Stairway to Heaven


On July 5 we got to experience the magic of the Stairway to Heaven Trail. It was definitely a highlight of the trip for me.

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That morning, Brian and I went over to the dive shop to rent gear for a shore dive we had planned for the next day. That took some time thanks to traffic and two lane roads, but we stopped to enjoy some conveyor belt sushi while we waited for the morning dive boat to get back with additional equipment.

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Then we headed back to the house and joined everyone else for the most epic hike of my stay in Hawaii: Stairway to Heaven. The Stairway is just that, a set of stairs that scales about 3,000 vertical feet of mountain to get to a former satellite station at the top. Once upon a time there was a cable car to get maintenance crews to the top, but the station is since defunct and the cable car system has been taken out. The stairs were built as backup for the cars and still remain, though they’re now closed to the public.

Between 6am and at least noon on weekdays (later on weekends), a guard sits at the entrance to the stairs and turns away people who come to the mountain to climb it. But as the locals know, if you arrive outside of the guard’s hours there’s no stopping you from climbing up on your own. (In fact, it was rumored that if you started up before the guard arrived in the morning, he would give you a high five and ask how it was as you passed him on your way out.)

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So on Friday afternoon we decided to go check out this open secret for ourselves. The trail took us 3.5 hours with a stop at the top, but it was definitely worth the climb and the sore calves for days afterward.

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We parked in a residential neighborhood to start and walked up a service road. After a few false alarms, we entered a hidden trail through a bamboo forest. On the other side we stepped through a hole in a chain link fence and found ourselves on a service road underneath a highway overpass. We walked under the overpass, around another chain link fence, and there were the stairs.

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The first part of the climb was steep and dramatic. We were quickly above the highway and the first 1/4 or so of the trail included a lot of parts that were practically ladders. It was sunny and humid too, so the climb was rough going at first. But the views were incredible. From the side of the mountain you could look down on the highway tunnel on one side and Kaneohe Bay on the other side.

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There are three landings comprised of concrete pads on the way up where we would stop to rehydrate and take a break. After we reached the first one, the trail got a bit easier. The stairs remained narrow and steep in places, but the view only got better as we started to climb across the ridge of the mountain. Two more landings down, we finally approached the peak of the mountain. When we reached the top there was a small concrete building with two decrepit satellite dishes on top.

The 6 of us climbed up the building to get a better look, though we were shrouded in cloud cover so there wasn’t much to see. It was very cool being up in the clouds like that, and our hair was quickly covered in droplets of water. We stuck around a bit to take pictures and wait to see if the clouds would clear out so we could see the valley below, but it never happened so we finally decided to head back down.

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Before we left, we all had a tactical MRE-like  (i.e. “Meal, Ready-to-Eat”; sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?) energy bar that Kenny had brought along in his bag. Apparently his uncle’s company makes them for the military and he sends boxes of them to Kenny occasionally. They were surprisingly tasty and contained a cup of coffee’s worth of caffeine. Those energized us for the way back down and we were off.

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The trip back down was much easier and quicker. We had to go pretty slowly on the especially steep parts, turning around to climb down like a ladder. But overall it took maybe half the time to descend as it did to get up in the first place. That was good because by the time we got down to the bottom it had just gotten dark. Luckily a few people had thought to bring flashlights so we found our way back through the bamboo forest okay and headed back to the car.

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It was generally agreed upon that we would stop to pick up ramen on the way home, despite how sweaty and dirty we were. As we were getting takeout, the girl taking our orders was really excited that we had just hiked the Stairway trail and she was telling us that she wants to do it too. Once we had our food we headed back to the house for showers and vegging out in front of the tv before bed.

The next day we were all heading to the North Shore.

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