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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.
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.
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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.