The Manitou Incline is a virtually perfect accident. It was not created for hundreds of thousands of hikers. It was created for cable cars to carry pipelines up Pikes Peak. A 1990 rock slide ended the cable-car era and transformed the Incline to a beautiful test of spirit.
Climb it, and the exhausting, uplifting, wonderful and horrible kick will linger as it beckons you to return. It’s such a gorgeous, tortuous climb. If the starting point of the Incline were at a remote spot, controversy and stress never would pollute the fun.
But the starting point is in the cramped and winding Ruxton corridor of Manitou Springs, where the multiplying popularity of the Incline has led to multiplying trouble. This taste of mountain paradise is right on the edge of the ever-expanding sprawl of Colorado Springs. That’s the attraction. And that’s the problem.
Colorado Springs leaders and Manitou Springs leaders are, as usual, squabbling over control of the Incline, and you get the sense this fight might not end soon, or well. Thursday night’s meeting on the Incline was meant to provide answers. Instead, the stormy meeting only served to cloud the Incline’s future. The Incline has been closed since March 17 because of COVID-19 concerns.
Want to start an argument — yesterday, today and tomorrow — in Manitou or Colorado Springs?
State your strong opinion on the Incline.
Joe Glass has owned a home in Manitou since 2008. He’s a member of the Manitou Springs High Class of 1995. And, yes, he has strong views on the Incline.
He first climbed the Incline in the 1990s when it remained a rough and damaged trail. Technically, it was not legal to take the steep hike, but thousands gleefully defied the law.
“It was just a rough trail at the side of the mountains,” he says. “I remember thinking how amazing it was that we had something like this right here in Manitou.”
He believes parking near the Incline should be severely limited, and perhaps even eliminated. That would ease traffic concerns. And he believes the trail should be celebrated and embraced by his adopted hometown. Instead, he senses disdain for the Incline from Manitou’s leaders.
Residents of the Ruxton corridor do not tend to be fans of the Incline, or at least fans of the masses who arrive to climb.
Does Glass feel sympathy for those residents?
“No, I don’t,” he says. “I know there are some people who have lived on Ruxton for many, many years before the incline was a thing, but for those who moved to Ruxton since it’s been popular, it’s like moving next to an airport and then complaining about the airplanes.”
Glass has experienced the wonder of walking through the clouds on his way to the Incline’s summit and then, just before reaching the top, stepping out of the clouds into sunshine and blue skies.
“The view,” he says. “It’s a one of a kind view. You finish that incline and you get that reward of looking out on the city. And sometimes you get the reward of looking out above the clouds. It’s the most amazing thing. People come from all over the country just to try to see that.”
Yes, they do, and that’s a big chunk of the problem. The Incline has mass appeal, but it’s not set up to handle the masses.
The Incline offers a difficult-to-resist question: Do you have it in your gut to ascend 2,000 feet and 2,744 steps — at an average 45% grade — in less than a mile? That question is a magnet for fit and not-so-fit.
On my Incline ascents, I’ve been struck by the diversity of those willing to inflict pain to their lungs and legs. You see young and old. You see flat guts. You see big guts.
For nearly all of us, an overwhelming temptation arrives somewhere on the climb. The temptation goes something like this:
Quit torturing yourself and quit, a voice whispers.
Arriving at the top of the Incline offers a moment of personal triumph. The climber has conquered that whispering voice. The climber wants to return to Manitou to conquer it again.
We can’t move the entrance to our wondrous Incline. That means we won’t soon end the decades of arguing over how to tame our untamed love for one of the best slices of the Pikes Peak Region.