Haiku Stairs

When I first visited my brother in 2016, he had taken me on a drive around Oahu, during which, he mentioned the forbidden Stairway to Heaven, which ascends the volcanic precipices above the central windward coastal town of Kaneohe. I was intrigued, and that brief introduction had planted the seed in my mind.

A month into my stay on Oahu in 2020, I finally made a spontaneous decision to hike this WWII era flight of stairs, which were originally constructed with wood, as access to a radio tower at the top of the Ko’olau ridge line. In preparation, knowing the greatest obstacle was slipping past a guard post at the windward base of the steps near Highway 3, I reviewed blogs and trail forums for beta.

The Haiku Stairs have been officially closed to public access since 1987, and exist in part, on government property. My brother first mentioned them during my first significant visit in 2016. Blogs and YouTube have revealed plenty of evidence for arrests, but trespassing has become so status quo that law enforcement seems to look the other way!

During my 2020 visit, I looked a bit further into a strategy for avoiding the rumored fine of $1,000 USD along with several weeks of community service. The alternate route approaches the stairs from the western leeward side of Oahu from the Moanalua Valley Park Trailhead. I bagain the adventure with an Uber ride from the south side of Honolulu to the trailhead at 5:00am.

I arrived at the Moanalua Valley Park about 5:30am, observing a couple of pickups having just passed through one of two locked gates accessing a rugged jeep road up the valley. I was uncertain whether they were military or just hunters. I trailed behind them cautiously until the trucks where out of sight. There was little ambient light beneath the canopy of the forest.

I read that there were 17 stream crossings which from the description wasn’t clear because no reference had been made to following a jeep track most of the way. It quickly became evident after the first few crossings, that all of the fords where concrete reinforced jeep crossings. I tried to keep track of the crossings under the dim light of my headlamp.

It was about 6:30am when I had reached a sharp turn in the jeep road and caught up to the trucks that had departed an hour earlier. I greeted the men with a “good morning”. They were barely visible in the shadows of dense bush in the early dawn light. There was no response. I continued at a faster clip out of their sight. The road became muddier and more choked by vegetation. I reached the first marker, a trail sign,

The blog I read said to ignore the sign and look for an unmarked path about 25-ft beyond the sign marked trail. The unmarked path came up quickly. The path, despite being unmarked, was easy to navigate. It climbed up the spine of the central ridge rapidly, with near vertical sections, reminiscent of the muddy slopes of Georgia and North Carolina on the Appalachian Trail.

Midway up the ridge I met a father and daughter from Sacramento, California; john and Cristina. They had followed instructions from a German couple earlier in the morning and missed the turn off, losing a couple hours of approach time. They had began about an hour and a half before me. I remembered what happened to me the last time I listened to a couple of local hunters near Creede while hiking towards Pagosa Springs, CO on the CDT.

Inclement weather was closing in quickly on the southern San Juans. Despite feeling reluctance to head out from the comforts of the motel in Creede, I had already stayed two nights and was anxious to make it out of Colorado before winter conditions. In short, a couple of local hunters about 10 miles south of Creede, pointed across the valley at a densely forested ridge and told me I would find a trail that would cut off a couple thousand feet of elevation loss. Within hours, I was lost! I lost a half day crossing dense forest and steep terrain without a train, including a stream ford. By the time I discovered a path up to the ridge the CDT traversed, it was too late! I was bombarded by heavy winds and blinding snow. It was a life threatening situation that could have been avoided.

I wished them a good hike and hiked rapidly up the steep central ridge, as the trail became increasingly muddier and steeper. By late morning, I got my first glimpse of the precipitous windward coastline with turquoise waters. The main ridge that ran nearly the length of the Koolau Range was a couple steep slippery climbs within reach. The radio dishes at the top of the Haiku Stairs was visible.