Most people feel accomplished if they complete the Manitou Incline—a hiking trail near Colorado Springs that climbs 2,744 steps and 2,000 feet of elevation over a single mile—just once. Not Greg Cummings and Roger Austin. Over the past decade, they’ve engaged in a game of one-upmanship to see who can scale the steep hill the most times in a year. With Cummings on pace to surpass Austin’s current record of 1,719 ascents this month, 5280 spoke to the Colorado Springs residents about their intense up-again, up-again relationship.

Mounting Tension

Greg Cummings: In 2010, there wasn’t a definitive record. I wanted to climb the same amount of elevation that the International Space Station orbits at, which is 1.31 million vertical feet. It just seemed like such a large number. I did 601 ascents of the incline and a few trips up other mountains in the area. Overall, it totaled just under 1.4 million vertical feet.

Roger Austin: I heard about Greg doing it 601 times, and in 2013, I set a reasonable goal of 500. As I got closer, I figured I could beat his total. I didn’t want an arbitrary number, so I came up with 719—the Colorado Springs area code. Before I finished, though, Greg had already started trying to beat me and ended with 1,400. I thought, All right, you just threw down the gauntlet. I ran it 1,719 times the next year.

Hurdles On The Incline

GC: I have type 1 diabetes, which means I have to take insulin every time I need to process carbohydrates. Otherwise I die. So I can’t always eat while inclining because I have to follow [food] with insulin, and insulin wipes me out.

RA: Both times I broke the record I had a full-time job. I was working nine hours a day for the city. I honestly can’t tell you how I did it. I was dead to the world.

Falling Out Of Step

RA: One day, I did it 13 times, and on my last trip down I stepped off the edge, fell a long way, and landed on my back. I was bloody everywhere. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t split my head open. Some lady asked if I wanted her to call 911. I said no because I hate it when the incline gets bad publicity. I just kept going down.

GC: In October of this year, I got disoriented and fell backward. I tried to put my right foot down to stop myself but missed the step. I hit my hip on a rock and think I got a small fracture. I’m in a lot of pain, but I still plan to finish this month.

The End Runs

RA: I doubt I’ll try to beat Greg’s record. Maybe if I stop working. It’s a year commitment, and I’d rather do something else with my time.

GC: I will not be doing this again, I can tell you that for sure. If someone breaks the record after this, it is all his or hers. This is no longer fun.

This article was originally published in 5280 January 2020.
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan
Shane Monaghan is the former digital editor of and teaches journalism at Regis Jesuit High School.