If you look to the west in Manitou Springs, Colorado you will see a long gash in the side of the mountain, running from its base to its summit. It’s a perfectly straight scar, bisecting the forest into north and south sections, and if you don’t know what it is, you might wonder about it. If you do know what it is, it looks intimidating as hell. I was in that boat.
This gash is what remains of a funicular that was built in 1907 to access a hydroelectric plant at the top of the mountain. It remained in use for many years, and even operated as a tourist attraction for some time, but in 1990 a massive rock slide took it all out. The railroad ties were the only things that remained, and it was determined that the track would not be rebuilt. The Manitou Incline was born.
Looking online for a new hike not too far from home, I had stumbled across the Incline and decided we would give it a try. It looked new and fresh, and yes, even fun. What we discovered is that it is the mother of cardio workouts.
Only .88 miles long but with an elevation gain of 2,090’, it is 2,744 steps (that’s 1,168 more than the Empire State Building!) and averages a 41% incline, although it is 68% at its steepest. There is a bail out trail about ¾ of the way up, but if you’ve made it that far and your problems are mental, not physical, just keep going!
We’ve done it twice; the first time was uneventful. We decided that we would both go at our own pace, and meet up at the top. Brett was off like a rocket. I chose the slow, steady method, and showed up at the top an hour and 23 min later, having taken many rest and photo breaks. Brett had been waiting for a while. One of the biggest challenges to the mental game is the false summit. It was hard to reach the “top” and realize I still had about 300 steps to go, but I could see Brett up there cheering me on and that helped with the last push.
Now here is an important note. It is a faux pas to descend the stairs. The flow of traffic is up and it’s annoying at best to have your upward momentum and flow ruined by some joker coming at you from above. At worst it is dangerous. You really don’t want to fall down those stairs or worse, cause someone else to fall.
To get down, you take the Barr Trail, which is 3 miles of switchbacks, which gets tedious, but it’s not difficult, unless you eat sh*t running down it. Like I said, our first go was uneventful. Not so, the second go.
Having our baseline times, we wanted to try to beat them. Coincidentally, two days before we were to leave for our second attempt, there was a news report that Kevin Bacon was visiting Colorado and had done the Incline with a time of 54:02. Brett’s new goal was to beat Kevin Bacon. The record btw, is 17:45.
At the summit we were in high spirits. Brett had crushed Kevin Bacon’s time (this has to figure into the Six Degrees somehow) and I had shaved 15 minutes off my first try. We were full of energy and decided to trail run down the Barr. There are a lot of rocks in the path and you have to be very aware of where you place your feet at all times. In a fateful moment, I thought of something I wanted to tell Brett and looked up to see if he had his earbuds in. I was looking at his ears one moment and sliding on my hands and knees the next. The Barr Trail became extra tedious that day.
The Manitou Incline is something I recommend trying at least once. Like anything else, if you prepare, you will increase your chance of success. Drink lots of water, especially during the warm months, wear good shoes, go at your own pace and take breaks if needed, all common sense stuff. And make sure to look down from the top. The view is spectacular.
On a logistical note, the parking lot at the trail head is very small. We never even attempt it. There is a free shuttle that runs about every 20 min from a large, free parking lot at 10 Old Man’s Trail. It stops at the Incline, Pikes Peak Cog Railway and historic downtown Manitou Springs.
While the Incline isn’t all fun and games, and it can show you who the boss is pretty quickly if you’re not careful, we’re going back in the fall. We have new times to beat, so yeah…it’s kind of fun.