Trevor Becker will never forget the first time he climbed the Manitou Springs Incline during a vacation trip more than a dozen years ago. He was instantly hooked and recalls that experience as being one of the reasons he moved to the Pikes Peak area.
Ah, the mighty Incline: It is the granddaddy of physical challenges, the great tester of mental and emotional strength and fortitude—exhausting, exhilarating, exhausting—and for a group of dedicated and loyal Incliners, a regular, nonoptional part of the day.
Let’s say there you are, gazing from any number of spots in and around Colorado Springs at the east slope of our purple mountain majesty, Pikes Peak. You might see what appears to be a ladder-straight staircase that etches up the mountain so high you lose the vanishing point. You’re looking at 2,768 steps that gain a whopping 2,000 feet in elevation in less than a mile, ending up at 8,600 feet in altitude. The Incline steps are made of railroad ties, spaced apart, with a grade that averages 45% and peaks—no pun intended—at an incredible 68%!
So why in the world would anybody want to attempt this mighty behemoth? And how did this vertical ladder come to be on the side of a mountain in the first place?
As described by the Incline Friends group, the Mount Manitou Scenic Incline Railway was originally built in 1907 as a cable car to carry materials to build pipelines on Pikes Peak. After the pipelines were finished, the railway was turned into a tourist attraction. In 1990, the railway operation ended, and the rails were removed, creating the railroad-tie stair climb.
Today, the City of Colorado Springs owns a sizeable chunk of the Incline and maintains the popular trail. The U.S. Forest Service owns the top section, plus the adjacent Barr Trail—the hiking trail down—and if you’re so inclined (OK, maybe we intended that one) up to the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak. Oh, the views!
Gillian Rossi, a Colorado Springs park ranger supervisor, says, “City park rangers, funded by the trails, open space and parks sales tax, regularly work on maintenance projects to keep the Incline as safe and enjoyable as possible for hikers.”
So let’s get back to why anyone would want to embark on this straight-up wonder. “For me,” says Becker, “the Incline—or hiking/bushwhacking up any peak for that matter—gives me a time to reflect and self-analyze deeply. Doing hard things is good for that. It’s good to be uncomfortable… There is the physical element but also the emotional element and the connection you create with other hikers.”
Becker currently serves as trail maintenance director with the Incline Friends board. “I partner with our park ranger to build annual trail maintenance plans and run numerous volunteer events each season. I also personally run the official Manitou Incline Facebook group that has close to 20,000 members. We do everything we can to make the experience group friendly and positive.”
And that they do. Incline legends such as Roger Austin, Greg Cummings, and Becker himself offer big doses of encouragement and support to others who decide to take on the challenge, whether they are out-of-state flat-landers preparing for their first time or seasoned regulars encountered along the trail. One gets the impression, in perusing the FB page, that these legends possess a certain inherent humility. Their accomplishments are all but incomprehensible—some have completed the Incline more than 1,000 times in one year or done 13 laps in one day—but you likely won’t hear any bragging from this bunch. Check out the Records lists at the bottom of the Incline or on facebook.com/groups/manitou.incline.
Folks who decide to make the Incline a personal goal come from all walks of life and all situations, including those who have overcome serious illness or physical difficulties to those celebrating life’s milestones to those wanting to break out of their comfort zone. A group of firefighters makes an annual trek up the Incline in honor of 9/11. Double leg amputees have made the trek. Young children and older adults meet on the mountain. Oh, and there are bailout points along the way and absolutely no shame in not going all the way to the top.
It takes a village to both keep the Incline in shape for hikers and to protect the environment. “If you’re interested in volunteering,” says Rossi, “a guilt-free way to take breaks along your hike is to reach out to the Incline Friends organization.”