August 22, 2017

Hiking Report: Manitou Incline

In Colorado, kids go back to school crazy early – as in, school already started in my neighborhood last week! When I realized that was happening, I had a rude awakening that summer is almost over. Now, I don’t consider summer to be over until Labor Day, but that is still really closing in. And I haven’t made much progress on my summer bucket list at all 🙁 So this weekend, I went all-in and managed to check off three things on the list – and had a blast doing it.

Thursday night, I went to a concert at Red Rocks with my friend Heather and her husband. I first heard the Piano Guys on YouTube way back in 2009, and became obsessed with their mashup of Taylor Swift’s Love Story plus Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. I listened to everything they had put out at the time, but then in the last six or seven years, haven’t really followed them. So when I saw they were coming to Red Rocks, I was thrilled! The concert had all kinds of new songs I had never heard, but I was really lucky and they played that original Love Story / Viva La Vida mash-up second. I was in heaven! Creative, beautiful music, good friends, all tucked into the splendor of Red Rocks… perfection.

It’s hard to capture the magic of Red Rocks from a photo, but I tried. This is seriously the most amazing concert venue!

Saturday night, I also had the opportunity to check off another favorite summer activity: settling in for an outdoor movie. I had put dozens of films on my calendar this summer, including several sponsored by my very own HOA, but it wasn’t until now that my schedule was clear enough to go. So, another friend of mine named Heather and I spent Saturday night cozied up in blankets and lawn chairs in Broomfield Town Park, watching a free screening of Remember the Titans. The movie was excellent – I couldn’t remember if I had seen it before (maybe in grade school, or maybe not at all) but it was especially timely given the racial tensions in our country right now.

But finally, this weekend I managed to sneak in a summer bucket list item that was just about to expire. The Manitou Incline is closing for the rest of the year for trail maintenance, and while I had originally been planning to hike it with my friend Hillary, the expedited timeline meant I did it solo instead.

Because I went on a weekday before work, I was expecting it to be quiet… but it was surprisingly packed with tourists. Without much preamble, I joined the crowd and started heading up. I had heard that elite athletes can make the ascent in about 40 minutes, really fit people can make it in an hour, and that most people can make it under 90 minutes. I was hoping I’d be closer to the shorter end of the spectrum, but I also didn’t plan to book it. Instead, I thought it could be fun to do it this year as a baseline, then try it again every year or two and see how I progressed.

There were so many people at the start, I couldn’t even get a really clear picture up!

I found myself passing a lot of groups initially, which I was pleased about because it meant I didn’t have to be hiking right behind someone else! But I also knew I had to take it pretty slow and steady. At first, it didn’t seem bad, and I thought it was fun to look up ahead and see just how long and far the steps stretched out above me. I had read ahead of time that there was a false summit, so I didn’t have any misconceptions about exactly how far I had to go!

Even with all the steps you can see… there are more beyond that. Infinite!

Around 25 minutes in, I started getting tired and took my first break. Was this more than halfway? Only a third of the way? I had no idea. I was looking forward to doing it again next year when I’d have a better gauge of that! For now, I enjoyed the rest break as a chance to look back down and see how far I had already come.

See that parking lot?? I climbed from there!

Once I had taken that one break, though, I found myself taking lots more. Was it because I was just getting more fatigued? Was it because I had “broken the seal” and allowed myself to break? Or was it because the views of the looming steps were so monotonous and I liked getting to look back down? Probably some combination of all the above. But that third factor was definitely a big one for me. I like hiking for the beautiful views, and on the Incline, you only get the views when you stop. That’s not fun at all!

Even though I was listening to a pretty good podcast (the Jillian Michaels show, which is always my go-to for hiking), I was pretty bored… and so I started counting the steps until I’d allow myself to take another break and enjoy the view. I started out doing 100 steps before breaking, but then changed that to 200 so I’d make more progress.  I’m not sure how many steps the Manitou Incline is, but when you consider that I only started counting about a third of the way from the top, and I was doing increments of 200 steps while still taking a ton of breaks… it’s a lot of steps! (Google says 2744.) Beyond the steps themselves, there wasn’t much variation in the scenery, either.

Finally, eventually, I made it to the top, and checked my watch. 56 minutes! Not bad at all for my first attempt. I stopped for a quick selfie…

Pics or it didn’t happen!

…and then, without further ado, took off to run back down to my car. I had read from various trail reports that it’s highly recommended to take the Barr Trail down rather than trying to go back down the steps, and I now definitely agree with that advice. It would probably be a little scary to go down the Incline steps facing down the hill (and being constantly reminded that a misstep could be very, very bad). But the Barr Trail winds down the mountain in an array of non-technical switchbacks with stunning views. Very runnable, and very enjoyable too!

I would have enjoyed this hike much more if I had come up this way as well, but that kind of defeats the point of going down south to do the Incline…

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to try the Incline before it closed – and check it off my lifetime bucket list. However, after the boredom of that last third of the hike, I’m not sure I’m going to put it on any future summer bucket lists. If friends want to do it with me, it could be okay, but the monotony of the steps is way too boring to attract me to do it again on my own. As far as benchmark hikes go, I’d much rather keep pushing toward my quest to ascend Mount Sanitas (right nearby in Boulder) in under 30 minutes. I’m at about 35 minutes now, but that’s down from nearly 55 minutes on my first attempt, so I’m making progress!

Next up on the summer bucket list? I’m hoping to go camping with some friends this weekend, and probably combine that with spending an afternoon in a mountain town. Aspen, here I come!


8 thoughts on “Hiking Report: Manitou Incline”

  1. I didn’t know you did this! I did it a few years ago and did almost the exact same thing (but with a longer time). But I’m a numbers person, so I always count steps I go up or down. ALWAYS. I had the same strategy of count to 100 and then take a break. My conclusion was that I never recovered, which is why I had to take so many breaks. I found that the second I started up again I was just a exhausted as when I stopped to take a break. So eventually thought why even stop to take a break because it doesn’t help.

    I’m glad you returned on the Barr trail because when you said you ran my eye got all big like “oh no she didn’t…..” The stars are so lopsided and not equal intervals that running down is so dangerous!

    Good job on completing it! That thing is no joke!

    1. Oooh that’s really interesting that taking breaks didn’t help at all! Maybe I should have just pushed through. And YES, definitely wouldn’t have run down the incline. I don’t think I’d even consider slowly walking down it – pretty scary!

  2. Super helpful tips. Never been to Manitou, but you make it seem a really awesome place to visit. Trying out the hike is one thing that will make me want to visit even more.

    Thanks for sharing great tips.

  3. Wow that looks like quite the hike! Awesome pictures & view. Haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Manitou, but I’ll be adding it to my bucket list – would love to experience that trail.

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