HI on Life

As the ancient Hawaiians used to say: if you throw the flower petals from your lei back into the ocean, and they return to shore, you are destined to return to Hawaii. (Rocket Power anyone?!)

Pretty sure my lei returned to shore. Why do I think so? Because one of my best friends, Meg, is moving there in a few months! Obviously I'm gonna go visit her, and when I do, I am 100% repeating my favorite hike ever. Last year, on a trip to Hawaii, my friend Meg and I were determined to hike the Haiku Stairs on Oahu. They were built in 1942 to host a top-secret satellite tower that would enable communication with Navy ships in the Pacific. It sits atop the Ko'oalu mountain range, or what is really, the remnants of a volcano.

If you've heard of the Stairway to Heaven, you might know that it's a hike with just under 4,000 steps. 

If you squint, you can see us on the stairs. (My backpack does a fabulous job of camouflaging me.) Credit: Flo Völkel

If you squint, you can see us on the stairs. (My backpack does a fabulous job of camouflaging me.)
Credit: Flo Völkel

Oh, and it's illegal.

Now, half of you are probably thinking, that's super risky and dangerous, while the other half are thinking, that's dope.

I could think of a few reasons not to do it:

  • If I get caught, I might have to pay a $1000 fine.
  • I could get a ticket if I am seen just walking through the neighboorhood and look suspicious of attempting the hike.
  • I have a pain that worsens as you climb stairs (patellofemoral pain syndrome). Therefore, I may not reach the summit.
  • The stairs are incredibly steep. If it rains, I could slip and die. (This might be a bit dramatic, but some portions feel as if you're climbing up an 80 degree angle.)


I am a thrill-seeker. The risks only strengthened my desire to do it.

There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.

— Mark Twain

I put my trust in the Universe and figured the odds would be in my favor. (It worked because here I am writing this post.)

Luckily, Meg is just as adventurous as me.
(Nostalgic note: Our first conversation ever was literally "I heard you like adventure. I do too. Let's adventure together.")
And now look where we are. Both Stairway to Heaven virgins at the time, I think I speak for the both of us when I say we are stoked to say this item is checked off our bucket lists.


We woke up early as heck, sprinted through Downtown Honolulu, and rode two buses to get there. (FYI: If you ever find yourself stranded in Downtown for whatever reason and need a bathroom ASAP, Walmart is about the only place with a public restroom. Save yourself some trouble and just head there straight away.) The bus dropped us off at our stop, and views of the scenic mountain range rose in front of us. Squealing with excitement, Meg and I couldn't believe our eyes... it's freaking MASSIVE! 

See that mist covering the top of the mountain range? If you choose to go to the highest platform, that's where you'll be.   Credit: Flo Völkel

See that mist covering the top of the mountain range? If you choose to go to the highest platform, that's where you'll be.
Credit: Flo Völkel

We couldn't have asked for better weather–sun rays were gleaming down onto the mountains, puffy white clouds dotted the bright blue sky, and the morning dew was beginning to fade. Looking back through our photos, you'd think we hiked it twice–the weather looks so different. It can change in an instant when you're at such a high altitude. One minute we were immersed in a thick cloud of fog with brutal winds; the next, the sun was shining and we were overlooking one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Pro tip: bring a windbreaker-type jacket.

Starting the trek into a local neighborhood, our hike began crawling up a drainage ditch (not as gross as it sounds). We emerged into someone's backyard, harboring a visible path into some trees. Right before we made our next move, we heard the bustling and scrambling of footsteps and hushed voices–early risers who were completing their hike. Time check: 9:15am. (Many people start the hike at 3am, and that doesn't mean wake up at 3am. Many will do this to eliminate the chance of getting caught, a valid point that would have been wise for us to follow. Others may do it to see the sunrise.)

Prepare yourself, because I can guarantee you, you will fall at least once. (Relax, I don't mean on the actual stairs!) We then wriggled our way under a wire fence in clay-colored mud. I feel like I'm in a training camp. 

Walking along an eerily quiet government road, I kept thinking there had to be someone on patrol around every corner. Even on the return trip I felt this way, but the only guard I saw was the one I will soon mention.

Four hours later, this was the damage.   Credit: Flo Völkel

Four hours later, this was the damage.
Credit: Flo Völkel

Fast forward 15 minutes to us weaving our way through the jungle. Pro tip: if you have hiking shoes, wear 'em. After a wrong turn, scaling a waterfall unexpectedly, slipping in mud, we found the daunting bamboo forest. The next step? (no pun intended!) Reach the first steps to Heaven. 

Here, the security guard waits for you a short distance from the entrance. Your fate of getting fined lies in his hands – it's up to him whether the cops show up.

My adrenaline kicked in; next thing I knew, Meg was on the bottom of the steps, and then I was running, just a few steps behind her.

Pretty soon after starting the climb, I glanced behind me and immediately felt like a deer in headlights. Or a wanted criminal (I wouldn't know).

I am clearly in plain sight of the guard. There's no hiding it, and you can't go anywhere but up. I could feel his eyes on us, but instead of feeling panicked, I felt what could only be one thing: 

F R E E D O M.

A little later and a bit higher into the sky, we reached a sketchy part of the "trail." When I say "sketchy," I am referring to a section of the stairs in desperate need of repair. A landslide damaged the stairs, bending the handrails and misplacing a few steps. (You can Google "damaged haiku stairs" if you're curious to see.) 

𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧

During the hike, the world is lively with color and energy all around you. I can't count the number of times I paused to take a minute and take in its beauty (and to catch my breath, lol). Native plants line the stairway and brush up against you. Keep in mind that we are covered in dirt, sore, cold, sweaty, maybe wind burned, and our hair is flying in every direction. Nevertheless, we continued our ascent and made our way to the Puu Keahiakahoe summit, where we experienced some of the most breathtaking landscapes one could ever have the pleasure of witnessing. 

I'd rate these views a mount-ten/ten. Credit: Flo Völkel

I'd rate these views a mount-ten/ten.
Credit: Flo Völkel

Was the view worth the tight, aching pain in my calves the next day? 

134078249 times yes. 

Hues of greens and blues swelled in my eyes and I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful sight.  Looking across to the other mountains, I saw earthy tones of red and brown. The houses glimmering beneath us glowed a blinding white. Suddenly, I understood why Hawaii is known as the Rainbow State.   

The views blue me away  ;)  Credit: Flo Völkel

The views blue me away ;)
Credit: Flo Völkel

꧁ This was the entry to heaven. At the edge of the world. ꧂

And yes, it is as steep as it looks.

And yes, it is as steep as it looks.

The energy atop the mountain was contagious. We gained new friends along the way: an Australian couple; one French dude; and our amazing personal German photographer, Flo. We joined some fellow champions in their dance party, blasting Bruno Mars' That's What I Like, and Outkast's Hey Ya. Rejoicing together in our triumph, we learned they had chosen to hike up the back way, on the Moanalua Valley Trail. Perfectly legal, it also brings you to the summit of Haiku, although is possibly more treacherous?!? 

𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧

After conquering the behemoth that is Stairway to Heaven, I can definitely say it's up there on my list of all-time favorite experiences.

There is no guarantee you won't get caught. It's a high-risk task. For some people, it's not as easy to just walk right out. I am forever grateful we were lucky enough not to get caught that day. Maybe next time I will play it safe and see other gorgeous views by hiking the Moanalua Trail. (Let's be honest, it's totally so I can use a punny Moana caption...)

A salute to Meg, the navigator of the expedition, because she did an awesome job. Having done the crucial research, Meg found a perfect blog post containing an informative summary of what-you-should-know-before the hike. (Don't limit yourself to just this one, there are plenty of other great posts and forums to check out that will answer your questions.) I, on the other hand, had done my "research" on Instagram, AKA gape at pictures and brainstorm captions for the moment I could post a victory photo of my own. 

Meg and I at the summit. Credit: Flo Völkel

Meg and I at the summit.
Credit: Flo Völkel

Whether you're terrified of heights, impressed with it's magnificence, or haven't done cardio in a while, the Stairway to Heaven is sure to leave you breathless.

Stairwaaaaaay up, I felt blessed.

Stairwaaaaaay up, I felt blessed.

𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧 𖧧

If you're still with me after reading this excessively long and detailed post, you're amazing!!
But seriously, what are your thoughts? 
If you've already done it, would you do it again? What would you do differently?
If you haven't done it, would you?

Say yes! And before you leave Hawaii, don't forget to throw your lei into the ocean. :)

𖧧 Your High on Life Hiker 𖧧

Banner image provided by Flo Völkel