USA, Hawaii: Stairway to Heaven

I’ve always wanted to do this hike here in Hawaii.  The Haiku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven, is an illegal hike that has been closed since 1987.  However, many people still do it.  It was made to string antenna cables over the mountains, to connect one side of the island to the other, and put the big radio tower at the top.  Radio communication, I think it was something to do with the Navy.  In 2003 the state of Hawaii spent $875,000 to repair the stairs.  From this old article it sounds like the plan was to make it an eco-tourism attraction, but the state has kept it closed due to liability issues.

It’s a bit sketchy, I think it might too dangerous if it were open.  However, I guess everyone who wants to do it goes ahead and does it anyway, and doing it at night doesn’t make it any more safe.  I’m glad we were able to do it, it was simply one of the most awe-inspiring places to be.

Dan and I threw this plan together last minute.  We spent the day figuring out directions to the Stairs, finding him some new hiking boots, buying another headlamp, getting trail mix and fruit, buying a few more warm layers, and finding us each a good pair of gloves.  We read on Yelp to bring gloves, and we are so happy we did, and specifically got gloves with great grip.  It is so wet on this hike, and the bars get to be real slippery.

The security guard used to arrive at about 5:30-6:00 AM, but the past few months or so he has begun arriving at 3:30.  From all the reviews I read of the hike on Yelp, it sounds as long as you start before the guard, they don’t mind, and will even greet you at the bottom.

We slept a couple hours, woke up at 12:30 AM, left at 1:00 to drive to the hike, and started at about 1:30 AM.  Getting to the base of the stairs was a surprisingly short trek.  We parked in a neighborhood, walked up a service road to a clearing in a bamboo forest, and went on a path through the forest for about 15 minutes.  There are a couple of big fences to supposedly block access to the hike, but they are cut out and easy to walk through or around.

The stairs go under a massive freeway, the H-3.  That’s where we started at about 1:45 AM.

We had plenty of moonlight, and also light reflecting off the clouds from the city.  We went most of the way up without our headlamps.

This hike is scary!  Some parts of the stairs are vertical, turning into an awkward ladder.  At other parts you look down to a straight drop-off, and the stairs often go across narrow ridges.

We made it to the top, the old radio tower, at 3:30 AM.  We were the only people there for a while, and set up in the only small shelter that was nice and clean, out of the cold wind and mist.  There was a another big room, but it had a bunch of trash in it and smelled like pee!  Yuck.  We hung out and ate our snacks, and played cards and games on my phone until the sun rose.  We felt well-prepared with clothing, I had two layers of pants, two jackets, a hoodie and a beanie, and Dan brought his big hoodie (he runs a lot warmer than me), but we were both freezing for a while.  It was even colder than we thought.  We also had a wool blanket with us, so that helped.

At about 3:50 AM another group of people arrived at the top, and then people started arriving in droves!  It was amazing how many people were packed up at the top at one point.  Some groups stayed and waited for the sunrise, while others headed right back down (many of the people we talked to said it was much colder than they had expected).  The sun started to rise at about 6:30.

In the darkness on the way up we could see quite well, although couldn’t take any photos.  It was beautiful, seeing the city lights below on both sides, and a clearing in the clouds brought us some bright stars.

Here are our photos, starting with the radio tower at the top, and making our way down.  Some were taken with my camera and some with my iPhone.

It was so misty at the top, my camera kept focusing on the stuff in the air!!  One of our mis-focused photos.
Some of the people at the tot sunrise.
Hard to see them, but there were quite a few people hanging out on op of the radio tower.
Cloudy view from the top.
Dan and I at the top.
Leaving the Radio Tower.


The trail goes through this old building.




The H-3 Freeway.

This part was the scariest for me, it’s a straight ladder up there!  The picture doesn’t quite do the real thing justice.
This is the beginning of the stairway, underneath the freeway.
This fence blocks off the beginning of the stairway, although it’s easy to squeeze around the sides of.
View of the stairway from it’s starting point.
When we came down the guard was sleeping in his car.
The cut-out fence on the path to the stairway.


The bamboo forest on the way back to our car.

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