This was the most radical, adrenaline filled hike I’ve ever been on. For several months I had been tracking down recent blog posts and Instagram hashtags to find out more about this infamous, forbidden “Stairway to Heaven”. I commented and sent out direct messages to other intrepid explorers who had previously been on this trail. The Haiku Stairs or “Stairway to Heaven” as people most often call it, is a steel staircase made up of 3922 steps that ascends a steep ridge up the Valley of Haiku in the city of Kaneohe. The steps were built so the U.S. Navy could access a radio station antennae 2800ft up on the mountain during World War II.
We arrived to the Haiku Stairs “unofficial start” at around 2:30am. Pitch darkness and a light rain drizzle had started to fall. Fernando and I had nothing but our iPhone flashlights and the H-3 highway street lights above us to illuminate our stroll through a small backroad. Using a normal flashlight could have ran us the risk of being spotted by the police or the Haiku Stairs’ guard, we were on private government property after all.
After an hour of walking deep into the Hawaiian rainforest, we started questioning the direction we’d taken a couple of turns a while back on the trail. Turns out, we had been walking in the wrong direction. By this time the rain had picked up and was no longer just a light drizzle, we were soaked by now. We had to backtrack and hope that the limited amount of cellphone signal we had was enough to give us a sense of location, relative to the stairs.
Finally!, we found the official start of the Haiku Stairs, just a couple minutes shy from the guard’s arrival. The first part of the stairs was quite the leg killer. The ridge is the most steep at the base of the valley, so the Haiku Stairs became the Haiku Ladder for the first part of the hike. The Stairs are divided into 4 or 5 sections by a series of resting platforms. We met up with four other adventurers here. It was still about half an hour before dawn so we sat and waited for the clouds to clear and the sun to rise.
As the sun came up over the horizon and the morning clouds burned off, I had my first chance to capture some truly stunning images of the Stairway to Heaven. The rails were not as slippery anymore and the hike felt much safer. We quickly became comfortable running up and down, shooting different angles and moments of the stairs. By late morning hours most of the clouds had cleared, but so did our snacks and water.
Toward the end of our hike and my GoPro battery life, we noticed a storm on the horizon fast approaching from the northeast. It was time to head back, but not before burning every last bit of battery power on my camera. Luckily, there was a clear breach of sunlight through the clouds that illuminated the ridge for a quick minute. It was the best opportunity to seize the shot I’d been waiting for the whole time.
Just before noon, we were descending the last set of stairs. Aaaaand there was the notorious Haiku Stairs’ guard, just waiting for us. Surprisingly, and fortunately for us, he turned out to be a very friendly twenty something year old guy. We exchanged a couple of words about the hike and he let us go with a fair warning to never come back. I’m sure he has to repeat the same line to every hiker as part of his job, but it was not as serious as many people make it out to be.