The Hawaiian Stairway to Heaven

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
July 4 2013 10:15 AM

The Hawaiian Stairway to Heaven

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The Ha'iku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven, form a steep mountain hiking trail that seems to disappear into the skies above Oahu.

The trail got its start as a simple wooden ladder attached to the cliff. It was installed during World War II to facilitate the building of a giant VLF transmitter. As opposed to other VLF-transmitters this station did not use any towers, but antenna cables spun between the cliffs above Ha'iku Valley. These, along with a building at the peak, could transmit signals that could reach submarines submerged in the waters of Tokyo Bay.

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In the 1950s, the wooden stairway was replaced by metal stairs and ramps -- 3,922 steps in all. The stairway became off-limits in 1987, when vandals destroyed three of its sections. Undeterred, thrill-seeking hikers soon took to sneaking up the stairs, incurring the ire of local residents.

Though the city repaired the broken and rusted segments in 2002 with the intent of opening the Ha’iku stairs to the public, community complaints and liability concerns have kept them closed. At just 18 inches wide, and more like a ladder in the steepest sections, the steps require climbers to travel single-file and make passing others difficult. A handrail on each side offers protection from tumbles down the mountain, but those rails -- and the stairs -- are often wet and slippery from the humidity.

To score a spectacular view of the sunrise, you’ll need to start your hike up Ha’iku stairs in the dead of night. Each day at about 5am, a security guard arrives at the foot of the stairs to enforce the no-trespassing rule. If you can find your way through the pitch-black jungle before the guard arrives, you’ll be able to hike to the summit and back without getting into trouble. (As long as you are quiet and polite, the guard may even congratulate you or take a group photo when you arrive back at the bottom.) The reward for completing the adrenalin-fueled, mist-shrouded ascent is a glorious 360-degree view of Oahu.

Inspiring stairs:

HaikuLadder