June 13th, 2016
Bay Area Stairways: mini-vacation/route scouting
Over the last half year or so, I have been interested in visiting the stairways of the Berkeley Hills below Lake Anza, and the stairways in central and northeast areas of San Francisco. This past weekend, June 3rd through 7th, 2016, I had my chance to take a mini-vacation and walk three of four challenging routes I had planned, one in the Berkeley Hills, and then two in central San Francisco, on three consecutive days. I set out to enjoy the high density (proximity) of stairs, much higher than in Silver Lake, obtain step counts (something the locals have apparently not done and not placed online), and have great workouts. What follows is a description of my explorations, starting with Berkeley.
Berkeley Hills Southeast Loop – June 4th, 2016
The full set of walk photos of the features on the above map, can be found on Facebook, in this publicly accessible Berkeley Stair Tour photo album. And here is the link to the Berkeley Hills Southeast Stair Tour Google Map, seen in the photo above.
As you can see from the map and legend, this is not an easy walk. The route starts at Marin Fountain Circle, at lower elevation (house with flag symbol at the left side of the map), and works it way up and over the top of the ridge traversed by Grizzly Peak Blvd, to Lake Anza, and then back snaking its way in a very convoluted path, up and down a number of large stairways, with three crossing points and on up/down, and another down/up of stairways along the route. The morning I walked it, was cool, almost cold and overcast, making for relatively low water consumption. so here is how the walk progressed. The start at the circle was peaceful at shortly after 7am. Below is a photo of the circle taken the afternoon before, in better lighting conditions. Marin Avenue (which we descend at the end of the route) is behind the circle rising steeply upward, and the fountain walk is to the right.
The area is wetter and vegetation more lush than we have in southern California, so there are plenty of pines, firs and coast redwoods along the route, making it part urban hike, part forest walk, as you will see in later photos. The first 20 stairways, in the early miles had relatively low step counts, in the 10 to 50 step range, and essentially all have street signs naming them as either a walk, path or steps. A few had plaques giving the history of the route. Here is the plaque for the La Loma Steps in red brick, along with a shot of the lower flight, plaque to the left, and brown street sign to the right.
Here is another stairway, on Virginia St, with plaque that explains the curved roads and stairways of the area near the plaque, all of which are visited on this route!
After this 3.5 mile jaunt in the lower hills, we made our way to the Berkeley Rose Garden, a natural hillside formed into an amphitheater covered in rose bushes. The early morning overcast sky photo does not do it justice. Do notice that it is an ideal stair-walking location, with a long stairway with 74 steps in the background leading down to the amphitheater, with a series of shorter stairways leading up through the rose terraces, including the one I climbed in the foreground.
Beyond the amphitheater, to the left in the above photo is a nice set of restrooms, open early in the morning, and water. Here is a panorama shot of the restrooms and water, notice how nicely they blend in with the foliage, showing a stairway on the left that serves as our exit from the rose garden and back to the stair-walk route. When I run this walk as a group event, we will use the Rose Garden as our first restroom/water/snack stop.
Beyond the Rose Garden I climbed up and down a couple of smaller stair-streets to reach the first of many larger climbs for the day, on the 184 step Tamalpias stairway, which climbs through a park, but is very much a concrete stair-street like the ones we know in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, except, you cross a wooden footbridge to reach the bottom of the stairway. Note the well crafted, curved lower flight of the stairway in the photo below to the left, and the long set of upper flights on the slightly blurry right side.
From the top of the stairway, the route climbs five, 100+ step stairways, for a total of 774 steps in just a few tenths of a mile, to reach to top of the ridge separating the Berkeley Hills where we started, from the parkland at Lake Anza. Then the route descends back toward Berkeley descending three stairways, and 343 down-steps, before climbing the largest single stairway on the tour, the 233 step, Norgate Path. Here are shots of typical stairways of this area, first the Covert Path stairway set (lower left, upper right), with not always so evenly spaced and sometimes tilted, wooden block steps that are common in this part of the Berkeley Hills causing more energy expenditure than smooth regular concrete steps (camera focus/shake creates blur, but is ‘good enough’):
Yes, those two stairways together, one right after the other is a 338 step stairway set. And the Norgate path with 233 steps is also quite a tough climb on wooden steps. This next photo sequence shows the bottom of the stairway in the lower photo, then 4 shots along the long climb up the foliage rich hillside, reaching the 6 mile mark in the walk just past the top of the stairway.
I was definitely feeling the effort of the last 1000+ steps of climbing as I walked along a few streets to reach the start of another 8 stair-climbs, nearly 800 up-steps, and 1.5 miles of distance, prior to the mile and a half of pathway trek to the lunch stop. However, before I reached the first of those 8 climbs, three things happened. First, I found that Glendale/La Loma Park has a functioning water fountain, helpful for any future events on this route!
Second, I walked right into an unexpected 18 step side-stair (stair-steps built into the sidewalk) on Glendale, then crossed the street to get a better look at it – see photo below:
Third, I turned around after shooting the side-stair, and immediately noticed deer walking up the street into a vegetated area. I shot video, and a few photos; this one is the best:
Then to the left of the deer, I began the 800 up steps starting with the Upper La Loma Path, which is not so much a stairway as it is a grassy hillside with some 150+ wooden blocks shoved into it, as I hope you can see in this photo below:
Along the way, we met some friendly cats; a talkative little lion on the left and a very playful gray and white purr-ball on the right.
I also found some gaps in the trees to take a few photos of the San Francisco Bay, this one showing the Golden Gate Bridge towers rising out of the fog, just left of center:
The last path of the eight I climbed to the the ridge-top, had an interesting entry marker, a wooden post, more like a trail marker, with “Atlas Path” written vertically, rather than the ubiquitous street poles marking the other paths, lower down the hill.
At the top of the Altas Path stairway, one has already traversed 45 stairways, which come much faster than they do in Silver lake, so you have less recovery time/distance between stairways, making for a more difficult kind of walk, and the uneven nature of the wooden steps adds an extra dimension of difficulty to the route. After crossing the ridge, I walked for over a mile on the Selby Trail, that first paralleled a golf course, then crossed a road to head toward Lake Anza. It was amazingly beautiful, like being in an isolated coastal forest of mixed deciduous/coniferous trees, as can be seen in the series of 4 photos below:
And then after about 3/4 of a mile on the Selby Trail, I happened upon a small stairway with 6 large steps connecting the trial down from a parking lot to the continuation toward Lake Anza. Here are two photos, the first of the stairs as I approached them from above and another after I descended them, looking back at them.
After another quarter mile or so I reached the fork between the Selby Trail and the Lake Anza Trail, a very welcome sight to my tired legs, since I knew the lunch stop was near. Here are two photos of the sign and the trail fork, the right side leading to the lake and its recreation area, with restrooms, water and a snack bar with very pricey food.
Following the right fork to the patio area brings me to my lunch stop at 8 and 3/4 miles. Here is a tired lunchtime selfie with my sandwiches and Camelback hydration pack, which is also tired and slumped in a chair. Yes, that is a woman growing out of the back of my head; I had to have her surgically removed by Lake Anza rec center staff! 😉
After an hour of lunch and some recuperation, I continued on the Selby Trail to the point where it connects back up on a side trail up to Wildcat Canyon Road, which is to the left and above the scene in this photo:
From Wildcat Canyon Road, heading back 1/4 mile toward Lake Anza, but above it, I shot this panorama where part of the lake is visible below the red arrow in the image:
Continuing on for another few tenths of a mile, at about the 9.5 mile point in the walk, I reached the Fred Herbert Path, a triple set of stairways climbing a total of 271 wooden steps, the bottom of which is in the photo below.
In the upper reaches of both sides of the ridge traversed by Grizzly Peak Blvd, stairways are almost always wood, and the roads have no sidewalks, with concrete stairways and sidewalks being preferred on the lower slopes. I was feeling OK, but not real strong after lunch, and so I started climbing again, and for the next half mile to reach Crescent Park, a small park surrounded by residences at the 10 mile mark in the walk. Here is a panorama of the park with grassy field and playground equipment.
At the far northeastern end of the park, near the center of this panorama, was a verified functional drinking fountain, as can be seen in this pair of photos:
So this park can serve as a water stop for a future event on this route. From the park, I climbed up and down a series of mostly large stairways and noticed some figurines along the Lower El Mirador stairway, which I captured in the photo pair below. The writing on the figurine says:
“A dog makes a family a home. May angels watch over your pet.”
I continued the zig-zag of up and down large stairways, until just past the 12 mile mark, when I happened upon Remillard Park, noticing a bonus stairway, to the left in the first photo below, to add to the route, as well as two climbers who reached the top of a large rock with a vertical face, shortly before I reached them at the far western end of the park, as can be seen in the second of the two photos below.
From the park, more climbing and descending on large stairways, 2 up, one down than another up, I descended a few blocks down Marin Ave, and turned right heading eastward on to Euclid Ave, reaching the final up-stairway of the day, and none too soon, as I was pretty tired from all the climbing on uneven steps on so many large stairways along the route. This is the Billie Jean Walk, with 143 up steps.
It was such a relief to reach the top, knowing that the final 4 stairways were all taken in the down direction! I was definitely feeling all the climbing I had done, and was concerned that I might be too blasted from this effort to do the Mosaic Loop in San Francisco the next day; more on that in a future blog post. As I continued toward the first of the remaining 4 stairways, I happened upon a pleasant woman gardening in the parkway in front of her home, with her feline protector surveying the area. She told me that her cat would chase away any dog that came near her.
As I approached in the street above her, so as to not walk directly at the cat, the cat took about three steps back and up the sidewalk, then proceeded to hiss at me as I walked away. Apparently I rate somewhere near dog, in the this cat’s estimation! That silly scene put a smile on my face, and I proceeded to glide down the last 4 stairways, ending up at the base of the Lower Easter Way stairway, as can be seen in the photo below.
That’s it, no more stairways! Now all I have to do is walk a few blocks down super-steep Marin Avenue to reach the Fountain Circle where I started. The walk down Marin was uneventful, and I was soon where I started, and took a post walk selfie, with the section of Marin Avenue I just descended in the background behind the fountain.
My eyes look tired after 14.25 miles of walking, climbing 3,882 feet, on 49 up-stairways totaling 3,971 up-steps, and 24 down-stairways totaling 1,608 down-steps. I am very happy to have scouted and mapped this route, which I will want to run as a road-trip stair-walking event in the future! If you like challenging stair-walks, then you’ll love this route.
In my next two blog posts I will cover the two San Francisco loops I completed on the following two days.
– Dan Gutierrez –