Stairway to Heaven Hike

I’ve dreamt about this one for years.

Stairway to Heaven or Haiku Stairs is one of the most iconic treks in the world at 3,922 steps. Built in 1942 by the Navy for access to a radio relay station during WWII, it has been illegal to hike since 1987 due to disrepair of the steps with a $1k fine & arrest if caught by police.


The legal way to gain access to the stairs is via a 10 mile round trip trail leading up from the Moanalua Valley. I decided early on to start my quest at daybreak, giving me extra time to complete my challenge if needed. The average hiker ascends in four hours and returns in three more, so my only goal was to finish.

The first three miles are easy going along a winding but tame path deep into the lush forest. After 10 creek crossings at varying depth depending on recent rainfall, the trek’s intensity flies off the charts.

You dig in mentally for 3 hours straight uphill following RIDICULOUSLY narrow ridge lines amongst the quickly moving fog blankets hovering all around. Those two nearly vertical miles seem to inch on for ages, as you reach five different ledges that are so slick that ropes are dangling from branches to assist with your ascent. What did I sign up for? In this moment, I’m super thankful I didn’t drag any of my friends to this “gut check” trail as any fear of heights would have been paralyzing. Definitely a GDC moment!

Each new peak is a fake summit, but there is no turning back now. Out of breath and heart racing, you plow forward feeling a little disheartened but also so empowered in the same breath. You are fixated on finding the elusive radio tower, signifying the end of your journey.

Then finally, it comes into sight with only ~150 more steps to go and you literally feel like you can walk on air and fly up that last ledge.

And if you are super lucky, you get to enjoy this vantage point all by your lonesome. Yep, it is a surreal moment.

I captured a few pictures and videos jumping over the railing to actually walk on the top 50ish steps and peer over the top to see how crazy the staircase below actually is.

I break out lunch and gulp down a liter of water to replenish the gobs of sweat that I had expended reaching this pinnacle, just as I see a few fellow travelers climbing up the last ledge to join me in reveling at our accomplishment.

Over my 40 minutes sitting on top of the world and waiting for the fog to subside for a few minutes at a time, we only see one crazy adventurer who attempted to evade the police and made it up the full staircase unscathed. I wouldn’t risk it!

The 2 hour and 50 minute jaunt back to civilization was spent concentrating on my footing and celebrating the mind blowing 360 degree scenery. I pass maybe 20 fellow travelers (at the most) and we trade encouragements at our shared goal. And of course, I try not to get injured rappelling down the insanely steep drop offs or break open too many of the blisters that had accumulated on my palms.

The last three mile stretch couldn’t finish soon enough, as I was out of water and literally was just thinking “one foot in front of the other”.

10 miles ✅

Bucket list hike ✅

Published by elliottcm

Love adventure travel, work hard & play hard, happy in both extremes - relaxing on a remote beach or rappelling down cliffs, take joy in simple things, love being on & near the water, visited 55 countries & 47 states so far in this crazy beautiful life! Goals by my 50th birthday - 50 states. 75 countries. 50 national parks. Be in Antarctica on my big day.

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