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Stairway to heaven

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Coming into his first Canucks Summer Conditioning Camp, Evan Oberg was naturally curious about a few things.

What is this week all about? What are the drills? What is expected?

His biggest question of all, however, revolved around a task scheduled for the final day of camp, an activity that peaked his interest with its name alone.

The Grouse Grind.

Grouse Mountain, aptly named by a hunting party who shot a blue grouse bird on the mountain back in 1894, is where the week’s most difficult challenge will play out.

Some call it the stairway to heaven; others refer to it as the mountain of misery. Either way, once you start, there’s no turning back.

What was Oberg told about the trek?

“I heard it takes about 45 minutes and it’s a long battle to the top, but that it’s beautiful when you get up there with just a great view of the city.”

The Alberta-born defenceman has not been led astray.

The Grouse Grind, as we know it today, is a 2.9 kilometre hike with participants starting 900 feet above sea level at the base and finishing 3,700 feet above sea level at the summit.

The 2,800-foot elevation gain comes from the 2,830 steps that lead hikers up the mountain.

One hundred thousand people, ranging in ages from 7 to 90, make their way up Grouse Mountain each year and on Friday it’s the prospect’s turn.

Prospect camp veterean Kris Fredheim has conquered the grind the past three camps and while he didn’t dread the hike in the first place, something changed last year that made him enjoy it even more.

Instead of a flat out race between prospects up the hill, players are placed in teams and are timed as a unit. Teams begin the race it heats and the clock stops when every member of a team crosses the finish line at the top.

“It’s challenging but when you do it in groups it’s a lot of fun,” said Fredheim.

“It takes the mental aspect out of it, you’re not walking by yourself, you’ve got someone to talk to and someone to egg you on.”

Fredheim was paired with Patrick White, Taylor Ellington and Morgan Clark last year in a foursome that put together an impressive run, but came up short finishing in second place.

If that hiking dream team is back together again this year, they could be viewed as the early favourites, although Prab Rai thinks otherwise.

The Seattle Thunderbirds sniper, who took part in camp last year, will be as prepared as anyone on Friday having already run the grind this summer.

“I knew we were doing it again so I did it two or three times this summer already,” Prai said.

“I was trying to prepare myself but I don’t think you really can, it’s just a big climb straight up.”

Rai has been one of the players fielding questions about this mysterious grind and the advice he’s been dishing out is right on par.

“I think the main thing is just to pace yourself and just get a good walk going and don’t stop. As soon as you stop you lose time and momentum.

“The start is important; it’s bad if you start running right away because the first quarter isn’t as bad as the rest. The second half is just a straight climb so you don’t want to be dead by then, if you have gas left that’s when you make up time.”

Waiting for the prospects at the top will be Vancouver’s coaching staff and scout team and last summer a toy Stanley Cup was also on hand to great the players as a reflection of the up hill battle it takes to land hockey’s biggest prize.

While times don’t really matter and finishing the grind is the true goal, stepping outside of the rink and experiencing the majestic scenery that makes up BC is also an important part of this activity.

“The purpose of the grind is that it’s something kind of different and while we’re hockey, hockey, hockey, at the same time you want them to get a little bit of a feel of what the city is about and what the province has to offer,” said Stan Smyl, senior advisor to Gillis.

“The Grouse Grind is very well known throughout North America and it’s a team building exercise. A lot of them haven’t done it and they’re nervous, but the guys that have done it before help them out.

“It’s a great accomplishment once you get to the top and there’s no better way to finish the week then standing at the top of a mountain looking over Vancouver.”
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