Genesis of the Route
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”! 😉
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.
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:
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!
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:
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:
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.
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).
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:
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:
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:
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:
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 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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.