The first time I saw pictures of this place, I was hooked. It looked like something out of Tibet or Machu-Picchu or something. People were climbing a ladder literally up into the clouds. When I realized it was in the United States, I was encouraged.
As I began my research, it became clear that this was no ordinary place. No wonder the pictures I had seen seemed so epic. There was a hike that would take me there. But this was no ordinary hike either. My research turned into planning and I learned that this hike is long, dangerous, and…illegal.
OK, game on.
I read blogs, watched vlogs, and even went on jogs – all so I would be ready for the Haiku Stairs. The stairs, often referred to as The Stairway To Heaven, were built as part of a military installation and crawl up the spine of a ridge to the top of the Ko’olau Mountains in Hawaii. The original stairs were built of wood and installed in the 1940’s. They were later replaced by steel stairs in the 1950’s – 3,922 of them. The stairs vanished into time along with the cold war and have been officially closed for almost 30 years. They are abandoned, damaged, and in various states of disrepair.
I knew it would take a lot physically to get to the top. But the thought of the views, and of conquering the stairs was too much to ignore. I knew just even getting to the stairs would also be an adventure.
There are lots of other reasons not to do this hike. As I said, the hike is illegal. The stairs are on private property owned by the Water Department and are surrounded by a private neighborhood. There can be $1000 trespassing fines, police involvement and even possible arrest. The neighborhood is full of residents that have a nasty reputation for being very aggressive towards would-be climbers who invade their property. After the neighbors, the stairs are hidden back in some pretty dense jungle.
And, oh yeah, there’s a guard.
There are many different opinions on how best to access the stairs, let alone get to the top of them. But this was my goal: get in, get to the top, get down, and get out of there!
So I picked an access route, made a plan, got supplies, geared up and headed out in the early hours of a still black morning.
You may be tired already just from reading all the backstory and preparation. And after sneaking into the area, getting past the guard, hiking dark wooded trails, and squirming through fences, I was tired before I even got to the first stair. This was not a good sign.
As the sun began to rise, I began the climb. I’m not kidding to say that this is definitely more of a ladder than a staircase. It’s almost straight up. It was humid and the stairs were slippery and in the process of being re-claimed by the jungle. I had to find a pace that I could survive for the next 3 hours of the “hike”. Slowly and surely the ground dropped away as I ascended up onto the mountain’s spine.
Here, the humidity dropped and there was a nice breeze. The views out over Kailua were already amazing. The cloudy mist floated in the wind around me and the sun made everything start to sparkle. Magic.
Hiking along the spine is not something to do if you are afraid of heights. I was on the very peak of the ridge. Look left, major drop off. Look right, same thing. Exhilarating stuff. As my ascent continued, I noticed helicopter tours flying around – below me.
My thighs burned, like, bad. I made sure to take stops to rest, hydrate, and eat along the way. I loved every minute of it.
Higher and higher up the mountainside, the clouds were becoming thicker. There were spats of rain that would come and go. Until finally I was at the top! Up here it seriously windy, and cold. I climbed up on the old radio tower and honestly had to brace myself against the metal supports to not be blown over.
I enjoyed the view for a while as it was covered and then uncovered as the clouds moved in and out. On one side, I could see all the way to Pearl Harbor. The other side was a vista over Kailua to the Three Peaks and out across the ocean. Looking north would reveal a vista out to Chinaman’s Hat and over Kaneohe Bay. The sun lit up the lush greenery in spots as it beamed through the mist. This was a good idea.
The descent went much faster and I was glad I had taken the advice to wear gloves. I enjoyed the stunning views all the way back down and ultimately got back out of the woods, past the guard, out of the neighborhood, and away from the scene of the crime.
The Haiku Stairs hike/climb exceeded all my expectations both visually and physically. It was easily the highlight of my trip and would qualify as a bucket list item on anyone’s list.
Was I glad I did it?
Would I recommend it?
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