Just outside of Manitou Springs, at a base height of 6,500 feet there is a trail known as the Incline. The Incline is all that remains of the old funicular railway that climbed the side of Rocky Mountain, next to Mount Manitou, from 1907 till 1990. It was operated by the Pikes Peak Cog Railway till a rockslide washed the track out. The trail is less than a mile long, and in that distance gains over 2,000 feet in elevation. Hiking this trail is kind of like deciding to take the stairs to the top of One World Trade Center in New York City, except about 300 feet higher and at a higher elevation with less oxygen. In terms more relatable for people from Indiana, like me, it’d be like walking up the stairs of the Chase Tower in Indianapolis, twice. With a grade as steep as 68% at times during the hike, it is not hard to understand how these steps up the side of a mountain can be considered an extreme trail. When I decided to make the trip out to Denver to visit my friend, Jason, and he said he wanted to propose to his girlfriend, Mandy, on top of the Incline while I was visiting, I figured I was in for a bit of a challenge, but really I had no idea how difficult it would be.
A few days before the climb, I met with Jason and Mandy’s friends who were helping to plan the proposal and set up the area in which Jason was going to propose to Mandy. Jason had two friends who agreed to hike up the Incline earlier in the day to place flower petals and set a bouquet at the area of the proposal. Jason then turned to me and told me my job was to not die on the way up. I jokingly told him if I did to dig a shallow grave and continue on without me, which I called Oregon Trail rules. Jason laughed, but then told me he was seriously worried about me. I shrugged it off, because I did not think it would be that big of a deal. Jason then asked me if I could come up with an excuse once we reached the summit so that I could stay behind while he took Mandy away to the prepared area to propose privately. I jokingly said that assuming I survived the ascent, I could just say I was too tired to continue. When no one laughed due to the general assumption that I would not make it to top, I saved the situation by saying I could just say I wanted to take some pictures of the fantastic view from the summit (and by “saved the situation” I mean that I awkwardly offered up another idea that did not make people think about the possibility that I might not be healthy enough to make it to the top).
On the day of the planned proposal, Jason and I woke early to get ready for the trip. I dressed warm, anticipating cold weather at the higher elevation. Jason put on a pair of shorts and his Incomparable t-shirt. When I poked fun of him for proposing in a podcasting t-shirt, he honestly answered by asking if he should switch to a Daring Fireball t-shirt. I just laughed and told him an Incomparable t-shirt was great choice for an incomparable proposal. Once Mandy arrived at Jason’s apartment, we left Denver and headed to Manitou Springs for a quick lunch in town before our climb. At least we thought it would be quick. Upon arriving in Manitou Springs, we discovered that the 2015 Emma Crawford Coffin Races were taking place and traffic in the area was very congested. After driving around for forty five minutes looking for a place to park near town, we finally drove to the edge of town where we found a side street up a hill on which to park. We walked down into town and grabbed food, then on the return trip I had my first experience with what hiking uphill would feel like at a raised elevation. Two steps into the uphill walk to the car, I began to regret letting Jason talk me into hiking the Incline with Mandy and him.
After a short drive out of town, we parked and began our ascent of the Incline in earnest. While Jason and Mandy walked hand-in-hand up the Incline at a leisurely pace, I trailed behind. At first I was just a few steps behind, but after a few hundred feet on the seemingly never-ending stairs of the Incline, I was lagging behind by twenty five feet at a minimum. Ahead of me I could see Jason and Mandy, walking up the Incline while they talked and laughed. It was difficult realizing that I could not keep up with them, but even more difficult when I would catch their rich laughter cascading down the steps. I decided to take my time, keep my head down, concentrate on each step in front of me, and focus on breathing instead of huffing and puffing. Jason and Mandy took a lot of breaks while waiting for me to catch up with them, breaks where they seemed oblivious to the world around them, just staring deep into each other’s eyes while the talked. Seeing one of my best friends so deeply in love made the climb seem more feasible, especially because I knew what would happen once we reached the top. So I kept on walking up the mountain, one foot at a time, pausing for breaks to catch my breath when necessary.
Half way up the Incline, there is a small path where the Barr Trail, a longer trail without such a steep grade, is connected to the Incline. This is known as the bailout or wimpout point. Jason had told me the night before our climb that I he would understand if I decided to stop there and head back down the mountain. As I looked up the mountain I could see this point nearing and with each step I thought to myself, I am just one step closer to turning around and taking the easy path down. As I neared the path though, Jason and Mandy’s encouraging words, and my desire to make the summit and be present after the proposal occurred, took over. I decided to press onward. I could see the summit, and it didn’t look that far away. Half way to what I thought was the summit, Jason stopped to inform me that it was a false summit. This was devastating, but I kept going upward. At this point I did not really have another option, short of lying down and rolling back down the steps. So I put my head back down and focused on the steps in front of me and kept plodding up the mountain.
Jason and Mandy waited patiently for me about twenty feet from the summit, while I toiled upward, so that we could all reach the summit of the Incline together. It was very sweet of them, and the feeling upon reaching the top was spectacular. The view from the top would have been breathtaking, if I had any breath left in my lungs. I had planned to say something about how beautiful the view was and how I wanted to take a few photos once we had all reached the top, but if I remember correctly all I was able to gasp out while trying to suck in air were the words, “Go on.”
I waited patiently at the top of the summit and asked people not to walk down the Barr Trail during the proposal. Most people were gasping for breath and did not need anyone to tell them to stop for a few seconds. A few people were hiking the Incline for exercise and timing themselves. They continued on silently, jogging down a different part of the trail so as not to disturb the proposal. After a few minutes I walked down the trail to find my friend, Jason, holding his fiancée, Mandy, in his arms with their two friends, who had hiked the Incline earlier, offering them congratulations. I also congratulated and hugged them both, with a grin on my face going from ear to ear. Then we took a few pictures on top of Rocky Mountain with Cameron Cone in the background before heading back down the Barr Trail.
On the trip down the Barr Trail, Mandy greeted every new person that we encountered by shouting out, “I’m getting married!’ She shouted the words out cheerfully and every time all of the people in our group smiled and laughed. I love when people are incredibly excited to enter into marriage, so the descent seemed magical. It also seemed magical just because it was so much easier than the ascent had been. Once we reached the bottom of the Incline, a third of Jason and Mandy’s friends joined us to celebrate their engagement. We then drove to the Garden of the Gods for a picnic dinner at dusk before driving back to Denver that night. It was
a magical day, and I am so blessed to have been included in it. I really look forward to the day when Jason and Mandy will be husband and wife. I am also very thankful that Jenn bought me a plane ticket for my birthday this year so that I could fly to Denver to be a part of this incomparable event.