Walking I1: The hardest 10 miles of the LA Loop
(Or the stairs that tried to kill me) by Scott Listfield
[This is our first guest blog! Dan Gutierrez comments are gray in square brackets]
Hi, my name is Scott Listfield and this is the story of how I, a relatively normal guy, walked I1, the stairsiest 10 miles in all of Los Angeles.
[I1 is code for the first half of 20 mile full Segment I of the Los Angeles Loop
Each of the 15 LA Loop segments has a letter code: A, B, C…H, I, J…M, N, O]
But first, a short preamble. I moved to Los Angeles almost 5 years ago and settled in Echo Park. One of the first things I noticed about my new neighborhood were the stairs running up the side of a large hill on the corner of my street. It ignited a strange sort of curiosity in me. I wanted to know where they went.
During the pandemic I began to grow tired of being so indoors all the time, and started taking longer and longer walks on the stairs in my neighborhood. It became my pandemic hobby, allowing me not only to get out of my own head for a little while, but to get to know my new city in a much more personal way. I downloaded a bunch of route maps from the SoCal Stair Climbers website to my phone, and they served as my guide to exploring Los Angeles, one stairway at a time.
Full disclosure: I am not especially athletic and by my general appearance you’d perhaps guess that I had spent most my formative years under fluorescent lighting. Despite these obstacles, over time I eventually worked my way up to some of the longer stair walks, through some of the steepest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. I felt like I was ready to tackle a 10 mile half-segment of the massive 305 mile Los Angeles Loop around LA County, which you can find on this very site. I began with stairs I knew the best – the ones closest to home. Which, as it turned out, are by far the hardest section of the entire loop. I am dumb sometimes. But if I could do it, you can, too.
And so, one vaguely murky day in March 2023, I found myself at the corner of Allesandro Street and Riverside Drive in the shadow of the SR-2 & I-5 interchange.
In about 7.5 miles I won’t be feeling super fresh, but right now I’ve got the giddy energy of someone who doesn’t know how in over their head they are. So let’s walk some stairs, shall we?
We’re off to a great start with one of my top 10 most disappointing stairways. These were built in conjunction with nearby condos and are one of the few stairs in the area that aren’t almost 100 years old. Not all old things are better than new things but as far as stairs go, give me a century old block of cement over awkwardly tall wooden steps filled in with pebbles which have now partially washed away. But hey, you take what you can get. If you’re finding this blog post in like, 2075, these pictures are from the especially wet winter of 2023. Things aren’t usually this grassy.
Not a stairs thing but make sure you keep an eye out for this sweet van, often parked along this route. It is, in every sense of the word, bitchin’.
Ok, enough with vans. Back to stairs. Below are some good old fashioned steps like the ones silent film stars used to drop heavy machinery down. I don’t think this one in particular was in any movies, but we’ll hit one that is in like 8 million more steps.
Spoiler alert: We’re going to be going up a lot of stairs and also sometimes down some stairs (see below). If this isn’t your thing you’ve come to the wrong blog, my friend.
I’m used to approaching the Fellowship Parkway (above) from the other side, but this is one of the real hidden gems of Echo Park. A small community accessible only by stairs. Would I want to try and deliver a refrigerator to this particular neighborhood? No I would not. But thankfully that’s not my problem to solve. I just get to walk through here, enjoying the babbling brook (right side of 3rd image), on my way from stairs to more stairs.
Ok, we’ve bottomed out of Echo Park’s weird but cool secret village and are now ready to roll up and down the many hills around Fargo and Baxter Streets – the 5th and 6th steepest streets in the United States, and notably great places for virally crashing Teslas (google that. Or don’t. Up to you). But I’m getting ahead of myself. This here is a stairway which I’m about to climb that has some colorful paint on the hand rails (see the video at the end for more).
I’m probably supposed to say nice things about the stairs on this route but these sidewalk steps on Ewing Street suuuuuuuuuuck. [Climbing the 30% grade on Ewing St proper is no picnic; the side-stairs with sidewalk in-between, were built to make it a little easier to climb this beast, compared to walking up the steeper street!]
A quick glance down Fargo Street (5th steepest in America), which used to be home to a long running annual bike hill climb event [that is working to reestablish itself after the city forced the street to be one-way downhill – Here is Dan Gutierrez climbing it on a special hill-bike he designed/built in 2008]. No thanks. Climbing up this thing was plenty for me.
The Cove St. steps look appropriately daunting. These were featured, via a stairway gag, in a 1922 Stan Laurel film The Pest, which I’ll admit is not front and center on my Netflix queue. But still. To think over 100 years ago they were filming movies on the exact spot where I’m trying not to cry is pretty cool.
Usually there aren’t so many clouds in this view, but again, this was shot in the weird winter of 2023 when we got a lot of weather. I’m taking a brief moment here to savor the view from the top, and to reattach my calves.
Before walking over to, and heading back down these guys (below).
Which bottom out in this hot mess (above). Usually the grass/mud situation is not quite so dire, but these are some of the last remaining wooden steps in the area and boy do they feel like old wooden steps when you walk on them. Do you remember the scene in Indiana Jones when he puts his foot through something ancient and almost falls to his death? Definitely don’t think about that scene when you walk on these stairs.
OK what is this nonsense? It’s not really a stairway. It’s kind of a ramp thing. I’m not sure if it was designed for people or horses or very small horses or like industrial runoff or what. Are there any historians reading this blog that can explain why every other hill in this part of town has a normal looking staircase and this road gets an Evel Knievel ramp? [I suspect this pair of ramps with stairway in the center was originally designed in the 1920s to allow delivery trucks to drive up to drop off large items, and also make walking easier]
So that super cool ramp that I love so much dead ends in a dirt trail, then you get to plow through some Jurassic sized aloe plants which btw are VERY pointy, and then you get some semi-rotten old wooden stairs as your reward. I’m starting to think whoever lived in this neighborhood in 1920 must have done something mean to the local stair building guild. [My guess is that there was originally a dirt path from the top of the concrete steps up to the street above, and the wooden steps were likely added decades later]
OK, we’re saying goodbye to this portion of Echo Park, and heading into the land of the giants [Elysian Heights]. Twin sets of stairs often mirror each other, on either side of Echo Park Ave, leading down the two steep hills to where the old red car trolley line used to run. This half stairway/half ramp thing runs down to Donaldson St.
Then we cross Echo Park Ave, walk past a local bus turnaround, and also this nifty looking shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, and we head back up the opposite side of the Donaldson St. Steps.
Enjoy this relatively normal sized stairway (above) while you can. The big ones are coming.
Mercifully this route (Preston Ave stairway above) doesn’t take us up and over Baxter Street itself – the 6th steepest street in America – although many of these stairs are built into the same hillside it traverses. Baxter Street recently became somewhat famous for a viral video of a crazy person jumping a Tesla up and over it. A school bus and a limo got stuck at the top. The city had to change portions of it to one way because the driving app Waze was sending poor unsuspecting drivers over it on their way to Dodger Stadium. In earlier years, it featured briefly [car jump in the same place as the Tesla jump] in the Beastie Boys Sabotage video, and probably made appearances in a number of silent films from 100 years ago. All because it looks completely and totally unreal, even as you are plummeting down it. But hey, we’re going to cut up this tiny stairway and avoid it.
^ And then down this small guy which leads to a short reappearance of Fargo Street, unconnected to the much steeper stretch of Fargo we showed in an earlier photo, on the other side of the hill.
^ Literally looming in the distance above are the Baxter Street steps. The longest continual stairway in this area. I’ve walked these stairs many times, but usually I do them in the early stretch of a walk. I’m already 4 miles (and a lot of stairs) into a 10 mile walk which I’m getting increasingly nervous about. I’ll be fine, right? Right?……Right?
The Baxter Street steps are broken up into many winding segments where the top looks nearby. This will lull you into a false sense of security. Don’t trust that sensation. It is a lie.
Made it to the top. Gonna take a moment and enjoy that sweet sweet oxygen. On a nice day you can get great views of the Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood sign from the top of the Baxter Street stairs. You know, if you’re not doubled over.
Here, just for the briefest of moments, we skirt the edge of Elysian Park and take in some really nice views of downtown. It’s tempting to bail at this point and go frolic in the wild flowers, but no. I’ve got 6 more miles of stairs to climb and my legs feel like pool noodles. but I’m committed now. Let’s do this.
The Avalon St. steps on the west side of Echo Park Ave look pretty daunting, but trust me, they’re cute compared to the Avalon St. steps coming up on the east side. Don’t believe me? No worries. You’ll see them looming ahead of you in a second. Is it too late to take up a different hobby? Has anybody tried needlepoint?
Oh. Hey. Coooool.
There they are, and they look enormous. The Avalon St. steps form a kind of twin towers with the Baxter St. steps just a few blocks up. I’ve walked these stairs a lot – possibly more than any others – but not usually smack in the middle of a 10 mile hike.
I’m having some regrets right now.
Part way up the Avalon Street steps. I’m taking a breather. Don’t judge me.
Ok, folks. At this point in the walk I have just cruised past both the halfway point, and my house, where in an alternate universe I could be comfortably sitting on a couch watching Netflix. [No Netflix or chill for you Scott! ;-)] Instead I’m already just over 5 miles and a whopping 163 flights of stairs [1,630 feet of climbing] into this walk. I’m pretty sure it was at this moment that I began to doubt my ability to finish this thing (and possibly my sanity for even attempting it).
Thankfully, after the behemoths in the middle of this walk, I’m due for a handful of smaller stairs as I wind my way down towards Glendale Blvd and the hills of Silverlake beyond. These guys (above) are a breeze.
Casting a quick glance down towards Glendale Blvd (above) and the next stairway on my list.
^ So according to the Health app on my iPhone, as I reached the top of the two Effie St stairways, I passed 185 flights [1,850 feet] climbed, and I’m starting to cramp up a little bit. My previous record was about 205 flights in one day. Yikes. So I took some time to stretch my legs and felt pretty sure that I’d coast through the rest of this thing.
Ha, just kidding. I was boned. I thought that having walked these stairs dozens of times before would have prepared me for this walk. What it did instead was left me uncomfortably aware of the suffering I had signed myself up for. The towering stairs of Silver Lake’s east side still loomed, and I knew it…
But first: ^ Whatever the hell this thing is.
Welcome to Silver Lake. Here (above) are some stairs to climb down and then go right back up again. Thanks, Silver Lake. Appreciate it.
Sigh…Down we go…And (oof) back up…
And then down some more…
It’s a little hard to tell from the pictures but at this point in my walk I’m also chasing the sunset. While some of the stairs are lit, most are not, and I’d prefer to get this thing done before sundown. Of course I’m about 7.5 miles in and I’ve climbed two and a half Empire State buildings, so I’m not exactly moving at full speed.
Down down down we go into the canyons and crevices of Silverlake. You know what they say about gravity and stair walking: what goes down must come up [Hey! That’s my quote! – sans gravity]. Or something like that.
And back up we go. This stairway-set starts inauspiciously enough, but don’t worry, there’s two more gigantic stairways lurking after this one. I’ve climbed these stairs enough to know that, which is why I’m crying just a tiny bit right now. (inarticulate gurgling noise) (light swearing)
There’s no feeling quite like getting to the top of a really big stairway and then realizing there’s an equally big stairway across the street.
You just want to slowly rewind time so that the wonderfully naive version of you from 30 seconds ago could exist forever.
If it sounds like I’m starting to hallucinate, it’s probably because at this point in the walk, blood is flowing out of my brain towards whatever situation is going on in my legs.
^ Taking a moment to admire the view and to curse the dying of the light.
^ Left: Under normal circumstances I quite enjoy this hummingbird & butterfly stairway, but my legs are starting to throb, and it looks super tall, and I’ve still got almost 2 miles left to go.
Right: Very nice. Truly lovely. Too bad the sun is disappearing beneath the neighboring hills and I’m cursing the coming blackness of the night.
[At this point in poor Scott’s trek, I need to jump in an explain why this walk was soooo much more of an ordeal for him than it should have been! Here we go.]
[Just down the hill from the hummingbird & butterfly stairway is the Silver Lake Recreation area. This is where Scott should have stopped at 8.4 miles and over 2,722 stairway up steps, leaving another 2,251 up-steps for I2. The only problem is that Scott went out and walked Segment I1 well before I had decided to put the stop here, instead of doing the literal half-segment distance of walking 10 miles and climbing 3,175 stairway up-steps, which is what Scott did on this walk, and what we did on the 20 mile versions of this walk in past years. It had not occurred to me that anyone would try the hardest half-segment as a solo walk well before we walked this as a group event! Sorry Scott, I didn’t mean for this walk to be so hard for you! Now back to Scott’s ordeal…]
OK, the Redesdale/Landa stairs overlooking the Silver Lake reservoir is one of my favorite set of stairs in all of LA and I’ve never been here at sunset and so even though I’ve had to limp most of the way up this hill to get here, I’m super excited to see the view from the top. [Also one of my favorites – Artsy scanned panorama]
^ Haha. The sun sets in the west. This view looks east. And also it’s kind of cloudy so you can’t really see the mountain views that you normally get from up here.
Guys, I found the sunset. It’s in the other direction. Of course it is.
^ Left: You might recognize these blue steps from one of the Painted Stairways Tour stair-walks. Ironically, it looks quite lovely in the fading blue of impending nightfall.
Middle: I hope you enjoy how nice these two towering painted Swan Pl stairways look at twilight. I’d like to say I was enjoying their splendor, too, but my legs at this point weren’t working super great and I’ve clearly already lost the race against the setting sun, which feels like there’s a larger metaphor of the futility of mankind’s endeavors in there somewhere, but I’m more focused on trying to get up to the top of a couple hundred more stairs before my legs fall off.
Right: God damn it. [100 more painful/beautiful steps]
^ Left: OK, it’s definitely dark out now, and I might have to flip on the flashlight on my phone to get down these things. They really are lovely though, so if you take anything away from this ridiculous blog post I’m writing about my stair walking misadventures it’s this: you can do it. Just be smarter about it than I was.
Right: Behold the majesty of Silver Lake after dark. (I need some Bengay)
^ Good news for you nightwalkers, this stairway has lights! Sort of…
^ The lights come on in downtown LA and I find myself a character in an old noir film: a shadowy figure, limping through the streets at night, possibly with nefarious motives or maybe just a guy who wishes he started this stair walk a little bit earlier in the day.
^ Left: Haha, it’s really dark now. There’s a stairway down there somewhere.
^Right: Finishing up the very last stairway of this walk. I’m not going to lie, I way overdid it on this one. But I don’t say this to dissuade you, or to make it seem scarier than it is. Much in the way that (I assume?) people run marathons (I’ve never run one, so I’m guessing here, they seem painful), I wanted to push myself to see if I could do all 10 miles of the densest stretch of stairs in the city. Was I super smart about it? Haha, no. I should have set out earlier to avoid racing the sunset. I should have paced myself better, taken some breaks, sat down once or twice. I could have broken up the route a bit better, perhaps tacked on some of the large stairs at the end onto I2, which is on the whole a much easier stretch. But these are the stairs I have walked the most over the previous few years. I know most of them quite well. I even passed by my house along this route. I took this as a challenge to myself, not only a physical one (which I passed, although just barely), but as a test to know my city and my neighborhood better than I did the day before. There’s nothing quite like crying at the bottom of a stairway as the sun slowly fades beneath the neighboring hills to imprint memories on you. I’ll forever remember these streets and these stairways. The pain of it will fade in time but the memories won’t.
I mean, I hope, right?
Here’s the final tally from my iPhone of my day’s walk. Just to give you some perspective, most of the other segments of the loop top out at something like 120-150 floors [1,200 to 1,500 feet of climb]. This one was QUITE a bit more than that. So prepare yourself. Pace yourself. For God’s sake, take a lunch break or something part way through. [The place where Scott ended was the lunch break on the 20 mile version of this walk!] Learn from my mistakes, people. Now get out there and walk some stairs!
[One final bit to add. If you would like to see what Scott walked as a continuous video, I am embedding the hyperlapse video I shot of Segment I. The part he walked is from the start to 19:06 at the 10 mile mark in the video below]