I know I’m a few weeks late but…happy new year! I had an epic 2012, with 13 marathons and ultras under my belt, celebrating my friends’ amazing Ironman triathlon finishes, and going out to Hawaii to celebrate Thunder and Kino’s 50-state marathon journey finish. In my next blog post, I plan to recap some significant races in 2012 that I didn’t get to blog about, since my blog was only born in August 2012.
I wanted to share with you a story about the most memorable hike of my life thus far–the day I went on the Haiku Stairs (aka The Stairway to Heaven) in Oahu, Hawaii. It was a dangerous and risky hike, but the photos and memories were so worth it. It consists of 3,922 stairs up, then you go back down the same way, so almost 8,000 steps to climb/descend total. It’s like climbing the Empire State building 4 times! I got to share this experience with my buddies Jackie, Derrick, and Hideki, and the crazy thing was that we did this the day before running the Honolulu Marathon!
Disclaimer: This hike is a risky activity. Any opinions are purely my own as a private citizen and not associated in any way with any sponsors.
It was my friends’ idea to go on this hike–I had no idea what I was getting into, but there were amazing blog reports online about this “Stairway to Heaven” climb on Unreal Hawaii, an adventure blog.
Basically, it entailed waking up at 2am on 12/8, driving our rental car to a quiet neighborhood, avoid waking up any of the residents, evading detection by the guard starting at 3:30am, and not slipping and falling about 2,800 feet (850m) to our deaths while on the stairs. Ah, the thrill of adventure. Can you see why a couple of ultrarunners wanted to undertake this challenge?
I sleepily awoke to Jackie’s 2:00am wake-up call, carried a simple drawstring backpack stuffed with a bottle of Powerade, a headlamp, a wrist light, bottle of water, my phone, some snacks, and off I went. I made sure to wear tights, dri-fit clothing, a jacket and compression calf sleeves to minimize any strain on my calves for the race the following day. Jackie also thankfully brought three spam musubis for breakfast (rice balls with spam on it), and she gave me one to eat later.
We drove about 30 minutes from Waikiki on the Likelike Highway (yes the name is funny) to the neighborhood where the trailhead is located. At the same time we exit our car, we see three teenage boys dressed in regular street clothes heading in the same direction as us. They did not look prepared for a hike, but by speaking to them we all discovered we were going to the same place. Jackie had the foresight to print out instructions from Yelp–they were sketchy at best, but better than nothing at all. I was nervous that the three teens were up to no good, but long story short, they left us alone and did their own thing. It was pitch black, and several times we headed in the wrong direction. It took us about 15 minutes to find the tiny gap in the bushes where the trail head was located, since nothing was marked. We had to tread carefully in a bamboo thicket which was filled with broken bamboo everywhere. One misstep, and a bloody wound could derail my plans of running the Honolulu Marathon. I stepped VERY carefully.
After the bamboo thicket, we had to navigate through a clearing, then count paces until we found an underpass where the fences and beginning of the staircase lay. We marked our exit from the bamboo with a white plastic bag, just so we could find it again later. We made it past the unmanned guard tent, climbed through a hole in the fence, and we were on the Stairway to Heaven!
Make no mistake, this hike was crazy. After about 10 minutes of climbing this never-ending staircase, I was dripping in sweat. The humidity and anxiety about a misstep in the dark made it feel uncomfortably warm. I followed behind Jackie, who navigated the stairs like a pro. They are VERY narrow, but very stable because they are metal. At some points, the stairs were completely vertical climbs, like a ladder! I am actually terrified of heights, but I swallowed the lump in my throat and continued to climb. Can’t turn back now!
I took pictures on the way up, or anytime my clammy, sweaty hands could stand being away from the bannister (at least one of them). I drank tons of water and Powerade. I was very glad I had my brand-new Petzl headlamp–it was super bright and well worth the $25 I invested in it! Jackie and I ended up taking photos of each other!
There are three “resting” platforms, which were wider and allow hikers to rest. Anytime a hiker passes by you while you’re not on a platform, it’s uncomfortable because you have to squeeze your body against the railing to let them pass. We managed, though. We saw about 8 other hikers on the way up.
At the first platform, Kino announces that he’s done. He said he’ll wait for us on the first platform until we come back down. Jackie, Derrick and I look at each other and we know he doesn’t mean it. After a bit of rest, group photos, some water breaks and coaxing, we are on our way 15 minutes later. I took a minute to look down at the beautiful lights down in Oahu. I almost felt like I was in a small plane descending upon the island.
Getting to the first platform was definitely the toughest part of the hike. It felt like forever! Getting to platform 2 wasn’t nearly as bad, but still strenuous. It got colder and colder as we got closer to the summit.
Finally, the path stretched out with a lot of flat parts. The “stairs” became flat, like a bridge crossing. I knew this meant we were close to the top! It became very misty and foggy. I no longer knew what the difference was between my sweat or the mist on my jacket. I lost so much water weight, I felt like I had just run a marathon. And this was only on the way UP!
Once we reached the top, we saw about 20 other hikers already there.
Everyone was waiting for the sunrise, scheduled for around 6:50am. It took approximately 2 hours for us to climb the almost 4,000 steps to the summit. There was a large stone structure with a lot of graffiti on it, that served as a sort of shelter. This was the location of the original communications tower (read more here). The history is pretty cool– the antennae signals could reach US Navy submarines as far away as Tokyo Bay!
I felt so relieved when we finally reached the top. Jackie, Kino, Derrick and I sat down on the dirty floor and ate some snacks and hydrated. My spam musubi never tasted so good! Unfortunately, there was a lot of litter and debris left at the tower by previous hikers. I wished that people would follow the “leave no trace” philosophy. While we waited for the sun to rise, we turned off our headlamps and tried to stay warm.
At 6:50am, we realized that due to the thick fog, we wouldn’t be able to see the sunrise from the very top. Since Jackie and I actually had to get to a dolphin excursion at 8:45am, we decided to get down from the top a bit early to beat the rush of hikers heading down.
All we saw was fog in front of us for awhile, and then suddenly we had a glimpse of the sun.
I was busy watching my step, since the fog made the stairs very slippery. I had a few close calls where I almost landed on my butt, but luckily my hands gripped the rails very tightly. Note to self: bring gloves, if there is a next time.
At the second platform, Jackie decided to take her signature jumping photo on a tiny platform, sans hand rails!
She is brave. I just managed a small hop, not a full-on jump.
Jackie clearly used the Stairclimber at her gym, since she was bouncing down the stairs so quickly, while Derrick, Kino and I struggled to keep up. My legs started to feel like jelly. You know that feeling the day after the marathon when your legs feel like rubber? Yeah, that was me–about 3 hours into this hike. It took us about 4.5 hours to make this journey, including one hour of resting at the top. It took about 1.5 hours to climb down.
Also, we were slightly worried about the guard at the bottom, but he just looked at us and casually said “good job.” Sometimes they are not so nice, but we got lucky. I like to think that we were our own good luck charms. The Stairway to Heaven is not for the faint of heart. I think it was the second hardest thing I’ve ever done, after my 100-miler. Oh yes, I also don’t recommend running a marathon the next day, haha. My slower time was well worth it though. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
What a relief! We successfully found the trailhead, none of us got injured, and we were most likely going to make it to our pre-paid dolphin excursion! Hooray!! Could the day get any better? Yes, it could. On the drive back, Jackie found out that she got into the Western States Endurance Run via lottery! Goooo Jackie! Thanks to Kino, Derrick and Jackie for accompanying me on this crazy adventure. Glad we lived to tell the tale!