The terms stairway, staircase, stairs, and even steps, are often used interchangeably, but do they all really mean the same thing? And what about flights, landings, steps, treads and risers? What do they mean? Keep reading to find out what they mean, and why you will usually hear me use the term stairway when I describe sets of steps.
Let’s start with basic definitions and illustrative diagrams, so you can learn the lingo. I used the various Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions, in blue text, and added diagrams so you can easily visualize what the terms look like on example stairways. Further down the page, I provide the terms we use in the stair-walking community, in green text, to describe things like stair-streets, and side-stairs.
Step – 1: a rest for the foot in ascending or descending: as one of a series of structures consisting of a riser and a tread
Tread – 2a: the upper horizontal part of a step
Riser – 2: the upright member between two stair treads
Flight – 6a : a continuous series of stairs from one landing or floor to another
Landing – 3 : a level part of a staircase (as at the end of a flight of stairs)
Stair (see stairway) – 1 : a series of steps or flights of steps for passing from one level to another —often used in plural but singular or plural in construction 2 : a single step of a stairway
Stairway (see stair) – 1: one or more flights of stairs usually with landings to pass from one level to another
The Donaldson West stairway in Silver Lake, rests on the dirt hillside, and has no case or other support structure
You can think of a stairway as only the set of stair-steps (and landings), without a support structure, since a set of stair-steps (and landings) resting on a hillside does not need an added support structure (such as a case or well) to provide structural support, they do just fine with the ground itself as their structural support, as you can see for the stairway to the right. You can imagine that the 2 flights and single landing shown in the diagram above, and to the right, is resting on a hill side. This is just like the upper flights of 231 step Baxter st stairway that climbs from where the Baxter roadway ends at Avon, up to Park, seen at the top of this blog, so it is a stairway and NOT a staircase!
This definition is also analogous (similar) to a walkway, roadway, or even a drive way, which is a way (a place or route), made of stairs and/or landings, typically to climb a hill or to rise above some barrier. A typical outdoor stairway would be one that is built onto a hillside, like the many stairways in Silver Lake, such as Baxter, Earl, or Loma Vista. Stairway is the most general term to use, since staircases or stairwells, are stairways set in, and supported by cases or wells respectively, but many stairways, and certainly most public stair-street stairways, are NOT staircases or stairwells (though a few are). Here is a video showing the beautifully painted Heidelman St stairway with 234 steel reinforced concrete steps resting on the hillside.
Staircase – 1: the structure containing a stairway 2: a flight of stairs with the supporting framework, casing, and balusters
These two staircase definitions, taken together, are similar to that of a bookcase, which is a case or structure containing/supporting bookshelves. You can think of a staircase as a stairway held by a case, where each tread in a staircase is like a shelf in a bookcase. Staircases are structures that usually exist inside buildings, or are attached to them. A typical wooden two-story home staircase is really just a tall bookcase that is built at an angle, instead of vertical, so that the ‘bookshelves’ are offset, and serve as the steps. Note the brown wooden treads in the diagram above and to the right, there are no separate risers in the staircase, where the case itself, acts as the risers for the treads. Those three structural case elements holding the treads are called stringers. Although most staircases are wooden and indoor, there are a few outdoor woodenb staircases. Here is a video of a staircase on Eldred St, with 196 wooden steps, which is your reward for climbing a 33% grade to get there!
A square helical stairwell on the inside of a tall building
Stairwell 1: a vertical shaft in which stairs are located
Stairwells are really a subset of staircases, set in a shaft or building interior, typically with stair flights alternating directions, or wrapping around in a square helix, like the one in the photo at right, to stay within the well. Think of the stairs we walk in multi-story buildings; those are stairwells. So a stairwell is a staircase inside a well (or shaft). Sometimes a stairwell will exist along the outside side of a building, or even along the face of a steep drop, where the structure, usually 4 corner support beams, instead of being in a shaft or well, are free-standing.
Here is a video of a 104 step stairwell on the California State University at Long Beach (CSULB) campus in the Psychology building going up from the basement to the 4th floor.
So how are stairways, staircases and stairwells related?
All stairwells are staircases, but not all staircases are stairwells.
All staircases are stairways, but not all stairways are staircases.
This Venn Diagram shows the relationships:
Stair-Walking Community Definitions
This stair-street in San Pedro connects Gaffey St below, up to Elberon Avenue which goes over the bridge
Stair-Street – A stairway that connects two streets, either up a hill, or up across and then down, to go over a hill or other barrier, like a freeway, or rail line. Stair-streets can be either perpendicular between two parallel streets, or as the continuation of a street to a perpendicular street (think T), or as a stairway continuation of two discontinuous sections of a street.
This side-stair, where the sidewalk on this steep hill is a stairway, is in El Sereno on Academy Rd
Additionally, another kind of stair-street, called a Side-Stair (in analogy to side-walk) occurs when the sidewalk of a street – typically on a steep-hill – contains partial stair steps or sidewalk’s entire width is a series of stair-steps. Stair-streets are pedestrian connections where cars cannot travel, or allow pedestrians to climb steep streets on stair-steps. We mark stair-streets (and side-stairs) with circular markers on the Google maps, with color indicating the number of steps.
Maltman Ave walk-street in Silver Lake continues down the steep sidewalk to the lower section of Maltman Ave
Walk-Street – A walkway connection without stairs, though it may have ramps (a few are very steep), usually between the sidewalks of two streets, usually to allow peds to walk past some same-level barrier, like a house, building, or park, that cause the street to have a gap. In the photo to the right, the street does not continue, but the “sidewalk” does go down the hill to the street below as a steep ramp, with no stairs. Walk streets can also go over/under barriers as POCs/PUCs, but with ramps instead of stairs. Thus all POCs/PUCs are either stair-streets or walk-streets, depending on whether or not they have stairs. We mark walk-streets with circular markers on the Google maps, with white, or light gray color indicating there are no steps.
The entry stairway at the Hollywood and Highland mall is not a stair-street
Non-Stair-Street Stairways – A stairway that does not connect two streets, either because it is a dead-end stairway, of connects a street and a walkway, or connects two walkways. Such stairways are often at the beach, or in parks, or even shopping malls. They are still useful stairways for stair-walking, but are not stair-streets. I usually refer to these as “stairways” as opposed to “stair-streets”. We mark these stairways with star-shaped markers on the Google maps, with the same colors indicating the number of steps as we use for stair-streets.
Pedestrian Over-Crossing or POC is a pedestrian bridge that crosses over a barrier. When a POC serves as the continuation of a street or sidewalk that was severed by a freeway and/or rail line barrier, to a street on the other side, and climbs/descends stairs to go over the barrier, then it is a stair-street.
The Caldwell St, stair-street pedestrian over-crossing of the Blue Line Both bridge support towers are free-standing staircases/stairwells
If the type of POC described above, has ramps instead of stairs, or is level with the bridge, then it is a walk-street. OTOH, many POCs are not Stair-Street or Walk-Streets, because they connect streets to walkways, or walkways to walkways, such as the ones in shopping malls, or parks. Stair/walk-street POCs are often built to serve as ways for peds, usually children, to safely cross over main streets, freeways or rail lines, usually to reach nearby schools. We mark POCs with square markers on the Google maps, with white, or light gray color for no steps, and the same colors indicating the number of steps as we use for the stair-streets.
The Selby Ave pedestrian under-crossing of Olympic Blvd, which allows school-children to safely cross Olympic via a tunnel with stairways
Pedestrian Under-Crossing or PUC is a pedestrian tunnel that crosses under a barrier. When a PUC serves as the continuation of a street or sidewalk that was severed by a freeway and/or rail line barrier, to a street on the other side, and descends/climbs stairs to go under the barrier, then it is a stair-street. If the type of POC described above, has ramps instead of stairs, or is level with the tunnel, then it is a walk-street. OTOH, many PUCs are not Stair-Street or Walk-Streets, because they connect streets to walkways, or walkways to walkways, such as the ones in shopping malls, or parks. Stair/walk-street PUCs are often built to serve as ways for peds, usually children, to safely cross under main streets, freeways or rail lines, usually to reach nearby schools. We mark PUCs with diamond markers on the Google maps, with white, or light gray color for no steps, and the same colors indicating the number of steps as we use for the stair-streets.
Finally, here is the coding we use for our Google maps. Please note that we drop suffixes on Ped Over-Crossings and Ped Under Crossings, and simply use the color to distinguish where they have stairs or not.
Note: Not everyone agrees that POCs/PUCs with stairways, connecting two streets, or continuing a street, are stair-streets, however, these are the definitions we use for SoCal Stair Climbers maps, routes and events. Additionally, Bob Inman of Guide to the Stairways of Los Angeles sets a lower limit of 10 steps for considering a stairway to be a stair-street for his maps, and Doug Beyerlein of Friends of Public Stairs sets the lower limit at 100 steps for a stairway to be considered a stair-street in his maps. I don’t set a lower limit, but I do mark those with less than 10 steps with a different color on my Google maps.
Though I have taken business trips to Seattle in the past, I was recently able to spend a day walking Seattle stairways for the first time as part of a work trip on the 12th of October, 2016. I didn’t have too much time to plan a stair-walk before I flew to Seattle, so I did the most efficient thing I could think of, starting with the Seattle All Stairs Google Map with over 650 stairways identified. In looking at the map, I noticed that the Queen Anne region has a high density series of stairways in a natural loop, that looked to be about 15 miles long if connected in a zig-zag through route, characteristic of stair-walks:
Queen Anne Region Excerpt of the Seattle All Stairs Google Map
This is a perfect distance for a day walk for me with a lunch break; enough distance to get a good workout, but not so long that I would be too sore to fly back to LAX the next morning. I had at first thought that I might be able to be lazy, and simply combine the three, 4 mile or so, red line routes together, to make a longer route. However, that would have entailed having about as many stairways climbed as descended, and that goes against my normal habit of climbing as many stairways as I can, so I decided to build my own route from the base set of stairways. Thankfully Susan Ott and Dave Ralph, who built the Seattle All Stairs map, put photos and step counts in the markers for all of the stairways, so I copied those markers into a Google map of my own, and changed the marker shapes and colors to match the conventions I use in my own route maps, as a stairway layer. Then knowing that the stairways tend to climb radially toward the center of the Queen Anne hill, and thanks to Doug Beyerlein, there is a safe pay parking lot by Roy and 3rd Ave N which I was able to use as my start/finish location, I was able to draw a route on a separate layer, that circulated counterclockwise in a 15+ mile loop. The originally drawn loop had close to 100 stairways (the actual total is 108 stairways including the ones I added, and other where multiple stairways were lumped together on the Seattle All stairs map), all the way around Queen Anne, as can be seen in this Queen Anne 15 Mile Loop Google Map. Here is an augmented still-image version of this map, with mileage flags numbered, the start identified, and including stairway/elevation stats:
Augmented Google route map with mileage flags numbered and stats legend.
For my Los Angeles stair-walking friends, please note the super-high density of stairs, an average of 6 per mile, meaning that on average you don’t even have to walk 2/10ths of the mile to reach the next stairway! We don’t have anything like that in LA County, and even Silver Lake at best has a density of between 2 and 3 stairways per mile. You will also notice that the route is not a perfect through walk, since there are a small number of turnarounds, of necessity to keep the route shorter and the stairways mostly taken in the up direction. The photos below are but a small sampling of the hundreds I shot along the route, view-able in this publicly available Queen Anne Loop Facebook album.
The Morning Stairways
I drove early in the AM from my hotel by Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, having breakfast along the way, to the public parking structure on 3rd Ave N, between Mercer and Roy, that’s a short distance north of the Space Needle. The drive was uneventful, and I was raring to go on a stair-walk. The Queen Anne Loop didn’t disappoint! From the corner of Roy and 3rd, located at the southernmost point on the route, and to the east of center, I started my Runkeeper route track, and began my trek northward up the hill to the first stairway pair on 3rd Ave, climbing 120 conventional concrete steps, with great views of the Space Needle. Here’s a photo pair I shot the day before, in good afternoon light.
Left: The bottom 3rd Ave N stairway pair Right: View of the Space needle from the top
For the most part, the stairways in the early portion of the route were similar to the first, concrete with one or two hand rails. All were useful pedestrian transportation routes allowing direct access to steep hillside/hilltop narrow streets, not directly reachable by car. The region is primarily a large bedroom community of narrow/hilly grid streets, and stairways when the hills become too steep for road links. Also noteworthy are the super-tall radio towers, like the one use by KING-FM, which can be seen in this photo of another stairway on 3rd Ave N, located above the stairway-pair in the previous photo.
The 784 feet high KING-FM Radio Tower above the upper 3rd Ave N stairway
Continuing westward, one of the stairways, 1st Ave W, at just over a mile into the route, had an interesting configuration, with a low left and high right side sidewalk because of a cross slope. The stairway leading from this dead-end street to the street above had a common upper stairway, and a second stairway to bring the left lower sidewalk up to the lever of the upper right side sidewalk. Here is a photo I shot of this 87 step, stairway pair in the dim and hazy morning light.
Stairway pair on 1st Ave W. Note the low left side and high right side sidewalks.
After another pleasant mile of zig-zagging westward up stairways and down streets, I arrived at Kerry Park, a wonderful observation point for viewing downtown Seattle, the Space Needle, the waterfront, and Mt Rainier. This is my friend Lotus Lou’s favorite observation spot in all of Seattle, and having visited this lovely park, I can see why she feels this way! The lighting in the early part of the day was less than optimal.
Kerry Park – Note the long morning shadows.
Here is a shot from Kerry Park, where I was standing so that the foliage to my left obscures the low angle sun from washing out the entire scene with glare. There is some glare, but not enough to obscure the fantastic view! You can even see a bird above Mt Rainier. If this were Portland, I’d have to say that nature “put a bird on it”! 😉
The view of downtown Seattle, the Space Needle, and Mt Rainier from Kerry Park
Continuing past the two mile mark and more stairs up-roads down, walking through quiet older residential neighborhoods, I rounded the bend at the west side of the region to head northward. On the next upward climb, I reached a very tall and long concrete retaining wall, the Wilcox Wall, that has a rather ornate pair of substantial 72 step stairways connecting the upper and lower parallel 8th Ave/8th Place roadways that it separates. It is impressive engineering, nestles in the tree covered slopes of the region.
The Wilcox Wall – Note the symmetric pair of 72 step stairways leading up from either side.
We don’t have any stairways along a massive retaining wall like this in Los Angeles County, so it really stood out to me as a first time visitor of Seattle stairways. I climbed then descended the right stairway in this photo (one of those turnarounds I mentioned earlier), then later on descended the left stairway shortly after the three mile mark in the route. After another mile of stairway climbing northward, and descending through quiet residential neighborhoods, I descended through a 12th & Howe Park, and noticed a stairway to the right of, and behind a sandbox, descending down a hillside (upper image). I was curious to see where it went, so I walked over to the top of it, and then observed that it leads down to a long metal children’s slide, resting on the hillside, with a stairway leading from bottom to the top (lower image). This design is new to me. Check it out:
12th & Howe Park – Top: Sandbox, with stairway at rear. Bottom: Slide below on hillside
I saw this same design in at least one other park along the route. On the subject of new designs, many times throughout the route, I also noticed another design feature that I had not seen previously, and that is the use of raised perpendicular vertical bars on steep sidewalks and walkways. I presume they exist to both improve foot traction, and act to prevent water from flowing in the direction of walking, instead channeling the frequent rainwater off to the sides of the sidewalk. Sometimes the bars only extend halfway across the sidewalk. Maybe one of my Seattle friends can tell me the reasons for these features. Here is a pair of morning photos of raised concrete bars:
After more up stairs and down hills on residential streets, and loving the the fact that I don’t even have to walk 2/10ths of a mile between stairways, and after passing the 5 mile mark, I have come to the end of the blue colored line 1st segment of the loop at 15th Ave W and W Boston St. After a short walk north on 15th, I reached an interesting progression of 5 stairways, totaling 256 up-steps on Wheeler St. The first stairway was at the end of a dead-end section of Wheeler, and I was greeted by a wooden bear statue! I couldn’t tell if it was placed on the stump or carved from the original tree, though I suspect the former!
The lower Wheeler St stairway and the bear!
Beyond the lower stairway after crossing a median walkway, I came upon a brand new stairway with a “Bridging the Gap” placard on the third step riser. Bridging the Gap is the name of legislation that provided funding for transportation projects in Seattle, including pedestrian facilities like this new stairway. From the Seattle All Stairs map, it would appear that this new 24 step concrete stairway replaced a smaller worn wooden stairway.
Beyond this stairway is a series of 4 stairways, complete with moss on the step risers – something we just don’t see in Los Angeles, since our climate is much drier – that took me up to the foot of Soundview Terrace, a wonderful narrow park with nice vistas, much like Kerry Park. Here are the 4 stairways in a composite image arranged in traversal order:
The four middle Wheeler St stairways
And next is an image of the upper Wheeler stairway passing through Soundview Terrace, with picnic benches to the left, and a children’s playground to the right of the stairs leading to the east and top side of 11th Ave West, as can be seen in this composite image:
I took the opportunity to look back down from where I came, and caught a nice vista of the hills beyond the rail yard to the west. The handrails of the stairs leading to the top of Soundview Terrace are at the bottom and slightly left of center in this image:
Looking back to the west, from the top of Soundview Terrace
At this point in the walk, I was really enjoying the almost constant stairways and great vistas from the hilltops. It was an ideal morning for a stair-walk, cool and reasonably clear, with no rain (more on that later on).
Before and After Lunch
After the Wheeler St climb, I descended a small stairway, then after passing the 6 mile mark, climbed another with over 100 steps on Raye St, then descended Armour St, and walked along 15th Ave west and found a stairway going slightly back and up toward some apartments. So I climbed it, and discovered that it connected upward to an alley that runs between 14th and 15th. It does appear to be a private stairway, but would still make a good addition to a stair-walk. Here are three shots of the stairway in sequence as I climbed it from bottom to top. The 4th image is taken facing the top entrance to the stairway, looking back the way I came.
Bottom flight Middle flight Upper flights Top entrance
After this find, I did another mile of up/down stairway traverses and came upon an interesting raised sidewalk what was served by 5 stairways leading up from street level on 10th Place West. This photo shows 3 of the 5 stairways I walked in alternating sequence at the top, and on the bottom shows the view from the elevated sidewalk, closer to the second stairway, which is left of center in the top photo of the pair (note the silver car).
Top: 3 of the 5 stairways leading from the street to the elevated sidewalk serving homes Bottom: The view from the elevated sidewalk, closer to the 2nd stairway in the sequence
After this traverse, I walked through a neighborhood of curvy streets, making a stairway traverse that cut across the set of curved streets, leading down to Dravus St, and on that descending street I found a side-stair (a side-stair is a set of stairways built into or alongside a sidewalk, allowing easier climbing of a steep hill) alongside St Margaret’s Church, with 18 broad and shallow concrete and tile steps. This stairway is not on the Seattle All Stairs map, and here is what it looks like from the bottom:
Dravus St Side-Stair with 18 tile and concrete steps
Shortly after descending the Dravus stairway, and passing the 8 mile mark, I climbed a couple more stairways on Ruffner, then descended the Jesse Ave stairway to Emerson and took it on a SE diagonal, passing 8th Ave West, I noticed an elevated sidewalk, and about a third of the way into the block, I came upon a 25 step stairway leading up to the raised sidewalk, that is not on the Seattle All Stairs Map. Further down the block, there are 7 steps leading back down to the street level. Here is a photo of the two stairways:
Left 25 steps – Emerson raised sidewalk access stairway pair – Right 7 steps
While finding this new stairway was entertaining, I also discovered two stairway connections from the raised sidewalk on Emerson to the parallel alley to the south. The first had 28 steps, and the second had 14 steps, and here are respective photos of them:
L: lower flight – Emerson raised sidewalk to parallel alley west – 28 steps – R: upper flight
Emerson raised sidewalk to parallel alley east – 14 steps (note the diagonal entrance)
After this fun exercise in finding new stairways, I walked further SE on Emerson until it ended into Bertona St, then I crossed over into the Seattle Pacific University campus, climbed a 114 step campus stairway, and took a relaxing/replenishing lunch break at the student commons cafeteria. Seattle Pacific University is at the northern end of the Queen Anne region, so at this point in the walk, I have gone more than half-way around the hill, traversed 74 of 108 total stairways, with 2,577 of 4,121 up-steps completed. After lunch on my way out of the campus, I climbed a rather interesting stairway configuration that climbs out of a multi-level parking lot on a hillside, that made for a good photo op, both from the bottom and the top as you can see in these two photos:
Looking up the Seattle Pacific University parking lot stairway
Looking down the parking lot stairway, and the view of the campus and surrounding hills
Unfortunately for me, the next stairway was closed for upgrades, so I decided to add another stairway at Florentina and 1st, that was not on my planned route, and it turned out to be quite amusing, since the school served by the stairway has a playful mural of land and marine life on a pair of retaining walls as can be seen in this three photo composite:
The mural at Florentina & 1st. The animal eyes look stoned! It must be all that legal weed!
The artwork above is by prolific Seattle muralist, Ryan “Henry” Ward.
Continuing eastward I climbed two more stairways, the second of which was a nice long shaded wooden stairway in Mayfair park, then a bit further northeast just past the 11 mile mark, I reach my first approach toward Lake Union (though I could not see the water), and a view of the truss/arch design Aurora Bridge that crosses over an inlet of the lake:
A panorama shot of the Truss/Arch Aurora Bridge that crosses over Lake Union
There was another stairway on Fulton, just to the right of the above panorama image, that makes the southward bend to follow the shore of Lake Union, in a SE direction. This means I am now heading toward the large stairways to come in the last part of the walk.
The Home Stretch
The last 5 miles of the walk builds up to a series of long westward climbs along Galer St, then descending to the finish. Before reaching those climbs, the route heads southward, first in the hills, then along the waterfront, to reach Galer St. After climbing the Fulton stairway, the route heads south to the upper segment of divided Raye St, which took me down a stairway to the lower segment of Raye that ends at Aurora. At this point Raye St becomes a stairway pair with a middle walkway, that serves as a pedestrian under-crossing of Aurora, which is a fast, barrier divided highway, without pedestrian crossings.
Though not on my originally drawn route, I was curious to see what the under-crossing looked like and was rewarded with a nice mural celebrating the Queen Anne region:
The underside of Aurora St at Raye St, with a nice mural celebrating the Queen Anne region
After taking a panorama of the mural, I came back up to the west side of Aurora and headed south, until I reached the next pedestrian under-crossing, at Dexter Way. This stairway under-crossing did not disappoint. It also had a interesting mural that was difficult to photograph in the varied lighting, bright, glare and shade. So what follows are my best attempts to capture the stairs and murals with my cell phone camera:
Top right – Descending stairway with mural Top left – Ascending stairs with mural Bottom – Panorama of under-crossing mural of Mt Rainier and countryside
After the under-crossing, I continued south on Aurora to Crockett St, taking a small stairway downward, then at the top of a larger one at 8th Ave N down to Westlake Ave, taking in the first good view of Lake Union I would have on the walk:
First view of Lake Union from 8th Ave N, on Crockett St prior to descending the stairway
I was really looking forward to seeing the Lake Union waterfront, and soon I would be there, but first I had to descent, then climb the lower Crockett stairway seen in the photo above, then head further south on 8th Ave N to Newton St, taking the stairway down to Westlake Ave, where I caught another nice view of Lake Union, half-way down the stairs:
Upper – Newton St Stairway Lower – View of Lake Union from half-way down the stairway
After waiting for a safe gap in the fast traffic, I crossed Westlake Ave, and continued south on the wide waterfront walkway, adjacent to a bicycle path:
The wide Lake Union waterfront walkway and adjacent bicycle path
And after a few tenths of a mile of southward travel on this walkway, the bicycle path splits around a concrete post that is the one of the supports for a rather spectacular cable stayed suspension bridge for pedestrians, with stairs, that is the beginning of Galer St:
Galer St Pedestrian Bridge as seen from the north. Note the background construction cranes.
This pedestrian bridge is really rather spectacular, and this image taken from the south shows all of the cable stays and stairway entrance to the crossing level:
Panorama of the Galer St cable-stayed suspension bridge as seen from the south
Above that, and to the left is a series of terrace stairways taking one up to Dexter street. This next photo composite gives a better view of the terrace stairways, which when combined with the lower stairway gives a total of 105 up-steps for this pedestrian over-crossing. The third image in the composite shows the view of the bridge walkway, looking east toward Lake Union. In the middle image you can see the same radio towers that were a prominent feature in the early part of the walk. The tall tower in the center is the 784 feet high KING-FM tower seen in an earlier image in this blog.
Left – Western view Middle – terrace stairways Right – East & Lake Union
After climbing about most of the way up the terrace stairways, there is a great view of the Galer St Ped-Bridge, the ocean-side stairway, and Lake Union:
From the bottom of this pedestrian bridge, the next 1.5 miles of the route route climbs and descends a whopping 882 up-steps and 205 down-steps respectively on 12 stairways. For my LA friends, as a comparison point, if we doubled the distance and stairways of this route, it would have 1,764 up-steps and 410 down-steps on 24 stairways in 3 miles of walking. 3 miles is the same distance as the Tomato Pie Loop, which climbs only 733 steps and goes down 603 steps on 14 stairways in the Franklin Hills region of Los Angeles. So hopefully you now an idea of the relative toughness of this segment of the route. Here are some highlight photos from the 12 stairway segment taking me to mile 13 of the route:
The 179 Up-Step Galer St Pedestrian Over-Crossing of Aurora Ave N.
Left – 80 step lower Garfield St, upper flights Right – 60 step Howe St East
Last major climb of the day: 182 step upper Galer St in L-R sequence from bottom to top
At the top of upper Galer St, the last major climb of the day, I passed the 13 mile mark and decided to go just a bit further west to check out the KING-FM tower, up-close and personal! Here is a composite shot of the tower as seen from right in front of it, as well as the full tower as a two-image composite, so there is some geometric image distortion:
784 ft, KING-FM Tower: Left – looking up from the front Right – Two photo composite
After I left the tower, I walked a series of 4 down-stairways, a rest my legs really appreciated, as I had already climbed over 4,100 up-steps to this point in the walk. The territory was much like the beginning, residential with narrow streets, some not having sidewalks. There was one essential difference, the storm clouds were coalescing, so the sky was quickly transitioning from blue to gray, and the temperature was also dropping.
By the time I finished the downhill, which took me back to Aurora for the final time, the area to the south was already clouded over, and after the final climb up the 46 step Prospect stairway east, the sky looked more like rain by the minute. Here is a shot of the graying sky taken after the last climb but before the final descending stairway, giving a view of the Experience Music Project (EMP) modern art museum, and the Space Needle:
By now I had already passed the 15 mile mark and was close to the end. After a few more blocks of easy residential walking, I descended the final stairway of the day, and was but a short downhill traverse from the parking structure where I started. Here is a shot of the final two stairways, the last up-stairway followed by the last down-stairway:
Left – 46 up-step Prospect East Right – 22 down-step 4th Ave N
When I reached the end, I was relieved that no rain had yet fallen, so I could still take photos, and my last one is a customary post walk selfie, this time in front of a restaurant:
That was the end of a fantastic stair-walking day. I have never before climbed 108 stairways, and even more remarkably in a scant 15.6 miles of walking, though the 4,121 total up steps in that distance was a bit lower than the toughest up/steps per mile route I do in Silver Lake: 264 up-steps/mile on the Queen Anne Loop vs 336 up-steps per mile on the Mean 19. The weather was perfect, and the route worked out even better than I had hoped when composing it. Next time I travel to Seattle, I will be torn between wanting to do this route again, and exploring other areas of the City. That’s not a bad place to be! If any of you from Seattle do this route, please let me know how you liked it, how it might be improved, and how it might compare to other similar distance, or even longer routes in other regions of Seattle!
– Dan Gutierrez –
PS: It rained two and one half hours after I finished the walk.
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, this time, the Mosaic Loop.
As you can see from the map above, The mosaic loop has a high stairway density, of approximately 6 stairways per mile, over the 7 mile route. The weather was cold, damp, cloudy and windy, when I started at 8am. I was already more than a bit sore from the long stair-walk I completed in Berkeley the day before, which is why I chose to do this relatively short, for me at any rate, 7 mile walk. I spent the first few miles of the walk, walking in a low level cloud, which condensed on the pine trees, causing the branches to rain on me as I walked under them, so I wore my windbreaker for the lion’s share of the trip. The walk started at the foot of the Hidden Garden Steps, the continuation of 16th Street south, as a stairway up hill from Kirkland St. As an aside, San Francisco does a nice job of embedding street names into the sidewalk concrete, as this photo near the start, shows:
The route begins with a gorgeous view straight up the Hidden Garden Steps, the newer and slightly smaller of the two large mosaic stairways in this area. The stairway has a kink in the middle so one cannot see all of it at the same time, so I took shots of the lower and upper flights and put them together so you can see the entirety of this wonderful art:
There is a lot to view on this stairway, so take your time and ogle the artwork. If you start early in the morning you will have this stairway to yourself, later in the day it becomes very touristy and crowded, as you can see in some of my photos in the facebook album linked at the top of this blog. This comment also applies to the next stairway, the Stairway to Heaven Mosaic, just up the street on Moraga at 16th, the second stairway of the tour. Because this is such a long stairway, with 163 steps, I made another composite showing the entire stairway and the upper flights:
Again, this stairway is better for viewing in the early morning, and like the Hidden Garden Steps, there is a much to see at both the large and small scales. Take your time and drink it all in with your eyes, you’ll be glad for the rest, as there is much stair-climbing ahead! As another aside, the much smaller, but also much wider mosaic ‘Ocean Steps’, at the Redondo Beach Pier, was inspired by this mosaic. Here is a photo for comparison:
From the top of the stairway to heaven, we head east on 15th and climb up and over a retaining wall on a stairway, then continuing eastward, reach the first of a pair of stairways that climb to and then descend from the top of aptly named Grand View Park, which has a 360 degree view of the City. Here is a panorama I shot from the top of the western Grand View Park stairway, facing westward, showing the western San Francisco flat-lands and clouds over the Pacific ocean:
From Grand View Park the route zig-zags up and down a series of 8 stairways on the ridge connecting to Golden Gate Heights Park at about 1.4 miles into the walk. Here is a photo of the two largest climbs, Mount Lane and West Aerial Way, on this segment. Do note that I was ascending into clouds, and the tree branches along these climbs were condensing the cloud-water into a light rain that fell on me as I climbed these stairways. You can see the darker, wet steps higher up on Aerial Way from the “tree rain”:
I wasn’t walking as fast as I usually do, both from taking a lot of photos, and because I was definitely feeling the walk I had done yesterday in the Berkeley Hills! When I reached Golden Gate Park, where Funston and 12th Streets converge into Rockridge Dr, I noticed a stairway leading into the park. It turns out there are two stairways, that conveniently connect to the a walkway that loops back to Rockridge Dr, so I added them to the route. The park also has water. Here is the first of the two stairways:
From the park the route descends via a couple of stairways to the corner of Quintara and 15th Ave., The stairway on Quintara is impressive, with a split at the bottom, climbing 136 steps up to the top of the hill at 14th Ave. Here is a photo of the stairway:
At the landing where the two lower stairways meet, I was greeted by a friendly orange tabby who just wanted some love!
After my cat petting episode, I continued on to the top of Quintara and then down the other side, passing the 2 mile mark, connecting to a walkway, and reaching a segment of residential streets with a number of small to medium sized stairways that increase pedestrian connectivity in the neighborhood. Here is a photo of the largest member of this set of stairways, the continuation of Alton Ave as 90 stair-steps:
After this neighborhood trek, the route takes you down to the Forest Hill Rail station, where street cars of yesteryear emerged out of a tunnel and traveled down Laguna Honda Blvd. This is similar to how Los Angeles Red Cars exited the Belmont Tunnel onto Glendale Blvd. Across the street from the station is an entrance facade to the now defunct Laguna Honda Hospital, with gorgeous historical mural artwork. Here are some photos of the Twin Peaks Tunnel commemorative murals, and the stairway leading up to the Hospital:
The route crosses the street and heads through the arch and up the two stairways to the Hospital building. The stairway leads to a statue of Florence Nightingale, commemorated as the founder of professional nursing:
Turning around to look at the hospital, here is a panorama shot of the main entrance:
The building really is a beautiful example of Spanish Revival architecture, and spreads out over a large campus directly behind the main building in a series of parallel large buildings of similar design. Here is a shot from just past the far right corner of the above photo, looking leftward one of the parallel building ends, complete with circular towers:
From here that walk calms down and becomes a residential stroll through tract homes, traversing one walk-street between houses, and proceeds down Portola Street past a long row of multi-story houses, passing the 4 mile mark, before climbing a stairway leading up to the one pedestrian over-crossing of the route, seen here after crossing over to the north side of Portola, where the stairway is across, and to the right, partially obscured by a tree:
After descending a pedestrian ramp-street, and some more residential walking, we come to the picturesque bookend stairways on Pacheco Street. Here is a shot looking across to the longer northern Path St stairway from the southern stairs of Pacheco, the 5 mile mark is about half way between the two large planters in the scene ahead:
After climbing the Path St stairs, we venture back into hilly neighborhoods with a mixture of smaller and larger multi-set stairways, as the route winds back toward Grand View Park. Here are two of the large single set stairways on this traverse, Oriole and East Aerial:
Note the inlaid street and path name in the concrete on the left image above, and that the 6 mile mark of the route is at the top of the Oriole stairway.
Continuing onward toward Grand View Park, the route descends two large stairways, before heading west toward the park on Moraga St, on the east side. The view from here is nice in that you can see the East Moraga stairway, and the continuation up into the park that was descended early in the walk:
The inscription on the large retaining wall reads: MORAGA ST, GOLDEN GATE HEIGHTS.
From the top of the first two stairways in this set, we head to the right northward, avoiding the upper stairway we descended earlier in the day, heading back toward the start, passing the 7 mile mark before the first (short, 20 down-steps) of the final two stairways. The final stairway is on 15th street, and has a whopping 193 steps, with fantastic views of the norther parts of central San Francisco, and here are a few photos of that descent:
The lower composite photo is the view from about 100 steps down from the top of the 15th St stairway. That’s St Annes Roman Catholic Church to the right, with the twin towers and large circular stained glass window, which looked fantastic, architecturally speaking, in the bright afternoon sun! This view was a nice concluding visual treat to go with many others on this route. I like this walk so much, I would fly up to SF, walk it and then fly back to LA as a day trip; think of this as the Air to Stair event. The few photos I sampled for this blog do not come close to capturing the full beauty and great views on this walk, please check out the photo album at the link at the top just below the Google route map photo!
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.
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! 😉
[Note to self: though tired, look behind you to avoid accidentally photobombing yourself!]
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.”
Right after descending the stairway with the figurines, I walked east on Euclid, a divided road, to the next up-stairway on Redwood Terrace and noticed that a group of walkers was climbing up the hill on the opposite side of the street. I was too far away to shot to them, so i do not know what group this is:
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.
SoCal Stair Climbers has grown enough that the facebook group just can’t hold all the information we plan to make available to the stair-walking community. Therefore we have built a website which hosts links, on the left side of the page, to route maps and descriptions, stairway information, including locations and images, a calendar of events, as well as a blog and guest articles. Also included is painted stairways tour information.
The website is mostly complete. If you have thoughts on this endeavor, or things you’d like to see on the website, please let us know in the comments. We will do our best to make this website a resource for the entire stair-walking community, whether you are regular on the walks lead by Bob Inman, Dan Koeppel, Charles Fleming, and myself, or the many meetup walks throughout southern California.