Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to heaven is almost like a rite of passage in Oahu, it just has to be done.  Never mind the fact that it's illegal, dangerous, and oh did I mention?  It's illegal.  Also... it's dangerous.

Who did it anyway?  This kid right here!

I'm not entirely sure why it's illegal.  Something about it being dangerous and nobody wanted to be liable for deaths.  Anyway, there's a guard there pretty much around the clock, so the only time to go is like 2 in the morning (which ironically contributes to the dangerous-ness).

Kelsey and I had the bright idea of going the night after our last day of classes, so it was technically Friday morning when we did this.  Mind you this is a taxing hike, and we had a marathon to run in two days.

Eh, what the hell.  We're 20 years old.  We're practically invincible.

Game on.

Don't I sound so confident?  In actuality I was borderline shitting my pants.  First of all, I'm the type of person who absolutely hates getting in trouble.  I'm a good girl, I follow rules.  I cried in elementary school when teachers accused me of any wrong-doing.  Okay fine, middle school.  Point is, I'm not the kind of gal who partakes in illegal activities on the regular.  I was stressin'.

Second of all, this hike is legitimately dangerous.  Going into this hike, those were the only two things I knew.  But hell.  It's Hawaii.  Gotta get out there and explore.  Plus, it's not living unless you're close to dying, right? ...or something like that.

I guess the original purpose of the trail was for the military.  Something about radio tower/signal/something that I wasn't actually interested in enough to learn about.

I brought nothing with me except a poncho (while everyone else had legitimate rain gear, making me look like a complete idiot) and dressed in layers.  I was told it was going to be cold.  So I wore my capri yoga pants, a T shirt and long sleeve shirt over that.

We left the dorm at around 12:30.  There was a group of 6 of us, including Kelsey and myself.  None of us had ever attempted this before, and that's always a good feeling when you're about to do something like this...  Anyway. One of our friends, Drake thankfully had his jeep wrangler (in LOVE) and drove us all.

Before the stairway, we first had to get to its origin, which included walking around and getting lost in the bamboo forest for a while and attempting to find openings in fences that were there to keep us out.  But eventually we found the guard station, a good sign  that we were at the forbidden trail.  Nobody was there.  Green light.

By the time we started the actual hike, I wanna say it was around 2 in the morning.  What I was not aware of was that Stairway to Heaven is literally a staircase.  With steps and railings wide enough for one person at a time.  Well hell, I didn't think it was going to be as dangerous and everyone made it out to be.


It's the middle of the night, so we only had moonlight guiding us.  Also, I was in the back of the pack when we started going up the stairs.  It started out fine... until it got steep as shit.  And when I say that, picture the stairs turning into a LADDER because that's literally what happened.

Oh, did I mention we were going up the side of a goddamn MOUNTAIN?

Sorry for all the caps lock.  And also the profanity.

Wait... my entire font is in caps lock.  You can't tell when I use caps lock.  Wow I just realized that.  What a fail.  This is my 40-something-th post and I just realize this now.  Piss.

But seriously 5 minutes into the climb I got scared shitless and realized my life was seriously in danger.  And I'm not even exaggerating.  One wrong movement and I could have tumbled down to my death.  That sounds neither graceful nor pleasant.  I had to carefully position my feet and hands on the steps and railing, respectively.

(By the way, I just learned how to use the word "respectively" in context.  When I was younger, I thought it meant like actual respect.  Like hey, man, I respect you.  It wasn't until calculus that I learned about the whole with respect to x and y thing, and I just learned recently how to use it in writing.  I'm an intelligent being.)

Getting back on track here, I was freaking out to Kelsey, feeling like the biggest pansy in the entire world about climbing this ladder and falling backwards and dying.  So when we got to a relatively safe point, we switched positions so she was last.  I don't know why it made me feel safer.  All switching positions did was make it so that if I fell she was coming down with me.  I don't know how she can deal with me sometimes.

I wasn't kidding when I said I knew nothing about this hike.  After about a half hour of this stair master from hell, we reached a platform.  I was all excited, thinking we were at the top.  But of course I was wrong.  That was only platform one out of about 4.


We stopped for a bit and rested.  I was hot as shit and cursing myself for bringing this long sleeved shirt with me.  After being at a higher altitude not moving for a few minutes, though, it became a little breezy, and so we continued to hike.

Taking a short break now to present images of this hike to spare you from googling this yourselves, and to also present the dangerous-ness of this friggen hike.

That probably wasn't even the top, either.  Seriously.

I don't know these people.

Ohhhh, why they call it stairway to HEAVEN.  You hike up into the clouds.  Got it.

We were on a ledge the entire time.  To either side of us was a steep, scary hill.  Well, you can see that.

And we were doing this in the dead of night.  Like wtf, right??

What nobody had thought about was the fact that we were about to ascend into the clouds, where there was plenty of moisture, making the steps and handrails wet and, consequently, more dangerous.  Eventually we made it to a second platform and a little bunker, a third, and fourth platform that came in quick succession.

But I cannot emphasize enough how scary this hike was.  I was not having fun at all.  I'm not particularly afraid of heights, but this was potentially life-threatening, so my hands never came off that handrail.

The temperature dropped the higher we climbed.  At one point, I actually had to put my long sleeved shirt on.  Then between the last platform and the top, it started to rain a cold, cold rain.  Everyone busted out their rain jackets (and poncho...) and powered through to the top.

By the time we got to the top, we were all soaked in sweat/rain, were cold, and tired from just climbing 3,922 stairs and ascending 2,120 feet.  And it was around 3:30 in the morning.

Thank the good baby lord Jesus that there was a building-type structure at the top, because we had a solid 3 hours of waiting at the top for the sunrise and climb back down.  Anything to protect us from the wind and rain I was praising like a god.

But even the building did not suffice completely.  Holy moses was it miserable!  For family reading this, it was colder than the Parade of Lights without any hot chocolate.  For any softball players, it was colder than the first outdoor game in mid-March.  For anyone else reading this, well it was just damn cold.  Plus the fact that I was sleep deprived and wet as a dog from being in a freaking cloud did not help with my mood.

Kelsey offered me her rain jacket, and I didn't hesitate at all to take it.  I don't know how the others weren't as completely miserable.  I'm from Illinois!  I should be used to this frigid weather.

Obviously I had not prepared myself both mentally and in terms of clothing for this hike.

THIS was how I was going to die.  At the top of the stairway in the building, not from falling over the side of the stupid mountain.

I must have been a complete bitch those entire three hours.  I don't want to drag on anymore about the waiting at the top, because it was just too miserable, and thinking back upon it makes me want to cry.

After the sun rose (finally!) and it was time to start the climb back down, I was more than ready.  Even that first drop from the top to the closest platform had a dramatic change in the weather, and also my mood.

Before this hike, I was fairly suspicious that I had seasonal affective disorder.  After this hike, I'm pretty sure I actually have it.  Once the sun came out and I warmed up, my mood took a complete 180.  I felt a natural high and was so excited about life, jumping around and laughing and smiling and having the best time ever.

I may have been a little delusional from sleep deprivation as well.

What made the hike completely worth it was the way back down, being able to see the gorgeous views from the daylight.  I wish I had brought my camera, but I was afraid it was going to get damaged.

The hike down the stairway was 10x less scary than the hike up, which may have also contributed to my happy mood.  Knowing you're not in danger of kicking the bucket can turn you into a much more pleasant person.

The fantastic scenery in combination with the realization of what I had just done made hiking Stairway to Heaven one of the best and coolest things I had ever done on the island.

I remember on the trip up the stairs how badly I wanted a helicopter to be waiting at the top to take us home so I wouldn't have to go back down.  I'm so glad that wasn't part of the deal.  The hike down seriously made the entire experience worth every second.

When the people I went with upload pictures from the hike, I'll post them here.

Until then, this is Kat reporting from the warmth and comfort of her bedroom, not the top of some God-forsaken mountaintop.



  1. I just Googled Haiku steps and ended up here, but wow! I'm very glad I ran into this! :D Sounds like am amazing adventure! Very inspiring, you wrote this brilliantly! Thanks for sharing this!

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  3. Hey, just stumbled across this page and loved it. I am going to Hawaii in February and want to do this hike SO BAD!! But well see if the people I am going with don't chicken out. Anyway, loved the post, thanks for distracting me from my job a little. And if you want check out my blog at makyourownadventures.blogspot.com :)

  4. Loved reading this story, what a great and well-written description! I felt like I was there! Someone posted a meme on FB with a picture of this stairway, and I had to google it to see where the hell it was, and ended up here at your blog. What an experience, wow!

  5. This made me laugh so hard! I have done the stairs about 6 or 7 times now, but I felt exactly like you described the first time! After I got down I swore to god I was never going back again. Something switched and now I absolutely love it. I go as often as I get the opportunity. One of the joys of living in Hawaii of course!