You guys! I did it! I climbed the Manitou Incline. Holy hell I thought I was going to straight up die on that hill, but I made it up and down alive. Here are my tips and tricks for the treacherous climb and the lovely descent.
Facts to know before you go
This is a serious climb. If you have any injuries, no matter how slight, wait till you’re fully healed before you take this on. The Manitou Incline is about 1 mile long, but an impressive 2000 foot increase in elevation. The base of the Incline starts at 6530 feet, so the air is going to be mighty thin by the time you get to the top.
Get to the Incline early in the day. You’ll be more likely to avoid crowds, get a good parking spot, and have better weather in the morning. God help you if you get caught in the rain or in intense heat.
Bring a couple bottles of water and some snacks with you. The parking lot at the trailhead allows for 4 hour parking, and depending on your fitness level, you just might need that entire 4 hours.
Sunscreen is critical. There are no shade trees on the stairway to heaven.
Layer, layer, layer. I wore a hoodie over a light jacket over a tank top and used all three at some point during the climb and descent.
I saw one person with hiking poles and was deeply envious.
On the Incline
There’s no easing in to this. It starts climbing immediately. I stopped to catch my breath after about 2 minutes. It’ll take awhile to find your stride, but you’ll get there.
Look up from time to time, but you’ll be best served by keeping your head down and focused on the three steps directly in front of you. After a while, I found my rhythm and would count the number of steps I was taking between breathing breaks. I’d do 30 for a while, down to 20, down to 10, recover, back up to 20, etc. It totally helped keep my mind off getting to the top and counting the steps satisfied my darkest OCD tendencies.
Don’t spend time dwelling on what you think is the top. It ain’t. That oasis you see in the clouds is a false summit. You’ll have another few hundred feet to climb after you reach it.
Stay to the right to allow overachievers to pass you. If you need to pass someone (you insufferable show off) make sure you don’t startle them. It would be a gruesome fall.
At a seemingly random point in our climb, my girlfriend announced to our group that we were halfway there. This was sorely needed encouragement. Note there is no sign marking the spot. If you have GPS you’ll be halfway at .45 miles (or thereabouts). After this point my memory gets foggy, as the lack of oxygen was cutting off circulation to my ass, thighs and brain.
Also somewhere around halfway up there is a bailout path. If you find you need to call it quits early, look for it heading off to the left. This would be a good option if you don’t have time for the entire hike or you have people in your group who can’t make it to the summit.
You’ll see some numbered wooden structures to the left of the path. Try as I might, I can’t figure out what they are, but they also provided me with some encouragement. I wouldn’t look at them for a while, then glance over to see that I’d gone from #17 to #25. Whoopee!
Watch out for the chipmunks. They will mock you with their fat cheeks and rosy dispositions. These two little jokers were clearly taunting me. “What’s the matter, chubby girl? We climb this bad boy all day every day! Suck it up, buttercup!” (The lack of oxygen was clearly becoming more pronounced at this point.)
At the Top
Enjoy the view! You have SO earned it! You might find it’s quite a bit cooler up top than it was in the parking lot. Now that you’re done climbing, you will cool off quickly so pull out your warmer layers if need be. Give your legs a well deserved rest and your knees a much needed pep talk for the long walk down. Have some water and perhaps a small snack. Ask someone to take your picture with the view in the background. Please don’t try to take a selfie. I don’t want to read about any Darwin Award winners on the Incline. If you’re the friendly type, encourage the folks who are struggling up the last 50 steps or so, as they are brutally difficult.
The Long and Winding Road Down
There are two ways down: the Incline, or the Barr Trail. Taking the Incline back down is treacherous and frowned upon by Incline regulars. Don’t be that person. The Barr Trail will take you down a well maintained and pretty 2.7 mile path. Several people jogged down the trail, which is great if you are cold or in a hurry to get on with your day. I let my friends go ahead without me and strolled the path, looking at the views, the wildflowers, and peering down at the rushing Buxton Creek and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. It was a fantastic reward for the punishing challenge.
So how long did it take?
I brought up the rear in my group: 1 hour and 33 minutes up, 1 hour and 30 minutes down. I am not in particularly good shape. If you exercise regularly, you might be able to go up in 40 minutes or more. I was passed by other hikers constantly, but felt perfectly okay with that. I was going at my own pace. My only goal was to get to the top. What I noticed time and again about the people passing me was that every single one of them was breathing as heavily as I was. You may be able to do the Incline quicker than someone else, but it’s still going to totally kick your ass.
Is it kid and pet friendly?
Strictly speaking dogs are not allowed. We encountered two very well behaved pooches on our climb. The black lab did great. She was clearly encouraging her owners to pick up the pace. The tiny Maxine, who was some sort of poodley mix, also seemed to enjoy herself, but was carried on and off by her owners. I don’t recommend bringing your dog. It’ll be a big problem if they get away from you.
As for kids, I saw one baby in a Kelty who was having the time of her life. That said, the thought of carrying a child up this climb made me seriously question her parents’ sanity. Bad enough to have additional weight on your back, but what if you stumble? It made me so nervous watching them I found myself speeding up to get past them. But these folks were obviously infinitely better coordinated than I, as they were one of the crazies who climbed back down the steps rather than take the trail. More power to them.
Older kids, perhaps starting at around 11-12 who are in good shape would have a blast. Just make sure they understand there’s no turning around and no whining allowed. Good luck with that.
The Bottom Line:
The Manitou Incline is absolutely everything it is cracked up to be. A tough, often painful workout, with a stunning payoff at the end. If I can convince my legs to take me back there, I’ll make it an annual trip.