The allegations: harassment, stalking, verbal and physical abuse.
The scene: the Manitou Incline.
It's a case calling the accuser and accused along with other regulars of the iconic trail to an El Paso County courtroom Monday. A scheduled hearing regards a temporary restraining order. The alleged victim says she wants it to be permanent.
The accuser: Noelia Sanchez, who in recent months has been among a wave of people pushing numbers on the mountain, racking up laps up and down the brutal, vertical set of stairs.
The accused: Chasidey Geissler, who has been building on a record set last month. She became the fifth person credited with 1,000 Incline laps in a calendar year, besting the all-time women’s mark set in January by Rachel Jones.
For as long as the former railway has been a fitness phenomenon — dating back to the railway's closure in 1990 — competition has been core to the Incline culture. Regulars have long considered that competition as friendly. They've considered it part of the Incline's special camaraderie, where people have bonded over the burn, where they have tested their limits and found kinship and redemption along the way. The steps gaining 2,000-plus vertical feet in less than a mile have inspired stories of overcoming trauma, loss and addiction.
Sanchez says it was that kind of inspiring, encouraging environment that led her to setting a goal of 500 laps in a calendar year, an increasingly popular goal for others.
"I had no idea what I was getting into," Sanchez says. "It was supposed to be a fun thing."
That was until she says she started feeling uncomfortable and soon "scared" around Geissler.
In court filings, Sanchez alleges Geissler early this month "yelled in my face in front of a crowd saying that she wants me to break my f--king neck, and I better watch my back and be careful she doesn't push me down the Incline stairs." Sanchez went on to claim Geissler acted on those alleged threats, saying Geissler "hit me in the back and caused me to lose my balance and nearly fall down the cliff edge of the stairs." Sanchez added that she was being "stalked and followed in Manitou Springs along the local trails."
A judge granted Sanchez a temporary restraining order, signed on the basis of Sanchez's claims "constitut(ing) a credible threat, that an imminent danger exists."
Geissler denies the claims. On the contrary, she says she's been the victim of a "bizarre" social setting built around the Incline.
Geissler expressed a sentiment similar to one of her accuser.
"Had I known what I would go through this year, I don't know if I would have done" the 1,000 challenge, Geissler says. "I had no idea. I thought this was a pure, supportive place. And then the better I got at (the Incline), the worse I was treated."
Several close to the situation say it is the latest in a series of events that has cracked the foundation of one of this region's most beloved, symbolic attractions. They describe the past year and a half on the Incline as "heartbreaking" and "totally nuts" and "all kinds of ridiculous."
"Mind-boggling," says Fred Baxter, one of the Incline's oldest ambassadors going back to the '90s. "I can't believe this is going on."
He calls himself a friend of Geissler's, saying he has felt forced to speak out and pick a side in what has been a time of division, dating to before the Sanchez-Geissler dispute. This is not the first restraining order filed in recent months from Incline happenings.
"It's tearing people apart," says Roger Austin, a record holder who says he has followed developments from afar — from friends more active on the Incline today and from Facebook, where tensions have regularly flared.
Austin says he has no loyalties but to the Incline itself.
"It's really sad," he says. "The Incline used to be this happy place."
Forming the clubs
Records show Jill Suarez filed for a restraining order against Greg Cummings on Nov. 7 last year. Suarez has been regarded as the Incline Queen for her decades-long presence, while Cummings was hailed the Incline King in 2020 upon his record 1,825 laps logged in a calendar year. Suarez's request was dismissed.
Later, on Jan. 4, records show a temporary restraining order was placed on Suarez by Trevor Becker. An agreement was reached out of court between the two neighbors living near the Incline's base.
One dispute between Becker and Suarez was captured in a video in which Becker recorded his neighbor at a doorstep. In what appears to be a boiling point, the two go back and forth with accusations of harassment, including Becker saying Suarez was yelling at people on the Incline.
"There's actually a reason behind all that," Suarez counters. "You think everybody needs to fall in line with you guys. No, people don't. They don't."
She was referring to a committee that Cummings formed in 2022. The five-person committee — which does not include Becker, who is a supporter with the nonprofit Incline Friends — was formed to set rules and expectations for people seeking membership in the "500 Club" and "1,000 Club."
The decision-making committee and policies, outlined in paperwork to be signed by prospective members, would be housed in a limited-liability company Cummings created called Colorado Incline.
To be "officially" recognized in records posted and maintained by Becker at the base, to be listed in record sheets posted on Facebook's extremely popular Official Manitou Incline Page that Becker also maintains, the paperwork must be signed.
"That has ticked off a lot of the old-timers," says Ann Labosky, an Incline regular who has counted Cummings a friend for 30-plus years. "They're wondering, like me, 'What in the heck are you trying to do?' … You know, I told Greg, ‘People on the Incline are doing it for a good, hard workout. They don’t need anybody else to track their numbers.'"
It's simple, Cummings says.
He says he's trying to uphold the integrity of Incline achievements, to respect the pain and sacrifice those achievements require. He knows the requirement all too well. In his daily and nightly push to 1,825 laps, he told of a strained relationship with family and of near-death experiences on the Incline, passing out on multiple occasions due to complications from Type 1 diabetes.
"It's something that I admire in individuals who do it, and I'm proud of it," Cummings says. He has shown that admiration by awarding plaques to new 500 and 1,000 club members — what has become something of a celebratory ritual atop the mountain, the king bestowing honor.
The paperwork is simple, Cummings says. It details standards not so unlike standards of Fastest Known Time, the online clearinghouse for obscure, outdoor records. For Incline records, one is expected to declare intent, use a tracking app like Strava and, in a wrinkle, take selfies at the top and bottom of each lap, as Cummings did for his records.
Another wrinkle in the club contract: a code of conduct section calling for record-goers to "treat others with dignity, respect, empathy, kindness, and be encouraging and polite to all." The contract adds that "public degradation of the club, a member, or a potential member is unacceptable and grounds for dismissal from the club(s)."
Respect, empathy, kindness — that all might sound good to a pastor like Wade Gardner. But Gardner, a devout Incliner and record holder since 2004, does not like what he sees in Cummings' group.
Nor did Gardner agree with Suarez's behavior at the center of past restraining order cases. But he agreed with her concerns about "falling in line." (Suarez could not be reached for this article.)
"I grew up in a cult, another part of my story," Gardner says. "And I so see cult behavior in Greg's power plays, rules on silence, search for control and power. I never signed the paper."
Role models at odds
Cummings denies the label. "This is not some strange, religious cult," he says. "If people don't want to be part of the club, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that."
But if they do, they have to be nice. And what's wrong with that? Becker asks.
"I think the Incline 500 Club and 1,000 Club members are role models of our community," he says. "They're on the Incline more than anybody else, talk to tourists more than anybody else. I think they have an ethical and moral responsibility."
That has repeatedly been broken by Geissler, Becker and Cummings say. Rachel Jones, the women’s record holder before Geissler, has also rallied around Sanchez.
Behind her quiet, humble demeanor, Sanchez is a fierce hiker, Jones says. Jones says that explains why Geissler has targeted her friend.
Geissler "seems to be aggressive towards women who may challenge her record," Jones says.
Both Geissler and Jones say their own relationship took a turn somewhere along their ways to 1,000 laps on the Incline. Geissler says Jones' push "did speed me up," while Jones says "I made it clear that I was not in competition with her." Geissler says she has observed otherwise from Jones.
Geissler says her passing questions to Sanchez about laps and progress — common banter among regulars — "were somehow taken as harassment." It's gone far beyond those questions, says Jones, who claims she herself has "been slandered, flipped off on the trail multiple times and physically ran into."
Gardner, the pastor, says he offered to mediate a conversation between Geissler and Jones, both of whom he considers friends. He says Geissler reluctantly agreed to sit down, while Jones declined.
Jones says her attempts to resolve the situation have been through Cummings and the committee. She's one of the five who sits on that committee.
Separate from the club's code of conduct form, a document was prepared for Geissler to sign, agreeing to no contact with Sanchez. Jones says Geissler broke the agreement soon after.
"We all just want her to leave so things can go back to normal," Jones says.
The case of Mr. X
That's what some say this is about. "They're just trying to drive (Geissler) away from the Incline," Gardner says. "I'm like, Are you kidding me? You're solving problems by creating more problems."
Some see this as mirroring a situation from last year involving a man Cummings has referred to as Mr. X. In a phone call with The Gazette, the man requested continued anonymity, stating fear of retribution and hinting at deeper hostilities.
"I'd be scared," Mr. X said. “These people are crazy, man. It’s sad.”
Publicly last year, Mr. X had been reticent about what some saw as a bold effort to top Cummings' all-time record on the Incline. That reticence, Cummings later suggested, could be drawn from the man secretly cheating.
It was a suggestion from a nearly 5,000-word diatribe Cummings posted to Facebook last October. Cummings wrote of an initial encounter with Mr. X, who expressed interest in the 500 Club but lacked what Cummings said was the necessary evidence of progress. Cummings called himself "overly sympathetic" of the man's situation. Cummings described himself as maintaining sympathy, while rumors flew about him trying to discredit Mr. X.
This was while Cummings embarked on a lengthy investigation into Mr. X's record attempt. It included nights of camping on the Incline, "a huge amount of time away from family," Cummings wrote, "lots of inconvenience and a significant amount of money."
Baxter, the long-going Incline ambassador, says he asked Cummings to stop the investigation. "All it did was create sides," Baxter says, with some defending Mr. X's record claim and others supporting Cummings.
In the end, people were left bitter. In the Facebook post, Cummings wrote of a conversation in which Mr. X asked for forgiveness and Cummings tried consoling him. Mr. X told The Gazette that he felt manipulated.
"When I read that (Facebook post) … I couldn't finish reading it," he said. "My heart was broken."
Also, Cummings wrote of ugly comments made by Suarez and her "coddling" of Mr. X. Clear, too, at the time was Suarez's and Geissler's friendship. Later on Facebook, Suarez praised Geissler's record push on the Incline while Cummings and others criticized her for simultaneously taking shots at Jones.
Suarez isn't around much anymore. Neither is Mr. X, Geissler says. "When he is, it's in the middle of the night."
'It breeds itself'
Sanchez and Geissler crossed steps amid what could be called a fast and furious couple of years on the Incline. Just look at those record sheets maintained on the Official Manitou Incline page.
Of the 26 names listed in the all-time 500 Club — Cummings was the first from 2011 — half were added between 2021 and 2022. The same time has seen three of the five names added to the 1,000 Club. Other records have been logged in the past year: most climbs in a day; most climbs in a week; most climbs in a month; and the most "Inclinathons," a mark set by Jones, with 13 ascents in a row on 10 separate occasions in 2022.
Cummings says his investigation into cheating last year was the catalyst for the committee. These years of ramped-up record chasing required some oversight and regulation, supporters say.
Roger Austin disagrees. He's been listed in the 500 Club and 1,000 Club, recalling years he and Cummings traded records before Cummings settled the score with his 1,825 laps. That was the kind of friendly competition that some see as eroding on the Incline.
"I messaged Greg," Austin says. "I said, 'I don't want to be in your 500 Club or your 1,000 Club or your Inclinathon Club, none of it. It's causing too many problems."
Baxter says he declined Cummings' request to join the committee. "I could see where it was going," Baxter says.
Competition can be healthy until it's not. It can be like a "snowball," building and rolling toward unintended consequences, explained a University of Colorado-Colorado Springs specialist last year as he observed the Incline record chasing.
Said Dr. Andrew Subudhi, a self-described "recovering addict" of ultra running and chair of the school's Human Physiology and Nutrition Department: "You get involved with a group of people, and they're your friends and family, and your whole life revolves around these types of events. And it breeds itself."
Some say Cummings needs to let go. "He has delusions of grandeur at times, and sometimes he thinks things are bigger than what they are," one longtime friend says.
Says another, Gardner: "That club is an insiders and outsiders club. And if he tries to keep it running, it's going to continue to create these problems."
Austin says he has his doubts. "He wants to be the Incline King."
Cummings says “nothing could be more foolish," adding: "We love having records broken. When the cheater took my record, I was all about congratulating him. Then I found out it was a bunch of falsehood.”
Finding things out has been a burden, he says.
“I have spent literally hundreds, hundreds of hours investigating each of these individuals and having conversations with people and meetings and on and on. And for what? I get headaches and people saying I’m not fair and I’m being mean and this and that. I am doing my absolute best at trying to keep this club solid and to keep the individuals in it as being the kind of individuals we want to be in it.”
All Cummings wants, he insists, is for things to go back to normal. He says he wants the Incline to be the happy, supportive place people have known it to be. And that's what it will be, he promises, when this Geissler and Sanchez situation is settled.
But no matter what comes from court, the accuser and accused have individually spoken of a similar path forward.
Similarly, they say, the Incline was a place of purpose and growth before it was a place of personal ruin. And both say they're thinking of leaving it behind.
The Gazette's Zachary Dupont contributed to this report.