So, many of you know/read that I ran the Leadville Trail Marathon 2 weeks ago. My good friend Jeff and I flew into Colorado Springs a few days early in order to acclimate a bit. Needless to say, we didn’t expect to be greeted by the worst wildfire that area has ever seen. But we were able to drive into Manitou Springs, which is just west of Colorado Springs, on Wednesday afternoon. It was there that we saw and learned about the Manitou Incline trail.
Completed in 1907, the Manitou Incline was a one mile cable tram built to support the construction of a hydroelectric plant and it’s waterline. After its completion, it was turned into a tourist attraction, which featured a 16 minute train ride which claimed to be the longest and highest incline on the globe.
In 1990 the Manitou Incline closed after a rockslide damaged the tracks again and the Cog Railway decided to cease the failing operation and focus on the profitable Cog Railway. Ever since then the route has seen a steady stream of runners, joggers, hikers, walkers, and even some crawlers. The route is short and steep, gaining nearly 2000 feet of elevation in 3/4 of a mile it is truely a Colorado workout.
Jeff and I just had to make the ascent once we learned about it. So, we made a plan to come back early Thursday morning, where we’d take the incline trail to the top, then run the Barr trail back down to the base, a 4.5 mile round trip. Since hiking the trail is officially illegal, and with the Barr trail officially closed because of the wildfires, we had to sneak to the trailhead. Fortunately, no one really cared, and we were able to park close to the start, which is a rarity on a beautiful summer morning.
The challenge ahead of us was 2,200 feet of vertical climbing in 1 mile.
Being sea level dwellers, it didn’t take long to figure out that this was going to be a challenge. The air started thin, and only got thinner, while the effort increased. As you can see by the above elevation chart, the grade averages 41%, with a large chunk of it greater than 60%. This was a beast. Fortunately, we had zero expectations about how long it would take to make the ascent, and we stopped numerous times to enjoy the view and take pictures.
Yeah, we were gonna run up this:
The initial steps up were rather tame, but it was hard to breathe at the beginning. We quickly learned that this would be the easiest section though.
Soon enough, the relatively easy section was done. The steps went from 8 inches high to 18 inches high, and we were lifting our feet as high as our knees. It became a struggle to make it 50 yards at a time without having to stop for a breather. Fortunately, turning around and looking back was enjoyable, since the views were stunning.
It may look like we’re approaching the top here. We’re not. That’s a false sense of hope. It still went on beyond this. Jeff had the quote of the day, and of the trip, as we struggled to make the ascent. He said, “This is retarded. And awesome.” I couldn’t have agreed more. That was the perfect description of this ascent.
It became a struggle to climb and breathe, so we had to pick landmarks out ahead of us, such rocks on the side of the trail, or water pipes that crossed the trail, and just make it to those points. We’d turn around and enjoy the view as we took a breather. We’d sit down on a step or a rock and take some pictures or video, then continue for a bit and repeat. At long last, we reached the top of the incline. It was a welcome site, that’s for sure. I had to take a picture at the top in my DBAP shirt, because this was a worthy moment.
Yep, that’s Pikes Peak back there.
Again, Pikes Peak in the background.
The Barr trail is the trail that leads from the Cog Railroad all the way up to the summit of Pikes Peak. The Manitou Incline trail meets up with the Barr trail, and it was a little over 3 miles back down to the parking area. The trail was well groomed and even though we descended over 2,200 feet in that 3 miles, it did not feel that difficult on the legs. Of course, my reality had been forever clouded by the ascent up the Manitou Incline, so maybe that’s why it wasn’t such a difficult descent.
Yes, the Manitou Incline is both retarded and awesome at the same time. But the ascent is worth it. The stunning views and peaceful setting at the top is unmatched anywhere. I will be back. And so should you.