Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Prescription for Incline Withdrawal

Posted By on Sat, Aug 23, 2014 at 8:57 AM

click to enlarge From Eagles Peak, overlooking USAFA. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • From Eagles Peak, overlooking USAFA.
So, the Manitou Incline has been closed for about a week now and you’re already going through withdrawals. You’re yearning for that extreme physical exertion, that mental toughness, and that “I can beat this” mentality it takes to complete the trek to the top of the Incline. You know you are.

First, let's face one fact: There is nothing that quite compares to the Incline — at least, not anywhere near here —so I can’t offer a real Incline cure, but here are some hikes (in no particular order) that come close. Some are almost as steep as the Incline, and others are simply longer, but all have a good uphill component — no flat trails here.

The Mid and Upper Columbine Trails, North Cheyenne Cañon Park: Starting about one mile past the entrance to the park, the trail proceeds to the top of the canyon near Helen Hunt Falls. The “mid” portion of the trail has some significant up-hill sections, including switchbacks, before becoming more gradual. At the Buena Vista Overlook, you’ll transition from the mid to the upper trail which is marked by a cast-iron sign. The trail grade drops significantly before another uphill section, finally arriving at the end. (Turn around at the road to make it a 6-mile hike.) There are great views at numerous spots along the trail, and the southern facing aspect of this trail keeps it relatively ice- and snow-free, making it a good hike in the winter, too.

Barr Trail: Users of the Incline know Barr Trail as the downhill portion of their trek, but going uphill on the Barr Trail has significant elevation gain and lots of switchbacks. It’s about four miles to the trail (marked by a cast-iron sign) that doubles back to the top of the incline — the trail gets much easier from here. Go another half mile or so and look for the sign indicating the Experimental Forest and check out the remnants of old buildings there along with good interpretive signs. If you want to make a day of it, go another two miles up the Barr Trail to Barr Camp, and say hi to the caretakers there. It’s a total of eight miles round trip to the incline trail cut-off and back, 12 miles round trip if you go to Barr Camp.

Eagles Peak, U.S. Air Force Academy/Pike National Forest: Although you’ll need to enter the Air Force Academy to get to this trail, it is entirely in the Pike National Forest. Enter the AFA at the north entrance and proceed to the AFA Visitors Center parking lot. Walk back to Academy Drive and cross to the road just north of the visitors center driveway that heads west. Walk past the power substation and continue west up the hill until the next curve that turns north. From the curve, you’ll see the sign marking the trailhead by looking west. This trail has steep, rugged uphills before a short, flat section along a meadow, then continues up a steep, rocky incline to the top of the peak. On some topographical maps, this peak is identified as North Peak. Once there, proceed as far east on the peak as you can (or dare) go for some magnificent views. In the winter, when snow- and ice-covered, this trail is rather treacherous. Approximately 5 miles round trip, including the walk from the visitors center lot to the trailhead.

Another good hike on the AFA is Stanley Canyon, just south of Eagles Peak, however, that trailhead is in an area that is off-limits to all but military personnel with proper identification. And, since you’ll be on a military installation, note that entrance to the AFA maybe halted at any time and your vehicle may be searched at the entrance gate. Leave your firearms at home.

Catamount Falls Trail, Green Mountain Falls: In Green Mountain Falls, park at Hondo Avenue and Ute Pass Avenue and walk approximately 1/2 mile up Hondo to the service road. Go through the gate on the service road and walk past the waterfall to the trailhead. The trail proceeds steeply uphill and through a number of switchbacks until it arrives at the top of the hill, passing two short side trails to scenic overlooks along the way. From the top, you can turn around, or proceed on the trail following the creek through the aptly named Garden of Eden, then uphill along a flume until you reach the roadway around the North Slope Reservoirs. Follow the uphill road to the right a short distance until you arrive at the Catamount Reservoir and great views of the north face of Pikes Peak.
Approximately six miles round trip if you go all the way to the reservoir.

Bonus Extra: August 25th is the birthday of the National Park Service and all entry fees are waived at National Parks. There is some great hiking at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, and also Incline alternatives at Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park, both just a few hours drive from Colorado Springs. More information is available here.

That’s all for now. Hopefully this will calm your Incline withdrawal. After all, it’s only for a few short months. OK, maybe not so few — and, not so short. But it will open again, really. I’ll have more Incline alternatives in future blogs but in the meantime, have fun and happy trails!

Bob Falcone is a firefighter, arson investigator, non-profit board president, college instructor, photographer, hiker and small business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for 23 years. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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