Last summer, RAS and I headed down to Manitou Springs, just 15 minutes west of Colorado Springs and culturally worlds apart.
The larger Springs is a mostly politically and religiously conservative city that’s home to the Air Force Academy and several prominent Christian organizations. The smaller is tourist town that still has a hippie-bohemian vibe still evident in many of its businesses.
The monster climb
It’s also where you can find the Manitou Incline, a mile-plus-long monster climb with a roughly 2,000-foot elevation gain. And it seems that many people hike it on a given summer day, giving it the appearance of an anthill in foraging mode.
The entire length of the Incline is only a mile. But it truly looks like a circle of Dante’s Inferno when you see if from a distance. It literally goes Straight. Up. The. Mountain, an impossible ascent. Yet hundreds of people of all shapes, ages and sizes successfully get to the top every day. Of course, being the reasonably fit people we are, RAS and I decided to give it a go.
And what we did instead…
As a Colorado native, he has scaled plenty of advanced trails, including some fourteeners (the 54 mountains in the state that are over 14,000 feet in elevation). But he’s never made it to this one. Our plan was to conquer this increasingly popular route, which mostly consists of log stairs entrenched into the sloped dirt. But there were just too many other visitors who had the same idea, so we chose an alternative hike.
The Barr Trail is the de facto return trail for the Incline, which you can’t head down. Otherwise, it would cause a human traffic jam and probably send some people tumbling down the hill if they tripped or got knocked over. Hikers clogged this route too, just going in the opposite direction. If you continue ascending, you’ll eventually reach the top of Pike’s Peak.
After descending the Barr Trail, we did climb up part of the Incline, just enough to walk back down and not annoy the throngs going up. I even gave words of encouragement to these kiddos:
With some hesitation, and their dad telling them to, they finally headed up:
Of course, RAS still hasn’t checked the Manitou Incline off his hiking bucket list. At least we got some fizzy refreshment in town, in one of the seven artesian springs around town and what gave the town its name. We filled up our Nalgene bottle with water from this one:
Well-deserved luxury in Manitou Springs
But the best part of Manitou waited at the end. Our destination was the Cliff House, a grand historic hotel just a block away from the main drag, US 24. It’s about a half-mile-plus from the Incline trailhead, which is the smart thing to do if you want to go for the climb. If you come here, park in town rather than take your chances in the cramped parking lot at the trailhead.
The Queen Anne-style hotel, first opened in 1873, houses 54 rooms that include just the right touch of luxury features: feathery beds, high-thread count sheets and understated antique décor. When miners took a stagecoach from Colorado Springs to Leadville, Manitou Springs was one of the stops en route. A modest boarding house called The Inn provided lodging. Some of them became wealthy with their precious metal discoveries. They then returned to town and constructed the current building on the original Inn site.
As part of the “Wine and Hike” package, we received a complimentary insulated picnic carrier. It included a bottle of plummy Cabernet, assorted imported cheeses, fresh fruit, a mini-board and knife, and two plastic wine cups.
After returning from the Incline, we washed up and enjoyed our gourmet snacks. Our friends, who live in town, joined us for dinner on the veranda. As you can see above, I couldn’t resist getting a little work done beforehand.
Of course, you can’t see that I’m pretty exhausted from our almost hike, either. I wonder what I would’ve looked like if we had gone up the Incline.