Ha’ikū Stairs the Ever Muddy and Legal Way
If you’re like me you travel the world trying to find the most amazing and beautiful hikes around. Your search may lead you to the Hawaiian island of O’ahu and one of the most dangerous hikes that I have ever been on, the “Stairway to Heaven” (Ha’ikū Stairs). Don’t let the name fool you, it’s a hell of a hike.
The stairs are actually closed and have been since 1987. The local government has really started cracking down on trespassers. There is now a full time guard posted at the bottom of the stairs and a stiff fine of $1000.00 per person if you get caught (not including your flight back for court). I was told that the locals are pretty fed up with people traipsing through their neighborhood at all hours of the night trying to avoid the guard and they are now calling the police regularly. I can’t say that I blame them, I would get pretty cranky if people kept waking me up at all hours of the night.
The stairs were built in the 1940s by the Navy for access to the radio tower on the peak of Pu’u Keahi Kahoe. The radio tower was in place to transmit radio signals to the Navy ships that were then operating throughout the Pacific. In the 1950's the tower was decommissioned. The Coast Guard replaced the wooden stairs with almost four thousand stairs and platforms that sill stand today. In 1987 the stairs were closed due to liability and maintenance costs. Don't fret though; there is another way up.
The alternative route to the stairs is not for the faint of heart. If you are afraid of heights you should not take this trail. If you are afraid of getting a little dirty you should not take this trail. If you have never hiked a day in your life I would not recommend this trail to you. Please leave the children (furry or otherwise) at home as this trail is not for them.
When arriving at the trail you will park at Moanalua Valley Park. There is a bathroom here and an outdoor faucet to clean off some of the mud from your shoes after your journey (you WILL get muddy). The trail starts with a walk on the Kamananui Valley Rd for just under 3 miles. This is a very easy walk on a wide path. It took my husband and I approximately 50 minutes to get to the start of the Middle Ridge Trail, but we have long legs and walk fast, your results may differ. While on this walk there are several “forks in the road” but they are only a few feet long and take you back to the same trail. I suggest that you take which ever trail looks less muddy. Unless you like mud baths, then by all means…
When you reach a sign for the Kulana'ahane trail, (do not take this trail) keep going about fifteen feet. There will be another trail on the left. There is no sign, but it is an obvious trail and marked with a white arrow spray painted on a rock. After making the turn and crossing a river bed there is a branch that hangs over the trail that someone has carved “Middle Ridge” into. The branch is hard to miss; I had to duck to get under it.
If you have spikes (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) this is where you will want to put them on and keep them on until you get back. During the next mile of the trek you gain around 900 feet going through the bamboo forest.
Once you exit the forest the view is incredible, but I don’t suggest looking down. From this point on the trail is rather treacherous. There are points where the muddy path is no wider than a foot and there is a sharp angled drop off on either side. If it’s super windy I hope you brought your paragliding equipment.
I consider myself an experienced hiker, but there were times standing on this narrow ridge that I got a bit nervous. I couldn’t help but look down when the wind picked up and my jacket became a sail. There were also people coming down the trail while we were going up. I had to laugh to myself as I tried to get off the narrow trail for a man crawling on all fours. I have to admit, he may have had the right idea. I give him a lot of credit, he was obviously scared out of his mind, but he was out there anyway. He was smart about it and took his time.
During the next mile of the trek you will gain another 1100 feet. You will come across multiple sections of ropes to assist you getting up some of the steeper potions on the trail. There is always a lot of “weather” in Hawai’i. During our hike it rained on us periodically for a few minutes but it was just enough to keep the mud muddy. The ropes were a total life saver. Without them I probably would have returned home as the mud monster after rolling down the hill…
If you go with a group it would be a good idea to only have one person on the ropes at a time. The people below will be saved from getting a rock kicked into their face and it makes it easier for the lead person to climb.
Once at the peak of the Moanalua Middle Ridge trail you should be able to see the radio tower. Unfortunately we were completely in the clouds so we didn’t see it until we were much closer. At the final fork in the trail go left towards the tower (if you are lucky enough to see it). If you can see it, don’t start jumping for joy just yet. You still have the muddiest part of the tail ahead of you. It took us about another twenty-five minutes to get to the tower from this point.
After a total of 5.2 miles of hiking you are there! (Okay, you can start jumping now, except you're probably too tired). Hopefully you will be luckier than we were and the clouds will cooperate. The small percentage of the view we were able to see was absolutely stunning. When I come back to Hawai’i I just might have to make the journey again for a chance at a better view.
Clear view or not, we were still walking on cloud nine (see what I did there?). That sense of accomplishment is something that cannot be replicated. Any doubts that I had on the way up disappeared as I looked out over the valley.
Although it is super tempting to take the stairs down, it is illegal to be on the stairs regardless of the direction you are walking. The consequences and fines for getting caught are too rich for my blood.
This hike took us about 7 hours round trip and we spent approximately one hour at the top. Based on my research it seems like it takes most people 7-9 hours to complete the hike depending on their ability and the weather (mud) conditions. I would plan on being out there at least 9 hours. This way you don’t have to rush down if you want to spend more time at the top.
Spikes – Even if there isn’t rain in the forecast, it is Hawai’i and most likely it has rained in the mountains recently. The trail will be muddy. These were essential to us. We probably would have had to turn around without them. (these are pretty close to the ones we used. https://www.amazon.com/Ice-Snow-Cleat-Spikes-Crampons/dp/B01N35LBJG/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1511967824&sr=8-9&keywords=mud+spikes )
Waterproof shoes that can handle mud – read above
A rain jacket/slicker – it’s the mountains, it might rain anyway.
Gloves – These are super helpful with the ropes. If the trail is muddy the rope is going to be wet, muddy, and extremely dangerous.
Clothes you don’t care about – you are bound to get mud somewhere. News flash, this crazy Hawaiian mud does NOT come out of your clothes! We learned this the hard way. We just made our own dirt shirts (https://dirtshirt.com/) …except pants, and socks…
Water – more than just a 16 oz bottle. This hike took us 7 hours.
Snacks – because I can’t go more than two hours without eating
Since we’re already talking about food I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to go and get an Açaí bowl afterwards, you’ll deserve it! (then send me one…please)
And most importantly – A sense of adventure!
- KT (@globetrotter_KT)
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