In memory of the Stairway to Heaven


This week my Facebook was filled with the photos of the mangled remains of what used to be a section of one of my favorite Hawai’i hikes: the Haiku Stairs, better known as Stairway to Heaven. Notoriously illegal, and a favorite amongst locals, international students, and tourists, the stairways have been a kind of institution in Hawaii since their installation during World War II.

As restrictions became more severe the last couple of years a common ritual included sneaking through the woods at 3:30 AM to climb the stairs before the guards showed up, and watch the sunrise from arguably one of the most spectacular spots on Oahu.

I loved this hike, and I have trekked the stairs no less than four times during my 3 years in Hawai’i, in addition to trying out the much more dangerous route to the top via Moanalua Saddle.

Last weekend a storm hit the island, and landslides destroyed sections of the stairs (and stranded a couple of hikers at the top). Unless a miracle occurs that will convince the state to reopen the hiking trail, this probably means that there won’t be any repairs done, which means that reaching the top of Pu’u Keahiakahoe via the stairs will be impossible.

In memory of the stairs, here are some photos from my trips to the top.


After sneaking through the forest at the back of Haiku Valley (with nothing lighting your way except your torch), you reach a sign reminding you that what you are doing is illegal (rebel, rebel!) and that the trek could result in your death. This is not hyperbole; multiple people have died on the stairs.


After ignoring the sign, you meet this nice, comforting message on one of the steps. A friendly reminder of the fact that you have just started scaling the 3,922 steps that will take you to the top. All in the pitch-black darkness of night.


You climb for what seems like hours and hours in the darkness until you suddenly realize that you’re at the top. The darkness means this almost always comes as a surprise (this photo was taken after sunrise). At the top of the stairs, the remnants of a military station await. You huddle here and drink the whiskey you brought to keep warm.


And then you wait for the sunrise and watch as Kaneohe and Kailua wake up below.


Sunrise will reveal one of the most beautiful views on the island, of Kailua, Kaneohe, and the three peaks of Pu’u Olomana (Hawai’i’s version of the Lonely Mountain from The Hobbit).


And then you start climbing down the stairs again, this time in broad daylight and suddenly fully aware of how steep the stairs are, and how far you’ll fall if you accidentally trip. Awesome!


Stop and look back to admire the beauty of the peak.


Pose for a photo while trying (and failing) at looking awake and not bone-tired after having been awake since 2 AM (it will be about 6:30 AM at this point).


Stop and enjoy the view. Watch your step.


Take some time to admire the people who built these stairs, first out of wood, and then metal.


Continue down the stairs, preferably without falling.


Look back once more, and then continue down into the valley and home.

I will miss you, Haiku Stairs!

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