In this latest installment of “Does this route work?”, I was interested in exploring a couple of staircases I had never been on. This was in a small warren of streets between PJ McCardle Roadway and Arlington Avenue. The pedestrian gateway to this neighborhood are the 10th Street Stairs. On the lower side, these stairs rise in five landings from dead end flat streets just to clear the railroad tracks. The landings provide respite from the stairs and some nice views. On the other side, though, the stairs rise again.
At the top of these stairs, the city seems to have fallen away and I was in an enchanted forest. Felt like I was Edmund first stumbling into Narnia. On the left, the untouched snowy street curved around into the Knoxville Incline Greenway. I disturbed four deer in their evening ramblings. They were not pleased to see me and only grudgingly gave way, staring me down like truculent teens as I jogged by.
Just past the herd, stairways to Hartford Street rose on my right. Despite the four inches of fluffy snow, the going was good. The stairs were solid and the snow crunched, packing as I went up. Hartford Street is narrow, but with cute houses. Squeezing past a resident who had parked in the street unloading groceries, I came all the way up to Arlington Avenue, but not before I got a good glimpse of the top of the German Square Stairs. I’d be back for those.
Making a right onto Arlington, I kept a lookout for my next set of stairs, Lauer Way. No, not Behring Street, whose steps were a vertical cul-de-sac. Behring Street is one of the few named stair streets which dead-ends. Ceasar Way in Southside Slopes declines into a grassy path but doesn’t really dead-end. Behring Street just traipses in front of a house and stops. Maybe it went through in years gone by.
At any rate, Lauer Way has an impressive stack of snowy steps. It traverses the slope from Arlington Avenue to Windom Street, two blocks below. Again, in spite of the snow, the stairs were solid, both in treads and handrails.
I meandered a little, and found myself trotting past little houses on Newton, which became another wooded glade of snowy stairs, Owl Way. These have a right-angle turn and landed me on Windom again. I took the German Square Steps all the way up the hill again.
German Square and Lauer Way are part of the “Take the Stairs Fatass” 50k route. I couldn’t fit them into the 25k, but it is a beautiful little section of stairs and hills pretty close in to the Southside Flats. This part of the route looks solid.
For those who missed it, I’m organizing a run around Pittsburgh, focusing on taking public stairs where ever possible. In my previous “Does this route work?”, I verified a section of the route in Oakland. It was a good thing I did, because some of the stairs indicated on my maps were not, in fact, there. This run was meant to check out part of the route, circled in yellow above, in Fineview, Perry South and California-Kirkbride. Fittingly enough, only half of this involves the 25K, but all you 50k people, pay attention!
Going out of the Northside toward Fineview, I took James Street all the way up the hill. As the roads plows into the hillside, a pretty solid set of stairs, with only a few shaky treads, rises to Fountain Street. Good thing, too, since it is high on concrete pillars.
Once on Fountain Street, signs for the Fineview Fitness Trail lead to the next stairs. The 50k’ers will be going up these. The 25k folks will be coming down them, almost done. At any rate, the next sets of stairs take you to Graib Street and then onto Henderson Street. The pictures really don’t do this view justice.
The 50k follows along Henderson, crossing Federal and landing at the end of Arch Street. There’s an angled set of steps going up to Perrysville Avenue. A few years ago I saw “Steps In Motion: A Northside Animation”, at the Carnegie Library in Oakland. It is an animation about community project which cleaned up the Arch Street stairs. As you start up these, you can see the fading paint from that project.
The top of the Arch Street Stairs is Perrysville Avenue. You stay on that for a short section, then charge down the O’Hern’s ruts and uneven steps. I remembered it as all overgrown, but it looks like someone actually uses this road, despite the wavy asphalt. A little later, going up North Charles street, I made a left at the bold mural on Ferris Street. Stairs are at the far end of that small street and there’s a rather intimidating house and rambling porch besides them. I would advise moving past this place quickly. In fact, I waited until I had clambered over the fallen tree and up the stairs before I took a pic.
Staying on the 50k route, I made the left onto Island Avenue. Where did they get that name? This couldn’t be a more land-locked street. At any rate, making the left on Hyena Way was promising, but the entrance to the stairs off of Success Street looked more like a walkway between houses.
The Hyena Street Stairs are in reasonable shape, but don’t seem to get much use. Dried vegetation was strewn across the treads as it dropped in on Marvista Street. This lower section of Marvista Street still has a few occupied houses but also a few houses on the brink of failure. The 50k route continues down Hyena. Hyena and Ferris stairs were the ones I wanted to verify. Whoo! This part of the route works.
Now that that was settled, I started to work my way back my car. It wasn’t the easiest way, but Sunday Street was a pretty straightforward way back. It also happened to include an incredible set of brightly painted stairs. At the top was an amazing house set on the top of the hill. At one point, perhaps most of the houses here looked like that? I don’t know.
That’s a wrap. Hyena Way does indeed lead to viable steps.
Today’s run is brought to you by underground running. Running on off-beat trails. Being self-sufficient, yet social. If you have ever sat in a car looking up at some green hillside, covered in trees, tangles of wild grape and bushes, and wondered, “What’s up there?”, this type of running is for you. The common perception of Pittsburgh is that it is very hilly. While that is not wrong, it is more that water has cut its way through the geologically historic plateau. As if Pittsburgh were a giant cake and the rivers and streams have cut slices out. For more info check out this publication about Pittsburgh’s geologic history from Pennsylvania’s Department of Natural Resources (DCNR). There’s been some man-made renovations as well. I’m talking about the slag from steel factories which was piled into mountains along Pittsburgh’s waterways. But I digress. Suffice it to say, the slopes of the hillsides are very steep, while the tops of the hills are nearly flat.
Trails are all over these hillsides, imperceptible to most casual observers. Some are really deer paths, but many are carved out by the busy beavers of the outdoor community, mountain bikers. Relics of human endeavors are scattered on the hillsides; stairs, pipes, and random foundations in the least likely places. These trails have gradually been discovered by trail runners and, where two or more runners gather, a race breaks out.
These runs were part of the Mother Fricker, a FatAss event – no entry fees, no medals, no support. You’re on your own fat ass to make sure you can do it and have what you need. This sounds harsh, but in reality, the runners look after each other and serious problems are rare. The entire Mother Fricker was twenty miles distributed among four loops; an eight miler, a six miler, a four miler and a two miler. The course is roughly marked out with white flour. That whole-wheat stuff doesn’t stand out too well in the woods.
As per my SOP, I got there just as the runners were heading out on the first, eight mile loop. I stashed my recovery backpack and set off. In about a mile, I caught up with some of the walkers. We crossed a beautiful little bridge high over Nine Mile Run. Instead of directly up the normal hill, we turned right and ascend the switchbacks below Summerset. In “Lost in your Hazel Highs“, I described running through Summerset. On this run, we were on the slope below that nice Summerset brick wall pictured in the blog post. Coming down again, the route took us back across Nine Mile Run again and jumped into the slag heaps. Back and forth, the winding trails ascended and then went high above the Monongahela. Across the river, the Waterfront shops were so close, you could almost see the tags on shoppers’ purchases. OK, that was an exaggeration, maybe with a telescope. Rugged roller-coaster trails took a toll on the legs. Up and down, up and down, around small waterfalls, across narrow steep paths we ran. I was feeling strong and ran hard, trying to flow over the boulders and hillocks. Periodically, a shout of “Bikers!” would cascade and echo along the trails. We all scrambled for viable spots off trail as groups of mountain bikers rolled through.
Eventually we got to “Mountain of the Moon”, the nearly barren slag heap tops. The trails changed from mud to hardened gravel, very rough. My shoes were loose and bits of gravel quickly found their way inside. Some people stopped, enjoyed the view and explored the area. Others, like me, kept running along the undulating trail perched atop the slag. Coming off the moonscape, we crossed back over Commercial Avenue and returned to the start. The course was a little short of the advertised 8, so I jogged around Lower Frick to make it up.
The format of the Mother Fricker called for the six mile loop to start at 10am. Finishing the 8 miles relatively quickly gave me time to recover and remove the gravel and debris from my shoes. More people showed up, wise souls skipping the first loop. The six mile loop started with a bang and went up Iron Gate Trail. Iron Gate Trail climbs a large hill whose summit overlooks the Parkway East. After cresting, we dropped past Blue Slide Park, the sledding slope and onto Bradema Trail. Bradema is a fun trail, but at the end I lost track of the white flour and ended up at the start. Usually being the first one back is good, but this time, it meant I just lost my way. With 11 miles in, blisters on my toes and gravel in my shoes, I called it a day.
This was the longest trail run I had done in awhile. Wow! I forgot how tough trails are. Eleven miles on the trail felt as hard as twenty on the road. But it was good practice. I have a trail race coming up. I probably won’t be blogging about it here, since its not in Pittsburgh, but its a tough 25k race with ultra-steep hills and water crossings. I bailed after eleven miles, but many people did the entire 20 miles. Very impressive. Later, after reaching out to the non-running world for a bit, I found myself sipping beers and chatting with other trail runners, hearing stories of lost ways and past runs, and hatching plans for future exploits.