Taking on the Manitou Incline

I?ve done my share of hiking, running and biking in Colorado over the years. But, I have never before taken on the task I attempted with my daughter recently. The two of us decided to ascend about 2,000 feet of elevation in less than a mile by accepting a challenge to climb the Manitou Incline.
Allow me to give a bit of background on what is becoming one of the most popular physical tests in the Colorado Springs area.
The incline was built as a funicular in 1907 as a means of accessing water tanks at the top of the mountain just west of the towns of Mani?tou and Colorado Springs. The cog railway was soon opened to the public as a tourist attraction.
A series of summit houses were constructed at the top of the incline. The most recent was demolished when the incline closed for good in 1990 after a rock slide wiped out sections of the rail bed.
Since that time, the incline has been embroiled in controversy as the Forest Service wanted to let the scar heal naturally, and the owner of the property, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, did not like all the added traffic to its parking area.
Even today, parking for hikers is extremely limited, and enthusiasts are better off parking down in Mani?tou and taking a free shuttle to the start of the trail.
In early 2013, the ?no trespassing? signs were taken down, and the popularity of the trail surged upward once again. Mother Nature has continued to use gravity in her attempt to reclaim the path, so the incline will be temporarily closed for repairs later this month.
Daughter Anna and I were fortunate to sneak in under that deadline, though conditions were probably as bad as they have ever been for our climb.
About halfway up, hikers are forced to scramble over an area that looks like a giant hand stirred up a truckload of railroad ties. There are collapsing water pipes and miscellaneous debris from water and rockslide damage. But, many locals believe all this adds to the appeal and challenge of the trail and hope the rework won?t make the path to the top too easy.
I don?t see that happening. First, the trail climbs 2,000 feet in about three-fourths of a mile. It is essentially a 2,000-step staircase with a false summit that teases hikers with about one-fourth of the climb yet to go.
The starting point is about 6,500 feet above sea level, so the hike is not recommended for those who are not in shape. A ?bailout? is available just over halfway up where the incline nears the Barr Trail. The walk back down from that point is about two miles.
Anna and I both passed the ?wimpout? spot and continued up to the top. It took us about 1? hours to reach the summit, far longer than the record of 16:42 by professional athlete Mark Fretta, according to Wikipedia. Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno completed the climb in 17:45.
Brandon Stapanowich owns the ?Inclinathon? record, wrapping up 13 laps (26.2 miles) in 11 hours and 46 minutes. He also once completed 22 laps in 24 hours, gaining more than 44,000 in elevation, the most gained by an individual in 24 hours. He was on the trail the day Anna and I climbed. Actor Kevin Bacon was seen on the incline in June.
During the busiest of times, which is from 8 a.m. to noon, it is considered bad form to go back down the vertical route. The traffic reminded me of tales of Mt. Everest?s Hilary Step, where climbers wait for hours to ascend a narrow passage.
Rather, hikers are expected to descend on the Barr Trail. It is much easier and takes less time, even though it is four times longer. Anna and I covered that section in less than an hour.
I suspect I will attempt to ascend the trail again the next time I am in Colorado Springs. I look forward to seeing the repairs and improvements made.
And, after all, it is one of the few things a person can do in Colorado for free.