This Month: August 2009 
August 2009: Thistle Stairway, Seattle, WA 
This stairway is located in West Seattle, just up the hill from Lincoln Park and Fauntleroy Avenue.  Today the Thistle Stairway has 367 stairs, but before Seattle Department of Transportation did some work on the stairs there were only 364 stairs.  That is how many stairs there were when I was a kid.  Before the extension of the Howe Stairway under I-5 the Thistle Stairway was the longest public outdoor stairway (had the most number of stairs) in Seattle. 
I have known the Thistle Stairway since I was a kid.  I grew up in West Seattle just four blocks from the top of the stairs and used them regularly to reach Lincoln Park and the beach along Puget Sound.  This was before the present era where parents drive their children everywhere.   
In the autumn of 1998 I was running up the Thistle stairs in training for the Quadruple Dipsea race in Mill Valley, California, (which includes the famous Dipsea stairs) when I had the idea of finding all of the major Seattle stairways.  I must have been oxygen deprived. The Thistle Stairway starts out deceptively easy and one can rush up them with almost reckless abandon.  But after 235 stairs (most at a 25% grade) the easy stairs end at 44 Avenue SW.  There are still 132 more stairs to reach the top.  The grade immediately steepens to 67% and oxygen debt comes quickly to the unwary.  The total elevation gain from bottom to top is approximately 170 feet. 
Joan and I visited the Thistle Stairway in June of this year.  That is when we found out about the three extra stairs that had been added since my last visit some ten years ago. Otherwise, the stairs looked just as I remembered them.  During our visit we came across a plant sale halfway up the stairway. The prices were great and we proceeded to buy a number of plants and then had to carry them down the remaining stairs to our car.  I am just glad that we didn’t park at the top of the stairs on Northrop Place SW. 
The best place to park your car before running or walking the Thistle stairs is at Lincoln Park in West Seattle.  The southern most parking lot on Fauntleroy Way SW is closest to Thistle Street. Restrooms can be found in the park.