Step Aside, Rocky — There's a New Kind of Urban Workout... the City StairMaster
Thinking of going for a stroll through San Francisco? How about a 110-mile, seven-day endurance trail that climbs all the public stairways in town? Every. Single. Stairway. There are more than six hundred of them, and this, ladies and gentlemen, is the challenge of the new trend of urban hiking.
Dear Mt. Everest: Meet your city equivalent. (Photo: Brian Oswald)
Rather than a stroll through Central Park or scenic city gardens, the focus of urban hiking is on conquering the stairways of a city. The trend’s origins can be tracked back to 2004, to Backpacker magazine’s coverage of Dan Koeppel’s “I Climbed Los Angeles,” in which he mapped out and ascended 300 outdoor stairways in town. He began his stepping as a training program for mountain climbs, but it quickly became a personal obsession, and now a growing national trend.
The urban hiking movement has expanded in popularity across the U.S., with enthusiastic stair-climbing communities clambering up concrete hills in cities such as Seattle, Pittsburgh, Oakland, and — of course — the oh-so-hilly San Francisco.
The latest addition to the urban hiking movement is to combine its stair-climbing focus with long-distance “thru-hiking.” The result is a hybrid called “urban thru-hikes.” These are not simply walks to get from the north end of town to the south, but rather a journey to complete the full set of known city staircases.
And there are rules. The main rule is that you’re not allowed to backtrack, to descend the same staircase you ascended, or walk the same street twice. Urban hiking pioneer Dan Koeppel said these rules are meant to “make the routes into real treks, and give them an aesthetic consistency.” But the practical application means city routes end up looking like a tangled plate of spaghetti.
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Triumph after a long stair climb. (Photo: Liz Thomas)
With these rules, the trip becomes less of a “point A to point B” hike, and more of a performance art project, albeit a very fit one. And the fun part about a developing sport is that you get to make up the rules as you go along. For example, stair-climbing philosophers like to debate exactly how many stairs make a staircase. And does the curb count as a step?
Distance hiker Liz Thomas (who, by the way, considers 10 steps to be a staircase) recently completed a six-day, 200-mile, 300-staircase odyssey around Los Angeles, calling it “the world’s first urban thru-hike. Robert Inman’s e-book “The 300" documents his version of a greater-Los Angeles thru-hike, with his own variations on the rules.