Time: 8+ HOURS
Distance: 12 MILES
Elevation Gain: 1800 FEET
Foot Traffic: LOW
Challenges: Overgrown, Muddy, Narrow Ridges with Steep Dropoffs, Shadeless
Sights: Stairway to Hell, Windward Side, Honolulu
What to Bring: Sunscreen, Long pants and sleeves, Water (>2L), Lunch
The lesser known of Oahu's staircases, the hike nicknamed "Stairway to Hell" is just like it sounds--- an old sketchy set of abandoned stairs that lead downhill to nowhere. Getting to these stairs is no easy feat as you will have to make your way up to and then traverse the challenging and dangerous Ko'olau Summit Trail (KST). But when you get there, you will be rewarded some epic views of the Windward side and some spectacular photo ops.
If you know even a tiny bit about Oahu hiking, you will have heard about the famous Haiku Stairs AKA "Stairway to Heaven". These were stairs built back in the WWII era, that led to an old radar tower, way up in the Ko'olau Mountain Range. Now these stairs are an iconic hiking landmark, not only because of the beautiful landscape you see, but also the local conflict they have created. They are illegal to hike, not only because they are damaged and dangerous, but also because they require you to trespass on people's private property, creating another set of problems.
What people don't realize, there are other less famous staircases to explore. One of these such staircases is one often referred to as Stairway to Hell. The stairs have been on my hiking list for quite awhile, but I was waiting to find the right crew to go with. After some tipsy bar discussion, plans fell into place, and I finally had a day set to take on these stairs. It would be an adventure to remember.
This is a shot of the hike. Our plan was to do an out and back from Aiea Ridge to the KST and then take the KST to the stairs (in red). Our plans changed once reaching the stairs, which led us down a different ridge, called Red Hill Ridge (blue). I'm not one to change plans half way through a hike, and I probably should have listened to my instinct... but more on that later.
Our day began in Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Park, the location of the popular Aiea Loop Trail. Before the hike even began our first mishap occurred... none of us had brought any sunscreen. Oh well, we were already here, might as well hike anyway right? (I would regret that decision the next day... and the rest of the week...)
A totally new squad for today's hike-- Carly, Katie, and Anna. No better way to bond than 8+ hours of nature and dangerous ridges!
It didn't take long for us to make the turn up to Aiea Ridge (more on how to find that in this post). We would be on this trail for the next few hours, as we made our way to the KST.
Just like last time, I was pleasantly surprised about how much I enjoyed Aiea Ridge. It had its challenges with a couple narrow sections.
And even some steeper descents.
But balanced that with some great views. Overall, this is probably one of my favorite of the less maintained ridges that connect to the KST.
But we still gotta make it to the KST first! It's hard to tell what the views were going to be like with some gray clouds overhead. More often than not, the Ko'olaus will be socked in by clouds.
Just gotta make the final push to see what's at the top...
And after almost 2.5 hours, that's what we found at the top-- nothing short of spectacular. All the beautiful Windward views there to see-- the Sandbar, Chinaman's Hat, you name it.
And the view of the center of the island wasn't too shabby either.
Picture perfect... and this wasn't even our destination for the day. We almost didn't want to continue on.
But continue on we must.
The official Aiea Ridge summit. Brace yourself, it's KST time.
If you've never hiked on the KST, you're in for a treat. Unmaintained, grassy ridges, with steep dropoffs. And if it's clear like today, insane views like this.
There's really nothing quite like it.
And it's not without its physical challenges as well. The ridge rollercoasters up and down quite a bit, so you are forced to deal with some steep inclines like this.
I really enjoyed the KST portion of this hike, but we were getting antsy to find the stairs. Unfortunately that ridge in this picture is a "false ridge" and is not where the stairs are located.
At some point we ran into this wire fence. I believe this is to keep the pigs and/or goats located on one part of the island. No bother though, you can circumvent this fence easily.
And take in some of those central island views. Look how far we've come.
And we have just a bit more to go! See that flat section ahead of us? That is where the stairs are located. The stairs continue down to that ridge to the left.
And we're here! Not gonna lie, my first thought was man these stairs are pretty gross. They are far more broken and rusted than the Haiku Stairs.
But a well placed instagram model can hide that ;). Time for some photos.
This spot really was unique. All of Kaneohe and Kailua in view. Feels more like heaven than hell to me.
And we even found this killer lunch spot nearby. Our lunches may be boring Pb&Js, but the view was anything but boring.
It had taken us roughly 4 hours to reach the stairs from Aiea Ridge. Riding high from all the amazing views, we thought "no need to stick to the plan! We will just continue along the KST and take one of these ridges down! What could possibly go wrong?" We were surprised to see that the stairs actually continued along this ridgeline a little ways. But they were still very disintegrated.
But it was nice to have them for a few of the steeper ascents. I do highly recommend bringing gloves if you plan on touching the rails.
The return trip started out beautiful, getting another beautiful perspective of the island.
But soon, the KST started to get the best of us. With minimal cloud cover, the bright sunlight began to burn our sunscreenless skin. The ridge became so overgrown that our arms and legs became raw and bloody. On top of all that, we couldn't decide which ridge to turn down. Do we go continue all the way to the Moanalua Saddle or just turn down one of these unknown ridges?
Eventually, we made a decision to turn down a ridge which we thought to be Red Hill ridge. The ridge only provided minor relief in terms of it's challenges. It was still overgrown initially, scratching our already cut up legs. It's hard to see from this picture, but Anna actually tied her shirt and jacket around her legs to protect them. She wasn't the only person with a creative solution. Katie tied ziplock bags around her exposed ankles and Carly borrowed my long pants, which were completely oversized for her. It was quite the hilarious sight. Sadly, no pics though, we were all too miserable to consider taking a picture. But that comedic relief was just what we needed to push through the hike.
After a few hours of pain, the trail finally opened up. The end is near!
Sort of... we popped out by what we believe was the Red Hill oil drums, which turned out to be a restricted area. Instead of a clean path to freedom, we were forced to walk along a restricted road, and scale a barbed wire fence in order to reach a point where our friend Drew was waiting in his car to pick us up. A ridiculous, but fitting way to end our adventure.
And despite all of that, despite our sunburned faces, our sore muscles, and our cut up legs, every one of us would have done that hike again in a heartbeat.
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Also Check Out:
- This awesome writeup about Stairway to Hell