Moanalua Middle Ridge to Ha’ikū Stairs
This is one of those hikes we’ve been talking about forever, but we weren’t quite sure we were ever going to make it happen. When our family first moved to Hawai’i, we heard about the Ha’ikū Stairs (Stairway to Heaven) both from websites and then also the hiking community. The stairs were built during WWII to help soldiers access the transmission station atop the peak called Pu’u Keahi a Kahoe.
Although they underwent a renovation in 2003, the set of nearly 4000 stairs has been off-limits since the late 1980s. That hasn’t stopped people from climbing them of course, but since we’ve lived here, most have done it in the wee hours of the morning to avoid getting stopped by the guard.
Well, getting someone to babysit our kids in the middle of the night wasn’t exactly an option, so we weren’t able to try that. And then, officials started cracking down even further and from what I understand, a guard is now stationed at the bottom of the stairs full-time. Citations are being handed out for trespassing, and we weren’t willing to risk the fine.
After a few months, we started hearing that people were accessing the stairs from a different way. It’s important to note that being on the stairs is illegal regardless of the way you reach them. So if you decide to follow the route we took, please understand you’re doing so at your own risk.
Okay, a few things before I get started. One, we did NOT bring our children along on this trail. It is about 11 miles long, and there is a fair amount of danger involved. This may be a family blog, but not every trail we do is kid-friendly. Second, I highly recommend getting spikes before doing this trail. It made the whole thing SO much easier for us! You can read our last post for more information on the spikes we purchased.
Third, this trail starts at Moanalua Valley Park. You walk on the Kamananui Valley Road for about 2-3 miles before you reach the sign below. For more information on that trail/road, visit our past post about it. I’m going to start from this point because I’ve already covered the miles prior in that above-linked post.
As you can see by the words etched into the sign, this is NOT the stairs trail. So keep walking. Just in case you’re still not getting the point, someone carved another warning in the tree behind the sign. It’s nice that they care, but really. Nature, people. Nature. This is where you want to go. There is a giant boulder in the stream bed that’ll indicate you’re at the right spot. And once you cross the stream, here’s another way you’ll know you’re headed in the right direction. Once we reached this point. we put on our spikes, and we pretty much wore them the entire hike.
After a tiny amount of uphill walking, we were greeted with a beautiful view.
For awhile, it wasn’t super exciting but we just kept moving forward. This part felt pretty cardio-intensive. Every once in a while, we get a glance at how far we’d come. That’s a pretty awesome view of the valley.
Then we reached this rock. As I’ve mentioned plenty of times, I’m a big scaredy cat. So while others stand on top of this rock and get some great shots, I just knew I’d be the person that’d send it flying down the side of the mountain. No thanks. It was at this point that I realized just how good our decision was to leave the kids at home. There is absolutely nothing that would stop you from going straight down here. And I was panicking. James kept reminding me to just keep my feet on the path and I’d be fine. He was right of course, but I was scared. It’s funny honestly because I know there are trails that are much more dangerous than this on O’ahu. But I don’t generally hike them. So I’m allowed to be freaked out. We reached our first rope, and I’m finally getting the hang of using them to guide me. Having the spikes helped tremendously, but the ropes added a small sense of security. And then we reached the mud. It came and went all the way to the summit, but it could have been worse so we just avoided it the best we could. The trail sorta felt like it kept going on and on, but we were having a good time so it was fine. And really, the views were simply amazing all around. We thought for sure the weather would be ugly, but the clouds came and went. And then we were able to see the ocean waaaaay off the distance.You know, on the OTHER side of the mountain. So cool. And then a look back again to where we came from.The trail doesn’t change much, so there’s not a whole lot to say. You just keep going up and up. Sometimes you go down a little, but then it’s back up. And more ropes. Another look towards Kaneohe and a view of the Moanalua Saddle. That’s another route you can take to get to the stairs, but it’s a lot harder than the one we did. Still walking. I slowly got used to things and it actually seemed less scary the higher we went. And look – Chinaman’s Hat way back there in the distance. And if you squint, you might be able to see our house in Ewa Beach. It’s amazing to be able to see basically the entire island by just spinning around. (Don’t spin too much – you are still on a mountain.) And there’s Ka’ena Point! But enough sight-seeing, we had to keep going. Although I was concerned about my klutzy self just tripping over my own feet and inadvertently cliff-diving, James was worried about landslides. And seeing things like the one below didn’t help matters. This rope section proved to be the most difficult one for me. It must have been 75-100 feet tall. Going up wasn’t too bad, but I’m sure I burned 600 calories from pure fear alone. I think it took me 20 minutes to get back down though on our way out. Thankfully I’m married to a patient man. But then we saw this. Whoa.We thought we were done after that rope section, but nope. False peak. We had to keep going. So we did. And then we made it to the top of the ridge! I was so excited that we weren’t socked in. Look at that view! We kept going forward so we could reach Pu’u Keahi a Kahoe.
But first, picture time! (We met up with another group of four hikers so we swapped photos.) Then we had to make the trek across the KST (Ko’olau Summit Trail) over to the stairs. It wasn’t bad at all with the spikes. And then we were there! And okay, so this part isn’t pretty, and people have left oodles of trash inside the structure. But still, we were there! There was a tiny part of us that wanted to risk the fine and just walk down the stairs both for the experience and because we didn’t want to hike back on the ridge. But we just couldn’t do it. Instead, we walked down the stairs just a bit to see what they were like. And to get pictures. Um – absolutely amazing. One might say that using a timer and running down the stairs to get placed in time isn’t the smartest idea I’ve ever had. But it worked and no one died in the process. And the picture is fun. Really, that’s all that matters, right? This gives you a look down at the H-3 and if you could zoom in, you would be able to see a bunch of hikers on a platform. I’m not sure if they were coming up or going down. I felt a little jealous that they were actually climbing the stairs (one way or another), but again, that stupid fine. So we turned around to go back up. And I’m not going to lie, my heart wanted to burst. Apparently I’m not in as good of shape as I want to believe I am. Suddenly I felt like maybe taking the back way was the right route to go. Could I have made it all the way up the stairs from the bottom? Eek. Once we made it back up to the top, we spent some time eating our snacks and looking down below while the clouds rolled by. I can’t tell you how many times we drove through that tunnel and wished for this day to arrive. And here we were, standing on top of the world! On the one hand, it’s disappointing that we didn’t get to experience actually climbing the majority of the stairs. But on the other, it’s not like a helicopter dropped us off at the top. We hiked in over five miles to get there. We worked our behinds off. And stairs or not, the views are breathtaking! Although I could have stayed up there for hours, we had kids to get home to and a babysitter to relieve. So we got on our way. And we quickly realized that the mud had gotten worse. It was gonna be a fun time. This guy. I like him a lot. And I LOVE our adventures together. Before we knew it, we were at that slow-going rope section. I really am starting to trust myself more and more, but it’s still a process. A year ago, I would have said a lot more curse words and there definitely would have been tears. Now, I just take my time. I’ll get there when I get there. James isn’t going anywhere. The rest of the trail was smooth sailing. Our knees started to hurt, and our feet were being squeezed by the spikes. But our stamina was fine. I didn’t even need a nap when I got home!
All in all, it took us 8.5 hours to hike the whole thing, although we spent nearly an hour at the top. I can’t imagine doing it any faster than we did, but plenty of others have.
We absolutely loved this adventure! We both decided though that if they ever re-open the stairs (it’s unlikely but a girl can hope!), we’d definitely climb them. The view from the top is so incredible that I can’t imagine you’d ever get tired of seeing it.