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Manitou Incline and the Barr Trail
Posted by pdittman on September 23rd, 2019 in '19 - Colorado Springs, US, Hiking/Trekking

Recently, we had the opportunity to travel to Colorado Springs – a friend was getting married.  We couldn’t make the wedding date, so we decided to visit separately, and tack on a few days of hiking – weather permitting and all.
There are those who might argue that hiking the 14ers is the pinnacle of hiking (Dad joke!) here in the states – whether you believe that or not,  we don’t want to debate – we had two glorious days of hiking with some fantastic scenery!

Manitou Incline

incline 1

We had decided on a cute AirBnB in Manitou Springs – just outside Colorado Springs – home to the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.   A famous attraction in Manitou Springs is the Manitou Incline – an old rail bed built in the early 1900s for a funicular which serviced the water tank facilities for Manitou and Colorado Springs.   A rock slide in 1990 brought about the final conversion of the rail bed into a cardio-lovers delight – 2768 steps, beginning at 6500′ to an elevation of 8590′ over .88 miles – straight up.

It may not look like anything much, at least at the start, but begin to get going, and the steepness and relentlessness of the stairs sets in.  Definitely not an easy climb and there are warnings at the base to attest to that!

Relative size of the Incline
Relative size of the Incline

But as with most hiking, often the rewards are great – the view from the top of the incline was spectacular!

incline 2

And then, of course, once you’re at the top, you still have to go down.   Fortunately (or maybe by design), the Incline is connected to a lower section of the Barr Trail – a trail which stretches from the Cog Railway/Incline trailhead to the Pikes Peak summit.

barr trail

For us, regulars to the White Mountains in New Hampshire – where boulders are common place – the Barr Trail was easy, mainly loose gravel and a gradual steady downhill pace – and switchbacks!  Who knew!

Round trip – roughly 2-1/2 hours – an hour and change up the incline, and a similar pace on the way down.  Great way to get in some good cardio and with some amazing views in the process!

Crag’s Trail to Devils Playground

We just couldn’t pass up the amazing weather – upper 70’s and blazing sunshine in Manitou. For the late September timeframe, it was beautiful! So, we set our sites on something a bit more ambitious.

We’d started looking at Pike’s Peak, yea, THAT Pike’s Peak – a 14er. We found a trailhead on the northwest slope of Pikes Peak – the Crags Campground trailhead – which started at an elevation of roughly 10,000′. Even with that, Pike’s Peak summit is 14,115 – 4,000 feet of elevation change is a challenge – even without the altitude (remember that?).

Undaunted, we headed out with good ambitions and intentions, but in hindsight, were overly ambitious for several reasons. We’d only arrived in the “high country” (over 6000′) on Wednesday evening – and by Friday, were still only two days into any sort of acclimation to the altitude. Both of us were feeling mild-symptoms of altitude – mild headaches and some sleeplessness. And remembering the 3 degrees per thousand feet rule, we got to the trailhead and the ambient temperature was only 42 degrees.

By our standards, the trail was easy – with good footing and no boulders – though with a steady elevation gain.   As we ascended, the wind gradually picked up, that chilling up-slope wind.   By the time we reached tree-line – about 11,500 feet – wind speeds were steadily about 50mph.  Reports from the few hikers who were descending suggested gusts were higher on the plateau leading to Devil’s Playground as the Crag’s trail reaches the Pike’s Peak road.

We pressed on, but more slowing, both the wind speed and altitude requiring more frequent stops. When we crested the false summit, we had clear views of the summit – still far in the distance!

pikes peak summit
View from the false summit, toward Pike’s Peak, with Devil’s playground off to the left
The view
Cresting the false summit on the Crag’s trail, looking North-westward – the ‘backside’ of the front range.

The visibility was amazing – we’d picked a great day – but the wind was relentless, and so it was, by 11:30 and shortly after reaching the false summit, we decided to descend following the path to lower altitudes, somewhat cold (because of poor clothing choices) and definitely winded by the altitude and gale-force wind.