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Colorado Springs man sets Manitou Incline record despite suffering from diabetes

January 17, 2015 Updated: June 17, 2015 at 4:14 pm
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photo - Greg Cummings nears the summit of the Manitou Incline Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015. Cummings, who has Type 1 diabetes, made 1,400 ascents in 47 weeks last year before the Incline was closed for repairs. Cumming climbs the 2,000-vertical-feet in less than a mile to raise awareness for his disease and has a website at Change4Diabetes.org.   (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Greg Cummings nears the summit of the Manitou Incline Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015. Cummings, who has Type 1 diabetes, made 1,400 ascents in 47 weeks last year before the Incline was closed for repairs. Cumming climbs the 2,000-vertical-feet in less than a mile to raise awareness for his disease and has a website at Change4Diabetes.org. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

To the growing body of myths surrounding Manitou Incline excess and adventure, Greg Cummings adds the tale of a rare odyssey.

Think of him as the guy who marched to the firmament and back.

A day before the Incline closed in August for repairs, the Colorado Springs resident says he quietly made history with his 1,400th Incline ascent in fewer than 12 months - a combined elevation gain of roughly 2.8 million vertical feet, or about 530 miles.

That's more than twice the altitude of the International Space Station.

"It looks like he would be in low-Earth orbit satellite range," said Elias Mollen, an educator at the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs. "The Hubble Space Telescope orbits at 350 miles."

The unlikely feat catapulted the 57-year-old above all previous claimed records for a year's worth of Incline ascents, and it came despite a perilous obstacle.

A married father of two who works in retail, Cummings is capable of climbing the Incline in just more than a half-hour flat. But he also suffers from Type 1 diabetes, meaning that he courted severe health consequences in each direction.

"It's a deadly disease," he said, adding that he checked his blood sugar at least twice per climb to keep from lapsing into unconsciousness.

If blood sugar is chronically high, it damages kidneys, degrades eyesight, contributes to heart disease and ruins nerves in the feet, among other effects, he said.

When it's too low, diabetes sufferers grow confused and incoherent. Without medical help, they can die within an hour.

"It just kind of sneaks up on you," Cummings said. "I never used an iPod or anything; never had music in my ears. You just always have to pay attention. It's just overwhelming how challenging it is."

Cummings - an Incline devotee who held a previous record of 500 ascents in a year - said the risks were all to bolster Change4Diabetes, the nonprofit he's launched to support a cure.

Publicity has been thin, and Cummings' accomplishment - which he documented with obsessive detail - has helped him net no more than a "couple thousand dollars" in donations.

He started the venture in September 2013, on the first day of fall, and hiked for 330 consecutive days during the 47 weeks before the Incline's temporary closure. Of the 1,400 climbs, 1,100 were made during 2014, trouncing the previous calendar-year record of 719, set in 2013 by Roger Austin of Colorado Springs.

To Incline rival Austin, it's a jaw-dropping accomplishment.

"What's impressive is that he took no days off," said Austin, a facilities supervisor with Mountain Metro Transit. "Weather be damned, he was just there."

Austin called Cummings his mentor, saying, "He sets goals I try to beat."

Cummings summited the Incline an average of four times a day - involving climbs before and after work, no matter his motivation level.

"I probably averaged, for a year, roughly 4 hours of sleep a night. And I survived," he said. "And get this: I was not sick for a single day."

The mile-long trail rises roughly 2,000 vertical feet up a staircase of railroad ties. It was a favorite of fitness-conscious trespassers long before it was made legal in February 2013.

The Incline has inspired countless feats of endurance, of which Cummings' is only the most recent. In July, Brandon Stapanowich of Colorado Springs made a record-setting 22 Incline ascents in 24 hours.

Only five people have joined Cummings in the so-called 500 Club, meaning those who have hiked the Incline 500 times or more in a year.

In nearly doubling the previous record with five weeks to spare, Cummings says he appears to have set a record for vertical feet hiked during a 12-month period.

So far, however, Cummings' name has yet to appear in the record books.

Cummings says he photographed himself at the top and bottom of each ascent, with each photo bearing the time, date and GPS coordinates of his climbs. He used the Incline app on his smartphone as another means to verify the hikes.

He said he plans to pay the $700 submission fee charged by the Guinness Book of World Records, though he jokes it's a steep price to risk being lumped in with the sideshow-types.

"Who's the guy with the longest nose hair? I'll probably end up next to him," he said.

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