Secret Stairs Walk 42 – Murphy Ranch

We found and scaled the largest, most dangerous staircase in Los Angeles tucked away on forgotten paths in the forest of Topanga State Park. Knowing full well we could have easily died, we dared to enjoy what few will ever get to see.

It’s days like this that feel therapeutic. Engaging every fiber of your being. The whole of your attention consumed by this moment. Nothing better.

Secret Stairs Walk 42 - Stairs 1

We plunged down 498 concrete stairs not intended for public use. Only occasionally we were granted the luxury of a hand rail.

It was one of those days that forces you to feel alive. Like running into the ocean and getting beaten around by the waves.

You can’t really think of anything other than one foot in front of the other. Don’t look too far ahead, don’t look up, don’t look down.

Just focus on your feet.

It was one of those days that makes you breathe deeper not just because you’re being instructed by a twenty-something in yoga pants.

You breathe deeper because your body demands it.

You breathe deeper because if you don’t, you might miss a step. You might stumble. And if you do that up here, you’re dead.

Secret Stairs Walk 42 - Stairs 2

See how the stairs just seem to end? They don’t, they just get steeper. And steeper.

Like something out of a nightmare, these stairs made my thighs quake. Jessie was fine, of course. She does pilates. But I live in a stairless world. I go from bed to car to elevator to chair to elevator to car to couch.

Except for this day.

This day we decided to do this. And going down was but a mere amuse bouche. Because we also had to go up 512 more stairs to get back to the car.

But when we got to the bottom, we got treated to one of the coolest little hidden oddities in all of Los Angeles.

Murphy Ranch

Winona Stevens’ 50-acre self-sustaining compound, built to aide a Nazi named Schmidt who ultimately died in prison.

Now the rotting structures have turned into canvases.

Drifter by MDMN (Mad Man Art)

Space Undies

Murphy Ranch Interior

This compound cost that poor woman $4 million of 1930s money.

And the relics are in a constant state of decay and renewal. It’s profound to look at photos of this place online. You’ll notice the graffiti is constantly changing.

Suffice it to say, the stench of wet spray paint inside the building was sickening. It’s remarkable to think how an abandoned nazi structure could be in such a constant state of change.


As we walked, we even came across drips of wet paint. No one but us and the trees, yet there at our feet was wet paint.

Our way out led us past the stairs we had taken down as three teenagers bumbled down haphazardly with music equipment. One kid was even riding a bag down the stairs! Making loud thumps as he cruised down each step, striking fear into my soul.

But, maybe I’m just getting old…

512 Steps-part1

Then we saw it. The staircase to end all staircases. Sure you might find one somewhere on this earth taller than 512 steps…

But this old, unforgiving municipal monster weaved a treacherous path straight up a mountain.

We took to the steps like an exhausted boxer pushed into the ring by his coach at the start of the 12th round. I huffed with each step, looking down and marveling at the graffiti tags everywhere! Fearless dedication to making your mark, can’t argue that.

512 Steps-part2

Jessie assured me that the vandalism we saw on this hike could only have come from the wealthy kids of the post-money families who lived around these woods. We’re talking wealth, here. Serious wealth.

We crawled hand-and-foot up the last few steps. Okay, I crawled hand-and-foot up the last few steps. Jessie was already hands-on-hips hero-posing it and taking in the view.

I was busy kissing this last step and cursing his brothers below as I caught my breath.

The tippy

Jessie points to a beautiful house on the prime spot of the mountain. “See that?”

The View

“That’s the home of Dennis Tito,” she tells me.

Remember back in 2001 when the first civilian took the Russian Soyuz rocket up to the International Space Station? That’s Dennis Tito.

He’s a scientist. But this dude is not just a scientist. He’s part of the rare breed of scientist-billionaires. The list basically only includes Dennis Tito and Lex Luthor.

First of all, how does a scientist become a billionaire? And second, since one did, how come there aren’t a whole bunch more? And if there were a whole bunch more, would the world would be a much better place? Or would we all have already been destroyed?

All questions for another day. I could really only focus on my noodle legs with each painful stride down the fire road to the car.

Jessie leaned over and asked “Froyo?”


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