Manitou Springs, Colorado, is home to The Incline, not an incline – and for those of you have attempted its 2,700 irregular, treacherous steps, it is a special kind of fitness challenge and/or stairway to hell depending opon your conditioning and perspective. It gains over 2000 feet in elevation in under nine tenths of a mile. There is an excellent Wikipedia article about the Manitou Incline if you are curious about its history.
Once one of Colorado’s best kept little secrets, it has exploded in popularity from the days when the “no trespassing” signs deterred the masses but not Olympic athletes, fitness enthusiasts, a few Colorado Springs Council Members, and me from challenging its rise. In addition to providing a leg and cardio workout from hell, it was one of the best (maybe the best) ways out there to train for Colorado’s high-altitude activities like bagging 14ers and winter sports. The Manitou Incline will kick your butt, maybe even kill you if your heart isn’t up to it.
Today however, it is slowly becoming a victim of its own success. The few times I’ve had it all to myself are long gone. Planners, politicians, and enthusiasts managed to make it “legal” a few years back through securing trail easements and improving its steps; unsurprisingly, the place has become a tourist attraction and veritable zoo on weekends. I said zoo, I’ve seen dogs, mountain bikes, and even one donkey.
Exacerbating this problem is the confluence of activities and uses that occur near the Incline trail head itself. The parking lot at its base is the parking lot for the popular Pikes Peak Cog Railway. The sole road leading up to the Incline, Ruxton Avenue, starts at a roundabout – which 99% of drivers don’t know how to use – in the bustling, touristy, and weird downtown Manitou Springs and travels uphill through a residential area to the Cog Railway parking lot. A few hundred feet past the Cog Railway/Incline lot is a very small parking lot for the Barr Trailhead – the 13.1 mile trail up to the top of Pikes Peak.
On a weekend, both lots will be full before the sun rises and you (me) get out of bed. The Cog Railway folks are closing the big lot to Incline traffic on weekends during the spring, summer, and fall months. There are a limited number of metered, on-street parking spaces along Ruxton Avenue, but most of the parking along the street requires a residential permit – meaning you live there. All of the parking lots are metered/pay parking. Though the city runs a shuttle, the area is crazy on weekends. The City of Manitou Springs has even raised the on-street parking price from a $5 minimum to $10 – it seems to no avail.
Furthermore, The Incline itself is falling apart due to the literally thousands of people climbing it per day on a busy weekend.
So…….. all of this indicates a demand for a very scarce, even singular resource and park planners are taking note. Douglas County has created a “challenge hill” – call it an incline and they will come, way too many of them – in Castle Rock at Phillip S. Miller Park.
I’ve been avoiding trying this challenge hill thing for a while, rather opting to make the nearly 70 mile drive and fighting the hoard at the real deal than wasting my time on a mini-incline. What would Arnold do? Would you rather watch Game of Thrones or another Narnia movie? But, today I caved – or should I say calved. I had limited time and needed a quick workout. I braved the snow and ice on its steps and did the Manitou Incline yesterday, my 36th time up it this year – and very nearly did it again today to burn off those Thanksgiving pounds. But, I digressed, and attacked its little sister.
To my surprise, and the credit of Douglas County park planners, it was legit. There were about ten people there working out, ample parking, and the thing had 200 steps. Better yet, it looked and felt like the real thing, except safer – like no exposed re-bar. Wearing my steezy trail running shoes and sporting an attitude of superiority, I ran right at it. About 100 steps in I realized I had under estimated this stair challenge. It grew steeper – think curved like a ski jump – and the burn in my quads, 208 bpm heart rate, and breakfast burrito in my stomach 86ed my plan to sprint to the top. I settled for a brisk climb instead and five-timed it – up down up down up down up down up down.
This thing was slegit – yes that is my word combining steezy, sleazy, and legit indicating my approval. They even thought to number every tenth stair so you can do sprints, alternating side to side, or just know how far you are from your goal in running it. There is even a trail and switchbacks down from the top in case you want to run down, or your old knees aren’t up for hopping down. Walking down these things is hell on the knees – especially old knees. I noticed an older gentleman – like 45 – going up the stairs, running down the switchbacks, and then up again. I’ll be there in a bout ten years, but still opted to hop scotch down rather than jog the switchbacks.
I’ll still do the real thing, but this new kid on the block is the real deal. Why fight traffic, pay for parking, and put 140 miles on my car once or twice a week when I can drive 15 minutes south of Denver and destroy myself on the stair challenge three times a week? There are even zip lines down – but you have to pay for these and they appeared closed for the winter. There are some visual impacts, but these depend largely on topography and vegetation. You can see the Manitou Incline for miles because it cuts through the trees – the Castle Rock one I had to get pretty close to before I even saw it as it cuts through prairie grass and shrubs.
My fastest time on the Manitou Incline was 35:49. Maybe if I train on the mini-cline three times a week, up down as many times as I can, I’ll break my personal best. I’m hooked… I mean sore… I mean respect. I hope more of these stair challenges will come to a hill, bluff, butte, or mound near you. I’m not posting a map to the stair challenge in Castle Rock, you’ll have to find it yourself. Train hard, just stay, its mine!
Oh wait! I forgot to mention that both these inclines offer impressive views great for selfies to make your flat-lander friends envious.
So up down, up down, up down, up down, up down it is.
Another blog post on Castle Rock’s Mini-Incline.