Watching the big, noisy flocks of Canada Geese migrate overhead is another Colorado novelty that I haven’t gotten tired of yet. I see them every day now on their winter journey south.
Last weekend the kids and I set our sights on the Manitou Incline. It’s the remnants of what used to be a narrow-gauge railway tram up the side of a mountain, now just a long staircase of railroad ties. The Incline starts at an elevation of 6530 feet and tops out at 8550 feet, an elevation gain of 2020 feet in just under a mile.
When I told my coworkers that I planned to attempt the Incline, they earnestly assured me that there is no shame in failure.
The big day dawned sunny, cold and sparkling with a fresh layer of snow from the night before. We made the hour-and-a-half drive to Manitou Springs in a white winter landscape under intensely blue skies.
You can park right next to the Incline Base Camp for $10, but climbers are encouraged to use the free parking in town and ride the shuttle to the camp, so that’s what we did.
The Incline is free to climb, but for Covid safety they limit numbers by requiring reservations. We got our reserved QRcodes scanned and received bracelets. I told the kids not to wait for me, knowing I would take a lot longer than they would to reach the top. Luke took off up the stairs at an easy jog, and that was the last I saw of him for the rest of the climb. Elizabeth set a more relaxed pace; I could at least see where she was most of the time.
The grade is nice and gradual at first. It’s a good warm-up. Every couple hundred feet there’s a marker that tells you how many steps you’ve climbed, which is nice.
Most of the snow had melted away in the sun and the foot traffic, but in the shady spots it had packed down to something like ice. We were lucky that better-prepared hikers with microspikes on their shoes had roughened up the ice on the steps, so we didn’t slip around much.
The grade got steeper as we climbed higher.
Pretty soon we were climbing for real.
About two-thirds of the way up, an “exit ramp” connects to Barr Trail.
We didn’t take it, but we do have future plans for Barr Trail. If you follow it up instead of down, it leads to the summit of Pikes Peak! That’s an adventure for another day.
Once past the exit ramp, the Incline gets quite steep.
This is where I really started to feel the altitude and started to take more rest breaks. It’s about where Elizabeth left me behind.
At this point I was managing about twenty steps in between stops to catch my breath. But the top was finally in sight!
The snow was deeper now in the shade.
We were high enough now to get a nice view of the eastern plains.
We made it!
I took me about two hours to make it to the top. Luke had been waiting there for about 45 minutes. He hung out with us for a few minutes and then headed down the descent trail. Elizabeth and I ate the snacks we had brought and savored our accomplishment. I may have texted a smug summit photo to my coworkers.
The Incline is supposed to be a one-way ascent, although a few joggers ran it it both directions while we were there. Most of us took the descent trail down.
This is another connection to Barr Trail. From the top of the Incline to Base Camp via the trail is almost three miles, but you travel a lot faster going down than coming up. It’s a gorgeous trail even in midwinter.
I like this shot of Elizabeth below me on the trail.
I have two or three fourteeners on my summer to-do list, so the Incline was a good way to gauge what kind of shape I’m in for that. The verdict: my climbing muscles are in decent shape, but the altitude has me gasping for air and I could stand to lose a few pounds. It’s hard to get outside as much in the winter here; hopefully in the spring I can get back to hiking more. And maybe carry a bottle of oxygen with me into the higher altitudes.
The Incline is a great hike year-round, though. Highly recommended!
Last Sunday we drove the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway from Black Hawk to Estes Park. As the name implies, this outing was more about the journey than the destination. We stopped to investigate anything that looked interesting along the way.
One of the highlights for me was the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland. We drove up just as it was opening, so we were the first customers of the day and for a few minutes we had the carousel to ourselves.
It lives in a modest, unassuming building.
But inside is a world of whimsy!
The operator said there was no time limit, we could stay as long as we liked, so we got to wander around and look at all the animals close-up.
There is a bittersweet story behind this carousel. All of the animals were carved by an ex-marine named Scott Harrison, who has worked through his post-Vietnam ptsd by bringing these happy creatures to life.
During the war his sister had sent him a small music box that played Chopin’s “Tristesse.” It was a source of comfort to him between firefights. He would listen to the tune and imagine a carousel in a serene mountain meadow.
The music box was lost when Harrison was badly injured in January of 1968. After he returned home, he struggled to adjust and longed for the comfort of his music box tune.
In 1986 he found an old 1910 wooden carousel in Salt Lake City that was being dismantled after someone had purchased its animals. Harrison brought the carousel to Colorado and spent the next 26 years carving new animals for it. He held a fundraiser to collect the money to build the structure that now houses the carousel.
Look at this adorable little fish giving a frog a ride!
I just now noticed that the rabbit is holding a watch.
Chillin’ with Harambe.
When the next customers arrived, we chose our animals and the ride began.
The carousel is teeming with creatures large and small.
A 1913 Wurlitzer band organ provides the music, guarded by a wolf.
Painted koi swim around beneath the platform.
So many birds everywhere!
Not all of the animals are on the carousel. Some sit nearby to watch the fun.
Some of the walls are portrayed as misty portals.
This vignette in particular tugs at my heart.
Adjacent to the carousel is a gift shop, with a Nietzsche quote painted over the door: “We have art so that we are not destroyed by the truth.”
The experience made me happy and sad. Sad that a teenage boy was so traumatized by an ugly, pointless war that the entire rest of his life was shaped by that trauma. Happy that he was able to craft his pain into something so beautiful and uplifting.
Almost all art is, on some level, an expression of longing. It’s not hard to see that this exhibit was created by a man who longed for peace and happiness. I hope he eventually found them.
I never did warm up to that last Christmas card design. I finally just came up with a whole new design.
I’m digging this one. But now here we are in December, and it seems unlikely that I will finish it in time to print up cards and get them mailed out for Christmas. This last move pretty much took over a month of our lives, at just the wrong time for keeping up with holiday schedules.
It’s been a chilly, snowy week here in Denver. Our cartoon pony needs a cozy blanket.
I like my cartoon pony. I have named him Sunny.