by foot, Bill Adams and Louis Otto climbed their way up the east wall of
Haiku Valley, leaving the rope in place after each assault. At the end of
21 days of steady work, long since invisible through the clouds to those
below, they achieved the summit.
to the northernmost spur of the hogback, they looked around. They could
not see more than 20 feet through the dripping mist; it was cold, windy
and scary. Sitting, exhausted, on the wet ground, Adams swung one leg over
the far side and straddled the mountain. The fog broke a little.
Almighty!” he grunted. “Look, Louis.”
drop on the east side was almost perpendicular, all the way down 1,800
feet to the next valley beyond. They were perched on the razor’s edge of
the summit ridge.
for a moment, the clouds blew off and the enormous panorama of the whole
region lay below them. There, to windward, the shallow curve of Kaneohe
Bay glimmered pale emerald in the sunlight, bordered by vivid turquoise of
the shoals. The naval air base at Mokapu seemed a cluster of white dots
around the base of Ulupau.
by God!” said Bill fervently.
first two pioneers reached the summit ridge of Puu Keaheakahoe in 1942 –
and so began the construction of Haiku Stairs.
the trail these men pioneered up the face of Puu Keaheakahoe is closed,
but according to Honolulu Managing Director Ben Lee, there is “great
promise” for reopening the stairs. If all goes as expected, the
“Stairway to Heaven” should open for hikers to experience the
windswept cliffs and beautiful views of windward and leeward Oahu within
the coming year.
to reopening the Haiku Stairs has been voiced by some residents of the
bordering neighborhood. The root cause of complaints, often heard at
meetings, is that people cut through their neighborhood, take up street
parking spaces, make noise, cause dogs to bark and generally disrupt the
neighborhood. In response to these issues, the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board
has formed a task force to investigate residents’ claims before the
stairs are reopened to the public.
Haiku Stairs were originally constructed so antennas – the working end
of a top-secret naval radio station that would communicate across the
Pacific – could be stretched across Haiku Valley. At first, the stairs
were just a line of ropes hanging from metal pickets. Shortly there after,
the ropes were replaced by wooden ladders and then by wooden steps. Over
time, the wooden steps were replaced by the present-day metal ladders,
which closely resemble a series of ship’s ladders connected end-to-end.
Although the stairs have endured for more than 60 years, the remains of
several sections of the original wooden ladders are still visible, strewn
across the cliff sides where they were discarded.
the metal stairway was completed in 1953, it was able to provide
continuing access for maintenance to the antennas and communications
control link that is perched near the summit of Puu Keaheakahoe. Today,
these unique and historical structures along with the Haiku Stairs are
historic properties eligible for protection under the National Historic
are in need of such protection.
1972, the radio station in Haiku Valley was transferred from the Navy to
the Coast Guard to operate as an Omega navigation station. During that
time a small and discreet group of local hikers came to use the Haiku
Stairs to gain access to the ridge of the Koolau Pali. This use of the
Haiku Stairs was not an issue until the climb was publicized in a Honolulu
daily newspaper. Then, the secret was out.
the mid 1980s, the Coast Guard registered up to 20,000 people a year to
climb the Haiku Stairs. These hikers would enter the valley through the
gate (which is now locked) in Haiku Village and park at the transmitter
site or along the loop road. This situation continued until the stairs
were vandalized in 1987. Three stair sections, at the steepest portions of
the climb, were torn out and thrown down the mountain. After that
incident, the stairs were closed to hikers. Shortly thereafter, the
obsolete Omega station was closed and the Coast Guard left the valley.
stairs once again gained a relative measure of peace, as only those hikers
who knew the trails, and were willing to scramble across gaps of nearly
vertical rock with only the aid of frayed, old, fixed ropes, could ascend
the trail. It remained that way until the Coast Guard, approaching a land
transfer to local government, threatened to tear out Haiku Stairs. A
public outcry ensued to save the stairs. That protest, bolstered by the
fact that the stairs are a historic structure and that the environmental
impact caused by their removal would be substantial, persuaded the Coast
Guard to relinquish the Omega station, with the stairs intact, to its
highest-priority claimant, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
valley was of no direct use to DHHL as its terrain is too steep and rugged
for cost-effective development. But it was a good bargaining chip for more
useful land, and the city and county of Honolulu eyed the Haiku Valley as
a mountain park. Due to the expectation of a land exchange with DHHL, the
City of Honolulu appropriated and spent over $800,000 to repair the
stairs. The newly improved stairs were expected to become one of the focal
points of a nature and cultural preserve in valley. The repair to the
stairs proceeded on schedule – not so did the negotiations for a land
exchange, or for temporary access to the stairs through the Hope Chapel.
repairs were completed, hikers, by word of mouth and news articles,
returned. Lacking a designated parking area or trail access, they began
routing through neighborhoods and climbing fences erected to keep them out
– thus, the seeds of yet another community dispute were sewn.
some of the neighbors seemed to take it in stride, a small group of
residents in the Hokulele subdivision were angered that hikers used the
neighborhood as a trailhead. A few even began calling for complete removal
of stairs and extended their objections to the creation of a park in the
valley. Trespassing hikers, it seems, have created a sentiment among some
to fight anything that would bring other people into the neighborhood.
Although security guards now keep the majority of trespassing hikers out,
that sentiment unfortunately lingers among a few neighborhood residents.
do we go from here?
years ago, before the Hoku-lele subdivision was constructed, access to
Haiku Stairs was through the Coast Guard Station in Haiku Valley.
that period and since, when many
trespassing hikers have made the climb, no serious injuries have
been re-ported. This is a far better safety record than many of our beach
parks and other mountain trails. The Haiku Stairs
are a jewel in the crown of Oahu’s
one disputes that residents have a right to peace and quiet in their
community. Fortunately, there is a way to accomplish this by restoring
appropriate public access to the Haiku Stairs.
do not have the right to close public access to mountain lands and trails
because they do not want other citizens to travel through their community
on public roads. Throughout Oahu, access to mountains and beaches is
gained through neighboring communities. We go to the beach in Kohala,
Lanikai, and Kailua by parking in neighborhoods and walking paths between
houses. Nearly every mountain park in the Koolau Mountains is reached
through a neighborhood, from Aiea Heights to Mauna Lua Valley and Kuliouou.
Haiku Valley is no different; in Hawaii, mountain lands are not the
private preserve of those privileged to live at their edges.
number of people who can use the Haiku Stairs is limited by the physical
size of the stairs themselves. Under proper management, 100 people a day
would be a reasonable number of hikers to ascend the stairs, although past
records indicate the number of actually hikers would be substantially
less. Having too many hikers on the trail would not only be impractical,
it would adversely affect the climbing experience and potentially damage
the stairs and the surrounding environment. This small number of hikers
(spread over an entire day), along with adequate parking and management in
place, would not create a problem passing through the neighborhood. It
certainly did not in the past.
need to work together as a community to provide safe, legal access
to Haiku Stairs. To accomplish this, we also need to work with
renewed energy on the land exchange for Haiku Valley that would enable a
cultural and natural preserve there, and to provide managed access for
of press time, the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board’s Task Force proposal is
to use a parking area at the Windward Community College, and access the
stairs by following a fenced pathway bordering the state hospital to the
H-3 service road, which leads to the bottom of the Haiku Stairs. This
initiative, which does not address access into Haiku Valley, answers many
issues raised by residents. Likewise, consideration should be given to use
of Haiku Road for access into Haiku Valley via the Omega Station gate, as
was done in the past. This suggestion avoids using roads inside Haiku
Village, and Haiku Road could be gated at the bottom to control access.
Measures such as these, combined with effective control and management of
the stairs, continued discouragement of trespassing and public education,
The alternative – to close Haiku Stairs and the Haiku Valley – is simply short sighted and anger-driven. Rather than solving the trespassing problem, it will only prolong it and provoke a destructive fight within the community. It will also leave open the possible for future economic uses of the Haiku Valley that are potentially far worse for the community than a passive natural preserve and park.
solution to all of this is there to be had, we must work together as a
John Goody is the president of the
Friends of Haiku Stairs and a long-time windward resident. He is a retired
U.S. Marine, and retired Vice President of the consulting firm of Belt
Collins. Formerly a resident of Haiku Village, he and his family have been
climbing Haiku Stairs since 1977.