By Derek Hanson, PPCC Student Contributor
Manitou Springs has become especially known for the famous hiking trail known as The Incline.
The Incline attracts thousands every year to challenge themselves on the steep ascent, and from its glowing media reputation, you would think that The Incline would be a fun activity. Instead, The Incline has become a burden on the Manitou people, who have to deal with the costly repercussions of naïve tourists biting off more than they can chew.
Visitors and new residents of the Colorado Springs area, buy into the hype that one “needs” to hike this trail, that it’s simply “the thing to do” when you’re here.
The Incline, though, is not a trail recommended to the average person, due to the ramifications that come with hiking such a steep and unforgiving line up a mountain.
The number one danger that comes from hiking The Incline is certainly the altitude. Altitude is problematic for two major reasons regarding atmospheric pressure: low pressure means less oxygen, and it also means that you will become dehydrated quicker, both of which are dangerous while exercising.
The reason why lower pressure equates to less oxygen has to do with some basic scientific concepts. While the ratio (percentage) of oxygen in the air is fairly consistent regardless of altitude, the lower pressure essentially means there’s less air in a given volume of space at higher altitudes.
This means that if you were to inhale a liter of air in Manitou Springs, you would be inhaling less oxygen than you would inhaling a liter at sea level.
The reason why lower pressure causes you to become dehydrated is a little more complex. Just about all liquids evaporate on their own, and this causes what is known as vapor pressure, a gaseous form of the compound that is found directly above the liquid that has its own pressure.
If you’ve ever been to an indoor swimming pooling, you’re certainly familiar with the feeling of humidity that comes from the pool. This pressure that comes from the gas above a liquid “competes” with the surrounding air molecules to determine the rate of evaporation. The higher the surrounding pressure, the slower the rate of evaporation; the lower the surrounding pressure, the faster the rate of evaporation.
While skin is great at keeping moisture in your body, it is also semipermeable, so you’re going to dry out much quicker at high altitudes given the lower pressure.
Since Manitou Springs is already 6400 ft above sea level, and the Incline is an extra 2000 ft on top of that, the elevation gain certainly has an effect. Exercise requires excess water and oxygen, both of which are less available on The Incline, therefore it is unwise to hike such a trail without proper experience.
Despite the intensity of The Incline, many people think they can just bring extra water and take their time, but this doesn’t account for the environment. Bears and mountain lions aside, the mountains of Manitou are generally not safe to hike. The temperature in Manitou Springs can vary dramatically, with highs and lows that vary 20-30°F on average for each month with the records varying from 70-100°F.
Many places in the world see seasonal temperature changes similar to those seen above, but usually not within the same month. It is not unheard of to see immediate and violent changes in weather within just a single afternoon of hiking. This phenomenon is made even worse by the fact that The Incline is east of Pikes Peak, a Fourteener, that blocks out the afternoon sun.
A general rule of thumb is that the sun will set two hours earlier in Manitou than in Colorado Springs, making visibility worse and temperatures lower. For anyone isn’t used to dramatic change in weather, which the common person from outside of Colorado is not, it is seriously not advised to hike this trail.
Even if you are still not convinced that The Incline is dangerous, it is hard to deny the experience of local residents.
Carrie Rodgers, a local that lives on Ruxton Avenue near The Incline trailhead, said, “I’ve seen people take bad falls, a lot of blood…it’s tough to get ambulances up Ruxton because of how congested it is, so many people have to wait to get treated.”
There is obviously a problem with first responders being able to mount quick, efficient rescues, but Rodgers also believes the main problem is unprepared tourists.
“There are so many people that come here from sea level states, like Kansas or Florida, who heard that hiking The Incline is a tourist thing to do, then when they get here and try it out they realize that it’s a serious athletic conquest… you have to be in shape and know what you’re doing but many tourists don’t.”
Rodgers’ believes that many are led astray by false narratives painting The Incline as a family friendly activity. She said, “It’s sad because when people get halfway up and realize how difficult it is, they’re forced to turn around and head back down, which can be more dangerous.” If people can make it up to Barr Trail, they have an easier way down, but many tourist hikers have to come down long before they reach the trail access.
Those who have no experience with these kinds of challenges should steer clear of The Incline.
There are thousands of trails in Colorado to all sorts of beautiful locations, yet The Incline seems to be the fan favorite. If you haven’t done The Incline before, especially if you’re from out-of-town, please reconsider testing your luck with this dangerous trail.