If you are looking for an extreme workout, one that will challenge you physically, mentally and emotionally, then look no further than Colorado Springs! The Manitou Incline once operated as the old Cog Railway used to provide access to water tanks at the top of Pikes Peak mountain. It operated until 1990 when a rock slide damaged the rail bed beyond repairs. The incline is now considered the holy grail of cardio for locals and athletes, alike. It consists of approximately 2,744 steps made entirely of railroad ties. Although it is only one mile in length, the ascension averages a 41% incline, 68% at its highest point, and a 2,000 foot climb in elevation! A lung crusher at the very least! Needless to say, tackling the incline is not for the faint of heart or those with any fear of heights.
Three years ago, the hubby and I were in Colorado Springs for one of his Army buddy’s wedding. We arrived a few days early in order to take in the beauty of Colorado and enjoy some hiking. After taking on Seven Falls, Garden of the Gods and several other attractions, our “friend” (did I mention that he was in a special forces unit of the Army??) recommended that we climb the Manitou Incline. “It’ll be fun” he said. “You guys will love it” he said. “You guys are runners…you won’t have any problems!” he said. He was wrong. Well, sort of …but I’ll come back to that.
So, the hubs and I type in the address in our GPS and took off toward Manitou Springs. As we are approaching our exit off of the interstate, I see a brown trail cut into the side of mountain off in the distance. For a moment, I thought to myself ….”holy guacamole, that’s it???”
I quickly dismissed that as a possibility, knowing that it would be impossible for that to actually be what we were about to climb. Nah, no way. Following the turn by turn directions being barked out to us by “Stella”, the endearing name by husband has given our cell phones GPS, we arrived in the parking lot labeled “Cogs Railway Parking”. My initial thought was, unfortunately, correct …that tiny little brown trail cut into the side of the mountain was now looming right in front of us! My heart sank. We walked toward the beginning of the trail and stood before it, staring in disbelief. My husband then said to me, “We don’t have to do this if you don’t want”. What??? Back down from a challenge? Never! I mean, if an Army special forces Soldier thinks that I can do this, then I will do it …even if it kills me! So, with a nod and a fist bump, we began our climb.
Things were going very well the first half of the trek up. I have to admit, I was feeling pretty “bad ass” as I tackled those railroad ties with the greatest of ease! Just past the half way point, there is a “bailout” point which takes you back down via the Barr Trail. This is your last chance to exit the incline …continue on and you’re committed to the steepest section of the climb and all of the suckage that comes along with it. We did witness a couple of people make the decision to end their insanity; but we pressed on. To the top or die trying! Insanity!
As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20 ….I now know why the bailout point is where it is! Just past this point, the grade increases to about 68% and the pain begins. This is where things began to fall apart, at least for me. The difference in elevation between Mississippi and Colorado alone was taking its toll on me, let alone the additional 2,000 ft of elevation I was climbing at this point. My breathing was extremely labored and I felt as if I would pass out multiple times. I would stop and rest on rocks along the side of the trail, while 70-year-old locals would trot by me like they were taking a walk to their mailbox ….this ticked me off. The hubby would always be 10 – 15 steps ahead of me, then he would stop to wait on me, with no apparent difficulty in breathing whatsoever …this ticked me off. We continued on this way ….climbing, resting, cursing, crying, climbing, resting, cursing, crying, climbing….you get the picture. At one point of rest, I thought about our “friend” who recommended this activity ….this ticked me off as well. Who needs enemies when you have friends like this?!? I wondered if they ever performed helicopter rescue missions from this mountain …clearly, the lack of oxygen was beginning to cloud my thinking.
As we neared to top, the grade was so steep that I found myself using my hands as if climbing a ladder. At this point, I was beyond the anger and frustration and I just wanted to get to the top of this dang mountain! Again, the hubs being several steps ahead of me, yells out to me “we’re almost there, I can see the summit! Keep climbing, you’ve got this!” Yes! I’m almost done. I’m not going to die on the side of this dang mountain! As I reached the summit, I looked up only to see my husband still climbing!!! What??? Yep, you guessed it ….a false summit.
For a split second, I thought about crying again but decided it would only slow me down and besides, I was more than likely too dehydrated to make more tears anyway. (We only had one bottle of water between the two of us …again, I blame our “friend”).
Only about 300 more steps beyond the false summit and we reached the top. Lungs were screaming, quads were burning and my head was spinning, yet the amazing feeling of accomplishment overshadowed it all. The view from the top was extraordinary, like none other and we stopped for a moment to marvel at the beauty.
At this point, you can connect to Barr Trail and either continue up the mountain to the summit of Pikes Peak or take the Barr Trail back down the mountain, we chose the latter. The return trail consists of approximately 3.6 miles of rocky switch back trails which planted me on my butt several times trying to run down it. I highly recommend wearing trail shoes if you get a hankering to tackle the incline …you can thank me later.
The climb itself took about an hour and a half, including all of my crying and cursing stops. And the trail down took about an hour.
I’ve read that many elite athletes incorporate this into their training regimen with many being able to reach the top in 20 minutes … now that’s insane!
The next evening, while at our “friend’s” wedding, I found myself telling of our adventure on the incline to some of the wedding guests who just so happened to be in the 10th Special Forces group. They stroked my ego just a tad by telling me that they are required to climb the incline quite often for training; however, they are not allowed to do so by the Army for at least two weeks, allowing themselves time to adjust to the altitude. They were impressed that we were able to complete it after having only been in Colorado for a couple of days…boom! Maybe they were just trying to make this little Southern belle feel better about how long it took me to reach the top, but that’s okay…. I survived the Manitou Incline and I’m darn proud of it!
I will admit, after quite a bit of time has passed; I am itching to tackle to incline once again. Like most runners, the desire to compete against myself and beat my previous time lingers in the back of my mind. Certainly, I will not make a special trip to Colorado just to torture myself once again; but if the circumstances of life ever find me in the area again, I will face the giant …the Manitou Incline, once again.
Have you ever climbed the Manitou Incline or anything similar? If so, what was your time? If not, would you like to attempt this? What is the most extreme cardio activity you’ve ever attempted?