On June 21, Wilfrid Leblanc, 57, broke the Grouse Grind record, finishing 19 ascents in approximately 18 hours, and gaining 15,295 metres over 48K (almost double Mount Everest). The Grouse Grind trail ascends Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver. Every summer solstice, Grouse Mountain hosts the Multi-Grind Challenge, raising money for BC Children’s Hospital. Leblanc wasn’t the only vertical junkie breaking records. Brooke Spence, 37, and James Stewart, 40, each completed 18 Grinds. Spence, beat her previous record of 17 ascents, set in 2018.

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Lap 14? Photo: Jamie Armstrong

The multi-grind challenge is unique as it relies on the Grouse Mountain tram system. For solstice, the tram is scheduled for every 10 minutes. Participants may begin as early as 4:00 a.m., and can begin their final Grind at 9:59:59 p.m. Leblanc met the legendary Spence a few weeks prior to the event, and determined that “19 was possible by doing 45-minute Grinds all day. 19 is not crazy.” Leblanc’s plan of attack was to “stay with Brooke. I know she’s strong. I’m just gonna stay with her, until I can’t.”

“More people did 15 [Grinds] this year alone than ever before,” says 2017 record-holder Ian Roberton. Robertson was planning on breaking his record of 17 ascents, until his stomach took a turn mid-day. Robertson, Leblanc, Spence, and Stewart were together for the first lap. But Stewart missed the first tram down at 4:45 a.m. due to a broken timing chip, which left him hiking solo until number 18. Leblanc and Spence hiked for 15 laps together, and had fun with friends joining the party for one to five Grinds.

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The vertical master Spence says that “this year was a lot different than last year, because last year, I hiked alone. This year, there were four or five of us for a lot of it. It was tons of fun with pacers going in and out. You’re seeing all the other multi-grinders do it and everyone is so encouraging.” Leblanc said it was a highlight having his crew along with Spence’s hiking together.

Trail party going up together on lap 12. Photo: Cyrus Kangarloo

Like Leblanc, Stewart also picked Spence’s brain about the multi-grind experience. His goal was to finish 11 laps to match the elevation gain of Everest. “I realized after three or four, if I maintained this, I could get 17. I hadn’t thought of going to 18 before that. I did eight in a row in training. As the day went on, my legs felt the same all day. I didn’t have any low points.”

After 13 laps, Spence told Leblanc to go ahead, as she was slowing her pace down to 55 minutes. Considering Spence has the second-fastest female time on the Grouse Grind (31 minutes), 55 minutes felt slow. However, she still ended up catching Leblanc at the top and sharing another tram ride down together.

Spence and Wilf on lap 7. Photo: Eric Carter

“My legs felt great all day using poles. Lap 17 and 18 felt the fastest, even though I’d have to wait for the tram anyway. If we went slower, Brooke would have probably made 19, I think.” For Leblanc, Lap 19 did not feel good. “My pacers were talking, but I was not. I even said ‘good morning’ to someone on the 19th.”

As she recovers, Spence says she feels good and is “tired, but not sore. I’m less sore than last year. To me, running is so much harder. I ran for a number of years, doing ultras or marathons, and would wake up after a long training run and feel 80 years old.”

Vertical Master Spence after finishing 18 Grouse Grinds at 10:15pm. Photo: Alex Lea

All around, vertical records were smashed for summer solstice. Hilary Spires also completed seven laps to celebrate her seventh month of pregnancy. Leblanc ended up raising $41,125 for BC Children’s Hospital.

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