L.A.'s Ups and Downs: Liz Thomas Hikes Over 300 Stairways in Five Days

Photo by Liz Thomas

Liz Thomas has hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Coast Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail (AKA the Triple Crown of long distance hiking). Most recently, the Colorado resident tackled the urban stairways of the greater Los Angeles area. This might seem like a relatively tame feat for someone accustomed to trekking for thousands of miles over mountainous terrain, but Liz discovered that urban hiking poses its own unique set of challenges, as well as rewards. Her zig-zagging 175-mile course from La Canada-Flintridge to San Pedro included over 300 stairways. And she did it all in five and half days.

While some might think walking through highly populated areas doesn't provide the same sense of accomplishment of rugged nature hikes, they'd be wrong. Liz explains that seeing the world at three miles per hour and meeting interesting people along the way is always a worthwhile experience. And climbing every known public stairway in a sprawling metropolis like Los Angeles affords an intense feeling of discovery. Even after exhaustively researching her route and collaborating with urban trekkers who had previously mapped out most of the stairways, Liz found herself off course from time to time. She explains, "urban navigation can be trickier than in the woods. Sometimes the staircase I was looking for would be hidden behind a parked car or some trash cans and it could take over an hour to find it." Despite these setbacks, Liz kept up a staggering pace. On the third day of her hike, which covered the Echo Park/Silver Lake area, she did almost 100 stairways.

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Her expedition took Liz through many neighborhoods and communities that are unfamiliar to many Angelenos, let alone an out-of-towner. (Have you ever heard of Garvanza? I hadn't. Turns out it's a community adjacent to Highland Park.) Liz found this multitude of hidden public stairways by modeling her journey on one that had been previously mapped out and conquered by L.A. urban hikers Bob Inman, Andrew Lichtman and Ying Chen, who took about 10 days to complete the route. (Inman also wrote the book "A Guide to the Public Stairways of Los Angeles").

In fact, discovering that Los Angeles is home to a close-knit and helpful stair-climbing community was one of the most rewarding parts of the adventure. Liz realized that, in large part due to L.A.'s reputation of being a car city, "many people are passionate about making it more pedestrian friendly." Other stairway enthusiasts joined her during many segments of the hike, and even opened up their doors to her along the way, allowing her to spend the night when needed.

Liz has some tips to share for anyone interested in embarking on a similar adventure. First of all, you'd better be in great shape. To prepare for her L.A. hike, Liz switched up her regular training routine in Colorado to include more stairs: "I went out to the Incline in Manitou Springs and the stairs at the Red Rocks Amphitheater at Morrison." Closer to home, the Baldwin Hills stairs are another great option. And then there's the gear. While urban hiking doesn't require as much baggage as backpacking through the woods, you'd be well advised to bring lots of sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat or visor, extra socks, about one liter of water per day, plenty of protein bars, a windshirt, a headlamp and flashlight if you'll be walking at night (and bring a buddy!), hiking poles, printed maps and a smart phone with maps loaded for navigation. And even with all those maps, keep in mind that you'll probably make some wrong turns along the way. Finally, Liz advises walking on grass or asphalt whenever possible because long stretches of walking on hard concrete is tough on the body.

You can embark on your own urban hiking adventure by participating the upcoming 100-stairway Big Parade walk on May 18th and 19th. You can also keep up on Liz Thomas' latest adventures by visiting her website and following @EAThomas on Twitter.

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