Stairway to Heaven: First Time Climbing The Manitou Springs Incline

Stairway to Heaven: First Time Climbing The Manitou Springs Incline

Stairway to Heaven: First Time Climbing The Manitou Springs Incline.
By Debbie Simon

Looking at it from a distance the Manitou Springs Incline seems like an impossible feat. The steps (there are 2,744 of them!) are located on the east  side of Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs, Colorado about an hour south of Denver. The steps are made from old railroad tracks held together by wooden ties. The entire length of the incline is .9 miles. That might not sound like alot, but with an elevation gain of 2,020 feet and average grade of 41% with the steepest grade of 68%, it’s understandable that the difficulty rating of this is extreme! 

Reservations are required to climb the incline. There is a capacity limit to keep crowds from building on the incline. The earlier your arrival, the more people are allowed, the later in the day the reservation is made, the less people are allowed. This keeps everyone safe and cuts down on traffic congestion on the stairs. My husband and I arrived at the base of the incline at 9am for our reservation. There were about thirty fellow travelers ready to make the trek up the side of the mountain. It was a brisk and beautiful day in Manitou Springs-typical of that time of year. The incline is open year-round from 6am-6pm with rare weather closures.  I’ve seen videos of people climbing the stairs covered in snow and ice. As a newbie, I wouldn’t recommend that, but luckily there are plenty of other times to make the journey. The weather that November day was ideal for the physical exertion we expected. We both wore sweat shirts,  long pants with shorts underneath, brim hats and tennis shoes. Hiking shoes don’t do much good on this terrain, but you’ll wish you had them on for the hike back down the Barr Trail. Some folks were in heavier clothes, some in shorts, one man, who looked to be about seventy, wore a full sweat shirt with a garbage bag over his sweat shirt- presumably as a misguided way to lose weight.

Everything started off great. The steps were big, wide, and well placed. Our pace was steady and even. I thought- this will be easy! We’ll be done in about 30 minutes. 

30 minutes into the hike we were only about a quarter a way up and the air was getting thin.  My husband has anemia which we probably should have considered before embarking on this adventure. If that’s you, consider supplemental oxygen. He struggled but was a good sport- we had to stop often (we were not the only ones!) and play mind games- like walk 5 steps, stop, or walk to that tree and stop. Whatever it takes!

 An hour in we had stripped as much as we could- gone were the sweat shirts, long pants and hats – it went from a brisk cool morning to a toasty and warm late morning . If you’re not familiar with Colorado, it’s 5,280 feet above sea-level- for every 1,000 feet above sea level, ultraviolet exposure increases anywhere between 4-10-%. Apply and reapply sun screen often! 

Near the (false!) summit, the stairs went from long, wide, and deep to short, narrow, and shallow.  Beware if you have a shoe size over about an 8. My husband and a few other bigger guys had to get on all fours to climb this part of the incline! 

So yes, just when you thought you’d  arrived at the top after two grueling hours (the average amount of time it takes the person to climb the incline) you hit the false summit. Here you can choose to bail out (their term not mine!) and take the Barr Trail back down or to keep climbing- you’ll have three hundred more steps at this point before you reach the true summit. 

We chose to stick it out and climb the incline to the top. Once there, the scenery is  glorious! Its highly discouraged that people take the incline back down- so we took the 3 1/2-mile Barr Trail back to the base.

If you have the fitness level, the Manitou Springs incline is a great test of strength, resilience, and perseverance.

Where have you explored that tested your perseverance?

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