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Manitou Incline

A staircase consisting of 2,768 steps straight up the side of an alpine mountain

Starting up the incline
Starting up the incline
  • Located in Manitou Springs, CO, this trail is a strenuous hike that takes trekkers up more than 2,700 steps. With a length of .8 miles and an elevation gain of just over 2,000 feet, the hike will take most people one to two hours. Reservations are required. Dogs are not allowed.
  • Distance from downtown San Diego: 1,117 miles
  • Hike length: .8 miles • Difficulty: Strenuous • Season: Year-round


Step 1,500

Without a word or a glance, the woman in white crept past me. She had neither the stride nor the friendliness of a seasoned hiker. Instead, she trudged up the stairs with her head hung low, like a wilting flower at autumn’s end.

Perched on a timber beam to the side of the trail and catching my breath after the ascent just undertaken, I decided whether to encourage the woman to rest alongside me. As I searched her face, I saw a look of resolve in her eyes and thought it better to leave her alone. With each passing step up the mountain, I had felt the same primal drive growing within me, and as I sat alone with the wind in my hair, I saw clearly the insidious way in which this hike stripped its travelers of their dignity so that even the fiercest of climbers were ascending on all fours like a beast.

Contemplating the journey


Step 0

In the rising sun on a brisk blue day just outside of the small mountain town of Manitou Springs, my thoughts scrambled in a deepening pit of despair. Before me loomed a mythic incline, a staircase consisting of 2,768 steps straight up the side of an alpine mountain. I had journeyed a long way to meet this challenge, though I felt neither excited nor eager, but stiff and apprehensive. My muscles ached from the long passage of the past few days. My throat burned from the musty, cigarette odor that lingered in last night’s cheap motel room. Most bothersome of all were the local hikers who seemed to start their journey up the incline with the same indifference as a shopper stepping onto an escalator at a mall.

There’s no turning back now. I thought silently before taking my first step onto the trail.

Two hikers heading up the incline


Step 300

I kept an even pace as I climbed the first few hundred steps, passing several hikers, many of them quite a bit older than me. Most were hiking alone, though a few groups walked side by side while chatting idly. The path consisted of a long staircase with steps resembling railroad ties, and it seemed to continue that way as far as my eyes could see. On either side of the trail were barren shrubs preparing for winter, and further up were tall conifers with long green needles. Annoyingly, every hundredth step was punctuated with a numbered tag, a small reminder of the distance covered. If that doesn’t sound bothersome, imagine having sex with someone who congratulated you every hundred thrusts. It felt like that.

Getting steeper


Step 500

The stairs were getting steeper, and with each passing step, I was regretting some of the choices I had made before setting out. For one, I wished I’d brought trekking poles to keep my posture upright and help take some of the load off my legs. I also wished I hadn’t brought my work laptop and the three books in my pack. Too lazy to take them out of my bag before I left, I was quickly feeling the extra weight.

Step 700

I really regretted not bringing my trekking poles. As for the books, well, I was still hopeful that I’d read one of them at the peak.

Looking back


Step 1,000

Pausing to rest, a vision of grace effortlessly passed me by. Below me, a woman in her twenties was gliding up the incline. She wore an old, loose t-shirt and shorts. Her sun-kissed complexion hinted at a love affair with the open air that was deeper than my own. In a brief, fleeting moment, our eyes met, and I saw a friendly warmth. After she passed, I felt as if I had met a nymph that protected these woods.

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Sponsored

Step 1,200

The stairs stretched on, endless and unforgiving, the rhythmic crunch of gravel beneath my worn boots echoing the weariness I was feeling. My breath labored heavily, and the horizon seemed an elusive destination, forever distant.

A bit of snow on the trail


Step 1,400

Just over halfway up, and the incline was growing steeper. The steps were taller and further apart. I felt caught in the slow procession, drawn forward by fate and pressed on by the fear of not wanting to be passed by the hikers behind me.

Step 1,700

My thoughts were getting noisy and chaotic in my fatigue. Maybe it’s called a staircase to heaven because only the worthy can make the climb. I wondered. Well, if this is what it takes to get to heaven, I’d rather just go to hell.

Step 1,800

My climbing continued rhythmically. Every few dozen steps, I paused to catch my breath. The pauses were becoming longer.

Step 2,000

I felt out of tune with the trail, and fatigue clung to me like a burial shroud. Walking ten or twenty steps, then pausing for a few seconds was becoming unbearable. Quieting the noisy trail-thoughts cartwheeling through my mind, I tried to focus on the trail and hear what it was saying.

Almost to the top


Step 2,100

Step, pause, step, pause. The trail had spoken and it taught me a new rhythm for my stride. My steps no longer alternated back and forth but now paused mid-step – helping me catch my breath and reducing the strain on my legs.

After a decade of hiking, I began to laugh at myself. Here I was, reduced to feeling like a novice, learning the rhythm of the trail for the first time again. I bowed my head to the sky before me, sweat dripping from my nose. Although I felt bone-weary, my amusement swelled through the bellows of my soul, igniting cool embers into blue flames and the rhythm of my wild heart echoed a primal defiance against the encroaching weariness.

Step 2,200

My movements, once burdened and listless, took on an uncanny fluidity. My breath found a newfound cadence, steady and deliberate. The incline, once an adversary, now bowed before my advancing presence. I flew up the remaining steps with ease. 

Taking a break near the top


Step 2,768

At the top, I was greeted by smiling faces as people took photos together with the long incline in the background. I chatted with a group of hikers a few years younger than me, then turned to begin my descent down a separate trail that consisted of a series of switchbacks. The trip down felt refreshing on my legs.

Later that morning, I drove to an old friend’s new apartment. While parking, I looked at the three-story building and thought to myself, I really hope he lives on the first floor.

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Starting up the incline
Starting up the incline
  • Located in Manitou Springs, CO, this trail is a strenuous hike that takes trekkers up more than 2,700 steps. With a length of .8 miles and an elevation gain of just over 2,000 feet, the hike will take most people one to two hours. Reservations are required. Dogs are not allowed.
  • Distance from downtown San Diego: 1,117 miles
  • Hike length: .8 miles • Difficulty: Strenuous • Season: Year-round


Step 1,500

Without a word or a glance, the woman in white crept past me. She had neither the stride nor the friendliness of a seasoned hiker. Instead, she trudged up the stairs with her head hung low, like a wilting flower at autumn’s end.

Perched on a timber beam to the side of the trail and catching my breath after the ascent just undertaken, I decided whether to encourage the woman to rest alongside me. As I searched her face, I saw a look of resolve in her eyes and thought it better to leave her alone. With each passing step up the mountain, I had felt the same primal drive growing within me, and as I sat alone with the wind in my hair, I saw clearly the insidious way in which this hike stripped its travelers of their dignity so that even the fiercest of climbers were ascending on all fours like a beast.

Contemplating the journey


Step 0

In the rising sun on a brisk blue day just outside of the small mountain town of Manitou Springs, my thoughts scrambled in a deepening pit of despair. Before me loomed a mythic incline, a staircase consisting of 2,768 steps straight up the side of an alpine mountain. I had journeyed a long way to meet this challenge, though I felt neither excited nor eager, but stiff and apprehensive. My muscles ached from the long passage of the past few days. My throat burned from the musty, cigarette odor that lingered in last night’s cheap motel room. Most bothersome of all were the local hikers who seemed to start their journey up the incline with the same indifference as a shopper stepping onto an escalator at a mall.

There’s no turning back now. I thought silently before taking my first step onto the trail.

Two hikers heading up the incline


Step 300

I kept an even pace as I climbed the first few hundred steps, passing several hikers, many of them quite a bit older than me. Most were hiking alone, though a few groups walked side by side while chatting idly. The path consisted of a long staircase with steps resembling railroad ties, and it seemed to continue that way as far as my eyes could see. On either side of the trail were barren shrubs preparing for winter, and further up were tall conifers with long green needles. Annoyingly, every hundredth step was punctuated with a numbered tag, a small reminder of the distance covered. If that doesn’t sound bothersome, imagine having sex with someone who congratulated you every hundred thrusts. It felt like that.

Getting steeper


Step 500

The stairs were getting steeper, and with each passing step, I was regretting some of the choices I had made before setting out. For one, I wished I’d brought trekking poles to keep my posture upright and help take some of the load off my legs. I also wished I hadn’t brought my work laptop and the three books in my pack. Too lazy to take them out of my bag before I left, I was quickly feeling the extra weight.

Step 700

I really regretted not bringing my trekking poles. As for the books, well, I was still hopeful that I’d read one of them at the peak.

Looking back


Step 1,000

Pausing to rest, a vision of grace effortlessly passed me by. Below me, a woman in her twenties was gliding up the incline. She wore an old, loose t-shirt and shorts. Her sun-kissed complexion hinted at a love affair with the open air that was deeper than my own. In a brief, fleeting moment, our eyes met, and I saw a friendly warmth. After she passed, I felt as if I had met a nymph that protected these woods.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Step 1,200

The stairs stretched on, endless and unforgiving, the rhythmic crunch of gravel beneath my worn boots echoing the weariness I was feeling. My breath labored heavily, and the horizon seemed an elusive destination, forever distant.

A bit of snow on the trail


Step 1,400

Just over halfway up, and the incline was growing steeper. The steps were taller and further apart. I felt caught in the slow procession, drawn forward by fate and pressed on by the fear of not wanting to be passed by the hikers behind me.

Step 1,700

My thoughts were getting noisy and chaotic in my fatigue. Maybe it’s called a staircase to heaven because only the worthy can make the climb. I wondered. Well, if this is what it takes to get to heaven, I’d rather just go to hell.

Step 1,800

My climbing continued rhythmically. Every few dozen steps, I paused to catch my breath. The pauses were becoming longer.

Step 2,000

I felt out of tune with the trail, and fatigue clung to me like a burial shroud. Walking ten or twenty steps, then pausing for a few seconds was becoming unbearable. Quieting the noisy trail-thoughts cartwheeling through my mind, I tried to focus on the trail and hear what it was saying.

Almost to the top


Step 2,100

Step, pause, step, pause. The trail had spoken and it taught me a new rhythm for my stride. My steps no longer alternated back and forth but now paused mid-step – helping me catch my breath and reducing the strain on my legs.

After a decade of hiking, I began to laugh at myself. Here I was, reduced to feeling like a novice, learning the rhythm of the trail for the first time again. I bowed my head to the sky before me, sweat dripping from my nose. Although I felt bone-weary, my amusement swelled through the bellows of my soul, igniting cool embers into blue flames and the rhythm of my wild heart echoed a primal defiance against the encroaching weariness.

Step 2,200

My movements, once burdened and listless, took on an uncanny fluidity. My breath found a newfound cadence, steady and deliberate. The incline, once an adversary, now bowed before my advancing presence. I flew up the remaining steps with ease. 

Taking a break near the top


Step 2,768

At the top, I was greeted by smiling faces as people took photos together with the long incline in the background. I chatted with a group of hikers a few years younger than me, then turned to begin my descent down a separate trail that consisted of a series of switchbacks. The trip down felt refreshing on my legs.

Later that morning, I drove to an old friend’s new apartment. While parking, I looked at the three-story building and thought to myself, I really hope he lives on the first floor.

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