Haʻikū Stairs, otherwise known as the Stairway to Heaven

This past Sunday morning at 2:30 a.m. I met a friend to drive to a locked gate at one of the entrances to the private property where the trail begins that leads under the H-3 freeway to the base of the Haʻikū ladder. The locked gate may prevent cars from entering but there is a well worn foot path around the side of it. While waiting for the others in our group to arrive, two groups came in to hike the stairs, which finally convinced me that this was not just a rude joke to get me out of bed at 2 a.m.! The reason for the early start is that a guard is posted at the foot of the latter to prevent people from going up. The guard used to start work at 5 a.m., but evidently when hikers figured that out and started coming earlier, he started coming an hour earlier. We therefore had to get past the guard station by 4 a.m.

It was a moonless night but it was so overcast and raining occasionally that it wasn’t pitch black and our headlamps were adequate. The only problem was the cutoff from the road to the trail was obscured by night and a bamboo thicket, so we ended walking around for almost two hours before we found a different way to get to the base of the stairs. Too late, the guard was on duty and we were already the third group that morning to be turned back (the two groups before us had come from a different direction and had spent even longer trying to find the guard station).

The one time I climbed the stairs before the City and County repaired them several years ago, many of the steps were missing, so I held onto the fixed ropes, which is always a bad idea as one never knows how old or sturdy such ropes are. The stairs are very vertical, probably ascending at an 80-85 degree angle, so it is a very long and possibly fatal fall if one slips while high up. My friend assured me the hand rail was now solid so no problem.

The top of the ridge is the providence of the akua. The time I was at the top before, it was a very spiritual experience to be at one with the mist, the winds, the vegetation that is unique to the tops of these mountains. And of course, the view across the top of the Koʻolau range. I don’t feel badly about not climbing the stairs this time because they surely would have been slippery and visibility at the top would have been completely obscured. Instead I mahalo nā akua and nā aumākua for preventing us from doing something totally and insanely ridiculous!

Skip to content