Aloha Everyone! This is Heather typing. Kanani took a break from all the sights and sounds of Hawaii so I took advantage of the blog to tell you about a crazy all-day hike I took with my friends. This hike was so awesome and memorable, I’m going to describe it in great detail so prepare for a long post. Since my friends are heavily involved in this hike I thought I’d introduce you to them:
If you’ve read previous posts you know that I went to Hawaii with my best friend, Abby.
She really has been the GREATEST friend, going and doing everything I want to do and more without even one complaint!
We are staying with her sister, Esther and her husband Bill and family. (Bill is that tiny speck at the bottom of the waterfall!)
Esther is also one of the most kind and generous, not to mention best tour guide ever, that a person could possibly have. The four of us went on this hike together.
It all started with a tour book, Oahu Revealed. It is a really cool book to read and I read/skimmed it cover to cover before I came to HI. One article in the book describes a trail called the Moanalua Valley Trail. There are more than 50 hiking trails in Oahu and this one seemed particularly neat because it leads to the Haiku Stairs, also known as the Stairway to Heaven. This stairway with 3,922 stairs, was built during WWII. The military was going to set up a secret radio system with antennas on the mountains that would supposedly be able to reach all the way to Tokyo, Japan and reach submerged submarines! Today, this stairway is so dangerous to hike on that a guard is stationed 24 hours to keep people away. There is a rumor that you will get a $1000 fine if you attempt to climb! According to Oahu Revealed, there is a perfectly legal way to get to the stairs, which is to hike up the other side of the mountain. We attempted this on the very last day of my stay in HI (my plane would leave at 9:20 that evening).
None of us realized that we were actually going to do this the day before: The day before my departure, we were helping Esther clean the house and Abby asked me,
“You’ve seen a ton of things in Hawaii. Do you have any regrets? Is there something you want to see that we didn’t get to?”
I answered feeling sheepishly selfish, “Well, I pretty much did everything on my list, but I only got to do one hike. I noticed that the Moanalua trail is two minutes from our house. It would be really cool to do that, but that’s like, an all day event. The book says it will take 8-10 hours to complete and I’d hate to ask Esther to take up that much time of her day hiking because I want to.”
I had the feeling that Esther had overheard that conversation because later that night she said, “I don’t mind going on that hike with you. I haven’t gone on a hike in a while and I think I’d enjoy it. What does that book have to say about it?”
I got the book out and read the description of the trail:
-start on a paved path that is very gentle, but you must count how many times you cross the mountain stream: there will be seven bridges, and 10 crossings without bridges.
-once you get to the 10th crossing, look for a tiny drainage ditch that may be marked with orange tape. Cross the stream, and you have found the Middle Ridge Trail which takes you up the mountain to the stairs. Beware, you are in feral pig land.
-follow this trail up, and up and up. There will be rough and very steep parts where there will be ropes hanging on trees for you to climb. You will often be walking on a “razor sharp edge” so take your time!
I read this out loud to everyone in the room (which happened to include Bill who was not planning on hiking with us since he is a military captain and had to go to work). There was an amazed silence and then,
“Um, maybe we shouldn’t do this trail. It sounds pretty scary,” said Abby.
“Aw man, I’d love to do that trail,” responded Bill, who has dreams of being a Ninja Warrior.
But I had an idea, “How ’bout this: We sleep in, go to the SWAP meet one more time, and then hike some of the trail. We can turn around when it gets too scary and maybe I would even have time to swim in the ocean for the very last time!”
Everyone agreed that would be the plan. I went to bed happy that I would be getting as much sleep as possible since my plane flight the next day would be an overnight flight and I don’t sleep well in an upright position.
However, 6:30am there was a knock at my door and the door opened to reveal Esther;
“Heather! I’m so sorry to wake you, but Bill took a day off of work so he could go on the hike with us.”
“Are you serious?” I croaked.
“Yes, we’re going to do the whole thing, so we need to leave now!”
The whole thing. Adrenaline coursed through me and I was up in an instant.
I brought an entire milk gallon full of water plus my two full water bottles and a roll of toilet paper while Esther frantically packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pop tarts and granola bars.
It turned out that Bill has a bucket list of things he wants to do before he leaves Hawaii and the Moanalua trail made that list, so he took a personal business day to come hike with us. I felt very honored that he would do that for me, and also realized, with a gulp that with him, we were going to do the entire trail or perish in the attempt. Abby had decided that she would hike up until it got scary for her and then turn around.
At 7am we were at the head of the trail. It starts at a playground and I used the last civilized toilet I would see for a while. I knew I would miss it.
As soon as we set foot on the trail, (which by the way, was a very cheerful, well-maintained little road) what we saw was stunning.
Giant trees with such intricate branches, I thought it looked like a tree made of lace.
If you walk even just a few yards in you are transported to different world.
I had entered into a tropical rainforest.
Vines were hanging from enormous trees.
I tried to wrap my arms around this one: I’m so small, it doesn’t even look like I’m trying to hug a tree!
Every picture you are looking at right now, is NOTHING compared to real life. Photos do not do Hawaii justice.
We hadn’t really even climbed at all and yet still had great views of the mountains:
All four of us carefully counted how many times we crossed the usually dry stream full of rocks and boulders.
In the picture below, the stones mark the bridge.
I have been hiking in Ludington, MI for 22 years, pretty much my whole life. On any trail in MI, there are ferns bordering our path. In Hawaii the ferns look like this:
Hey look! The stream has water in it.
I think Esther has just usurped Kanani as Queen of Oahu!
As we hiked and watched the tops of the mountains we could see a great cloud and fog surrounding the tops of the mountains and even though the sun was out where we were, it was humid and we could feel a faint drizzle.
At the 7th bridge we found a large rock with in info board:
This rock was covered in petroglyphs and the story goes that in ancient Hawaii when the Hawaiians followed the kapu system, a set of extremely strict and barbarous rules, a baby was caught crying during one of the religious consecration ceremonies. The penalty of this was death. (Yeah, this is what I mean by barbaric, there was even a rule that if anyone walked in the chief’s shadow they would be put to death!) The grandmother of this baby hid the baby behind the rock until the kapu rule was lifted.
By now, the fog and cloud had descended upon us and it began to rain a little harder. It felt really good on our sweaty bodies!
We were nearing the 7th stream crossing when we came upon this really cool tree. We nicknamed it the rainbow tree.
We tried to form the double rainbow.
Despite the fact that the rain felt good on our skin, there was a downside to it: it made the road pretty muddy.
Soon we came to a patch of road that was more of a muddy bog than a road.
The mud was ankle deep and even though we tried our best to stay on the very edge of the road and step on little sticks and logs there was nothing we could do to save our clean shoes and socks.
Squelch, squelch, squelch! There were times when my foot was just plain stuck in the mud and I had to use Abby’s helpful walking stick to help lift it out!
Too bad we didn’t take a before picture, but here are our shoes after that muck:
Why are Bill’s shoes spotlessly clean you might ask? Well, he is part elf and part Ninja Warrior, that’s why.
We finally came to the 10th stream crossing and started carefully searching for the little drainage ditch. I could feel myself starting to get nervous because our luxurious road walk was fast coming to an end. The guide book said that our trail was 50ft past these signs:
We came across a tiny trail that went up, but Bill found a piece of pink tape that read: “this is not the middle ridge trail, dead end”. So we kept looking.
We had to back track a bit but we found it! This is the drainage ditch that crosses the stream bed:
Hooray for Bill who found the trail!!
We knew for sure we had found the right trail when we saw this etched in a tree:
As soon as we started this trail, we started going up immediately.
It wasn’t terribly steep, and the tree roots made steps so our feet had something to grab onto.
Little flowers dotted the trail.
As we kept climbing, it kept raining harder and harder. Abby wisely decided to call it quits and turn around. Bill told us that he would escort Abby to the safety of the road.
“You two go ahead, I’ll catch up,” he said.
So Esther and I continued to climb, stopping to take a lot of pictures:
It looks sunny in these pics, but it was pouring rain.
Pretty crescent shape leaves.
These red flowers followed throughout our whole hike, even at the highest point on the mountain. They seemed to grow from trees, bushes, and vines!
Rain and fog.
Just as we were about to get worried about Bill, he showed up panting.
“I just ran all the way up to you guys! Boy are my calves feeling it!”
“You ran?!” I asked incredulously. How anyone could run in this steep, rooted, and raining terrain was beyond me. I wish there had been a video camera capturing Bill’s ascent. It is just amazing to watch him. Most of the time I had to watch where my own feet were going, but whenever I saw him, he climbed over trees like they were tiny things, his feet were so light and swift as he sailed up the mountain.
Because of Bill’s burning calves we rested on this tree.
We saw more of those red flowers.
As we kept climbing, we saw more variety in flowers.
The rain slowly subsided, but our path was getting muddier and more dangerous. The mud was very slick and many times our feet slid down and we would have to grab whatever foliage on the edge of our path we could hang onto. There was one time when we were climbing and all of a sudden, out of the blue we heard,
“Aah!” We very startled girls screamed as we dived to the ground to keep from falling off the mountain since we were so startled.
“DON’T DO THAT!” Esther and I scolded Bill at the same time.
“Next time, warn us that you’re going to make an incredibly loud noise before you scare us off the mountain.”
“I just wanted to see what would happen,” Bill laughed.
Soon, all I was doing was grabbing ferns, moss, branches, whatever my hands touched before my feet would move for the next step.
I was pretty much climbing on all fours, and would continue to do this for the majority of the hike.
Each step brought on magnificent view after magnificent view.
And each time we turned around to look, it got better and better.
Can you tell that I tried to point the camera straight down? Or does it just look all green?
During our hike we ended up staying in a certain order, basically the whole way: Bill would be first and often would go on ahead to check out what the trail looked like. Anytime something dangerous came up he would always be there for us to make sure we got through safely. He was also sure to stay within calling distance of us. I was in the middle with Esther bringing up the rear. We kept very close to each other, although one time, Esther had stopped to take pics and I had gone ahead. When I turned around and there was no Esther behind me, I almost freaked out!
I had developed a good gait in my hiking which was: grab, grab, step, step. grab, grab, step, step. I learned quickly not to grab certain plants. There was one plant that looked like long thick grass that had pokey things on the edges of the blade.
I was grabbing and stepping when all of a sudden a piece of thick string appeared in my face.
“Rope climbing time!” said Bill’s voice from way up. My eyes followed this looong, thin rope up to where he was.
“I have to climb this?!” I apprehensively asked trying to stall.
“Don’t worry, it’s very secure and strong, it held me up.”
I took a deep breath and began to climb.
You can see how steep this is, Esther is taking a pic of my purple behind because it was that steep!
I had not imagined that this rope climbing would be so terrifying. Perhaps it was because I still didn’t fully trust that such a thin rope would hold me up, and I also did not want to trust my hands to bring up my entire body. My hands were slick and sweaty with nerves and a little red and raw from grabbing foliage. I tried to hold one hand on the rope and use the other hand to grab my (sometimes trusty foliage) but pretty soon the foliage disappeared and it was just rock and my rope. My backpack carrying my gallon of water did not help in the upward direction either. When I got to the top, I was shaking all over and wanted to just lay down in the grass. I hoped that would be the one and only rope climb. I was so wrong; there were 7 rope climbs on the trail and each one was often harder and steeper than the last.
After the first rope climb, we came to a cliff wall made of volcanic rock:
We kept turning around to see the view of Pearl Harbor expand before our eyes:
I went back to my grab, grab, step, step hiking system until we came to the longest, steepest, and scariest rope climb yet! There was no foliage to hold onto at all and hardly any footholds.
At first it didn’t seem so bad, since there was a bit of grass and rocks for footholds but the rope climb just went on and on and the grass was too spread apart for me to hold onto and the rocky footholds had disappeared. I had no clue where to put my feet. Panicked thoughts rushed through my head: What if I’m stuck here forever? I can’t go down and I don’t know how to go up and my feet are so insecure. Or what if I slip and fall? I would fall right onto Esther and if that happened…well, that was too horrible a thought to even mention. I prayed to the Lord and I could feel my strength through Him. God worked through Bill, who helped a ton at these times, telling me where to put my feet and what to do with my hands and Esther encouraged me and we were all constantly asking one another if we were okay. Then, just when I thought I had made it through the roughest section, I had to transfer ropes! The rope I was holding onto was attached to a tree, and above that was another rope I had to grab onto. This second rope was not as scary but when I finally got to the top I was trembling all over again.
“Oh, my gosh!” Esther panted, “I don’t know how we’re going to do this on the way down!”
“I really don’t want to think about that,” I replied shakily.
“Right, let’s just take one step at a time and focus on what we’re doing now.”
“Just look at these mountains!”
(Click on this picture below, can you see China man’s hat?)
It was after a few less scary rope climbs that the wind really started to pick up.
We were climbing on this narrow path and we were now so high, hardly any trees grew, and there also weren’t many bushes to shelter us.
The wind would whip us so much that we had to walk bent over, ready to grab/dive to the ground if we felt we would be blown off the mountain! (Did I ever see Bill hunker down in fear of the wind? No, I did not. As I said, he’s part elf and always stands up straight!) Bill’s shoes, however, were not as strong as the great Bill, Ninja Warrior, himself.
“Look what happened to my shoe!!” cried Bill.
The entire bottom of his shoe had come off! He was holding it in his hand and then,
“Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” He threw it down the mountain. It fell 10,000 feet.
“Bill, you should not have done that. Now I have a clearer image of what happens to a person if they fall from watching that shoe!” Esther scolded.
“Yeah! You should have kept it as a memento of our great hike!” I added.
Because of this hike, I think I have developed Rope-a-phobia.
Any time I saw a rope dangling on the ground I groaned in fear.
This one, although long and steep, had nice crevices to put your feet.
After this rope climb, Bill tried to “push” our pace (it was really impossible for me to go any faster although I tried). He was hoping to get back by 5 for a rock band rehearsal! We had little time to stop and take pictures. But we ended up encountering a delay anyway. This one, however, was pleasant: We met three other hikers coming the opposite way! They were from Germany and were in Hawaii for a science conference. They had had no idea how treacherous this hike was! Fortunately they were pretty experienced; on their way up to the summit, they had to brave the worst conditions: while we had been hiking on the road and it had been raining, the Germans trekked the rope climbs and the exposed parts! All in the rain!! They said the rain was coming in sideways in sheets of waves! I think if that had been me, I would have just sat on the trail and cried until the rain went away.
Looking at me, one of the Germans said, “You are so light-skinned! Do you have sun protection?”
“Well, I had put some on at 6:30 this morning, but it probably washed off in the rain and I don’t have any with me..”
He dug in his backpack and handed me a bottle of sunblock, “Here, use as much as you like, you need to re-apply or you’ll get toasted.”
I was SO grateful. The German hikers were so encouraging to us, letting us know what to expect: more muddy sections and at least 2 more rope climbs.
“But you’re so close to the summit! You’re totally going to make it!!”
With that heartening message we hiked with more energy and knew we were getting close to the Haiku stairs when we saw some signs of “civilization”:
The views were the grandest we had ever seen.
Bill would exclaim, “This is incredible! There’s the whole of Pearl Harbor! And at the same time I can see Waikiki! There’s the highway!”
I was so thrilled I felt like jumping up and down. I probably would have if the wind weren’t so strong.
“There it is! The antenna of the Stairway to Heaven! We are almost there!”
After two more rope climbs, a huge erosion ditch that Bill had to haul us out of, and countless mud ditches and puddles we made it to the Stairway to Heaven just as the clouds were rolling in to block our view! Bill immediately climbed up to the antennas.
We made it to the stairs!!
The Stairs looked like they just ended in white fog!
Also at the top were memorials, crosses, and leis for people who had tried this hike and didn’t make it down.
Esther and I had felt the danger of this hike. In fact she had told me that just two months ago, a man tried to climb this trail by himself and was never found. I thanked God that He was with us and had provided such wonderful companions as Esther and Bill to hike with. I know for sure that I would NEVER try this hike by myself, I don’t even think I could have done it without Bill. I probably would have been stuck on that rope climb crying, to this day!
Esther set the timer on her camera so all three of us could be in a pic at the same time! The view was supposed to be spectacular, but all you can really see are clouds.
I’m standing next to a little shelter area. The antennas are on top of it.
After we met the Germans, I had been getting more and more hungry. All I had eaten on the hike was a granola bar which had been very difficult because I couldn’t do my grab, grab, step, step system. I ended up eating it in three bites! Finally, at these stairs we all got to eat our lunch.
While we ate, we discussed taking the stairs back down.
“It looks so easy! I seriously want to just take the fine and hike back down in safety,”said Esther wistfully.
“It looks easy now, but you don’t know what those damaged sections might be like, we might have to turn around and head back up and take the middle ridge trail back anyway and that sounds really exhausting!” replied Bill.
I also really wanted to take the stairs. I had great misgivings of doing the rope sections on the way down, and I also wanted to do the stairs just to say I did them. Although Bill’s comment dampened that thought.
“If it were only a $50 fine would you do it?” I asked.
“Yes!” replied both of them.
“But we don’t know what the fine really is, either,” said Esther.
We all heaved a sigh, knowing that the Stairway to Heaven would not be our trail to take back.
I was getting very nervous because more and more clouds were rolling in with the swift wind and the white fog was beginning to turn gray. If we had to hike back in the rain, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it.
We took a few more pics and headed on our way back. We probably were only on the stairs for 20 minutes. If I hadn’t had a plane to catch, and Bill didn’t have a rehearsal to try and get to, I would have asked to stay in the shelter until the clouds went away so we could really see the great view of the summit.
Despite the fact that it seemed to look like rain, the wind was blowing so hard that the clouds disappeared in a matter of minutes. The wind felt even stronger than it had when we had hiked before. ( I’m trying to pose for a picture here, but the wind is SO strong!)
This time, when we turned around to look back at the summit, it was wreathed in very dark clouds. Again, I worried that those clouds would whiz toward us and pelt us with rain. But God was ever so gracious and it didn’t even drizzle during our whole hike back!
The way back was truly not as scary as the way forward. Perhaps it was because we were no longer walking into the unknown, or perhaps, the gravity of walking down helped us to go farther faster with each footstep, but all of us could tell that we were making much better time. Esther had time to take another flower picture.
Most of the rope parts were also not as scary for me, mostly because I did not use the ropes, instead I scooched on my bottom and grabbed dirt with my hands to steady myself. That way, I could see where I was going, and where to put my feet. Sometimes, I would have to turn around and use the rope to repel down. I hated it because I couldn’t see where I was going, but Bill would always tell me where to put my feet. (Bill’s hike back was much more difficult because he had basically no traction on one foot, and yet he still walked like an elf!)
There was one time, though, that the wall I was climbing down was so steep, that I couldn’t wear my backpack to scooch. I set it down well in front of me at the side of the trail….and it started to roll….it rolled and rolled down the mountain! Please let it stay on the path, I prayed. It did. My water bottles fell out, but even they stayed on the path! Talk about God making miracles! If that backpack would have rolled down the mountain in any other direction, it would be down making friends with Bill’s shoe and I would have been very dehydrated!
After we had tackled a number of rope climbs we kept thinking as we would hit the next one, “this must be the last one!” But we were usually wrong.
Finally we actually did hit the last rope climb, and by then, my hands were raw, and had small gashes on them, my legs were covered in dirt, my bottom was no longer purple, but brown, and my backpack was filthy too (and I was planning for my backpack to be my carry-on on the plane).
We walked down toward the trees with their wonderful roots to aid in our footing. Our feet were in quite a bit of pain by now. If you hike down a mountain for hours and hours, your toes are constantly pushing against the tips of your shoes and that hurts! If we stopped, we just hurt even more, which is why we basically didn’t take anymore pictures. Plus, the views, which had seemed so spectacular before, seemed puny compared to what we had seen at the summit.
At last Bill said, “Hey, I think this is where Abby decided to turn back! We’re almost at the road!”
Even during this hike back, everyone was cheerful and tried very hard to limit complaints. It made me even more thankful to be hiking with such wonderful companions.
We hit the road and began our flat walking to the car. When we reached the muddy, squelchy section of the road, Bill’s other shoe gave out. This time, he just left it in the mud.
Now, he had no traction on either of his shoes and he could feel every rock and pebble that he stepped on!
Then, as we walked we heard a low growl and saw some bushes ve-ry close to us move! It was a feral pig! Bill grabbed his machete he had just sharpened before the hike.
“Get behind me.”
Esther and I raced to his back. If we weren’t so scared it would have been comical to watch us walk, glued to Bill’s back! Thankfully the pig did not show himself and must have run away.
As we got closer to the car we got slower and slower as our legs began to stiffen and ache. Bill’s 5 o’clock rehearsal had come and gone without him, but I still had to make my plane flight. I was hoping to get to take a shower and eat before I left, so Bill tried to have us walk military style (which means very fast) but his feet were bothering him so much that it made it impossible.
” When we see Abby, I will have never been so happy to see her in my whole life!” said Esther, when Bill called her to come and pick us up.
We walked through the rainforest, and the intricate trees, and up one more hill, and there was Abby.
“YOU MADE IT!!!” She cried.
“We did it!” I shouted giving her a hug.
We all hugged each other and then took pictures of our dirty selves.
Our filthy and war torn feet.
Our exhausted, and aching bodies.
And our banged up butts.
I actually did have time to take one of the most beautiful showers I have ever taken. It felt so very good to be squeaky clean again. We ate some Yummy food on the way to the airport. I almost missed my flight because of that, but it was worth it, and the kind people in the security line let me go in front! (Talk about adrenaline, I was so freaked out I might miss my flight, I was sprinting down the hallways of the airport like I had never hiked at all!)
I had hoped to sleep during the 5 hour flight from Honolulu to LA, but my legs were in such pain, there was no way I could sleep. When I reached LA, I checked the board that there was no 10 hour layover and sprawled out on the floor of the airport. Ooh did it feel good to stretch out! My legs stopped hurting! The flight from LA to home was also not as painful as before though I still didn’t sleep.
When I was with Esther and Bill on that hike I had told them that I was so grateful that I had done that hike and so happy that I did it, but I would never do it again. But now, sitting in a cozy chair in front of my computer, I’m having second thoughts! I want to see the Haiku stairs without any clouds blocking the view.
Thanks to all you readers who read this very long, and hopefully exciting post. Kanani will be back for a final time with some closing thoughts on Hawaii.
p.s. It would be amazing if the Stairway to Heaven could actually open for public use, even if there was a fee. If you go to this website to sign the petition you might be a part of helping to open them for all to enjoy. All you have to do is sign your name and email, you don’t have to donate money.