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

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a new travel blog. Like us on FacebookTumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

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.

Advertisement

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

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.