In its 18th year, the Pittsburgh StepTrek will begin Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 at 11AM at South Side Park (Josephine & 21st Streets) on the South Side. The event has lasted this long due to the backing of individuals with a curiosity as to what lies at the top or bottom of the numerous public stairs in the neighborhood.
The support from Trekkers, some of whom have been walking with us since year one, has kept a focus on maintaining steps in the neighborhood. With the South Side Slopes having the greatest concentration of public stairs of any neighborhood in the city, step maintenance is crucial. And StepTrek participants and sponsors have assisted the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA), an all volunteer organization, with its mission of maintaining and improving this unique neighborhood.
The routes will take a tour of the hillsides and spectacular views that distinguish Pittsburgh. The family-friendly event combines photography, historic narrative and a sense of a neighborhood dependent upon steps. Each pre-registered trekker receives a map and a course narrative.
StepTrek is what the trekker makes it. Participants may choose to use this noncompetitive event as a test of fitness or a leisurely stroll. The benefits of a stirring walk through the Slopes have earned this event the heart-healthy rating of the American Heart Association. Special pricing makes the walk an attractive way to experience the city on an autumn afternoon.
In addition to the two courses that cover the equivalent distance of climbing Mt. Washington, the StepTrek:
- Leads to breathtaking vistas with unobstructed views from Oakland’s Schenley Park to downtown’s skyscrapers and the bridges across the Ohio.
- Offers signage on each of the two courses to guide trekkers through the Slopes. There are water and rest stops along the way, many flat to gently sloping areas, and fruit and refreshments in the staging area.
- Explores tree-shrouded paths and secluded passageways. The history of the neighborhood, the exquisite vistas of the city, and the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the highest reaches of the neighborhood make this a trek like no other in the city.
- Provides a number of realtor open houses throughout this hillside community. Step inside to see what life and amenities are like where many homes come with a view.
Walkers will enjoy all of these features as they tour, at their own pace, a few thousand steps and the intertwining streets and sidewalks that connect them. The courses have changed to offer a different perspective of the South Side Slopes. Trekkers should find the routes pedestrian friendly, especially as they explore the middle areas of the Slopes neighborhood.
The South Side Slopes may quite possibly have the most steps of any neighborhood in the United States. After all, it is home to nearly 10% of the 712 sets of steps within Pittsburgh, which has the most steps of any city in the country. The city with the next greatest amount of steps is the Ohio River town of Cincinnati, followed by San Francisco. The steps of the combined cities, however, do not equal those in Pittsburgh. Altogether, some 66 out of the city’s 88 neighborhoods have steps. These hundreds of public stairways give tribute to the many hillside neighborhoods.
Volunteers positioned along the route will provide assistance. Regardless of the pace, the experience will be fun and fitness oriented.
The Trek itself is self-guided. The course narrative points out the landmarks and gives a history of the stairs and buildings, counts the steps and also provides instruction as to the route. Arrows along the course provide direction as well.
A tent in the staging area will show photos of historic South Side that have been in the collection of the Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and the Carnegie Library. When finished, trekkers will be treated to a festive band and free fruit, snacks and beverages.
Proceeds from the StepTrek benefit the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association (SSSNA), an all volunteer organization committed to improving this unique neighborhood and providing a unified voice for slopes residents. Primary areas of focus are public safety, neighborhood development and beautification.
HOW MANY STEPS TO THE TOP?
So, just how many steps are there? Well, the city of Pittsburgh has 712 public stairways with a total of 44,645 steps.* When tallied in full, they number 24,108 vertical feet, or over four miles in height. To put it into perspective, that’s higher than Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina, the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.
* Source: Bob Regan, Steps of Pittsburgh, Portrait of a City, 2004
Here’s how the steps of Pittsburgh rank with some other well-known peaks:
Pittsburgh Steps 24,108 feet
Mt. Aconcagua 22,835 feet
Mt. McKinley 20,320 feet
Mt. Kilimanjaro 19,340 feet
Matterhorn 14,700 feet
Mt. Whitney 14,495 feet
The South Side Slopes has 68 sets of public stairs with a total count of 5,447 steps. (Source: Bob Regan) Most people think of steps in terms of buildings. The two StepTrek courses cover approximately 2,500 steps, or roughly 1,460 vertical feet. Compare the vertical height of the combined two courses to these well-known structures:
StepTrek 1,457 feet
Empire State Building 1,454 feet
Eiffel Tower 984 feet
US Steel Building 841 feet
Washington Monument 555 feet
Cathedral of Learning 535 feet
WHAT’S IN A STREET?
The streets of the South Side Slopes are distinguishable for four reasons: their steepness, their narrowness, their names, and their inconsistency at being what most people know as streets.
A drive through the Slopes can be as harrowing as a ride at Kennywood. When the rise is so steep that you can barely see the road before the hood of the car, you know you’re on the Slopes. Eleanor and Sterling streets are fine examples. What if you’re driving and should come across another car? Local custom allows the climbing car the right of way. So if you’re descending, pull over and let the other car pass!
As for the consistency of the streets, well, try driving Eleanor Street. A Pittsburgh map shows that Eleanor starts at the base of the Slopes and rises all the way up to Arlington Avenue, one of the only South Side streets to do so. After the first block, however, it becomes one of Pittsburgh’s infamous paper streets. That is, the street exists on paper only. As most residents know, Eleanor Street is a series of stairs between Leticoe and Holt streets, a distance of 188 steps. To get to where Eleanor becomes a street again requires a drive of several blocks along a mix of roads.
All things considered, it’s quite challenging to drive these hills. That’s why the best way to tour the South Side Slopes is by foot. The StepTrek allows you to take in the view, the history and the eclectic nature of the neighborhood, without the challenges of the right of way and the disappearance of a paved lane. And most importantly, you set the pace.
As you walk the StepTrek, you’ll notice that the street names speak to the rich, religious tradition of the Slopes neighborhood. That faith is best represented by the landmark St. Paul of the Cross Monastery and the former St. Michael church. Both of these brick edifices predate the Civil War and the mighty days of steel. Furthermore, they still stand today and are a part of StepTrek. Trekkers will be able to step into the Monastery’s chapel and the new condos under construction in St. Michael.
Part way up the hill, two streets cut across the Slopes, namely, Pius to the west, and Mission to the east. Many streets on the west side of the Slopes, above Pius Street, bear the names of the saints: St. Joseph, St. Leo, St. Martin, St. Michael, St. Paul and St. Thomas. Some of these street names carry over to the stairways that connect them. Many of the former parish rectories, convents and retreat houses have gardens tucked into the hillside. These gardens and a hilltop cemetery bring a welcome expanse of green to the Slopes and provide places for contemplation.
The South Side Slopes has a wealth of stories. From the fervent prayers and a promise that preserved residents from the 1849 cholera epidemic; to the veneration of St. Roch, the patron saint of plagues; to the home lives of these hillside dwellers who worked below in the glass factories and steel mills; and to the founding of the Passionist hilltop monastery, they’re all part of the history when you walk the StepTrek.
You’ll discover how people were honored and where they were buried. You’ll see lovely homes, a theatre, churches and secluded War Memorials. The stories are memorable, but so are the people, whose founding families were immigrants who worked in the mills. There’s a history of beer gardens and social halls, of romance and weddings, and the quiet serenity of one’s own terraced garden.
Whether it’s the history or the neighborhood, a leisurely walk or a fitness event, or simply the vistas, they’re all part of the Pittsburgh StepTrek. Talk with residents, enjoy the hidden passages and sudden views, recall what was and envision what is to come. And get a sense of the other hillside neighborhoods in Pittsburgh whose steps and scenery are yours to explore . . . and the view is always timeless.