Haiku Stairs, also known as the Haiku Ladder, Pali Ladder, and Stairway to Heaven, is a series of galvanized-steel ship ladders that allow access for hikers to the top of Puu Keahiakahoe. This is a mountain on the island of Oʻahu (Honolulu – Hawaii). At an altitude of more than 2800 feet, the top of the Stairs is some 2200 feet above the main building of the now decommissioned U.S. Coast Guard OMEGA Station and about 2,300 feet above the bottom step. Ha’iku is a Hawaiian word meaning Kahili flower.
The ladders of the Haiku Stairs are 18 inches wide and altogether about 4000 feet long. The average slope is about 30 degrees. Each section of the ladder contains seven steps, and the sections are numbered consecutively to the top. There are some other steps apart from the ladders themselves, however, which complicates the counting. Various counts have been made, but the most widely accepted number is 3,922.
The Stairs can be called stairway to heaven because the lead you on a spectacular journey through rough untouched landscapes and raw weather conditions. The plants you encounter while climbing Haiku Stairs include a good cross section of native species. As you ascend, you pass through several micro-environments, where differences in slope, soil, exposure to the wind, rainfall, and clouds combine to favor different plant communities. In these communities, you can also see how different species, and sometimes the same plant species, adapt to these differences in habitat. The careful observer can find evidence of the dispersal, adaptation, and radiation from original forms for which Hawaiian plants are famous.
The bottom of the Stairs is at an elevation of about 120 meters (400 feet) above sea level. Ascending, you encounter some of the native plants now missing from the valley and find others that live only on the high ridges and in the cloud forest.
The construction of the Naval Radio Station at Haiku Valley was one of the most complex and perplexing jobs of the Pacific offensive. The facility was classified top secret and there was no discussion with the Army or the operating committee of the Navy. There was no real model to follow for engineering construction, the terrain was extremely rugged and often dangerous to work in, and they were working under the pressures and trials of the war-racked island.
The trail began as a wooden ladder spiked to the cliff on the south side of the Haʻikū Valley. It was installed in 1942 to enable antenna cables to be strung from one side of the cliffs above Haʻikū Valley to the other. A building to provide a continuous communication link between Wahiawā and Haʻikū Valley Naval Radio Station was constructed at the peak of Puʻukeahiakahoe, elevation about 2,800 feet (850 m).
The antennae transmitted very low frequency powerful radio signals. The signals could reach US Navy submarines as far away as Tokyo Bay while the submarines were submerged. Testers for RCA picked up signals on Long Island, and the signal also reached India, 6,600 miles (10,600 km) away.
When the US Naval base was decommissioned in the 1950s, the United States Coast Guard used the site for an Omega Navigation System station. In the mid-1950s, the wooden stairs were replaced by sections of metal steps and ramps — by one count, 3,922 steps. The station and trail were closed to the public in 1987. Some hikers ignore the ‘No Trespassing’ signs and continue to climb the spectacular trail at their own risk and living a unique experience, contributing to the local community’s misgivings about reopening the structure.
View Larger MapIn 2003, the stairs were repaired, costing the city $875,000. As of early 2012, land usage rights issues haven’t been resolved. The City and County of Honolulu has stated that there is currently no plan to open the stairs for public use, citing liability concerns. Tens of thousands of hikers have climbed the Stairs with no reported serious injuries—despite the fact that timing most of the climbs being made since 2003 have started in the dark to beat the security guard to base of the stairs.
Security guards were hired and were successful in reducing the huge numbers of trespassers, but in recent years, the number remains fairly steady at a reported 100–150 climbers a week during good weather. Authorities and local neighbors are discouraging the illegal trespassing by hikers. Due to this we can enjoy the pictures taken by hikers who did risk their lives.
Deepak J. Prasad