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The Manitou Incline Community

Almost 3 thousand people climb the Manitou Incline every day creating a special community centered around the trail in Colorado Springs.

manitou incline view
View on the Manitou Incline. Image: Fox21 News

A community is a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. This word continues to be omnipresent in marketing briefs, brands’ values, and influencers' agency pitches. Everyone wants a community, but a community can’t be manufactured. They usually manifest themselves without many visible signs and acknowledge themselves only through outsiders' eyes or well after they are born.

A community can be built around one specific event, one person connecting the others, a place, or the repetition of a gesture on and on. A running community is built around the routine of running together in the same area. The Manitou Incline community is a community originating from a trail made of 2,744 steps - numbers vary depending on the source but we rely on the Manitou Springs website - along 0.9 miles in Colorado Springs, CO.

manitou incline cable car
Image: Incline Base Camp

The Manitou Incline was originally built in 1907 as a cable car to carry materials to build the hydroelectric plant and waterline on Pikes Peak. After the pipelines were finished, it was turned into a tourist attraction which consisted of a 16-minute ride to the top advertised as the "longest and highest incline on the globe." The claim might have not been 100% true but it has a solid base. In fact, the incline climbs 615 meters from its base to a famous panoramic point in the Rocky Mountains with an average grade of 41% (68% max) in just under 1 mile (1.4 km). An impressive climb.

The second life of the Manitou Incline started in 1990 when a section of the track was damaged and never restored due to the already precarious financial status of the enterprise and its high maintenance costs. The trails were then removed marking the end of the notorious tourist attraction. The empty scar in the mountain seemed to have generated a primordial need amongst locals to fill it with something. They were that something.

Manitou incline from manitou springs
Manitou Incline view from town. Image: Manitou Springs

Locals started to hike the Manitou Incline just because it was there. “You see it from everywhere in town. […] It calls you.” It became part of many people’s routine despite being illegal because it went through private property. On February 1st, 2013 climbing the Incline, as locals called it, had been made legal and the track went under some security works to allow hikers a safe climb to the top. By this time 2-3 thousand people consecrate at least 2 hours of their day to the Incline and its descent via the Barr Trail - descending the Incline is discouraged because dangerous, your knees will crumble on those 2,744 steps downhill.

People share pain and misery together, feeling of mutual support. Manitou Springs local

hikers on manitou incline
Hikers on the Incline on a normal day. Image: the Brunswick News

Due to the high number of locals training and pilgrims coming to pay their homages to the Incline, a reservation system was introduced in 2020 on the back of the Covid regulations. Every person who goes up the Incline is now registered. And the number is…..700,000. It is not clear if the number refers to the total ascents or unique people ascending the Incline but we believe it is the first. This is probably the hardest Strava segment with the most attempts - at the time of this writing, Matthew DeVan is the local legend on the Incline with 79 attempts in the last 90 days amounting to 48k meters of vertical gain.

It’s only a mile but the hardest mile you’ll ever do. Manitou Springs local

For some became an obsession. “It becomes obsessive. It is part of my daily routine. Then, I might have some OCD”. This is how Greg Cummings describes his relationship with the Incline. He was the first to break the barrier of the 500 attempts within a year. This is how the 500 Club started. He raised the bar to 719 attempts between 2013 and 2014. Then his new goal was 1,719, the area postcode, which was achieved by Roger Austin in 2015. Between January 2019 and January 2020, Cummings set the current record for most attempts during a 12-month period while raising money for charity and having a full-time job: 1,825. This equals 3.6 million meters in elevation - a number we can’t make our minds around.

greg cumming roger austin manitou incline
Greg Cummings and Roger Austin on the Incline. Image: cdn

Remi Bonnet set the fastest ascent time this September (17:11) improving his 2022 record by 14 seconds and getting one step closer to the cable car time back in the day (16:00). Allie McLaughlin set the women’s record in 2010 while she was training in Colorado Spring right before becoming a trail running sensation (20:07). Even though Bonnet might have the fastest time on Strava and on Fastestknowntime, the Mark Fretta debate is still open. Fretta claimed to have climbed the Incline in 16:42 back in 2006 when he was one of the best triathletes on the Olympic distance. There is no GPS track of the attempt, the Incline was still in its illegal era, and only 2 other people could testify in his favor without much clarity. Anything that happened before 2013 pretty much remains up in the air - even McLaughlin's record was validated by others with her since she had no GPS tracking on her attempt, but just a Timex watch. Is all of this much important in the end? The Manitou Incline community does not really care who’s the fastest. You just need to be out there consistently up and down keeping your ritual alive. The average hiker takes around 1 hour to complete the Incline. Most of them get tricked by the “The Bailout”, a false summit two-thirds of the way up. But they don’t quit. They get it done and come back the day after, or the year after, or never. It doesn't matter because they shared the Incline and now they are part of the cult.

It just holds me together. Manitou Springs local

These are the kind of people that make the Incline community. It is not about the view you can enjoy at the top or how fast you can run it. The Incline means something different to every person. For some is a dream to climb it once in a lifetime. For others, it is a daily ritual. For Brandon Stapanowich, it is a competition against himself on how many times he could run it up and down in 24 hours - the answer is 22 times.

Meet the Community of The Manitou Incline in Colorado from Salomon TV from 2014 is one of the many masterpieces that you can find on Youtube and that made many intrigued by running on trails. The video is not much about running the FKT on the Incline but the community around it. Normal people felt connected by the trail and felt the urge to come back day after day. “It serves as people’s gym and church.” This is how one of the interviewees summed up the incline and it couldn’t be more perfect. The first part of the definition speaks to the physical training of the Incline while the second recalls the community spirit, the Incline’s religion. The invisible connection among the hikers on the Incline is what generates a sense of community.

This is where I am home. Alan Brux, Manitou Springs local


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