haiku stairs (aka: “stairway to heaven”)

February 11, 2011 : Kaneohe, Hawaii “Stairway to Heaven”

Stairway is the most physically demanding, nerve-wracking, scary, and illegal hike I’ve ever done.  It was also the most awesomest.  For lack of a better word, its epic.

Its a literal metal staircase bolted into the side of the mountain on O’ahu’s windward side.  Island folklore (aka: the interwebs) explains that the stairs were built back in the day by the USCG to access a radio tower at the tippy top of the mountain.  The military use of the tower and stairs are now defunct, and thus the hike is closed to the public.  There’s a security guard who protects the entrance to the stairs, and the only way to do the hike is to show up hours before he does.

So yeah, we did.  By 5:00am we were in the woods of Kaneohe, searching for the start of the staircase.   It was pitch black, and we hiked with flashlights.  We finally hopped a fence around 5:25am, and could see the stairs a few hundred feet away.

The hike itself took us like four hours.  It’s no joke!  The climb is 2,000+ feet, and the whole thing is done on tiny metal stairs six inches apart.  There are almost 4,000 of those suckers.

We did most of the hike up in the dark.  Thank God for the flashlights.  Oh, and the gloves.  The stairs have metal railings along both sides, and we ended up using way more upper body strength than you’d think.  Day break hit as we were coming to the first couple landings.  We missed sunrise at the top by maybe about 20 minutes.  It wasn’t really a bummer though, because once the sun was out, the view from anywhere along the stairs is just incredible.

My legs, back, arms and shoulders were sore for days.  Shit, I’m still sore. Let’s not kid here.

On the way down, we could see the security guard watching us descend.  We got to the bottom and approached him, and he called out, “what have we here? Three more trespassers?”  For about five seconds I thought I was getting a ticket.  Then he started laughing and asking us how the weather at the top was.   Turns out, he’s very hip to the game.  So for anyone interested, don’t fret the legality – just GO EARLY.

The vertical faces of the climb were pretty crazy.  On the way up it was so dark, we had no idea how scary it really was.  Once we were coming down though we could actually see how exposed you are on the hike.  Its probably not a great idea for folks scared of heights.


7 responses

  1. Hi! I found your site from Google, desperately looking for current updates on the stairs. Congrats on the climb! Myself and a couple girlfriends want to climb in the next couple weeks. We plan on getting there by 0430, but I’m still sort of lost on how to get there. If you get time, could you email some directions to find the first stair? Or, if you know anyone that wants to go again and be a guide, we would welcome some company. Thanks!

    • I meant to follow up – thanks for your email! It took me and my girlfriends three times to beat the guard, but we finally did it last month. It was amazing. Every time I drive over the H3 I look at the stairs with pride! Thanks again.

      • How/why did it take three times to beat the guard? You didn’t get there early enough? What time(s) did you go? I’m so excited you were finally able to do it. I’ve been meaning to follow up with you and ask. Did my directions to the base help? Every single time I can see that part of the mountain, I just stare at it. Even just this weekend I was out on the Bay and I was just staring right up at the top thinking, holy crap I’ve been up there!!

      • Hi Rose,
        It took us three times because we kept getting stopped. It was 4am, 3:30am, and then we finally made it at 2:30am! I think we were just unlucky, because other people have said they were able to go up at 4am. When we finally got to the top we were really surprised that three other hikers were already there. They started about 2am.
        Prior to the trip we did a dry-run during the day, just to find the base, and followed your directions. They were great, thank you! We had no intentions of climbing that first day, but when we found the guard he was friendly and told us that we should check out the cable transmission station in the valley. It’s that green building you see in the valley. He told us that if we go up to the second level, walk through the building to the “sex room” as labeled in graffiti, you can reach the two external ladders to get to the roof. He warned us not to stand in the middle of the roof, because that’s where the satellite dish wash, and it’s just plywood covering. Getting to the building is easy…you just follow the paved road, make a left at the fork. If you loved Lost (like me), then you will love it, because there’s a Dharma station logo around the back, and some of the interior rooms were also used in the show.
        We completely want to climb the stairs again, this time bringing our husbands, who all thought we were crazy, but now I think they are jealous that we did it. I was wondering if an afternoon/sunset hike would be possible, since I bet the guard goes home around 5pm. It will have to wait though, I just finished my first trimester with my second baby, and I think that might be too dangerous for me at the moment. But next year, I’m totally trying a sunset hike.

  2. I comment when I like a article on a blog or I
    have something to valuable to contribute to the discussion.
    Usually it is a result of the sincerness communicated in the article I looked at.
    And after this post haiku stairs (aka: stairway to heaven) | Happy Hippie Rose.
    I was moved enough to leave a thought 😛
    I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Is it only me or do some of these remarks come across as if they are left by brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are posting on other online sites, I would like to follow you. Would you list all of your public sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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