We putted along down the congested back roads towards Turtle Bay ready for snorkeling Hawaii. Nate sparked up a cigarette puffing plumes of smoke out the window. I gazed out at the coastal beauty beckoning my eyes with blue tendrils of crashing splendor. The calm swell attracted many beach goers from all over, and normally I avoided the tourist pits, but this time was different.
Nate looked over at me suddenly and blurted out, “You want a hit of acid bro?”
Sunset on Sharks Cove
Without much hesitation, I reached down and pulled a tab off a strip of blotter paper. The tasteless square moistened under my tongue for a few minutes before swallowing it. I took acid many times in the past, throughout college, and hitchhiking up through California, so I knew what to expect. Each time felt like a new adventure as I waited for the trip to begin.
We stopped at a surf shop in Haleiwa to buy snorkeling equipment first before continuing on to Turtle Bay. The parking lot connected to the beach resort jam-packed with cars. With people all looking to bask by the cove, like beached whales, our intention of seeing tropical fish appeared dismal, but we dove in anyway.
I swam around looking at murky clouds of seawater as my eyes spotted a lone tetra jolting between the cracks of brain-coral. The cove sucked for snorkeling. Little kids splashed about causing a ruckus by the shoreline, kicking and thrashing about, while giggling with smiles of joy. Fish disappeared into the depths of the ocean, and suddenly it no longer mattered. My mind began to escape me like an endless dream of happiness.
The cool water dribbled off my skin as I immersed myself in her beauty. The beauty of Mother Nature brought a twinkle to my eye as my vision sharpened quickly.
I lost Nate through the sea of people, but I just kept swimming and swimming. Slowly my mind dove further into an imaginarium of eclectic thoughts. Everything felt happy. Everything felt alive around me. The waves. The coral. The urchins. The sand. I loved Hawaii and its random adventures as I floated there in the ocean, forgetting to breathe. I coughed up mucous and salty phlegm-like water as my body slowly became more incapacitated from the drug.
The small current pushed me to the shoreline and I fumbled to take off my snorkel, mask and flippers, tumbling into the sand. I fell on my ass and giggled with a tenacity to wander enjoying every bit of snorkeling Hawaii.
In this trippy euphoria Nate came into view and we both made our way back to the car with no destination in mind. The ground moved around us as his car felt stationary guiding us back the way we came. We laughed and chain smoked the last of our cigarettes as Nate chanted the same lyrics to a ska-punk song over-and-over again.
“It’s only just begun,” I thought. And it did. We pulled off a few miles down the road outside of an abandoned building. It felt like a primal spot to lose our minds. An old Hawaiian couple posed for the camera taking pregnancy photos in an eery door-frame. We hobbled through trash, decayed coconuts, Styrofoam and rusted construction equipment stepping over barbed wire and metal bed-frames as my body wandered to another extreme emotion, fear.
The dark, gloomy jungle cast its shadows on us making each step through the wasteland of the Convalescent home even more chilling. My heart thumped, and fingers trembled. I finagled through waste fearing I might step on a stray heroine needle. It made my toes cringe between my broken sandals, until losing them altogether when I set my eyes on a Banyan tree. It crept around the backside of the vacant building, wrapping its limbs around the roof like a parasite feeding off its master.
Underwater Trippin’ in Oahu
Snorkeling Hawaii on acid in Turtle Bay
Fear shook every ounce of blood pumping through my veins. I watched in a trembled stupor as Nate monkeyed his way to the top of the roof. Climbing and swinging up the prison-bar windows, using rusty metal pegs as footholds, he reached the top, fearless and anxious to down-climb the Banyan tree.
I took another approach for fear of tetanus. I studied the Banyan tree like a bouldering problem until finally gripping its bark, steadily inching up its trunk. Nate chucked plaster tiles off the roof as his mood shifted to destruction. I felt scared and numb as I reached a point of no return three-quarters of the way up the tree. But, my fear morphed into comfort with the slight breeze, feeling content as I sat with my legs dangling on either side of a sturdy branch. We sat up there for hours. He sang. I looked off into the canopies cascading around me. Their sharpness intrigued me looking like a blanket of green Legos.
Our moods shifted and we found ourselves back on the road headed to Sharks Cove. The low tide whispered our names putting our vehicle to a halt. Before I knew it I found myself tiptoeing barefoot across jagged coral like stepping on the tips of pointed needles. My feet ached as my mind alluded the pain. But with each step closer to the tide pools we looked out at the sun greeting us with one last smile of happiness as it shined its orange radiance throughout the sky. All my emotions felt like one as I awed in the beauty before me. This was the best acid I ever took. Snorkeling on acid turned into a series of random adventures making my last days in Oahu one to remember.
Stairway to Heaven Hawaii – Haiku Stairs
Back before Kelly and I became newly weds in Arcosanti, AZ we both expressed our strong passions of adventure by aspiring to travel to the Hawaiian Islands. Not just any island, but more specifically Oahu because of the deadly, yet spectacularly beautifying hike only seen in a tropical paradise, Haiku Stairs, more commonly known as the Stairway to Heaven Hawaii. Now I do not know the specifics as to why the state of Hawaii closed the hike back in the 80’s, but to make a long story short, people died, long costly lawsuits followed, and the hike became illegal. All maintenance ceased and a guard manned the front gates to the stairs giving out citations to those who trespassed on government property.
What makes this hike so sought out and miraculous though? Even after closing the Stairway to Heaven, why do so many people break the law to hike it literally everyday? The same reason we did. It is fucking awesome. In the past few years of my travels I hiked quite a bit of epic trails from the Rims of the Grand Canyon, and Havasu Falls to the snowy peaks of Mt. Quandary, Mt. Humphrey, and the White Mountains, to name a few. Each trail maintains its own beauty, but the Stairway to Heaven is a different category of hiking. With close to 4,000 steps to the top of the military satellite we marched up the old metal staircase traversing the ridgeline of the mountains along Highway 3.
Haiku Stairs – Stairway to Heaven Hawaii
But it was not that simple. It took us a while to even find the hike. Originally we planned to take a cheap bus getting off at a stop near Haiku Village. But, instead we hitched a ride with a tandem instructor from the drop zone, putting us at the entrance of the neighborhood drainage culvert. The heavy foot-traffic led straight to the road leading to the Haiku Stairs, with an easy access hole in the chain-linked fence, but we made the wrong turn, turning left instead of right. This put us on the wrong ridgeline from the very beginning. We followed footprints up an adjacent ridge, until we hit a dead-end. The mushy soil squished under our boots as we scaled a steep pitch of ridgeline, hanging onto tropical roots, tree-limbs, rocks, stumps and anything we gripped our hands on without crumbling through our fingers. I suspected this did not lead to the Stairway to Heaven, but the night sky twinkled before us and finding the stairs at night made for an even harder task than the hike itself…
With every inch of elevation the ridge became insanely steeper, to a point where hiking became impossible without clinging onto trees and free-climbing up the side of the mountain, which we did. But, fear hit me, I dabbled in dangerous climbs prior to this one, but my wife only ever hiked easy trails and I did not want to put her in a precarious situation or possibly life-threatening. My blood pumped giving me the queasy feeling of adrenaline knotted in the middle of my stomach. By this point I grabbed both packs, my 35 liter strapped to my back and her 50 liter flung over the front of me, while our backs braced against trees. The top of the ridge felt within reach, but did the stairs lay beyond this peak? With each foot the hike became steeper and more challenging. Erosion took control of the ridge, and every chunk of rock I grabbed, slipped through my fingers in heaps of crumbled earth. I looked down with a ghostly expression, sweat exhausting my brow, my fingers shaking with each fallen rock as I inched closer to the top. I crawled and wiggled on a narrow cliff-face until setting foot on top of the ridge. The wind hit my face with gnarly gusts making me lose my footing. I looked around at a panoramic view of the island from the small peak, but no stairs followed in the distance, none in any direction I could see. What the fuck? In that moment of accomplishment, everything looked unfavorably bad. With a half hour of daylight left, a down-climb from hell to follow and successfully finding the entrance in the dark, our likelihood of hiking the Stairway to Heaven looked dismal. We almost capitulated, but we needed to find shelter, anything off of a slope, to rest. Clouds encroached the dark sky slowly dimming our visibility making it hard to find footholds and handholds on our descent. So we did what we could. We slid on our asses, safely breaking our falls by grabbing onto anything and everything with a stable root structure.
Hiking the illegal Stairway to Heaven Hawaii
Stairway to Heaven Hawaii at night
Stairway to Heaven Hawaii. The view at night in the clouds…
By the time we reached the bottom the sky yawned and complete darkness followed. We resorted to our shitty WalMart flashlight, which did not help much for directional use. It helped a little though. We moseyed along back down the road in the opposite direction until reaching the same hole in the fence. The same hole we crawled through hours prior to sunset. Where the hell were the stairs? It was my fault I did not prepare much prior to the hike, but it made it more adventurous. We needed to make a right past the hole in the fence, not a left. So those hours spent exerting energy, nearly dying, falling to our deaths did not get us any closer to the hike.
We sluggishly walked down the road towards the entrance, fiending for sleep. My wife did not want to walk straight past security at the gate so we needed to get creative and find an alternate path to the stairs. The only advantage of nighttime gave us a clear view of the guard from his bright headlights near the entrance.
Stairway to Heaven Hawaii with the Kelly
I did not know another way in though, so I got creative and looked for a path through the jungle. Sure enough small cut-outs, on our left, in the bamboo looked like an alternate foot-trail to the Haiku Stairs. I took a chance and went on instinct, but still we came up short. The bits of trash, heavy foot-traffic, washed-out slopes covered in footprints and sloppy mud felt like false promises and shattered hopes. We felt so close, yet so far as cliche as that sounds…it was true. I literally smelled the stairs, thought I heard whispers and footsteps clanking against the old metal of other hikers scaling the ridge, but maybe I was hallucinating from lack of sleep.
Stairway to Heaven Hawaii.
We trekked onward, in the dark, using a small light to find our way up the slippery slope of mud, and then it happened upon us, our first real clue to the stairs, a set of green ropes tied off to the trees. So of course we followed them hoping to come upon the stairs. We used our last bits of energy and strength traversing the narrow slopes with our hands fiercely gripping the climbing rope. We tried our best to maintain our footing as to not tumble into the unknown.
Upon reaching the end we found debris from the landslide years prior, pieces of wooden ladders, metal, and wooden steps along with two guide ropes trailing to the top of the peak. Their rusted metal texture screamed tetanus, and I thought for sure following them would lead us to the stairs, so we climbed onward through the valley.
Stairway to Heaven Hawaii.
The valley left us in a pit of debris with nothing to progress forward to as I approached a dead-end of pitch black, unclimbable terrain. FUCK…FUCK…FUCK…I turned around, flopping my limbs carelessly with each depressing step. We were never gonna find these stairs. I gave up all hope. My wife looked tired and scared. I felt tired and angry with no comfortable place to sleep. So we crouched down with our heads against our packs hoping to get some rest. Security guarded the road, patrolling with a flashlight and he definitely saw us, but we sat perched too far up the slope for his lazy ass to climb up there. They did not pay him enough to care.
However, in the distance we saw another flashlight, its beams patrolled the area like that of a police officer. We looked at each other with paranoid eyes as still as stone. Kelly looked at me with a numbing stare of hopelessness. We got caught…or did we?
A light shined directly on both of us followed by the words, “Is that a dead body?”
Kelly proceeded with, “Are you the guards?”
Both parties felt obscurely mystified and confused, until we all realized we stumbled upon other adventurists hoping to climb the Stairway to Heaven too. So instead of sleep, instead of calling it quits, instead of heading home, Kelly and I followed the other group towards the alternate route to the stairs. Literally after five minutes we found it. Just five minutes. All that time wasted and we stood five minutes from the immaculately engineered stairs revered throughout the world as one of the best hikes ever.
As tired as our bodies felt, we pushed on, using the last bits of adrenaline and nicotine needed to make it to the first resting foundation along the stairs. My legs spasmed from soreness, lack of food, dehydration and the need for sleep. Just when I thought we reached the top, we didn’t. The stairs felt endless and it just kept going up and up and up. Stairs followed by short flat sections of stairs, followed by more stairs, all going up. I thought if I dug deep and kept pushing I would make it within a few hours, with time to sleep at the top, but Kelly, I did not know. I looked back and she looked aggravated and sleep deprived. Each step she took thudded loudly against the metal stairs like dead-weight. Her eyes fluttered in exhaustion as she broke out into a feeble, fake, smile. We needed a miracle to complete the stairs in this condition and somehow under the grand, luminous, supermoon, perpetuating its violent beauty upon us, we made it to the first foundation.
It did not take much convincing from Kelly to persuade me to rest. I succumbed to hours of relentless hiking, searching and climbing to find the stairs and finally we stood on them, with nothing but time on our side.
That cloudless night wrenched my eyes with brightness. The kind of brightness and beauty that put a smile on my face despite complete exhaustion and wanting to sleep. After time, we both fell into a peaceful slumber under the twinkling stars overlooking the island of Oahu.
Three hours felt like a lifetime, getting back at it in the early morning for more. We pushed up the stairs, clanking our boots against the steps, our hands rubbing against the iron handrails covered in calcified residue from the ocean. Mist clobbered us from every direction as the clouds drowned the mountains in a damp fog.
Each step brought us closer to the view and that’s what pushed us, despite the pain, the fear, the sore muscles and bones, we kept going. Never in my life did I feel so scared from traversing a ridgeline. The steep angle of the stairs, their rust, their aging and lack-of-maintenance made me fearful, fearful of falling to my death. I held onto the railing with my tightest grip, the moisture tickling my palms as my heart pounded. I thought about what food I would eat afterwards. I realized buffalo wings were not in my near future as a disheartened look crossed my face.
Shortly the 2nd, then the 3rd and 4th rung came with more steep climbing on the stairs and as I looked down I knew all too well why it got its name, Stairway to Heaven. I felt like I stood at the gates of Heaven, breathing in the clouds with nothing but endless beauty beneath my two feet.
The wind walloped, gusting ferociously at the peak as we waited for the clouds to wander out of view. Bright green ridges of tropical plants cascaded down to a populated city immersed in coastal beauty. Tide pools speckled the ocean with light blue hues as waves crashed in the distance. In the screeches of the wind we lost ourselves to perpetual beauty, flowing endlessly in every direction, while we stood on the peak of Haiku Stairs, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Our Hike on Hawaii’s illegal Stairway to Heaven
A Zion Halloween
The waves scream thunderous roars, crashing fury down on the banks of the shore, washing away the footprints of the wandering man. He stumbles along into the night, his bare feet swollen and calloused from relentless walking. Nothing stops him as he wanders in his own world, a world easily distinguished from his blazed pupils, sparkling blue. He’s a beggar. He’s a thief. He’s a father. He’s penniless, not by choice, but by addiction.
His name is Zion. Zion is a man around my age, a dark-skinned Hawaiian man with short scruffy hair thinning out over his scalp. His stubbly beard shows signs of age from its graying. His chest is flat perspiring wit sweat and he’s in a drug-induced daze from days of binging. He scours the beach at night scrounging around for loose scraps of unattended merchandise, anything to sell for his next fix.
Each day he roams the island between Mokule’ia and Hale’iwa Beach. Maybe it’s by bicycle. Maybe it’s by foot or thumb, but he wanders around. He’s the man without a shirt, without shoes, without water, without a pack, without a destination. His spirit goes where the drug tells him to go. It’s a dangerous, vicious, voice in his head, whispering with a snickering grin, goading him for more. The devilish demon within rips his soul from his body making him fiend for the next dose. No longer does he smoke it, he lights it up on a spoon, ready for injection. Needles he claims he uses for his Diabetes…
Sleepless days and nights flow together as one. He craves more as his mind wanders to archaiac, ridiculous, visions. The costumes from Halloween impair his judgment as he waddles along through the moist, sandy, beach. Paranoia strikes like a bolt of lightning making his heart quiver as his feet trip over a small pit. The pit is not empty, as his eyes flutter in bewilderment from what lies beneath his dirty feet. It’s all a dream in his mind, isn’t it?
He rummages through the sand pit like a dumpster slowly picking up bones, one-by-one. “What did I do,” he thinks, in a slight panic. His hands fumble the bodies lying before him as he counts, not one, but six skulls scattered around the pit like a satanic ritual. He flees in fear, scurrying back to ca to tell of the tale to Jungle and friends.
“Last night I found six bodies by the ocean. Don’t tell anyone. I only told you. Well, two people…Kalei too. But don’t tell anyone.”
I nod my head with a slight grin on my face unsure of the truth to his story.
Zion leaves. His eye swollen, covered behind dark sunglasses, and skin peeling from constant sunlight, a sign of a wandering soul.
I did not tell him to lay off the crystal. It was screwing with his mind and where was the fun in that? After all, Halloween just passed and the plastic skulls and bones that come with the tradition…Well, let’s just say he thinks there is an axe murderer on a killing spree, piling bodies up on the beach.
Not all who wander are lost, but then there’s Zion…