Greg Cummings is sipping protein drinks and munching protein bars after another morning of going up and down the Manitou Incline — then again, then again, then again, then again and then once more.
Six trips on the punishing trail climbing nearly 2,000 feet in less than a mile. Just another day in the 61-year-old’s pursuit to climb the steps as many times as he can on the calendar year.
He’s exhausted, so forgive him if he stumbles while trying to explain the toll a mission like this takes on his home life.
“I’m so tired, it’s hard to even concentrate sometimes … It’s just, I’m not as loving and kind, shall we say, as I would normally be when you’re well rested and hydrated and got the right fuel in you and blood sugar is good and on and on. You’re not as good of company, shall we say.
“So, yeah. My wife is a very wonderful, enduring individual.”
She knows this obsession with the Incline all to well, because Greg has held the record for most ascents in a year twice (601 times in 2010, 1,400 in 2014). Now the number to beat is 1,719.
Mostly, Alison’s concern has to do with that blood sugar. She won’t be there if he goes down, there to save his life again.
With Type 1 diabetes, Greg constantly has tried to balance his insulin. Too much or too little can leave him unconscious, a state Alison has found him in several times through their 37 years of marriage. Once, he was seizing, his face slamming against a tile floor.
He assures her he’s got friends on the Incline, the regular posse up there making sure he’s OK. He’s got his blood-sugar monitor. He’s pricking his finger constantly on the way up and down. He comes home with a bunch of bloody Kleenex to prove it.
“He does the best he can,” Alison says, “and there’s nothing I can do.”
She told Greg straight up she would divorce him if he tried to reclaim his record, beaten by good friend Roger Austin in 2015. And Greg knew that threat to be real. In 2014, “it was a very stressful time,” he says, because of course he wasn’t sleeping much — maybe five hours a night while waking up frequently to check his blood sugar before climbing through the morning darkness — and because he was juggling a 9-to-5, and because divorce seemed terrifyingly possible.
Greg has kept his Inclining in check the past few years. Just a trip or two maybe three times a week. But as a newly retired man, he’s had more time available. More time to think about that record.
“He wanted it so bad that I had to say, ‘OK, I’m in. I’m going on this journey with you,’” Alison says.
Since Jan. 12, his goal has been simple and, in his own words, “absurd:” Climb the Incline as many times as he can by Jan. 11, 2020.
He’s not exactly committing to a record, but “I have no doubt,” reads a text message from Austin, mending a knee replacement (he doesn’t entirely blame the Incline). “He is fully capable, is not working, and has his wife’s blessing. He can literally spend all day there, every day if he wants.”
Cummings does not intend to take a day off for the next 316 days. As of last weekend, he was averaging five ascents a day, despite being slowed by snow that he’s had to sweep with a trusty, hard-bristled broom. He’ll spend 10 hours on the mountain, tracking himself via GPS and Strava to verify his efforts. Further evidence are the selfies he takes each time at the top, posing with placards on which he writes the summit number and “Camp Wapiyapi.”
He’s raising money for the Woodland Park summer camp, which hosts kids with cancer at no cost to their families.
“These kids certainly did nothing wrong,” Cummings says, seemingly on the verge of tears. “They didn’t do anything to deserve it, and all of a sudden they come up with a diagnosis of cancer. It just really tugs at my heartstrings.”
His diagnosis came at 24. He always dreaded diabetes, as his mom had it, but he pushed fears away with an active lifestyle. By then, he had summited Denali and Mount Aconcagua, climbed to the Mount Everest base camp and trekked most of the Continental Divide between Mexico and Canada.
The diagnosis “changed the man,” says Alison, whom he had married months prior. “I think for a long time, it was like caging an eagle, because he had such a passion for mountaineering.”
He’s always needed to climb, she understands. She hasn’t supported his other Incline fests, but now she says she does.
One more time, she told him. One more time, he promised.
“It will never be considered again in my mind,” he tells himself. “I’m not going to spend another year of my life doing this. No way.”
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