Today's Top Stories
Full Post

Moanalua Saddle to Haiku Stairs

#1

Start by trekking into Moanalua Valley (on the West side of the Koolaus).

#2

Obtain the summit.

#3

Traverse the Koolau summit ridgeline and ascend the back set of stairs.

#4

Above
First: Walking under tangled hau branches. Second: Standing in the Moanalua Saddle. Third: The Haiku rollercoaster.

Descend the East side of the Koolaus via the Haiku Stairs (a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven).

What a hike.

We had the good fortune last weekend to be invited to hike the Moanalua Saddle to Haiku Stairs. The hike was lead by Marcus, an avid Oahu extreme hiker. He does this trail frequently and offered to lead us on it. Had he not been available to show us the way, I’m certain that I would not have attempted this trail. It’s very risky. One slip up and you would be tumbling down the mountain.

Now, I’ve said that about many hikes before but on this trail the possibility of slipping is greater than on any trail I’ve been on. Certain sections require you to push yourself up a steep incline with only dirt, grass or moss to hold on to. The more experienced hikers in our group placed metal spikes over their shoes to allow them to dig into the mountainside. With the wind whipping against you and only wet turf beneath each of your extremities to keep you from falling a couple thousand feet, it would be very easy to let panic set in. Panic makes you second guess your movements and freeze up. But linger too long on these precarious foot and hand holds and they may no longer support you. So what I’m saying is, confidence for this hike is key.

But, in the company of seasoned hikers (I was one of the most inexperienced in the group) and with Marcus as our guide, I felt confident and capable throughout the extreme sections and all was well. This hike was intense but very beautiful.

#5

We had a huge group on this day, 14 people: Marcus, Baron, Randy, Sophia, Rosanna, Brandon, Francis, Jen, Jen, Troy, Seth, Cory, Reanne and myself. You start this hike in Moanalua Valley on the Kamananui Valley Road trail. It’s a nice stroll through the forest. The objective is to get to the back of the valley and hike up to the summit, traverse the summit and end up on the other side of the mountain range. You’ll need to stage cars at the end point or have someone pick you up.

#6

The Kamananui trail meanders through the forest for a good 4 miles. A short distance into it, Marcus pointed this rock out to us as it has some history behind it.

Here’s a knowledge dropping interlude for you: Back in the 60s and 70s, when the H-3 highway was being built it was originally supposed to cut through Moanalua Valley. This did not sit well with the land owners and they protested. There’s a law that states that new developments cannot demolish archeological sites and the original plans would’ve required this boulder to be removed. So, the land owners were able to use this rock covered in petroglyphs (called Pohaku Ka Luahine) to halt construction.  Of course, the state wanted a highway so they just rerouted it a couple valleys over through Halawa Valley.

And now you know.

#7

As you continue on this trail you may want to discuss the legitimacy of stopping construction of a highway for a rock. Or you could debate the environmental impact versus human benefit of the H-3. There are probably better things to talk about, but either way, you’ll have plenty of time. The walk to the back of the valley is long.

#8

You’ll eventually hit the Kulana’ahane Trial. We passed by several hunters once we got to this trail. They were hunting with guns and I was happy at this point that I was wearing a bright colored shirt.

#9

This part of the trail is more rugged and muddy than the road.

#10

And you’ll cross the stream a few hundred times (in my estimation).

#11

Thankfully the hau trees have been cut so you can walk easily under the branches. Unkempt hau, with their jungle gym like branches are a pain to trek through. Especially when you’re wearing a pack.

#12

After a little over 3 miles you’ll be towards the back of the valley.

#13

And the canopy will finally open up.

#14

From here it’s onwards and upwards up Kulana’ahane ridge. The ridge is not too tall but it’s steep at some parts and muddy. It’s cardio intensive and will wake you up after meandering through the valley.

#15

From the top you get a nice view of Moanalua Valley. You know what, it does look a lot nicer without a highway cutting through it.

#16

This is the terminus for most hikers. It would be a nice valley hike to a summit that opens up to an awesome view of Kaneohe. But, on this day for us, this point marked the beginning of our adventure.

#17

At this point we’re standing in the middle of a dip in the Koolau mountain range called the Moanalua Saddle. It’s good to rest here and fuel up. Soak in the views and recover for a bit because the hiking gets extreme from here on.

#18

From the summit of Kulana’ahane ridge we took a left and hiked the ridgeline. I didn’t really know what to expect at this point. I’d seen pictures and heard people say that this section of the ridge is mental. My heart rate started to go up and I got a little anxious. But, our leader Marcus and the rest of the crew plodded along confidently so I followed suit.

#19

What we encountered next was the most extreme ridge hiking I’ve done since the Pu’u Kawiwi-No Name-Tiki Ridge hike. Look at this trail. Some parts are near vertical sections of pure choss (“choss” = rock climbing term for loose and crumbly rock). The dot you see at the top of the mountain is the old Naval Radio Station building at the top of the Haiku Stairs.

#20

Notice the butt-shots here. This gives you an idea of how vertical the section is. You can also get an idea of how much Troy (camo pants) has been working out. But for the most part I try to keep my eyes focused on my hands and feet. In fact, I’d rather look at butts than look down at the sheer drop offs.

#21

When you can see the ocean you’re on the Windward facing side of the ridge. That means, not only are you climbing choss with thousand foot drops below, but the wind is whipping against you as you’re doing so. It’s pretty distracting. You can see that Troy has his GoPro on here. Check out his video to get a better idea of how this climb looks.

#22

More rock, more butts.

#23

When you turn around and look back you can see your friends topping out over the near vertical sections. You then can reflect on the fact that you just did that.

#24

This is Marcus. He hikes crazy trails almost every day. He generously volunteered to lead a big group on this hike. He pushed the pace and made the challenging sections look easy. Extreme hiking very much a mental game. Calm nerves = safety. If you have a guide, you don’t have to worry about things like “is this trail even doable?”, “am I on the right path?” or “I wonder how long it will take to reach the end?”. You can concentrate on the task at hand of climbing up the side of a mountain. The adrenaline rush is more enjoyable this way.

#25

With that first climb out of the way, it was time for climb number two. This one would actually not be a climb up choss. We would instead climb using the dirt and grass as our hand and foot holds. See that arrowhead looking section of the ridge above? It’s all dirt so you can’t go up it. But on the right side of it there’s grass and some roots you can use to push yourself up the near vertical slope.

#26

Thank goodness it was not raining.

#27

You trod through the shrubs to get to the side of the ridge.

#28

Then go up this. Mind you we’re close to 2000 feet up at this point.

#29

Again, butts. We had to watch out for falling rocks here. While we weren’t dwelling on it at the time (having too much fun), looking back I’m realizing that this section was very dangerous. We went up one at a time and for each person that went up, rocks would get dislodged and fall down at us. We each had to find a comfortable spot that would allow us to dodge and block any rocks coming our way.

#30

Look closely and you can see Cory coming up this slope. Marcus stayed in that spot pointing out the rocks and trees we can use as holds. I remember him pointing out a loose branch protruding from the soil and saying “You can use that one, but don’t put all your weight on it. Maybe 50%.” I tried it, put as little weight as I could on it and it held.

#31

Once up that slope, there’s some rope installed that you can use. I was glad to see rope on this section.

#32

Because, without the rope, this is what you would have to hold on to. Dirt.

#33

So with one hand on the rope, and the other pressing into dirt and sometimes rock, we finished this climb.

#34

I came up and found everyone resting here at this false peak. Everyone was smiling as we had just completed the most treacherous section of the hike.

#35

The summit of Puu Keahiakahoe (which is the top of the Haiku Stairs) seemed so close now.

#36

The ridge is narrow and in some parts overgrown, but compared to those climbs, it was cake.

#37

And since the adrenaline was no longer flowing, we could soak in the views.

#38

At this section of the ridge you’ll find remnants of the old antennae or hoists used by the Navy.

#39

And you’ll find a set of stairs. These have not been rebuilt like the Haiku Stairs. They are old and rusted but feel great under your feet compared to mud.

#40

It’s a surreal feeling coming across these old structures. One always wonders, “how did they build this stuff up here?”

#41

And finally, finally we’re at our objective. The summit of Haiku Stairs.

#42

We climbed to the top of the building to get an even better view.

This view. SCROLL RIGHT >>>

This was my first time ever seeing the view from the top of the stairs. Every other time I’ve been up here, I’ve seen nothing but clouds. I was stoked.

Jen descending the Haiku Stairs#44

There are other ways to get down from this summit but for this hike, we came down the stairs. From the summit, the stairs look like a roller coaster.

#45

The views are stellar but the descending is rough on the knees.

#46

Almost there.

#47

And…pau. We made it. We had just been through a crazy adventure and seen gorgeous views of the island. It was about 2pm.We walked to the cars we had staged by the gates and drove back to Moanalua Valley to pick up the other cars. That was a fun one.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not in any way recommending that you do this hike. Because of the controversial nature of the Haiku Stairs, I’m not going to comment on access issues regarding the Stairs. If you want to do this trail, please know that you are risking your life. The intention of this set of photos is to show what’s possible. I’m simply documenting what has been done. This write up of the hike is incomplete and therefore should not be used as a guide.

See also:

This story was last modified on October 20, 2013. (Originally published in July 2011.)

What To Read Next