A month ago, my husband and I tackled the Incline, which is something of a Colorado hiker’s rite of passage. To say it is a hike, however, is rather misleading.
The Incline is a mile-long staircase that takes you up 2,000 vertical feet, from a base elevation of 6,035 at the start to 8,035 at the top. Think stair-stepper, not treadmill.
Some locals climb the Incline every day, and there are insane people who can run it in under 30 minutes. For some perspective, it took us 1.5 hours. Towards the end of the “hike”, as oxygen became increasingly scarce, we were taking a break every 20 steps, and that was a struggle.
From The Manitou Incline Website: “Completed in 1907 the Manitou Incline was a 1 mile cable tram built to support the construction of a hydroelectric plant and it’s waterline.” Once the plant was completed and the cable car’s function complete, an enterprising man named Dr. Brumbach (fun name, right?) purchased the line and marketed it as a tourist attraction.
Dear old Dr. Brumbach took the cars that were used for dragging construction equipment up the mountain, added benches, and voila! Instant money maker. Eventually the cars were upgraded, a station house was built at the top, and the Incline remained a popular tourist attraction for many years. At one point, a competing Incline opened on another mountain, but the views and hiking trails weren’t nearly as good, so that business went under.
In 1990, a severe rockside damaged the tracks and put the cable cars out of service, so locals began using the newly abandoned trail for a tough workout. Until 2013, it was privately owned, and hiking up the line was technically illegal, not to mention more than a little treacherous, as those pesky mudslides frequently washed away steps and walkways. Finally, in 2014, the trail was closed for extensive repairs and then reopened to the public. The Incline is now once again marketed as a tourist attraction and is just as popular now as it was in its heyday.
To “hike” the trail on a Friday, we left Denver around 7:30AM and arrived at the Incline just after 9. It was already busy, but not too crowded. We came prepared with water bottles, Cliff bars, and sunscreen. There’s a paid lot at the base, but we were lucky enough to find a metered spot, which was considerably cheaper than the $10 being charged in the lot. There is a free shuttle service if you want to park farther away for less money, but we didn’t want to deal with the hassle.
From the parking lot, you can follow signs and people towards the start of the climb. There are port-a-potties at the base, which I suggest you take advantage of, because once you start your ascent, there aren’t any facilities.
Though the Incline was recently repaired and improved, the stairs are quite steep and missing or broken in places, so wear good shoes, pay attention, and take your time. “Thin air” is a real thing at 6,000 feet above sea level, so if you aren’t acclimated to the altitude, go slow, and drink lots of water. There’s a “bail-out” point about half way up, where you can cut over to the winding, gently-sloped trail that will take you back to the base.
Once you reach the top (don’t be fooled by the false summit), there’s a 4-mile path that will take you first to the bail-out point mentioned above, and then all the way down to the base (and some actual bathrooms). This was a great relief for me as I can’t imagine having to descend back down the stairs with legs of jelly.
The hike up starts at a moderate pitch, and gets steeper as you go. For the first few hundred steps, we had to make ourselves take breaks to save our legs. I quickly learned that it’s all about pacing, and it was better, for me at least, to take short climbs (50 steps or so) followed by short breaks. That number quickly dropped to 30 steps, then to 20 by the end. Groups of people were constantly leap-frogging each other as we climbed and rested, climbed and rested. (With the exception of a group of middle school boys who passed us with ease, never looked back, and as far as I could tell, never stopped for a break. Damn children and their endless endurance.)
For the most part, everyone is concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, and there’s too much huffing and puffing to be doing much conversing. Despite the crowds, it’s a peaceful climb with great views, not to mention an awesome workout. At the end, everyone who has finished it stands at the top of the staircase and encourages you on; there’s a very real bonding experience that occurs between people who have just climbed 2,000 steps.
After we’d chatted with a few other Incliners, we walked around the summit, my husband peed behind a tree (because men can do that, the bastards) and found more stuff to climb on (he’s half-mountain goat, I swear), and then slowly made our way down the 4-mile trail. We made it back to our car right at lunch time, and our first priority was to consume all the calories we had just burned in the form of beer and pizza!
Total time, start to finish – just under 3 hours.
If you ever find yourself in the Denver area looking for a an excellent Colorado workout, check out the Incline!