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Backpacker Magazine – June 2004

I Climbed Los Angeles

One small step for our stair-obsessed man, one giant leap for fitness freaks everywhere.

by: Dan Koeppel

The Loma Vista stairs were nirvana. It was the only staircase that encompassed an entire hill–going up, then over. Gaining 150 feet in each direction, the stairs stretched near a half-mile and were lined with a wonderland of tiny cottages, corrugated fences painted with graffiti, and thick foliage–agave, lemon trees, and cacti. (My love for the Loma Vista stairs is so great that I put in a bid on a small, maroon bungalow near the eastern end; but the price got too high too fast.) Even better, a pair of equally impressive staircases paralleled Loma Vista–so I could walk up one, cross Loma Vista, and then cross back on the third, keeping my "no repeats" rule intact.

I'd connected Silverlake and Echo Park. I was now certain I knew every staircase in the two neighborhoods–nearly 50. I had them logged on spreadsheets. I had them charted on topo maps. I had satellite photographs with GPS coordinates superimposed. All that was left was to link the two hikes into one.

I met Deborah at 6 o'clock the following Monday morning. I had a pair of clipboards. The one I handed Deborah was divided into grids; there were sections marked for the stair's name; cross streets; number of steps; GPS waypoints; and upper and lower elevations. My clipboard was all maps–by now, I'd bought a software version of the Thomas Guide that allowed me to print much more detailed charts of this urban wilderness. I'd outlined a tentative route; we'd start with the first half of Silverlake–the Music Box Steps had to be first, of course–and then swing into Echo Park, walking over my recently discovered trio of "mother stairs," traversing that neighborhood, and then completing the hike back into Silverlake.

Along the way, we saw faded signs pleading for the return of lost pets. We found a wooded trail leading up to a water tank. We passed yards filled with junk, mysteriously boarded up buildings, and tiny stairways scented with jasmine and eucalyptus. By now, I was a pretty familiar sight to some of the folks living on the stairs, and they waved as we passed. (Many neighborhood residents asked what I was doing with the clipboard and GPS; when I told them, they universally asked me to e-mail my results. The local historical society also contacted me. I've submitted an official stairway map to them.)

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