Time: 7-9 HOURS
Distance: 8 MILES
Elevation Gain: 2200 FEET
Foot Traffic: MODERATE
Challenges: Getting to the stairs, Very Muddy, Steep, and Narrow Ridges
Sights: The Stairs, H3 Highway, K-Bay, Moanalua Valley, Ko'olau Mountain Range, Pearl Harbor
What to Bring: Lots of Water, Sunscreen, Good Shoes, Headlamp, Snacks/Lunch
An alternate route to the famous Stairway to Heaven Hike, this path is half as illegal... but twice as difficult. You start by going up the 3922 steps to reach the military transmission structure at the summit. From there, you continue along the ridge to Moanalua Middle Ridge, a steep and muddy ridge that takes you through the center of the island. Moanalua Middle will eventually lead you to Moanalua Valley where you will follow a long flat path to your staged car (if you planned ahead). Be prepared for a 8+ hour day if you decide to tackle this monster, but it will be worth all that hard work.
I ran into my hiking buddy Peter earlier in the week. It had been awhile since we'd done a hike together so naturally we started chatting about it. He mentioned some of his friends were all interested in doing the notorious Stairway to Heaven hike. Since Peter and I had done this hike a year prior, he asked if I wanted to join. Not wanting to miss out on a a Stairway opportunity, I said certainly!
Here is a rough Google Earth image of the path we took. As you can see, this route is long! However, making it a one way hike does reduce the risk of that hefty fine if the police catch you leaving the stairs...
Speaking of that fine, if you didn't know this hike is illegal. There's a portion of the stairs that were damaged by a storm in 2015, so the hike is dangerous. You can be fined up to $1000 for doing this hike. That being said, people still climb the stairs every day. There's just a little bit of planning required. This post will NOT explain how to get to the stairs. But it will provide you with a few links that will explain it for you :)
Our story begins on the first platform of the stairs. Maybe about a third of the way up. We began our hike from the Kahuhipa Street at 3:30, made it to the stairs a little after 4, and were at this platform around 5. This was much quicker than Peter and my last attempt at the stairs, where we found ourselves on the wrong ridge and had to essentially shimmy from that ridge to the ridge the stairs are on. That was possibly the sketchiest situation I've been in while hiking, especially because it was dark out.
Needless to say, this attempt went much more smoothly. We found ourselves with 45 minutes to kill before sunrise. We thought about heading up higher, but decided we had a great spot, why risk it. Besides, the upper portions of the stairs are often cloud covered.
What a great decision that was! I thought the sunrise last year was awesome, but this might have topped it. It's hard to beat those rays coming out of the clouds.
After a bit more refueling, we were ready to continue.
I don't care who you are, these stairs are TOUGH. If you think the Koko Crater Stairs are a challenge, just wait for Haiku. It's 3922 stairs and 2200 feet in elevation, dwarfing Koko Head's 1048 stairs and 1000 feet. Not to mention, the ridge gets narrow and sometime it is so steep, it's basically like climbing a ladder.
But then again, breaks are an excuse to take in the beautiful views. That highway down there is the H3, one of the most expensive cost per mile highways ever built. It is also my drive to work everyday. When I'm driving, I always take a peak to see if anyone is doing the stairs. More often than not I do see someone. This hike is so magical it's worth the risk.
Proof these are in fact the Haiku Stairs.
Here's a shot of our hiking crew during the ascent. That guy at the top of the picture is Mike and he is actually part of the team. He just didn't feel like being part of the group photo...
Another shot looking back down. Pictures don't do this hike justice.
It didn't take long before we started to get above the clouds. Guess that decision to stay at the first platform for sunrise was a good one!
And not long after, we were completely surrounded. Unfortunately, the peaks of the Ko'olaus are typically covered with clouds. You have to get really lucky to get a view at the summit. I actually like the clouds. It adds to the forbidden and mystical feeling that is Stairway to Heaven.
Finally, another platform, which means time for a break! I swear you couldn't tell from this photo that this hike is illegal, it almost looks like a tourist group waiting to head up to the next attraction. There had to have been at least 60 people doing this hike that day.
Our turn! This short ascent led to this open roofed building.
Which of course is covered in art. Was this some sort of bunking quarters for the guys that worked up at the transmitterr?
Onward! The stairs flatten out for a bit. It gives the calves a little break.
But then it's back at it for the final push to the top!
Did I mention this was steep? #legday
And finally we've reached the summit. This structure is one of the several transmitters the US Navy installed during WWII so they would be able to transmit radio signals to the many ships throughout the Pacific. In order to get access to these ridges, they built the Haiku Stairs. Imagine having to climb up those stairs to get to work every day!
Because it was so cloudy at the top, I had to get a little creative for some photos. Here's a shot looking back down the stairs into that cloudy abyss.
And here's a closeup of Mike after he and I climbed on top of the tower. His face says it all, the winds were whipping us pretty good. I cannot estimate how strong they were, but the stronger gusts could definitely move you if you weren't careful. These are the kind of winds you don't want when you are hiking on a narrow ridge.
Which is exactly where we were going, the treacherous Moanalua Middle Ridge. This is your typical advanced Hawaii ridge, narrow with steep dropoffs. It really wouldn't be THAT intense of a ridge if it weren't crazy muddy and crazy windy.
But of course this ridge was both of those things... and it's likely it will always be muddy and windy. Oh well, here we go.
I think this photo captures the narrow aspect of it. I'm not sure whether Mike was intentionally running or he tripped and was catching himself. Regardless, his coordination was good enough that he made it to the other side.
The hike is not only narrow, but it's also steep. It's one of those hikes where you basically do whatever it takes to get down without hurting yourself. Here, Josh is demonstrating the slalom technique. Basically, you put one front of the other and let the slick mud carry you down the hill.
You just gotta make sure you can stop...
This was probably the sketchiest portion of the descent. Very steep, very muddy.
Luckily, there was a solid rope there for support. I'm always hesitant of ropes, but I'm pretty sure all of us used this one.
I didn't know this happened until I was going back through the footage, but Mike took a pretty hard fall right here, sliding several feet down the mountain. It definitely could have been a bad day since he probably would have taken a few of us out with him. But he didn't. Crisis averted.
A shot of the grade of this descent. Also notice my hand. There's no hope of staying clean on this hike.
Finally after all that scrambling down that muddy ridge, we began to break through the clouds.
And we were treated to this beautiful view of the valley, neighboring ridges, and Pearl Harbor all in one shot.
Looking back and to the right you can just barely make out the water of the windward side. That is actually K-Bay, the view we got to see during the sunrise.
Damnit Peter! You just had to take a picture when I was trying to capture this photo of everyone looking out into the distance. Oh well, still a good shot.
But the hike still wasn't over, we still had several miles, and a few challenging descents to go.
One of those tricky descents. But compared to the beginning part of this ridge, it was easy. These ridges get enough sun that they aren't sopping in mud.
There were some unique plants we passed during our descent, like this one that reminded me of an elf's ears.
Or these very common and beautiful plants that I cannot ever seem to remember the name.
And even some blown over trees.
But eventually, you will make it off the ridge and get back to the valley floor. From here it's pretty obvious how to get back. Just look for the beaten down path and some ribbons.
And finally you will reach this wide paved trail which will lead you all the way back to your pre-staged car at the beginning of the Moanalua Valley Trail (if you planned accordingly). In my opinion, this is the least exciting part of the hike. It's several miles on this flat road through the valley without much to look at. But after everything we'd been through, it was nice to yet again be back on flat ground.
What another fun adventure on Oahu. We'd hiked for 8 hours, 8 miles, and had seen one of the most unique and historic places on the island of Oahu. And it wasn't even noon! I think its time for a nap on the beach.
Check out my video of this long, thrilling, and muddy adventure!
Have you ventured up the famous Haiku Stairs? Share your story below!
Also Check Out:
- Unreal Hawaii's Haiku Stairs story
- This awesome drone video of Stairway