Thursday, August 23, 2007

Gruelling Grouse Grind hike

After coming home from Shannon Falls, I thought of other places where we could take Takuya, our Japanese homestay, on Monday, a civic holiday.

“Mom, enough lakes,” Mickey said. “It’s always water.” Takuya had been to White Rock waterfront, Deep Cove in Vancouver, and Shannon Falls.

“OK, let’s do the Grouse Grind!” I told the boys.

The Grouse Mountain is located in North Vancouver. An aerial tramway, which is the largest in North America, takes you up and down the mountain. There are so many things to see and do there--nature walks, chairlift to the summit, gourmet/fastfood dining, paragliding, sport shows, entertainment, etc. etc. In the winter, you can go skiing, snowboarding, ice skating or join a snowshoe tour or sleigh ride.

On a cloudless day, the views from Grouse Mountain are breathtaking. You see Vancouver's skyline, shiny Georgia Strait and vast Pacific Ocean, the Gulf Islands, the harbour… Grouse Mountain is a popular tourist destination.

Two trams go up and down Grouse Mountain.

I have never taken the Skyride going up because it is too pricey - $33 per person! Compute that for my family. Instead, I hike up the 2.9 km-Grouse Grind trail, then take the Skyride going down for just $5. Cheap!!

The Grouse Grind trail is often referred to as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” and rightly so. I don’t know how many times I had told myself “Never again!” or “Why am I doing this?” during a hike. It is certainly not for the weak-kneed nor fainthearted.

I was debating with myself whether or not to take the younger boys to the trail. I was worried for them, more so because I was going to lead the pack. This being my fifth or sixth hike, I knew what to expect. Not one of my boys had done Grouse Grind before and Bud was not coming along. On the other hand, I thought it would be a good experience for the boys, and the hike would be more fun. With a lot of hesitation and a lot more prayers for God’s protection, I decided to go ahead with the plan.

“Eat a good breakfast... Bring a backpack,” I told the boys. Then I gave each one two bottles of water and an apple. I brought extra water, fruits, and munchies in another bag. I did not want to bring too many supplies on the hike.

We arrived at the parking lot of Grouse Mountain at around 10am. “Who wants to go to the washroom?” I asked the boys a few times. No answer. “Okay, I’m going to the washroom. It's going to be a long hike…”

When I came back, we eagerly went to the trail entrance where we saw this sign:


Beside it was a bigger board with a long list of waivers I could summarize in two sentences: "Hike at your own risk. We are not liable for any death, loss or injury."

We began our ascent. It was cold and shady. I wished I had a sweater.

There they go.

The boys were off to a quick start. I tried to keep up for about two minutes. Then I hiked at my own pace. “Don’t go too fast. Wait for me,” I called out. So every 20-25 metres, they would stop. "Mom, were you always this slow?"..." "How long did it take you to get to the top?" they kept asking. "I'm pacing myself," I'd reply.

After less than 10 minutes of hiking, one of the boys said he needed to pee. "See? That's why I was telling you to go to the washroom. It's still an hour of hiking up. Where will you pee here? Hide behind a tree," I said, half in jest.

"Tomorrow it will be in Youtube," Mickey said. This was discouragement enough.

By the 1/4 mark, we were already exhausted, me more than anyone. But we had walked too far to go back.

Another precaution

I let the boys go on ahead without waiting for me. There was a steady stream of hikers, so I was never too far from somebody. People were going past me and I was overtaking some. I stopped worrying about the boys after realizing that they were better and faster at this than I was. I was trailing--not leading--the pack.

To take my mind off my exhaustion, I decided to look at people's shoes. I was mostly looking down anyway. I hardly saw people's faces except when I stopped. I saw people's backs and legs. What do hikers wear? Nike... Adidas... Nike, Nike... hiking name...Reebok...Adidas...New Balance...New Balance...Adidas...Nike

I caught up with Markus. "Mom, where are we now?" He asked. "We are now 1/2 of 1/4 after the 1/4," I replied, trying to conceal the fact that we still had a looong way to go. He paused for a moment and said, "Mom, you can just say 2/5." Smart guy!

Later, I saw Gabriel waiting for me. "Mom, I'm hungry," he said. "That's why I told you to have a good breakfast. Eat your apple," I answered. "I brought an orange," he answered. I took out my apple and handed it to him and went on my way. Our extra supplies were with Mickey who had gone ahead of us.

Shortly after, Gabriel caught up with me. "Mom, my apple fell to the ground after one bite..." Aah, what a waste. I knew they would be hungry and thirsty on Grouse Grind and that was one less supply.

The boys take a short break.

Long before the 1/2 mark, I was taking more frequent stops. I think I did not take more than 15 steps without resting a bit. At some parts where there were no steps, I climbed with my feet and hands, grabbing onto rocks or roots for support.

1/4 to go. By this time, I was so sweaty I wished I had worn a tank top.

Every now and then I looked back to see how far I had gone. The ravines were deep. I stayed away from the edges of the trail. There was no way I would go back down. This is one trail where going down is not advised by the park management itself. It's not hard to understand why.

Finally, I got to the top where my boys had been waiting and resting along with many other hikers. Unfortunately, it was cloudy so the breathtaking views I was talking about earlier were nowhere in sight.

Sign at the top of Grouse Grind trail

We made it to the top!

The boys were too hungry and tired to look around and do some sightseeing in the area. We took the Skyride. I paid $25 for all of us. Not even the price of one two-way ticket. If you ever take this tram in the summer, expect to ride with stinky, sweaty hikers on the way down.

Shortly after descending on the tram and going through the clouds, we were greeted by spectacular views of the land and water below. Wonderful!

Ride with a view

I was glad to make it to the top with no incident involving me nor my company. Even if I keep going back to it, I don't particularly enjoy hiking up the Grouse Grind. It's like, though not nearly, my love-hate relationship with childbirth I did four times. But the adrenaline rush of getting to the top, as in giving birth, always gives a high. I did it again!! I conquered my fear!!

Going home, I was very grateful for our safety. Thank You, Lord!!! No bears and broken bones!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Shimmering Shannon Falls

We went to Squamish two Saturdays ago to take Takuya, our Japanese homestay student, on an outing. Squamish, north of Vancouver, is known as the "Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada." Surrounded by mountains, Squamish is located at the head of Howe Sound between Vancouver and Whistler.

The scenic drive on Highway 99, or Sea to Sky Highway, is always worth the trip. (Click to enlarge)

It took us about an hour to get to our specific destination, Shannon Falls, said to be the third largest, or highest(?) waterfall in Canada. The last time we went there, we hiked up the mountain on a winding trail. I did not get to the top because Markus and Gabriel were still very young then. This time, we were prepared to go all the way up. Unfortunately, the old trail was gone and in its place were concrete steps that led to a viewpoint, which was only a short distance up.

Takuya, Markus and Mickey at the Shannon Falls viewpoint

Disappointed, we headed back to the park table where Bud, still healing from a sore knee, had stayed behind with our food and his writing stuff. On the way, the boys and I passed by the creek to which the waterfalls flowed. We decided to stop. Markus was very excited at this mini-adventure. He hopped on rocks as he crossed the shallow but rapid current. I followed suit.

Markus and Mom get to play in the creek. Yippee!

Amazing how nature can bring out the child in you. I felt like a child again, hopping here and there, playing with the water, balancing on a dead tree trunk. At first I thought I could easily walk on two tree trunks that formed an L above the creek. I was okay walking on trunk#1 about three feet above the water. When I reached the end, I could not clamber up trunk#2. My legs weren't long enough. My fear of heights got the better of me and I froze, unable to walk back to where I came from. After several minutes of standing there, I sensed Mickey walk up behind me.

"Mom, what are you doing?" he asked.

"I can't go up. Go on. Go past me," I replied. He understood he had to pull me up.

"Better not drag me down," he warned.

With one hand on the trunk for support and the other grasping Mickey's hand, I gently pulled myself up. I was not as concerned about falling into icy cold water, which was very shallow anyway, as much as falling on rocks. OUCHH!

Making it to trunk#2, I thought aloud, "Now how am I going to get down?"

"Good luck," Mickey replied as he walked to the far end towards the riverbank. Oh God, pleease don't let him fall!!! I silently prayed while watching him balance. A mother never stops worrying for her child, does she? Certainly not this mom.

After Mick safely jumped down 4 or 5 feet to the ground, I was relieved and thankful. Now it was time to think about ME. Well, I managed to clamber down where the two trunks intersected. Then I rested on a large boulder to regain my bearings.

Unlike Mom, Markus had no problem hopping from rock to rock and balancing on tree trunks

Mickey became preoccupied with building stone figures like the inukshuk made by the Inuits. He carefully balanced one rock atop another for as many as 6 rocks altogether.

Mickey was good at this.

Looking for a greater challenge, he did it on the ends of branches protruding over the creek.

Wow, steady hands!

I made 4 stone figures of my own and took a few rocks to make another one at home.

Mom's stone figures

Takuya did his own, too.

After about an hour at the creek, we returned to our base to eat and play at the park some more.

Takuya showing card tricks

We had fun but I hoped Takuya was not as disappointed as I was at our short hike. I know a far more challenging trail -- the Grouse Grind!

Coming up - the gruelling Grouse Grind hike...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Herbilicious -- a postscript

Remember the "unidentified growing objects" I was telling you about in my previous blog entry? They are gone. I pulled them all today. It was getting pretty obvious that they were weeds, not edible plants.

Yesterday, while I was watering my garden, my neighbour Katerina, who was walking her dog, stopped by and looked over my 4-foot tall cedar fence.

"Oh, you have ve-GEH-tah-bles!" she exclaimed in her thick Ukrainian accent upon seeing my beans, tomatoes, herbs and broccoli. She seemed impressed.

Katerina has a green thumb. She has a nice front garden with flower pots, trellis, some landscaping too. As she stood outside my fence looking in, I quietly hoped she wouldn't notice the weeds planted in four pots and two planters. She might wonder, Arrre those weeds? Do my neighbourrrs frrrom the Philippines eat them?! Is this a culturrral thing? Strrange! I could almost hear her lovely rrrolling rrrrr's.

So today, I pulled out those weeds-I-once-called-peppers from all over the place before anyone else saw them. I admit, I felt a tinge of disappointment.

Oh well... life isn't always a bed of rosemaries.