Does any other trail in Colorado inspire so many addicts? The Manitou Incline has closed three times over the past three years for construction projects lasting three months, sending devout users into painful withdrawals. Their latest period of pain lust ended last week as officials gave the OK for Timberline Landscaping to lift the gate at the trailhead that had been in place since August, when crews began repairs on the upper-most portions of the former railway-turned- famous stair stepper.
"Incliners" can once again find their strange euphoria at the foot of Pikes Peak. "Elite American athletes have gathered here for years in search of the most basic and punishing workout: Man versus Hill," reads a New York Times article about the trail's convenient position in Olympic City USA. Also, the Incline has become a major tourist draw. Apparently, gaining more than 2,000 feet in less than a mile sounds like a jolly time.
No wonder El Paso County Search and Rescue is so often at the scene where people twist ankles or suffer heart attacks or think they suffer heart attacks. And no wonder city parks wants more "bailouts" beside the steps, adding to the one connecting with Barr Trail at about the halfway point.
Regulars insist on beating their finishing times. (The record for a man? 17 minutes, 45 seconds, set by a professional mountain runner. For a woman? 20 minutes, 7 seconds, set by a professional mountain runner.) In the heat of personal battles - one local is credited with completing the hike 719 times in a year - the views should not be missed. Take a breather, turn around. Behold Garden of the Gods, the city and the far-off plains. And should you reach the top, enjoy the forest on the lengthy return down Barr Trail, which begins to your left.
Trip log: 3.58 miles round trip (.88 miles to top of Incline, 2.7 down Barr), 2,307-foot total elevation gain, 8,544 feet max.
Difficulty: Very difficult.
Getting there: The trailhead is across the street from the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, above the station's parking lot near the end of Ruxton Avenue. Heading west, Manitou Avenue enters downtown Manitou Springs, and Ruxton starts to the left of the traffic circle.
FYI: Park at Manitou's free lot at Hiawatha Gardens, 10 Old Man's Trail. Free shuttle there to trailhead. Returning down steps can be dangerous; take Barr Trail and don't cut switchbacks. Icy in winter.
SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE