Climbing the Stairway to Heaven

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The Haiku Stairs, a.k.a. the Stairway to Heaven, is a semi-secret forbidden hike on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The stairs were originally built in 1943 to install antenna cables as part of a larger military radio communication system to communicate with US Navy submarines as far away as Tokyo Bay. The original wooden steps were replaced by metal, cable-supported stairs in the early 1950s when the US Coast Guard took over the installation. Soon after, the military decommissioned the entire site and it was opened to the public–until 1987, when fences and ‘no trespassing’ signs went up to prevent hikers from accessing the stairs.

After hearing about the stairs, I knew it was something I just had to do–I live for this kind of stuff. I set out solo before the crack of dawn to hit the trail before a scheduled security guard began his daily duty to thwart off would-be trespassers.

Finding the Way

After reading the horror stories local residents vs. rude hikers, I parked well away from the trail head and treaded lightly through the residential area and then stealthily over a fence onto a pitch-black maintenance road that I thought would take me directly to the stairs. I was wrong. With nothing more than a dim penlight, I spent 45 minutes heading far off-course while stumbling through dark side trails searching for a clue of a the way to the stairs. I came across some high school kids who were also searching for the stairs. With the sun beginning to rise, we found a small opening in a bamboo forest and headed in.

Finally things were looking promising and we eventually found our way to the foot of the 3,922 stairs that would take us to the 2,480 ft summit. Luckily, the security guard still hadn’t arrived and all that stood between us and the stairs were two fences covered with signs warning of the consequences of trespassing, mostly related to bodily injury or death. After getting around the fences, I accelerated skyward, leaving the group of kids behind. I was already dehydrated from my earlier fast-paced quest for the stairs, and tried to conserve the small amount of water I had. I didn’t come to the island geared up for much hiking.

The Climb

I ascended with my gigantic camera dangling around my neck like a dumbbell which made things a little more difficult, but I managed to get almost 200 pictures while struggling to clear my lens of stuck-on bugs using my sweat-drenched t-shirt.

The climb was well worth it. The sun rose over the Windward coast as I ascended at a furious pace into the dense clouds–it quickly becomes obvious how the stairs earned their nickname. I met some people along the way–mostly locals, including an Army soldier who was curious how I had heard of the stairs.

I won’t mention the exact whereabouts of the stair trailhead, but a little Googling can point you in the right direction. Just remember to respect the residents–many of them aren’t too happy with some of the hikers that come trampling through.

The stairs begin in the lush valley of Kaneohe Forest under the H3 highway.
The stairs continue upwards, ascending towards the top of the first of six steps.
Looking back down on the H3 Highway from the second of six steps.
Continuing upward in the third step through overgrowth and slippery stairs.
Continuing upward in the third step through overgrowth and slippery stairs.
The stairs have reached the ridgeline where they will continue onward towards the top of the third step.
Meandering along the ridgeline in the third step.
The stairs go near vertical in some sections.
Looking back towards the top of the second step on the tip of the cliff.
Continuing onwards along the third step.
Zigzagging along the ridge.
The stairs are comprised of 8' segments interlinked by hooks and anchored by spikes driven into the mountain side.
Stairway to Heaven
A hiker begins the fourth step through a section of wider-than-usual stairs.
Stairway to Heaven

Oahu's Haiku Steps (aka Stairway to Heaven). Piercing into the clouds along a flat section along the fourth step.

Now this is how the stairs got the nickname "Stairway to Heaven."
Looking down into the fog in the middle of the fifth step.
The twin parabolic-dish antennae at the 2,720 ft summit after 3,922 stairs.
Look closely for the first few hundred stairs of the first step as seen from the H3 Highway.
Swipe left or right to view photos:

And a quick video I shot with my phone on the way down, the first part about 3/4 up and the second part about 1/2 up:

Haiku Stairs