Manitou Springs: It's OK You Can't Breathe
On our last day in Salida, CO we had decided that because of the snow and muddy roads we had to leave town. Our 14-day stay limit was up at Salida East Recreation Area and our other boondocking options weren’t viable because of the road conditions. The plan was that we would head to Great Sand Dunes National Park the next day. Early the next morning Jerud got a text from his grandmother. Turned out his grandmother and grandfather were in Colorado Springs until the next day staying with his aunt and uncle. They hadn’t seen Jerud in a long time and wanted to see the RV, so we headed to Colorado Springs for the next two days.
Shirley and Howie, Jerud’s aunt and uncle, live in a very nice golf course neighborhood in Colorado Springs. The kind of community whose HOA frowns upon a beat up truck and a homemade RV parked in the street overnight. Fortunately for us Shirley and Howie are pretty cool. Shirley called their neighbors to make sure it was ok with them and told us to come on over.
We spent a lovely day catching up with Jerud’s family and talking about how life on the road has been. It was very heartwarming to see how supportive and happy they were for us.
Our plan was to spend part of the following day doing laundry and running errands, and the other half of the day for a hike. Shirley highly recommended that we hike Manitou Incline.
The Manitou Springs Incline, also known as the Manitou Incline or simply the Incline is located in the small town of Manitou Springs about 20 minutes from Colorado Springs. Manitou Springs was founded for its beautiful views and natural mineral springs. Today it’s a popular tourist stop and can also be on the way to the base of Pikes Peak.
Once we got to Manitou Springs I noticed that this one particular mountain had a distinct strip of snow running down its face from the peak. As we got closer I realized that was Manitou Incline. If I hadn’t known that others had hiked this trail, from where I was standing I would have thought you would need climbing ropes to get to the peak. About halfway to ¾ way up the path it looks like it goes directly vertical.
The Manitou Incline was originally a 3 ft. wide funicular (cable car) railway built in 1907. The railroad was originally built to provide “access to water tanks at the top of the mountain that would provide gravity fed water pressure to the cities of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs…and to access the hydroelectric plant and service the water pipes.” But once the project was completed it became a tourist attraction. In 1990, the tracks were washed away in a rockslide, and Pikes Peak Cog Railway decided not to repair the tracks and removed the rails. Until 2013 it wasn’t legal to hike up the old railroad ties. The Incline gains 2,000 ft. in about ¾ mile and the entire hike is one mile long. Sections of the Incline, as we saw, were so rutted out you can see the exposed pipes from back when it was a hydroelectric utility system. The Incline was actually closed in 2014 for a few months so the trail could be worked on. We noticed some new steps that were installed.
To stand on the first step of the Incline, look up, and to see exactly where we were going to end up and the route we were going to take was slightly overwhelming but so cool. With our lungs calibrated for 2,000 ft. we started our hike up to 8,000+ ft. And about 1/3 of the way up we ran out of breath. The rail ties were unevenly spaced which made it slightly harder to get into a consistent walking rhythm, but at least the first portion was a gentle grade. The view behind us as we hiked up was beautiful, you could see far into the distance. As we got higher it became a little bit challenging to turn around and look down, especially if it was fast turn, I could feel my body slightly sway. As we got to the last third of the hike the grade became really steep, supposedly 68% grade in sections. Here I could reach my hand out and touch the next step that was at face height. Some of the rail ties were high enough up that I had to use my hands to push myself up to the next step. There were a lot of people hiking the Incline in both directions. Our plan was to take the Barr Trail down so we could to see a different scenery. I will admit that coming back down the Incline didn’t look fun at all – especially for my knees. Supposedly there is a bailout point about ¾ of the way up where Barr Trail meets Manitou Incline if hikers have had enough of the rail ties. But I never saw it.
The higher we hiked the more snow there was on the steps in addition to the side of the trail. After taking our last Incline step we stood on a wide flat area covered with trees and snow. To our left was the Barr Trail again, but footsteps continued straight. After we consulted with Google we kept on walking through the snow to get to the real top and end of the Incline. This last intersection brought us to a 3-way: we could turn left to get on the Barr Trail and hike 4 miles down back to the base, or continue straight and make our way to Pikes Peak, or turn around to go back down the Incline. The view at the top and all the way down the Barr Trail was amazing. Hiking down Barr Trail was the way to go. We got to see a lot more mountains across the valley and the scenery along the trail was stunning.
The Manitou Incline records listed on Wikipedia blew me away: the most annual trips up the Incline happened in 2013 - 719 trips by Roger Austin. In 2012 Ed Baxter became the first known person to finish the “Inclination” which is 26.52 miles in 13 consecutive trips up and down and it took him just over 13 hours!
On our way out of Manitou Springs we found one of the natural mineral springs, named Iron Springs. We decided to fill up our growler with some of this effervescent water. When we drank it…well, this face explains the taste.
Thanks Shirley and Howie for the great recommendation and letting us stay with you!