Hiking the Stairway to Heaven

On Oahu, located on the windward side called Kaneohe, the mountain range has formed some majestically high cliffs. Always caressed with passing clouds, a place called Stairway to Heaven can be vaguely seen above Haiku valley. Leading our expedition of 8 , we were lucky to have one experienced hiker among the rest of us novice hikers. Even back in the 70’s, it was difficult to get permission to hike there, since it was on Forrest Reserve land and the Coast Guard Omega Antenna Station. Periodically they would host an open house.

Our guide suggested that we bring lots of water, lite lunch snack with candy bars, gloves padded to protect hands from getting blisters, a wind breaker jacket in case it rained, and comfortable rubber padded shoes (no leather slippery soles), sunglasses to protect eyes, camera for panoramic view, sunscreen, all this but keeping your pack light. Nothing to be carried by hand, since both hands were needed to be free for this hike, and definitely no handbags or wallets, just an ID.

It was best to start as soon as they opened cause it took approximately 3 hours up the mountain and an hour down, running and sliding with hands on the bars. Including, four catch your breath breaks used for scenery appreciation which were amazing at that elevation. The air gets thinner as you go up so it makes breathing difficult. Before we started, there was a waiver to be signed,saying that the place was not responsible for any accidents or deaths, which was a good way to discourage any amateurs from trying this hike.

The first part of the hike (30-40min) was normal till we hit the first ledge and rest stop. From there we saw a ladder, like those on children’s play gyms, except it went straight up the side of the mountain for seven feet then a ledge footing to rest then more ladders. Now we knew why we had to have gloves and hands free!

By the second rest stop, just a third of the way up, one girl in our group decided she could not go any further so she said she’d wait there till we came down. We didn’t want risk her to going back down by herself, without someone helping her. It was pretty much a buddy buddy system with the person in front helping the person below when they needed help. We let several groups go ahead of us since they were faster and in better shape than we were, despite the fact that we were only in our 20’s-30’s.

It took 2 hours to almost reach the top of the ridge. The higher we went the harder it was to breath, the slower we moved. But we noticed some military men in groups of 2 literally running past us. It seemed like they were on a race or daily exercise and ran non-stop as if to break some record to get up there and down, they were having so much fun laughing and talking, while we were huffing and puffing, struggling just to get up there. Once on top, it’s about 40 mins of winding walkways with single guard rails on both sides which we clung to for dare life, to reach the end. Makes you feel much safer than Koko Crater Rim hike, where the rim is about 6 inches wide and crumbly like gravel, with so many small loose rocks that you have to crawl on all 4’s to cross the dangerous narrow areas and no guard rails. Koko Crater Rim Hike was considered for Intermediate Hikers, but to me it seemed like it was for the advanced, too scary.

Now for the fun part, going down! It was more fun and much easier and faster. Just hanging on to the rails with 2 hands and sliding down each 7 ft. ladder at a time with both feet on the outside of the rails.

By the time we hit bottom, my hands were blistered even though I had gloves (not the right kind for bars), my arms were aching from using it to pull myself up each bar, (should’ve practiced pull ups and chin ups), and my legs felt, okay just a little weak, but not falling off like my arms. Once we hit level ground we began laughing and partially jumping for joy that we had finished this feat. That was great! But let’s not do it again for a while. The blisters, aches and pains took a while to go away.

Today the place is closed to the public, ever since vandals in the night tore off several segmented ladders and threw them down into the non accessible terrain. The cost was too much to replace them and there was no need to, for repairs and checks could now be done by helicopter. Back then technicians had to climb up there. Recently groups of people tried to get funding to fix and reopen the place,but failed. So until then, the “Stairway to Heaven” is lost to memories……..for now!

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