page 13: haiku stairs (stairway to heaven)

last mile, stairway to heaven, oahu. july 2011

stairway to heaven is one of my favorite hikes on oahu. it’s just a few miles long (no info online is consistent), and is made up of nearly 4,000 steps going up and over the ko’olau mountain range. 

the stairs were build in the 40s by the US navy to give people access to the top secret radio station used to transmit signals to the navy ships sailing through the pacific. it’s been shut down since the 80s because sections of the wooden and metal stairs are totally decrepit, dangerous, and weak, but tons of people ignore the ‘keep out’ and ‘kapu’ signs to do the hike. 

this day in 2011 marks the 2nd but successful attempt doing this hike. the first time we went, my friends and i left the house too late (we were supposed to get the trailhead by 2 am), traveled through a sewage pipe and someone’s private backyard (wrong), and took too long to find the trailhead. by the time we got there (after 2 am), the guard was already at his post, a chair under a blue ez up, ready to ward off hikers. you couldn’t get in trouble if the guard was at the trailhead once you finished the hike. i’ve heard that if you do happen to run into a guard at the trailhead, you could probably bypass him/her pretty easily and wouldn’t have the cops called on you if you came bearing gifts – spam musubis, beer, malasadas…   my friends back home tell me that the guard is now there 24/7 and that there’s a pretty gnarly fine (anywhere between $600-$1000) for getting “caught” finishing the hike. 

we started the hike at 1:30 in the morning. i think i was better prepared this time around – gloves and good shoes were probably the most important things since so many of the pipes i was holding onto had rusted, sharp holes, and the steps were slippery. hiking stairway to heaven is like scaling a very long ladder, broken up by 3 platforms. it was dark, pretty misty and cold since we were out at that hour and i ended up taking off my cheap plastic poncho cuz all it did was get in the way of stepping up (i’m short) and sliding my hands up the pole. as we stopped off at each platform, we took a look out at the city lights in the distance and the freeway overpass way, way down below. stairs and stairs and stairs, platform – we repeated this another two times before we hit the radio building at the top along with about a dozen other people. it was about 4 in the morning, and so we waited for another hour, hour and a half for the sun to rise. at this point, we were hovering above the clouds, so the sunrise we saw were rays peeking through all the fog and clouds. 

on the way down, the sun came up a bit more, the rain disappeared, and all the stairs beneath us came to light. it was kinda hard to believe that we’d scaled those stairs in darkness. this post by unreal hawaii continues to be one of my favorite photo blogs of this hike. when we finished the trail, the guard was at his post but he didn’t give us any trouble. we took a different route back to the car and ended up in vast field of tall weeds and red dirt, seeing another mountain range out in the distance. when i got home, i slept til the late evening. 

i plan to do this in december and i plan to pay whatever price it’ll cost me.

shot on holga 135bc
stairway to heaven trail, oahu, july 2011

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