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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


In the end, we hiked 19.1 miles. That included 4,978 steps, with 3,800 feet of elevation gain. I'd almost forgotten Mt. Whitney, but my planned route–up the steep eastern face of the 14,495-foot peak–was just as impressive, at least statistically: It covered fewer miles and gained 2,000 more feet. Yes, Whitney had the risk of avalanche or hypoxia. But it didn't have barking dogs or Alvarado Street.

Still, when I returned from the Sierra, I was more excited to hike the stairs again than I was about the mountaineering trip (it went fine, thanks). Deborah and I had made a few wrong turns–making the route slightly impure. I wanted to do it again, this time without any mistakes. That would make my satellite map look neat and perfect.

But it wasn't just the need to hone the trivialities I'd collected. There was something more. Whitney, of course, was beautiful and rugged with plenty of solitude and difficulty. Stair climbing offered something different. The knowledge I was seeking was something shared with a community. I was hiking on rustic, urban, public thoroughfares. I was never alone. I was accompanied by folks who drove every street I crossed, lived in every house I passed. If the intimacy of Mt. Whitney was celestial, my relationship with the stairs was more personal, warmer. More like family.

The next Saturday, I began my wrap-up walk.

But something funny happened.

As I headed down a flight of stairs toward Alvarado Street–approaching the Loma Vista mother stairs–I glanced north. Alvarado extends just a little bit, then rises into a freeway on-ramp, becoming the Glendale Freeway, which eventually turns into the Angeles Crest Highway, the main route into the region's backcountry areas.

But I wasn't thinking about the woods. I was thinking about what I saw, at the top of Alvarado. It was hidden partially by the concrete ramp–but it was there: another flight of stairs. Climbing in a direction I'd never explored. I thought about my task for the day–making that clean route for my GPS mapping. I thought about it for 5 seconds. Then I started toward the new stairs.



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