Updated: Oct 12, 2019
A large aspect of adventure is finding things which press our limits and allow us to find fulfillment in the extraordinary. While this might come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on your desires I have always found that the more challenging an activity the more exciting it is to accomplish it and share the story later.
So what if you want to really challenge yourself a hike which you want to write home about??
Where do you even start to find these type of hikes and what should you know before taking on one of these hikes??
When it comes to topping the list of challenge for someone wanting the most impact from a single hike in way of cardio, you need look only to the Manitou Springs, Colorado.
Located just outside of Colorado Springs, the Manitou Springs are is the home of arguably the most intense mountain hike in the United States. The Manitou Incline! Casually nicknamed “The Incline” there is nothing beyond the name that is casual about this hike which is known for its extreme intensity and insane amount of visitors each year.
With an extreme 2,700 stairs in less than a mile, this hike Is not for the faint of heart it sharply climbs up the mountainside and through some of the most insane altitude changes which limit the air you are able to intake while climbing. The equivalent of climbing the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower twice, the Washington Monument three Tims or the Statue of Liberty a whopping six times, this hike is one that will test your thighs, knees and calves but also your lungs and heart.
The hike seems never-ending as it continues to ascend into the sky with no end in sight for the first 1900 steps, this is when you finally reach the false summit. Yes! I said false. Just when you rethinking the hike is nearing an end, instead you are met with another 800 steps which seem impossible. But in reality the bottom half of the hike is the most difficult with steps ranging from only a few inches in height to near waist high in some places. After crossing the 1900 step mark steps regulate and become much easier to navigate, of course this is after you already have tired your body and risen to oxygen levels which are much less satisfying.
It is no surprise that this hike is often frequented by Olympic athletes from the Colorado Springs training facility, soldiers from neighboring Fort Carson and extreme athletes looking to increase their stamina in higher altitudes by wearing weighted vests while making the ascent.
But alongside those seasoned athletes are the novice hikers out there trying to press their limits and check off the incredible hike. All skill levels present, there is a sense of community along the way with even those who are highly conditioned helping those who are not with tips along the way.
With an average of a 41% grade it can be vicious so for those not as highly conditioned the hike is all about consistency and breathing. To take pressure off of joints when walking there are many suggestions including walking in diagonals which work the legs in a different way than just the traditional step up. Also taking the approach of every two steps taking a deep breath to acclimate the thinning air is highly suggested. Frequent breaks for both water and rest in encouraged for novice hikers to the area and as you take advantage of these breaks you will find that there are many great new friends which can be made on the incline itself.
For those struggling with the hike if you can make it to the bailout point you can always leave throughout a leisurely stroll down a trail from this point. Merging into the Barr Trail in two sections, the bailout point and the top, the incline offers those taking on the challenge an opportunity to see the mountain in a different way or challenging themselves in another way.
While many elect to take the stairs down the steep incline moving downward can prove to be much more dangerous than the climb to the top for a novice. For this reason the connection was made for the 4 mile trail from bottom to top which offers far less dangerous conditions.
Many take the trip down the trail and an opportunity to have a mountain run while others enjoy taking in the surroundings through a more leisurely stroll. There is no wrong way to navigate this as long as you are confident in your footings.
If you are looking claim your bit of accomplishment and bragging rights for tackling and accomplishing this hike before you go know there are a few things you will want to remember.
Start your hike earlier in the day. As the day heats up this hike becomes more and more and difficult, especially for a novice. Arrive early and get started before the heat of the day kicks in.
Bring water! It is estimated that you need 1 liter of water per mile you hike typically, however with the challenge of this hike better to come prepared. The hike down from the top is 4 miles and the hike to the top is a mile in itself so remember that while a water bottle might be great for the hike up itself you will need more for the way down. Small hiking pack bladders are perfecter this hike.
Bring sunscreen! When the air is cool it is hard to think that the sun might be beaming down and scorching your body but there is very little coverage from the sun while actually hiking. Along the side there are a lot of shade stops but on the hike itself you are fully explored so remembering this is very important year round not only when it is warm outside.
When it comes to parking it can quickly get packed and while they do offer paid parking along the streets near trailhead this can be very limited. There is a free shuttle which has several pick up points in Manitou with various lots which are free located further out from the trailhead.