Port Townsend’s Stair-Walkers

Posted 11/29/23


A hundred and thirty-eight steps and three landings separate Haller Fountain on Washington Street and the intersection of Taylor and Jefferson.

From the bottom to the top, the …

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Port Townsend’s Stair-Walkers



A hundred and thirty-eight steps and three landings separate Haller Fountain on Washington Street and the intersection of Taylor and Jefferson.

From the bottom to the top, the elevation rises 47 feet making the trip from Downtown to Uptown a challenging climb. But there’s a group of folks in Port Townsend who don’t view the trip as an obstacle. Instead, the ascent is seen as opportunity for a great cardio workout.

On any given morning, Port Townsend’s stair-walkers can be found trudging to the top of the staircase. Often climbing in solitude, but sometimes in pairs, their heads look towards the summit as their arms swing wildly.   

When they reach the top, it’s not uncommon to pause. Some look out towards the water, just beyond the Rose Theater, and catch their breath. For others, the hiatus represents an opportunity to check their pulse rate or make a mental note to tally the number of trips they’ve completed. Still others just breathlessly reach out for the handrail and begin their descent back to the Downtown. 

At 7:45 a.m. this past Friday, Loran Scruggs and her good friend, Carrie Andrews, were on the steps in the crisp morning air. The two began using the stairs after reading a NY Times article that described stair-walking as a means of staying in shape.

A quick Google search identified the likely piece that Andrews was referring to: Jill Cowan’s 2021 exposé “A Year of Stair Walks.” The story explains how the author became drawn to stair-walking when the Covid outbreak led to mandatory closures of gyms, state parks and hiking trails.

Cowan’s article points to a sort-of guru’s guide to the activity, “The Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles” and how the book was being passed around among friends as people sought “under-the-radar” locations to exercise in the midst of the pandemic. Similar books have since been published for multiple West Coast cities including San Francisco (authors Burke and Bakalinski), Portland (by Foster) and Seattle (by Jaramillo and Jaramillo). 

Though Andrews and Scruggs link their introduction to stair-walking to Covid, they’ve continued the activity long after the peak of the disease.

Using Cowan’s article as a springboard to maintaining good physical health, the two friends have developed a meticulous method of keeping track of the number of stairs they climb. At the base of the steps there’s a collection of sticks organized in two piles 

“We’ll walk up to the first landing, turn around, and come back down,” Andrews says. “Then we do two laps around the fountain, and then take one of the small sticks and slide it to the pile on the left.”

She points to the collection of twigs that sit on the concrete newel at the base of the stairs. When asked to describe the significance of the length of the sticks, Andrews explains that the longer ones represent climbs to the second landing. 

Andrews and Scruggs are not alone this morning. Just behind them, climbing to the top of the staircase with seemingly little effort, is Kelley Oliver. Bundled in multiple layers to ward off the 40-degree chill, Oliver has opted for stair-walking on weekdays.

“I drive into town to drop my grandkids off at school,” she says. “So, there’s no better time to get a bit of exercise.”

If the staircase stretching between Downtown and Uptown is not to your liking, there are several other stair-walking opportunities in the Port Townsend area. Perhaps the most unusual setting can be found at Fort Worden. The network of military batteries is chock-full of concrete staircases. And though many are not equipped with handrails (essential accessories if you have balance issues), a trek through these historically-significant sites can provide excellent cardio training in yet another beautiful location.  

Most of the folks seen trudging up and down the staircase behind Haller Fountain are over 50 years of age. In general, they limit the number of their ascents to what seems like a reasonable figure, typically three to eight trips from the base to the top. That said, there are rumors that there’s “some woman” who climbs to the top 27 times each workout.

At first, the number seems both excessive and, well… intimidating. But upon reflection, given that stair-climbing has yet to be designated a competitive sport, it might be more appropriate to simply grab a latte at one of the nearby coffee shops, the Bishop or Velocity, find yourself a seat at the base of the steps, and cheer her on.