The Incline. My breath gets short just typing it out. What is The Incline you ask? The Incline is a trail in Manitou Springs, CO that is what remains of an old incline railway whose tracks were washed out by a rock slide in 1990. Since its closure as a railway, intrepid souls have hiked or run the trail even though it was technically illegal to do so. It was only in January of 2013 that the proponents of the trail succeeded in having it opened to the public as a legal trail. Here are some fun facts about the trail garnered from the Wikipedia page:
- Base elevation: 6,500 feet, Peak: 8,590
- Length: 0.9 miles (there are varying distances I’ve seen some as far as 1.42 miles).
- Record summit: 16:42 by pro tri-athlete Mark Fretta.
To give an idea of the elevation gain over a very short distance, here’s my read-out from Strava:
Despite its fearsome reputation, The Incline has become a very popular attraction and Rebecca and I could not resist its allure when we were in Colorado Springs as part of a trip for a wedding. We did our homework first, asking as many locals as we could for advice on how to tackle this beast. Over and over we heard: “Take it easy, take frequent breaks, drink lots of water, it’s going to be hot so dress accordingly.” Essentially, the advice boiled down to the old ultramarathon adage of “Start slow, then take it easy.” We awoke on the morning of our attempt feeling ready to take on a challenge, but respectful of the anticipated difficulty.
Getting to The Incline is fairly straightforward. It’ s become such a legitimate activity that it even has its own paid parking lot. We received a lot of ominous warnings about the difficulty of parking and that it would cost $5 DOLLARS!!!!! to park in the lot so we might want to consider taking the shuttle. Coming from Boston, $5 to park seemed like a downright steal and there were plenty of spots open on an early weekday morning. That’s not to say a weekend wouldn’t be a different story though. From the parking lot, the trailhead is a very short walk away. In a pleasant surprise, there are a couple port-a-potties before the trail starts.
Here is the sign that greets would-be Incliners:
After reading the EXTREME trail WARNING, you look in front of you to see this looming monstrosity:
This picture gives you an idea of the terrain you’re climbing up, but this is literally as good as it gets. As the trail climbs, the steepness increases dramatically at the same time that the footing gets more and more precarious. At some points there are broken sections of metal pipeline running through the railroad ties, or perhaps rocks, or the ties are slanted. If up until this point I’ve given the impression that The Incline is just a matter of walking up some neatly organized wooden ties, I sincerely apologize. Here’s a picture, taken from the side of the trail, that attempts to do some justice to the reality of the trail itself:
Simply put, the hike is brutal, especially if you aren’t acclimated to the elevation. Even though we had been in Colorado for several days prior to taking on The Incline, we hadn’t done anything to really get our heart rate up and we suffered accordingly.
We had barely gotten going when I could start to feel my heart pumping and my breath catching. Also, it was hot. Still, we forged on amongst a motley of other Incliners, some tackling the trail like a normal weekday run, others ambling along at our pace. The number of people on such a difficult trail, on a weekday morning, was truly astonishing/inspiring/confusing.
We followed the advice of taking frequent breaks and drinking lots of water, breaks which got frequenter as the hike progressed. What became more of a problem than muscle fatigue as we got higher in elevation was a feeling of dizziness and instability, causing a few disconcerting slips of the foot on some of the rocks. Looking down The Incline only added to the sense of vertigo.
We finally reached a point in The Inline where Incliners have the option to take a meandering cut-off trail back down to the parking lots, and we seized the opportunity. At that point we still had to reach the so-called “false summit” and then would have another few hundred feet of climbing to go. Although I don’t take failing to finish a goal lightly, safety and health considerations were paramount.
The Barr Trail itself was a great reward for the extreme effort up. It is mostly clear single-track that is eminently run-able and provides unreal vistas throughout. For example:
I really felt like a little kid on the trail, always eager to go running ahead. Rebecca was kind enough to let me do so on occasion and even kinder to take some cool pictures along the way.
She looked pretty good herself, don’t you think?
Eventually we made it back down to the trail head, feeling refreshed after the easy hike down and loving the mountain air. Were we bummed we didn’t make it to the summit? Sure, but that didn’t take away from how great the morning was and what a memorable experience it was to share together. We pledged to return to The Incline some day, better acclimated to the elevation and ready to summit.
And, finally, because I have some more pictures from the hike as well as our trip to Garden of the Gods that didn’t make it into the main post, I leave you with this gallery. Run Happy!