Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Incline Insanity

Monday morning Tom took me over to the Manitou Incline. It is the old bed of a cable tram that hits a maximum gradient of 68%. There are some great historical photos here.  It rises 2000ft in about a mile. The railroad ties are still there. At that steep of a grade, the steps become huge. Each step is a one-legged, full body weight press. UltraRob notes 2744 is written on the last tie. Another hiker attempted to count them on Monday. He said 2950, plus or minus 100, and he counted missing ties (empty spots where there should have been one). So you get the idea.

Many athletes train here. Elite runners and cyclists alike. In fact, Chris Carmichael and his athletes have been seen time-trialing up this beast. The record is around 17 minutes. Tom Ramsey's best is just over 32 minutes I believe. The incline starts at around 6500ft and tops out at 8500ft. The air gets pretty thin up there. Tom has lived in Colorado Springs for a couple years now, so he's fully acclimated to 6000ft. I get dizzy just going up the stairs in Tom's house.

Checking out The Incline the morning after climbing Pikes Peak is a rather sadistic thing to do. But when you are in Colorado Springs, it is one of the things an athlete must check off his or her list. Both Tom and I complained about our hip flexors hurting when we got up. It seems when you climb so long with no recovery, you begin to recruit less conditioned muscles as the well conditioned muscles crap out. Trainers will push their athletes into this regime to improve performance. It sucks working in this regime though, because you feel like dog poo. Fortunately, hiking up a steep grade doesn't demand much from hip flexors. It does demand a great deal from quads and calves.

The Incline faces directly into the morning sun. It was warming fast. We parked downtown. It was more than a mile to the base of the climb. A good warmup. Looking up at The Incline is daunting. It looks so steep that if you tripped, you might rag-doll all the way back to the bottom. Hikers have been seriously hurt on this. A portion of it is on private property and is posted as such. The town is working to remedy this, so the public can have legal access.

The scar up Mt Manitou is The Incline

Tom and I got right down to business when we reached the bottom. He let me lead. I guess he didn't want to crush me two days in a row. A different route is taken down, so I did want to take a couple photos with minimal stopping.  My heartrate immediately redlined.  My quads screamed. It seems hard at first, but by the middle it becomes almost impossibly hard. Early on a weekday, there were a couple dozen other people on it. Most had to stop frequently. A few ran past us like we were total Freds. By the mid point, the thought occurred to me that I went out too hard. At least Tom was breathing really hard too, right behind me.

Near the bottom. Note the moon.

We reached the top in about 35 minutes (I forgot GPS, so I only had minute resolution on cell phone). Tom later commented that he didn't think he had a 34 in him that day. Maybe he said that just to make me feel good. I gave it everything Pikes Peak left me with. I'd say hiking this is comparable to riding Mt Ascutney, except your heartrate runs exceedingly higher. For two reasons. One, hiking is weight bearing, the other is thin air. Perhaps locals don't get as racy of a HR as I did.

Near the top with Tom in foreground and Manitou Springs below

If I lived in the Colorado Springs area, I would totally do this on a regular basis. It would be superb conditioning for both cycling and XC skiing.

The hike down consists of a connector trail to the Barr Trail. The Barr Trail goes to the summit of Pikes Peak. I studied riding up this on a mountain bike to bag Pikes Peak before the Assault was organized. I am so glad I never attempted it. While it would be technically rideable, its steepness to altitude ratio is such that it would have been one massive hike-a-bike for me. The trail surface is decomposed granite, great to ride on, but dicy to hike down. My feet went out from under me once, coming down and my hands hard. I did wear my ankle brace for this.

Barr Trail

Altogether, Tom and I hiked 2.6mi round trip in town to trail head plus 3.7 miles of trail in about 2.4 hours moving time. My calves were wrecked. I didn't seem to have too much trouble coming back down.  Perhaps the Monadnock hike a couple weeks ago took some of that edge off.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay with Tom and his wife Mick in Colorado springs. Had Tom not mentioned the Pikes Peak event to me, I probably would not have learned about it.

My ride on the CDT today was spectacular, although quite brutal. It seems I'm a day behind on posting, so that report will go up Wednesday.

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