When Outside Magazine included the Grouse Grind as one of the “10 Most Dangerous Hikes” in the world this week, many in the Lower Mainland rolled their eyes. Although the extremely steep trail can be deadly – the magazine attributed three deaths to the trail since 1999 – can we really consider it among the world’s most treacherous when 100,000 hikers scale it every year?
Few know the Grind better than Phil Severy, a North Vancouver-based doctor who co-built the trail with Don McPherson in 1981. They built it to have a hike that would challenge them physically, but allow a descent that didn’t destroy their knees. Grouse Mountain’s gondola ensured an easy way down.
The Globe and Mail spoke with Mr. Severy to see whether he lends any credence to Outside Magazine’s claim.
What were your thoughts when you heard the Grind was being called one of the world’s most dangerous trails?
Well, the danger’s in the Grinders, not the Grind. That’s nothing personal, because a great many Grinders are safety-conscious, aware of mountain etiquette, know not to turn rocks loose, know not to go off the trail and try to beat their own way up the mountain.
They are used to the Grind, and many of them could probably do it in dim light, though you couldn’t do it at night.
It’s a dangerous trail only because it’s a steep trail, and the weather conditions up there can render it slippery or icy. Then it can become dangerous, but only to people who are unprepared.
The Grind was closed in the winter after an avalanche killed a man in 1999. Perhaps the trail could be considered much more dangerous when it was still being used in the winter?
Yes, in the winter it becomes more dangerous, but again, the dangerousness usually relates to the users, rather than the trail itself. For dangerous trails in the Lower Mainland, most of the trails that I’ve gone on have been more dangerous than the Grind for a number of different reasons. Sometimes it’s exposure, sometimes it’s loose shale, sometimes it’s weather conditions, sometimes it’s ice build-up.
You and Don helped rebuild the trail in the 1990s to make it safer. What prompted that?
In 81 and ’82, we simply cleared a one-person footpath, staying on the high side of trees. Every now and then when the trail was a bit exposed or there was a fall-off, we’d put in a rail or something like that to hold the trail so it didn’t erode at the edge. But for years, that’s all it was.
By the early nineties, there was a tremendous amount of biomass erosion from footsteps, and the trail became genuinely dangerous.
So in 1994, we decided we were going to try to stabilize the trail and bring it to four-foot width. People were already racing, so we wanted racers to be able to pass each other safely and wouldn’t have to miss a step.
Have you been surprised to see how popular the trail has become over the years?
We never anticipated it would be much more than just a one-way footpath for people to get some exercise going up the mountain.
We’re very happy in the end, we’ve never regretted building it or having it be popularized. There’s been responsible management from the nineties on, very responsible management.
There’s a lot of effort in keeping things safe, posting risk hazards, and even closing sections of the trail to fall a tree or clear rocks out of the way. It is a well looked-after trail.