Zealand. I’d been making my way through the Great Walks and wanted to do the Routeburn, only it didn’t allow stealth camping, you had to book huts way in advance, and the spots were too expensive regardless. So I decided to do the whole trail all in one day (to avoid having to overnight on it), and hike a good few miles onto the Caples track, and do that and the Greenstone track over two more days before hitching over to Milford Sound to meet friends. Needless to say, my first day on the trail was gorgeous but long (I ended it around midnight after starting to hike at 9AM, giving me a 25-30 mi total for Day 1), so I was booking it. About 5 miles in to the Routeburn I reached a hut and decided to have some breakfast (of champions, naturally, a couple of my many PB&J sandwiches, with extra PB; photocredit).

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Halfway through my second sandwich, two boisterous hippie trailrunner bros arrive, their shirtless, lean torsos glistening as they removed their small camelbacks and began to chat up fellow hikers. One thing was quickly made clear – they’d been and would be zooming up the mountain at breakneck speeds. Finishing my food, I packed my things and returned to the trail. Glancing back a few minutes later, I noticed that trail bros had also rejoined the trail and were jogging half a km behind me. Since I’d already been moving with a sense of urgency, I kicked up my own pace a bit and stayed ahead of them for the next 7 miles (every so often confirming that they’re still running behind me). I like to imagine that they were puzzled by the dude with huge backpack ahead of them, but odds are they never noticed. Still, the thought tickled me pink as I struggled for breath speed-walking rapidly uphill.

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Anyway, what does all this masturbatory reminiscence have to do with the Grouse Grind? It might just be my massive, narcissistic ego talking, but I’m pretty sure I’d do *really well* in competition for the fastest time (and perhaps in the distance competition, too). The current course record is a smidge under 24 minutes, which gives a per-mile pace of just over 13 minutes. I feel that’s totally in line with my old PRs up Camelback and Flatiron, and those hikes have worse footing, too, so in doing them I needed to concentrate more on foot placement. “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” would let me pump out an ascent without worrying nearly as much about twisting an ankle. For the record, Kate and I walked up in a fairly casual, if rather sweaty 40-something minutes (the only time I had to use my mouth to breathe was after speaking a particularly long sentence. Though our ascent did unofficially put Kate in the top ten women’s times for this year!), and I’m pretty sure I could get in the low-mid 30s right now with a bit of effort. With some training to return to the hiking shape of my teens? A time in the low-twenties wouldn’t seem too far out of reach (photocredit).

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