The Haiku Stairs (also known as “Stairway to Heaven” and the “Haiku Ladder”) more than earns the often overused descriptor: epic. If you are planning a trip to Oahu to escape your current weather, I’ve got a destination activity for you.
Put this one on your bucket list. This is one ascension into the clouds you do not want to miss.
Here are some key tips to help you on your climb up the Haiku Stairs:
Not exactly legal
Know this right off the bat: The hike up the Haiku Stairs is illegal. The climb has been forbidden since the late ‘80s as lawyers and jurisdictional beefs have convened to put the clamps on this revelatory climb into the clouds. If you’re not willing to break the law, this climb is not for you.
People do it anyway
Probably a few dozen people do the trip every day. On my single trip, I encountered 10 other hikers over the entire up and down one afternoon.
A guard is posted at certain hours
I will not broadly divulge the known hours (shared with me by a Haiku Stairs veteran) but I can discreetly share the info if you contact me individually. Some say the enforcement is strict. Others report waving at the guard amiably on the way down. Signs warn of prosecution for trespassing. Judge for yourself and decide what you want to risk.
Many do the climb pre-dawn (pre-guard). Others do it in the afternoon (post-guard duty). I saw no guard on my trip.
This is no Sunday walk in the park. Do not bring the little kids. This is for fit adults only. A fall would be fatal or worse. Remember every step up requires another step down in return. It will exhaust the most finely tuned athletes and kick the ass of mere mortals.
Lower body / cardiovascular training alone won’t get you sufficiently prepped for the climb. It is a full-body workout. Even though my regular workouts benefit my upper body more than my lower body, my shoulders and arms were far more fatigued and sore post-climb than were my legs.
Wear grippy gloves
This is a must for both safety and minimizing wasted effort. The Haiku Stairs are 3922 steps up a long line of interconnected metal ladders with handrails. You will use the handrails on every step up and back down again. You do not want to risk slipping on the metal handrails. Additionally, gloves with a strong grip will reduce the amount of force you will need to exert on every handrail grab — an energy savings you will appreciate post-climb.
This is not the hike for someone trying to get over their fear of heights. If heights bother you, you will be bothered to the max on this adventure.
Gear and hydration
Carry a water bottle or water pack on your person. ‘Nuff said. Also be prepared for wind and chills at the top. Even though you are in Hawaii, the temperature and wind conditions are vastly different up in the clouds.
Your needs: The right shoes, the right clothes and water. That’s about all you’ll need or want to carry. You will also want a camera if it’s your first time.
Finding the Haiku Stairs
The beginning of the Haiku Stairs climb starts from a modest residential neighborhood in Haiku Village. Be respectful of the residents that live there. They are not super thrilled with the noise and bother of hikers parking their vehicles in their neighborhood. Never illegally park.
The Haiku Stairs are, however, fairly easy to get to. I started to plug in “Haiku Stairs …” on my Google Maps app and it filled in “Haiku Stairs Parking” for me. Apparently, I was far from the first person seeking directions to the parking area.
Getting from the street to the base of the stairs requires insider knowledge. I found a number of helpful instructions from other hikers that explain how to find the start of the climb on several online sites. Google or Bing it and you’ll be well-covered. Compare notes, however. Make sure the instructions you choose agree with other instructions. Otherwise, you can very easily take a wrong turn that will send you the wrong way through the jungle.
The top (Heaven) may be socked in. I could see nothing from up top until I got back below the clouds. The views are spectacular, to put it mildly. The best time for snapping pics is on the way down. Giddiness will occur going down, based on my interactions with other climbers and my own experience. It’s a pursuit worth doing — under the right circumstances.
If you want a sense of what it’s like, many people have documented the climb with pictures and GoPro camera movies uploaded to YouTube. If you really want to know what it’s like to climb the Stairway to Heaven, climb it yourself.
© Julian Rogers | Follow on Twitter (@thejujueye)
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An earlier version of this article originally appeared in Oregon Sports News.