The Manitou Incline

So this weekend my friend invited Mr Ham and I to climb the Manitou Incline with her and her boyfriend.

For those of you who don’t know about the Manitou Incline, up until February of this year (2013) it was illegal for hikers to be out there climbing it. The Incline is an old railway that used to be used to get folks up to the top of the mountain, and now that it’s out of service, all that’s left are the railroad ties. Someone, probably breathing the thin mountain air, had the brilliant idea that these ties, now resembling stairs, should be a fun weekend activity for fitness enthusiasts everywhere.

All that being said, I had no idea what we were getting into.

Before we left I happened upon a site that had some information about the hike and what all it would entail. From the description on this site it appeared that we should be able to get up the incline in about an hour. Awesome.

We packed our water belts accordingly and headed down to the springs.

As we pulled into a gas station in town we saw the incline in person for the first time…

First sight of the incline

It was at this point that I realized we may have under-packed…

We finished up at the gas station and made our way to the trailhead. Lucky for us our friend had gathered a ton of information about the hike, including the warnings about where not to park. It became evident that we would not be able to get anywhere near the trailhead and instead we opted for parking downtown Manitou.

As we walked towards the start of the incline the expansive stairs towered above us, as if they led straight to heaven.

We posed for a quick team photo and got on our way!

The Asylum

We started our hike feeling great about how we were doing and the pace we were going. The incline hadn’t gotten steep yet, so we were making really good time. The part that caught me off guard was the people running up the incline, past us. I suppose some folks use the incline as a training run!

Slowly but surely we plodded up and it started getting steeper and steeper.

I would be able to go about 10 steps and have to stop to let my muscles release. I pushed off my knees with everything that I had.

Hammi pushing

I tried a few different methods to keep my pace going and about halfway up I started to follow a girl who was using a step-pause-step-pause method.

I got in behind her for a while and continued my uphill battle.

About two-thirds of the way up we paused for an extended break, wherein I turned on the cheese (my defense mechanism?)

Super Cheese

I was feeling good so I took off a little before my team and connected with another person from our run club, which was awesome.

She and I hammered up the incline little by little.

There was a part where we thought that we had reached the top, only to discover that it was a false summit. If you have ever encountered one of those, you know it’s a hard mental block to overcome. We paused for a bit and decided to push on.

We were SO high up!

So High Up!

Finally after 3 hours of pushing on and heading up up up into the heavens, we summited!!!

I was so happy and proud and just beside myself to stand up at the top! (Truth be told, even though I knew that I had been right to not go all the way to the top of Long’s Peak a few weeks prior, having not summited that day was slightly heartbreaking and needed to be redeemed.) The hike was 3 hours and a mile long, straight up in some parts.

MI Summit!

As I sat on top of this gorgeous mountain waiting for my friends and hubby to finish, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the life that I have.

I really don’t have enough words to describe how full my heart is. I’m so lucky to be alive.

The way down, if you choose to not go the way you came up, is a nice 2.5 miles down the side, with easy switchbacks. My hubby and our friend went to check on the car meter, and the ladies were behind me, so I was all alone. I started a slow jog/ trail run down the hill and caught a nice cadence that made my run easy.

I came upon some college kids and one shouted “watch out guys, runner behind us.” Well, that was a bit overstating things, but I replied “I wouldn’t say that.” with a smile.

I don’t know why I can’t just accept that I have changed, and I am that athlete I dreamed of being all those years. I spent a lot of time on that silent run alone down the mountain reflecting on things. It took me about 40 minutes to get down the mountain, and the amazing feeling of accomplishment was so worth all the pain I’m feeling (2 days later…)

Life is good. So good.

*ps* if you want more information about how to keep the Incline sustainable for generations to come, visit The Incline Friends!

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My First 14er(s)

This past weekend I accomplished a goal that I never would’ve believed would be possible- I summited my first two 14ers. For those of you unfamiliar with 14ers, these are mountains where the summit is over 14,000 feet above sea level. They are tough, time consuming, and slightly dangerous. And they are now crossed off my Epic Quest.

This past Sunday my husband and I got up at 3am (ouch) to catch a ride w my BFF and her sister to the trailhead for Grays and Torreys.

The road leading up to the trail head was long and would’ve been impossible to navigate if we hadn’t been in a 4 wheel drive jeep. In the parking lot, even at that crazy early hour of the morning, there were just a few spots left. There was another group of folks heading up right before us, so the place seemed very active.

We suited up with our hydration packs and warm clothes and took off towards the trail. As we hiked along a small slow incline I made the mistake of thinking “this isn’t so bad!” Little did I know we hadn’t even started to ascend the mountain.

We passed some folks who were coming down the mountain and they told us that they had started at 1 am because the super moon made the trail so bright that they didn’t even need their head lamps- the moon was huge.

Anyhow, after about a mile and a half we finally reached the sign with the info about the 14ers we were about to go up against. Grays was 2 miles from where we were and would reach a height of 14,270 ft. Torreys was listed as a little further and 14,267 ft (which was weird because it looked taller from where we stood.)

We stopped for a couple pictures then began the serious part of the hike.

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We passed by a small lake that was crystal clear which was cool- it was formed by the run off from GT! After the lake we started vertical ascension.

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There were parts of the mountain that were easy to hike up, and other parts were still covered with snow and ice. Some places were only 6 inches wide or had no path whatsoever- there were just some cairns indicating that we were still on the right track.

As we went higher and higher the summit, which looked empty, was getting closer and I realized it wasn’t vacated- it was just so high and far away that I couldn’t see the people! They were tiny!!!

Higher and higher it was getting harder to breathe. We would walk about 10 yards and stop to catch our breaths. We did the over and over, slowly going up the side of Grays.

Finally, about 4 hours later we summited Grays Peak. I got to the top and I felt like I could see all of Colorado, it was phenomenal. I took a bunch of pictures because none of them could capture what my eyes were seeing.

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I looked all over the top for the Geo Marker, with no luck. Someone told me that people frequently steal them, so instead of getting a picture of that, I got a picture of myself holding the summit log. That will have to be good enough.

Another hiker offered us some watermelon and I munched on that for a bit before parking behind a rock to dig into my own lunch. The wind had picked up in a big way a few yards (vertically) before the summit, so even though I had added my compression sleeves, the wind was biting. Sitting behind a rock was perfect to block the wind. For my lunch I had a sandwich with gluten free bread, almond butter and jam. I also ate some fruit leather and a little jerky. I wanted to save the rest for our break on Torreys.

It’s funny, as we were about 3 hours into the hike we had passed someone and I asked how far we were from summit and he said we had about an hour yet. I was so pissed I swore and told my hubby and friend that I didn’t think I wanted to continue on to Torreys. I was over it. But sitting on top of Grays changed my mind. This was amazing and I could get used to it.

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After a nice half hour break we decided to make our way over to Torreys. In order to get over there we had to descend a bit to something called the saddle. The descent off of Grays was all shale and we practically slid down the side. It was rough but fast. We trudged along the saddle and approached the side of Torreys.

Torreys is technically shorter than Grays, but the side from the saddle to the summit was ridiculously steep and very tough to navigate. There were a lot of folks coming down and the path was just a few inches wide, if we could see it at all. The steep nature of the side made it so that we would hike about 4-5 yards at a time before we needed a break.

Slowly but surely, one foot in front of the other, we made it to the top. I grabbed the summit log and added our names to it with the comment “ouch.” Coming up Torreys had revealed that I had some major knee pain developing. It was in the same realm as the knee pain I had in my two half marathons except on the inside of the knee. Each time I picked up my foot to continue the upward climb pain would shoot through my entire body. Ouch seemed appropriate.

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We sat on top of Torreys and marveled at the sight again. I could see Longs Peak from where I sat. I ate the rest of my lunch, carrots, jerky, chocolate, and fruit leather and drank a ton of water. After a few more pictures we decided it was time to descend, before the storms rolled in.

Getting down from Torreys was pretty easy until we got to the saddle. Our options from there were to re-ascend the shale covered side of Grays or cross down the side of it. Now, in the summer I’m sure this is a no brainer, but on this day that cut across was covered in snow. Slick slippery snow- and the path was less than a foot wide. That trek was the single most terrifying part of the hike. Even in my new hiking shoes I slipped and caught myself about every other step. I couldn’t look away from my feet for fear or losing my composure.

After what seemed like forever we caught a break from the snow and were back on a rock path. The path was still very narrow but it was easier to navigate. Behind us we watched some folks who had pick axes sit on their bottoms and put the ax in the snow above their heads and slide down. The descent that was going to take us about 2 hours took them less than 2 minutes.

Being that we were ax-less, we continued walking. We passed by some folks with an injured pup (lots of people had experienced dogs with them- I was impressed). This pup had cut his paw on a rock in the saddle and his owner was trying everything to protect it. We let her know that if she needed help carrying him down we were happy to help. She said she was good but thank you so much and we continued on our way.

We each took turns falling as we were fatigued and getting sloppy, but the worst was for my husband. He slipped on a rock and tucked under, narrowly missing hitting his skull on the boulder. Instead, he whacked into it with his ribs. Writing this now, 3 days later, he is in a ton of pain still and possibly has broken ribs. Word to the wise: hiking is very dangerous and should always be approached with caution.

Slowly we made our way back down, past the clear lake and to the trail head. Looking over my shoulder I just couldn’t believe that we had actually done it and that I had been on top of those mountains that were so far away you couldn’t even see people on them. Crazy.

While I am still in so much pain (my calves are killing me!) I wouldn’t change it for the world and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to tackle this amazing adventure.

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