Go to ...

Brian Cray - Hitchhikin', Trainhoppin', and Wanderin'

Wanderin' the world, at will, by any means

YOUR AD HERE! $5/month

RSS Feed


Sacred Falls Takes Some Balls

Hiking Hawaii’s Sacred Falls Trail

So after bumming around Kauai and Maui for a month with my wife I found myself back in Oahu for a few days of work along with sunshine and a thirst for more exploration. Now I did not do much research about hiking Hawaii’s Sacred Falls trail. I knew it was illegal and moderately patrolled, but nothing compared to the Stairway to Heaven hike. From hitchhiking around the east side and taking Bus 55 I knew the trailhead started somewhere near Punalu’u Beach Park. I won’t give exact directions, but if you take the #55 bus and use common sense you will be able to find the hike. Please, I do not recommend hiking this trail. This is why I did not provide directions, just my personal experiences hiking Hawaii’s Sacred Falls trail. In my personal opinion, if you pick a sunny day after a few days of sunshine then your hiking experience should be fine. Nothing is certain 100%, but please do not be the dumb ass who hikes it in torrential rainfall or high winds. You are just asking to get clobbered in the head with falling rocks, experience potential land slides or even rock slides. Once you are at the Sacred Falls waterfall the only way out is back through the valley you hiked in through. So pick a great weather day to do the hike, bring high ankle support boots to get you through the squishy, slippery, jungle mud and cross the streams with much caution as you will hike through a series of flash flood areas. Do not hike this trail in December during the worst month of rainy season. The trail is surprisingly easy to follow and is pretty well maintained despite being illegal. I thought hiking Hawaii’s Sacred Falls trail was an easy to moderate, 4-mile, round trip hike (2 miles in, 2 miles out) and definitely worth the trip. Keep in mind if you get caught you will get fined $2,500 for your first offense. Know your limits. Know your skill level. And most importantly if you choose to break the law criminal trespassing, hiking Hawaii’s Sacred Falls trail, use common sense and be safe. Don’t run, yell or go out in inclement weather. People have died here. That’s why it’s illegal. So keep that in mind.

Hiking Sacred Falls All Trails

Travel Maui on a Cheap Budget

The Road to Hana Nearly Killed Me

The Road to Hana

And there I was with tears drowning my cheeks, gushing out of my eyes uncontrollably, as Kelly drifted away up the stairwell behind TSA. Her flight left early that morning for Phoenix to see family before her job starts up at Space Camp in Alabama. Our 30 days of blissful camping under the stars made it an interesting honeymoon, hitchhiking the Hawaiian Islands. But, my flight did not leave from Oahu until January 12th giving me more than two more weeks to explore with my own two feet, only this time, solo.

The solitude never bothered me much. I spent a few years working seasonally and wandering between the gaps of my resume as a solo hitchhiker. This felt different though. The love hit me like a mist as I left the airport for yonder, the Road to Hana, which Kelly and I did not have the time to fully explore.

As I stomped down the road the splashes of puddles beneath my decrepit boots seeped between my toes, wrinkling them into knub-like prunes. My scowl followed as I marched towards the bus stop. The night prior I drifted off on an airport bench for a brief period of sleep, nothing adequately comfortable or refreshing. So I used all my energy to keep from falling asleep as to not miss the bus.

The Road to Hana

Welcome to the jungle – A bamboo forest on the Road to Hana near Twin Falls

Normally, I preferred hitchhiking, but for 2 bucks I just wanted out of the constant drizzle of sorrow, weeping away from the dismal clouds. It was rainy season in Hawaii and somehow after leaving Kauai I found myself in an even wetter jungle fever, Maui’s Den, as I soon called it.

The bus chugged along as my eyelids drooped forming deep craggy creases. When I came to, I realized the bus made its last stop at the mall in Kahului. Far from anywhere I wanted to start my trek for the Road to Hana. What the hell I thought…I missed my stop.

I tried to scrounge enough change together to catch the next route explaining my dilemma to the bus driver, but she bashed her eyes at me and thrust out her hip with a condescending, monotone voice, “Driver doednt carry no change hun. Ask someone around. No stores are open…”

I looked to my left and asked an old black man if he could spare change for my $5. And golly, he muttered a whole spiel about Jesus shouting verses from the Bible before handing me a one dollar bill, leaving me one short. My attempts remained futile, but then as the bus opened its door and revved its engine an act of kindness acclimated as I entered up the steps. The bus driver waved me on for free saying, “ohhh huney, well least you tried…” I felt like a lost puppy without any sleep.

Not long after fading away she dropped me off at the Haiku Community Center leaving me 50 miles short of Hana. I took about ten steps, roughly reaching the shoulder of the Road to Hana before a vehicle pulled off from the community center.

The road to Hana

A red sand beach on the road to Hana

Plumes of skunky smoke exited the vehicle as I set my eyes on an old Rastafarian with a Jamaican beanie, and a joint in hand. His glazed eyes tunneled past me as he said, “Hop in kid…where to?”

“Hana,” I said with a stern look on my face.

“Pfff…cough…cough…man why you headed there…with all this rain son?”

“I just wanna see it before I head out of Maui. Heard it’s some pretty country down there.”

“True. True. Well I can take ya a few miles son. Drop you off at mile marker 13.5…good spot to hitch from. Good luck to ya…”

I scampered off down the road waiting diligently with my thumb flick out in the most limp-like, depressing mood ever. 10 minutes went by. Then 20. Then the dreary swirls of gray above turned darker and darker and I decided to walk. I walked up the road and down the road, following a series of bends and bridges, with signs saying, “No pedestrians behind guardrails.”

I walked on cautious of the potential land slides and rock slides. The clouds always taunted me no matter where I tramped, laughing at me from above, bellowing between the soft whispers of the wind. Somehow I made it to a small pull off for Twin Falls. With a small pull off for parking I locked this in the back of my mind when continuing my journey further, down the Road to Hana.

For now I took a break, smoked any of the last remnants of tobacco that dwindled in my pouch, as I mustered up a filling peanut butter sandwich. I watched people flock to the snack stand spending the outrageous prices on coconuts and other fruits easily foraged on the island. Disgust likened their faces as their feet squished through the jungle mud. I laughed rhetorically. Their thick Nikon Cameras dangled from their necks as they bitched and moaned about the slippery dirt road to the overlook of the falls. After all, it was jungle. I understood their dismay and wondered why not stick to the pool or spa or confines of a luxury suite?

Blasphemy I tell you. The lack of a moving sidewalk put my mood in the toilet too, but really I just snickered. As I reached the overlook, the river water screamed, thick and rapid like a suffocating cascade of chocolate mud. It ripped up anything in its path taking much of the rocks, mud and debris of the canopy floor with it.

I scooted out of there, walking the wide shoulder in hopes of a straight-cut ride to Hana. But, it never ended up an easy task. Tourists halted traffic, stopping their cars in the road as they perused the perfect parking spot, angering drivers behind them, who in turn, did not pick me up either.

I sat and waited, standing, sitting, and eventually just smoking one last cigarette before a pickup truck flashed his beams at me. And just like that he revved up into 3rd gear headed straight for Hana. Despite only 40+ miles down the Road to Hana, it felt nauseating with all the bends, turns, one-way bridges, endless yield signs and slick, steep, curving roads.

The road to hana

A black sand beach on the road to Hana

The driver plowed through traffic, passing vehicles over the double line when legally possible, cutting corners, and straight-lining through both lanes. My stomach felt queasy as we rallied down the Road to Hana like derby racecar drivers, but the adrenaline subsided and I focused more on our intellectual conversation.

The old surfer hippie rubbed his chin as he talked to me about the Polynesian culture. He yanked on his gray, scruffy beard as he plunged into history about Hawaii. Apparently the Polynesians traveled thousands of miles by canoes bringing just 40 species of plants with them when they discovered the breathtaking Hawaiian Islands. They managed to transform these 40 species of plants into 200+ with their immense horticultural knowledge making Hawaii a thriving milieu for fruits, and vegetables with its perfect atmosphere. Each year about 160 new species are brought in by plane to the islands and sadly commercialism is slowly taking away the countryside that the locals and myself included love so much. But, that’s America for you…

The Hawaiians currently have a legal battle with the United States to reclaim their land.

We talked and talked some more. Before I even took the opportunity to gaze out the window at the beauty hanging over the cliffs on the mountainside, we reached Hana. The Road to Hana immersed a terrifying beauty of jungle flora and landscape, which I’d soon find out…

Hana felt like any old country town with a few local mom and pop shops and a lack of industry. It gave it that local vibe. The vibe where you walk down the street and everyone waves and says, “Hey Braddah.” The kind where people help the elderly with their groceries. A sense of anarchy within government. Signs plastered everywhere along the town saying, “More commercialism = No More Hana…”

It felt different out there in the thick of it all with mango plantations sprouting up all over and cattle grazing openly in the fields. Hana Ranch filled much of the land past the town and all that stood out yonder was only beach, country, small villages or hotel vistas by the coastline.

I simmered in paradise exploring the town stumbling first upon Hana Bay. It looked ordinary, like any other beach with black sand and too much rock to enjoy. Tourists flocked the Barefoot Cafe and I found myself wandering away down another path, a path down a dead-end road which lead to the infamous Red Sand Beach. Of course, tourists crowded this beach as well but the beauty surpassed the disturbance of other beings. So naturally I stuck around and slowly, one by one, people faded away, back to their luxurious hotels, and bungalows, while I sat there in solitude looking for a place to camp. The trail meandered around the coastline with washouts in certain sections that trickled rock and other debris down the mountainside. This spiked my interest as I searched for a way to the top of the ridge, nestling myself between Red Sand Beach and another cove with the endless Pacific. I wrestled my way up the red rock with multiple points of attachment as my fingers clenched tree limbs and roots, steadily scaling the mountainside. Surely enough, a flat ridge worthy of camping lay 50 feet ahead. I set up camp securing my tarp to the pine trees around me and settled into my bivy sack as my eyes drifted away in unison with the sunshine.

Morning came and I managed to evade the rain yet again and the persistent, blood sucking vampires of the night, whose buzzing I heard through my mosquito netting. It pitter-pattered during the night with intermittent showers trickling off my shelter, but I felt dry and refreshed, ready for a new day of adventures. So I set off for a pavilion to eat the normal breakfast, the breakfast of any train kid or extreme hitchhiker, good ole spam.

I sliced into its block-like sausage lining with my spoon taking off small slivers nibbling on them like a caveman and from a distance I heard a loud, “Morning dudeeee!”

Two bike-packers pedaled up to my picnic table. The one looked like a Norwegian skeleton and the other a red-head Jesus. I saw their inner-hippie illuminating off the surface of the table. They pointed me in the direction towards Venus Pool. “It’s a must see dude…my three favorite places in Hana gotta be, Venus Pool, Red Sand Beach and Black Sand Beach…”

So I took him up on his suggestion and moseyed my two little feet on over there. 3.5 miles never phased me before, but the constant change in grade made my legs throb slightly right where the quad met the knee. I tramped along fearing the inevitable change in Mother Nature’s mood like a manic episode of lows, but she stayed calm and overcast.

My feet trudged along through the many pot holes of muddy sludge along the non-existent shoulder. The Road to Hana took me beyond to a blissful, refreshing teal pool of tranquility. A pool next to God’s Eye where a fire pit and shelter deemed for a night of comfortable sleep out of the Jungle’s whimpering and tears.

And that night indeed it rained. It rained hard as I stoked the fire with a plethora of logs and driftwood engulfed in a starburst of colors. I cooked up the rest of my beans and tortillas and indulged in a festive dinner over a campfire.

That morning I planned on walking or hitchhiking to Seven Sacred Pools, but instead I turned around back towards Hana. My gut told me otherwise as the rain echoed its tumultuous pelting from inside the cave. I waited it out, walked and hitched back to town to replenish my water supply and see where the day would take me.

Black Sand Beach maybe and then back to civilization, perhaps? I wasn’t sure or too worried to say the least. I managed to avoid the inclement weather this long. What stopped me now?

With a few thumbs and the thud of my two feet clanking against the rough pavement I found myself at the Black Sand Beach. But my mind wandered along with my body and I moseyed away from the tourist infested pit of open sewage and the aroma of foul smelling trash. The clouds sniffled and let out a sneeze, warning me of what was to come.

I pranced up the hill with my thumb firm and hope on my side and I managed to pull off a short lift a few miles down the road. Then chaos broke loose and she struck down from above the most torrential fury I ever before walked through, a jungle flash flood on one of the most dangerous highways. I was stuck walking in it. My boots slowly filled with brown, bacteria infested, water, chilling my feet, up my legs and to my spine. I plodded forward as if marching through a sea or trying to part the sea before me. I did not know which. I just walked and prayed for it to end. The foot deep water turned into knee deep water, gushing off the slippery mountainside, taking rocks, mud, trees and any other debris with it. Trucks, cars and tour vans cautiously drove by spraying me with showers of diarrhea-like mud. I shivered and lost all hope as I walked for the nearest town down the Road to Hana, retracing my footsteps back to Hell. Just 40 miles I thought. If I’m lucky the rain will stop and I’ll get a lift tomorrow. No one ever picked me up in the rain before. Their car interior was more important.

It felt like an endless surge of spray desecrating my body as each passing vehicle sped by faster than the last. I shuffled over countless one-way bridges, which now looked like rapids seen in the Colorado River, trying gracefully to maintain my balance.

I gave up. I wanted to stop and just lay by the side of the road with my tarp over my head, but instead I heard the engine of a pickup in the distant and threw out a limp, pruned thumb. To my surprise the vehicle stopped and down rolled a window of three locals headed all the way to Paia. With no room in the truck I needed to lay in the bed on a long, cold, hour drive back to civilization. The wind roared. The rain bellowed. Goosebumps filled my body and a fear covered me like the aura of a spectre as if the grim reaper tried to suck the life out of me. We cruised around bends, bumping and thudding over fallen rocks like an off-roading course. Water rushed over the mountainside like roaring rivers forming new tributaries and with it came trees and rocks. Fallen rock lay scattered making lanes impassable and then it happened. A rock fell off a cliff smashing against the backside tire just inches from my dome.

I chugged my beer and smoked the rest of the joint they gave me trying to forget the realization that my life almost ended if I shifted just a few inches outside the bed. If that wasn’t extreme hitchhiking…well fuck…I don’t know what is…

All I know is I’m safe and soaked in the Kahului Airport awaiting my departure for Oahu.

Kalalau Trail Hawaii’s Most Dangerous Hike

Hiking Kalalau Trail Hawaii’s Most Dangerous Hike

We landed in Kauai rather late after hitching a ride to the airport with Kalei’s ex-boyfriend. As we walked out of the airport I sensed a more laid back environment than Oahu. Maybe the rural, scenic highway walking down Route 56 skewed my judgement, or maybe walking straight for Kalalau Trail from the airport without a shuttle, taxi, or bus did it. I did not know.

But, that first night walking past the WalMart, wild camping off in the jungle with Kelly felt more memorable than ever. We slept at the top of an embankment off the highway with vines, palm leaves and roots all cattywampus around our bivy sacks.

Despite the drastic temperature change from Oahu, I slept well. Our only plan for Kauai involved hiking the Kalalau Trail off the Na Pali Coast. I heard about its beauty from a few buddies at Pacific Skydiving and it felt like the hike of a lifetime from all the stories they reminisced.

We walked down the coast, planning on taking the bus or hitchhiking, with no definite timeframe in mind. The weather held up nicely as we trucked our packs along on our first backpacking adventure together as a couple.

Kelly did not backpack. She did not really hike or hitchhike, but she joined and surprisingly did quite well for her first time.

After a few food stops and a gas station, we quickly learned the only way to Kalalau Trail without a rental car was by hitchhiking as the bus took people as far as Princeville. We thought about taking the bus, but shortly after leaving the gas station, strapping on our packs for the road, two hippies pulled off the road and gave us a lift. They noticed the sign I rigged up earlier in red marker, “Na Pali Coast Trail” in bold capital lettering. They just completed the trail recently and agreed to take us to Princeville. The driver told us tales of the valley. His wavy, brown long hair, and scruffy five o’clock shadow resembled that of a Senator Morra lookalike from Limitless. We felt the love in the air, the spirit of travel, the wanderlust, as he told us of the people whom lived in the valley at the end of Kalalau Trail.

Kalalau Trail Hawaii's Most Dangerous Hike

Pickin’ Guava along the hike with Kelly

Before the annexation of Hawaii a small community of locals lived off in the jungle of the Kalalau along the Na Pali Coast. They lived off the luscious, soil-enriched land, with dense tropical vegetation from native guavas, nuna, java plum, and limes to non-native species planted by man. The terraces stretched for miles into the end of the valley of Kalalau with mango trees, jackfruit, bananas, etc. So much fruit you could taste its essence in the air by sticking out your tongue, like a mist of sugar in a chocolate factory.

But after getting pushed off their land, the terraces and goats became an abandoned relic of the past, a hidden gem in the valley. Hippies from all over the world took this opportunity to grow fruits and help fix the terraces, living in the valley off the land. The past 50 to 60 years all different types of travelers got lost in the valley, finding themselves in an oasis of epic proportions with godly views of the Na Pali Coast. With that tale you can bet we held on for an adventure.

The passion and love flowing in the conversation took us further than Princeville. It took us to the start of the Kalalau Trail. With five hours of daylight left we set up camp off the coast underneath palm trees overlooking the thrashing ocean.

We just missed the rain, but not for very long. What no one told us about the Kalalau Trail, we completely overlooked the obvious, jungle climate. The first six miles we trudged along the coast on a six-inch wide path of muddy, slippery rocks and sludge overlooking cliff-face after cliff-face. I did not fear heights or the squishy, slick, narrow pathways, but Kelly looked terrified, with a fake smile plastered over her ghostly grin.

It felt like eternity hiking up and down and around these mountains along the Kalalau. It took much patience on my part to accept Kelly’s less than thrilled enthusiasm for this hike. But, it was not the hike itself she disliked. She just hated the steep, chilling fear of getting vertical close to the edge of a devastating dangerous ledge, which felt endless. Probably because it was…

For the first six miles we completed them in just under seven hours. I lost much of my patience watching her lollygag behind me, but I truly did not know she feared for her life. She pushed her limits to the max and it made me appreciate how much she loves me.

I sat on that thought for the rest of the night while I set up camp under a lemon tree by the restroom. We stayed pretty dry with the tarp shelter I rigged up. Although, the massive rainfall left our campsite in a ponding mess of puddles like mud-pie craters sprawled across the ground, somehow we managed.

The whole hike felt damp, misty and wet with mud brushed across my legs and wrinkled, moist feet. My boots felt like five pound weights that got heavier with each daunting step through the harsh jungle mud. Kelly endured my pain equally, but she stood firm with her decision to end her hike at the six-mile mark. Crawlers Ledge, the more open cliff-faces, excessive erosion and limited food supply solidified her decision to stay behind.

So I kept on hiking and to my surprise she made the safe choice. The hike intensified as I crossed rivers thigh deep in fast flowing water in flash flood hazard areas. I maintained my footing, bracing myself with my walking stick as much as possible. I tried not to look down at the huge drop-offs overlooking the swell crashing against the rocky walls of the ledge I scrambled past, but that’s where the view lay. So I looked. My heart thumped slowly, but as I kept a steady pace any fear subsided as I gained confidence along the way.

Kalalau Trail Hawaii's Most Dangerous Hike

Kalalau Trail approaching the end of Hawaii’s Most Dangerous Hike off the Na Pali Coast…

Surprisingly, after the 8-mile mark the rain subsided for the first time on the hike. I hiked free. I hiked alone. I hiked at my own pace. It felt relaxing and heart-breaking at the same time. Since all I thought about was my wife’s well-being and how she held up at the 6-mile shelter. The path finally dried up and for the first time I walked on solid, stable, ground, free of potential landslides and rockslides or any slippery escapades to my demise.

I squabbled along the ridge looking out at the erosion sheared next to me, with open root structures freely dangling in the wind. One step might trigger a landslide, or not, but I made it this far so I kept going as the sun winked its rays in approval.

The mountains felt infinite in both directions as I circled in a panoramic view of the coastline from a few hundred feet in the air. Their silhouettes stacked in the distance enduring an eternity of crashing breaks from the heartaches of Mother Nature. It’s no wonder the park service closed the trail whilst we hiked it. Erosion, landslides, fallen down trees, and rock slides occurred frequently in damp, rainy weather. I lucked out as I stood there overlooking Kalalau Beach without a tear in the sky.

Kalalau Trail Hawaii's Most Dangerous Hike

Approaching the 11-mile beach on the Kalalau Trail

Although, my presence on the 11-mile beach felt short-lived this hike goes into the memory bank as not only my most dangerous hike, but my most cherished because of the moments I shared with my Kelly. She stuck it out, in the cold, in the rain, wild camping, hitchhiking, hiking and walking like a champion. I am very proud of her and the many more random adventures we will share throughout our travels around the world.

Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven Hawaii – Haiku Stairs

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

Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven Hawaii = fuckin’ steepness…almost as scary as Sacred Falls or the Kalalau Trail

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

Stairway to Heaven Hawaii at night

Stairway to Heaven

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

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

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

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

Monkey Husband and the Blue Haired Gypsy

Camp Erdman

So here we are in Hawaii. I guess my life changed when we went to NY, but nothing like here. We have been tent camping for about a month. The first week was hard, since then has kinda been a breeze. I am in the most beautiful place in the world. I hear the waves all day. The best part, being here with my husband. I wouldn’t trade it for your mansion.

I’ve been trying to hike more, preparing for the Haiku stairs. The fresh fruit is insane. We pick passion fruit and guava right off the vine. Husband jokes that I would hike anywhere if it involved food. He is right. 10 miles would be easy if there was a taco truck at the end.

Camp Erdman

Climbing a tree wall near Camp Erdman

My favorite hike though, was with Jungle. We walked this flood evacuation trail behind the YMCA here in Oahu. There was this amazing tree. A huge Banyan hugging the side of a the ledge of a mountain. My husband monkeyed up the side of it like it was no big deal. I knew a similar feat from me would most likely result in a broken femur.

Later along the path was a now defunct waterfall you could climb. Someone strategically placed ropes to ease the weekend adventurer into Indiana Jones. . I thought with my experience bouldering that this would be no problem. I was wrong …..problem. The nastiest habit I have picked up being a rock gym rat was definitely the ability to let go of the rope because of your harness.

Camp Erdman

Eating a fresh coconut straight off the tree

This had no harness there was no letting go unless a bee stung your ankle and you decided that you really enjoyed falling down the side of a waterfall. In hindsight I don’t recommend it much.

The view was well worth the scare however and only a minor scrape and cut were had, I don’t know we are ever close to finding the meaning of life but I tell you I feel closer on this trip. I think there is a good possibility the meaning of life is to take in all the beauty. We are all on borrowed time.

Camp Erdman

Camp Erdman Evacuation trail

My husband’s been working long days to make this trip happen, and squirrel away a little extra dough here and there.  I have to say after seeing the world the way he does it I’ve never felt more loved. Bringing me along for the ride has made the ride more difficult for him.  I’m not good at stealth camping and I’m only just learning how to hike. Everything I knew about budgeting, and thought I knew about finance kinda gets thrown out the window when you try to live like this.  I’m sure I’ve given him more headaches than heartwarming moments.  Being here eating this amazing fruit, swimming in the ocean with sea turtles. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

Older Posts››
Please wait...

Subscribe to my Blog

Do you want to be notified when a story is published? Please enter your email address and name below to subscribe. New stories will cover my recent travels train hopping across America and our upcoming travels to New Zealand.