Acclimating with the Manitou Incline

I drove out to Colorado Springs last night from my parents’ in Kansas, and am staying with my good friends Elise and Phil. So happy to have a moment to catch up! Elise and I go way back to our first adventures on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas during our undergrad time at Cornell College. I knew then that I had been missing her quirky humor in my life. We have been friends ever since. I was so excited to learn that she would have some time off this week for a hike!

Today we climbed up the beast of the Manitou Incline. This is a popular trail near Manitou Springs where people train for bigger and tougher trails and others take on for a proper butt-kicking. It is a 2000 foot climb for one mile on the old remains of the cog railway that went up to Manitou Mountain. Imagine large wood stairs wedged into the slope at an average grade of 45 degrees, and 68 degrees at its steepest. That is the Incline for a whole mile! It is no small feat.

Elise and I killed it up the Incline. About 2.5 hours round trip including all breaks and a snack stop at the top. My lungs felt great and my body felt pumped! Any nerves I had about hiking this week were settled after this little jaunt.

For anyone familiar with this trail, you know that the locals are passionate about this route. The last time I climbed it, in 2012, I met this 65 year old woman crushing it to the top. As I was talking with her and younger man came running, yes running, by. She said that was her son. Five days a week they would go out together. Her hiking once up while he would run up twice. And I would say that is not an uncommon activity. It is like the daily run around the park in other cities. There is literally the Incline 500 Club, whose members have to climb the Incline 500 times within 365 days to be a member, and there are about ten members. So I would be amiss if I didn’t give a little back history. The incline was built in 1907 as a water tram to carry water from the Pikes Peak side of the mountain over to Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. A short while after that it was turned into a tourist attraction touting itself as the highest train in the world. After decades of erosion and a final washout destroying much of the tracks, it was closed in 1990. And that is when a small group of hikers began illegally climbing the trail. They called themselves the Incline Club, and the trail began to gain popularity. And that is when it really took off as a destination for adventure tourism. By the early 2010’s, there was so much regular traffic that the trail either needed to be made legal or actually shut down. Former President Barrack Obama signed the bill that legalized the Incline in 2013. And since then it has been going through a series of repairs. In 2014, new retaining walls and water culverts were installed. Then the Barr Trail was updated. The most recent update finished in December 2016, with newly installed rip-rap and updates to many of the old railroad ties and walkway “rails.”

Manitou Incline summary:

  • 3.6 miles
  • 2000 feet elevation gain
  • 2.5 hours total

Elise and I spent the afternoon wandering around CO Springs after a well-deserved lunch. She talked wedding plans and then I hit the road. This was my first time, in memory at least, that I have driven over the Front Range on Hwy 24. It is a beautiful drive. And I had great views of Pikes and what I will see tomorrow.

I am camped at Crags Campground, just a skip up the road from the trailhead. I fixed up a cozy bed in the backseat, organized my gear for the morning, ate a delicious supper of cobb salad and maple-glazed donut, and then worked on my research for a bit. I arrived to the campground just as the sky started a gentle sprinkle. Since I am heading out so early in the morning, and driving over to Twin Lakes/Leadville tomorrow, I decided a backseat bed was the most efficient setup. There were several tents in the campground, but the light rain kept things quiet and nicely cooled the air after a hot mid-90’s day. I am comfortably lounging with my feet propped up and planning to attempt some shut-eye soon. It is difficult for me to sleep while still light out, but I hope that even just resting my body will help me feel rejuvenated in the morning.

I am so thankful to be back in this beautiful state. I have missed Colorado more than I realized. As Muir has brilliantly been quoted, “The mountains call to me, and I must go to them.” It will be with a heavy heart that I return to the coastal paradise of southern California. At least I have this glorious week to play in the mountains.

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