Haiku Stairs, Oahu HI - October 2009
Last June when I was in Hawaii my friend Jon mentioned hiking Haiku Stairs (also known as the Stairway to Heaven) on my next visit. I said to count me in since the few hikes I have done in Hawaii have all had breathtaking views. A few weeks before my latest trip he sends me an email that read: “I assumed you had Google earth - I put a path on our hiking route. It's about a 2000' elevation gain :(. I was in shape at one point in my life, but this'll probably kill me...I expect you to carry my body down the stairs.”
His email then went on to use words like: “trespassing,” “climbing over fences,” “security guard(s)” and the phrase “likelihood of jail time for trespassing.”
All that was then followed up with: “Let me know which day works best for you.”
What day works best for me???? I don’t know…let me check my calendar. Oh yeah, here we go… Saturday I should have some time to go to jail.
My Hawaii packing list would now read:
Slippas (aka flip flops for haoles like me)
MONEY for BAIL!!!!!!!
I now decided to look up this hike I agreed to do and here’s what I found: The Haiku Stairs are a 3,922 step steel structure from the bottom of the Haiku Valley, near Kaneohe on the windward side of O`ahu.
So let’s just stop right there for a second in case you are reading this quickly and that just passed by you, like it did me. There is a little number there…you see it? Yep - 3,922 followed by a little four letter word, STEP. (Let’s assume the average flight of stairs going up one story has 15 steps. That would mean that this flight of stairs calculates out to climbing the stairs of a 261 story building.) Here’s a little tip for you, if a “friend” sends you an email and it has words like “trespassing,” “climbing over fences,” “security guard(s)” and the phrase “likelihood of jail time for trespassing,” perhaps you should rethink whatever it is you have agreed to. If those keywords don’t trigger any alarm bells, then the number 3,922 followed by the word step should. But I digress…
Further research came up with this:
In 1942 the Haiku Stairs were constructed as a part of the war effort. They supported the U. S. Navy's top-secret high-powered transmitter station in Haiku Valley. In 1955 the wooden Haiku ladder was replaced by a steel structure. The ladder provided access for maintenance of radio equipment near the top of Pu'u Ke-ahi-a-ka-hoe.
Again… for those of you reading quickly (like I did), you may not have noticed that the words “stairs” or “steps” were replaced with the little word of LADDER!!!!! I find out later that this was not a mistype, nor is the word LADDER a synonym for step or stairs in many places of this “hiking trail.”
I found some other articles with headlines like ”Police return to Haiku Stairs” (Star-Bulletin headline), but one of the favorite pieces of trivia that I came across was that in 1981 a Magnum P.I. episode filmed a chase scene on the Stairs and the hike’s popularity increased. (Bet you wish you went with us now don’t you, Dee? Yep, you could have hiked up the same stairs that Mr. Tom Selleck did. And you call yourself a fan!)
In 1987 the Coast Guard closed the Stairs to the public due to concern about liability. A perimeter fence was placed around the property and the City then placed security at the trailhead.
So, Jon and I decide to “hike” on Saturday morning. Taking to Jon on Friday he says we should leave his house no later than 5:30 am so that we can get on the trail while it is still dark and before the security guard shows up. Let’s see, it is 2009, the stairs have been closed for 22 years and there has been no maintenance of any kind to the structure. We are starting our hike under the cover of darkness so that we are not seen scaling a security fence and so that we can avoid a security guard. What could go wrong?
Jon lives on the other side of the island from Waikiki where I am staying, so that means I left the hotel at 4:45 am. I get to Jon’s at 5:30 and we drive to the first of two fences. Jon suggests we don’t park near the fence so that it doesn’t draw attention to the fact that people may be hiking the trail. We park the car a little ways away and begin walking in the pitch black. We come to the first fence and climb over - so far, so good. We walk down a road and Jon says to be looking for a trail going into the woods on the right. First off, the term “woods” should really have been replaced with “thicket of bamboo.” We find what might be a trail, but it could also just as easily have been a path that the island’s wild boars use, or just a small space in-between the many pieces of bamboo that surround us. As we walk along the muddy path in the dark I try to convince myself that this is not about to become the opening scene to “Children of the Bamboo” or any other horror film. We come to the second fence and as luck would have it we don’t have to climb over because some upstanding citizen has sliced a part of the fence open to pass through. We walk a little longer and reach the stairs at first signs of daylight.
As we hike up the stairs there are many false summits. You can see them go all the way up the hill and when you get to the top there is yet another long steep section of stairs that looks just like the last long steep section of stairs you just finished climbing. Occasionally we look back. About a quarter of the way up we can see the guard shack at the bottom and the security guard is standing down there. We keep climbing. The stairs run right up a knifelike ridgeline. On both sides it drops off with a very steep cliff. There are many parts where the steep stairs change to a ladder and we have to hold on with both hands as we climb up. Up to this point the weather had been nice and we even had some really nice sunrise views of the surrounding area. But that was changing. About three-fourths of the way there the clouds rolled in and it began to rain. The only thing better than climbing steep metal stairs that go on forever is climbing steep metal slippery wet stairs that go on forever. As we near the top, we pass a few people coming down who must have started hiking up the stairs in total darkness. When I say pass, what I really mean is Jon and I step over the railing of the stairs and stand on the side of the cliff while holding onto the railing while the other people climb down. The stairs are very narrow and two people cannot pass by each other on them. At many points on the stairs if I didn’t turn sideways the side railings were no wider than my waist.
Jon and I reach the top and after a few minutes we turn around and head back down. If you have ever tried going down a ladder facing forward (away from the ladder) you have an idea of what it was like going down these stairs.
When we were near the bottom, we passed two people climbing up the stairs. “Was there a security guard at the bottom?” I asked them. “Yes” they replied. “How did you get up the stairs?” I asked. “We ignored him when he called to us and started running up” they said. They kept going up at a rapid pace and we continued down. A little while later a security guard came up the stairs, “Did you see two people going up?” He asked. “Yes” I answered. He then asked “How far ahead were they?” To which I replied “Oh not very far.” He continued up the stairs chasing after them and Jon and I headed down. Jon then said “Those people were way ahead of him.” “I know,” I replied “but if he goes after them that will be one less guard we have to outrun at the bottom.” Jon agreed. As it turns out there was only that one security guard and he was so mad at the people ignoring him and running up the stairs that he was more concerned with catching them than Jon and I. What is that old saying? Oh yeah…better them than us.