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What I Learned From Climbing The Stairway To Heaven (Haiku Stairs) The Day After I Got Engaged.

Credit: Kristofer Gellert

Source: Kristofer Gellert

The day after I got engaged to the love of my life, we decided to go on an adventure. As if flying to Hawaii to get down on one knee at sunset was enough adrenaline pumping action for one trip!

Sandra and I are keen travellers and always on the lookout for novel tours, points of interest and exciting challenges.

This time we were in Hawaii and after ditching the ‘proposal on a helicopter’ idea at the last minute in favour of a small pavilion overlooking Turtle Bay at sunset (due to a google search that put the actual helicopter proposal into perspective, how was I going to get down on one knee in a helicopter, also what about the noise, and what if she couldn’t hear me?). I hadn’t flown all this way to have complications.

After what seemed like an age and a lot of convincing to come on a walk to ‘look for turtles’, I found the spot, what I hadn’t anticipated was that Sandra would want to read every page of the 50-page book I had written aloud before I was going to propose (she didn’t know it yet). Time was ticking and with every page the sunset was getting closer to reaching maximum beauty as neared the ocean on the horizon. As we moved into the home straight and she turned to page 49 and then 50 I readied myself and got down on one knee.

It was just as magical as I could have hoped. What they don’t tell you on google and I’m sure all the guys can relate is just how nervous you are when you propose. Everything has been building to this one moment and you want it to be just right.

I remember shooing two fellow tourists away who had inadvertently wandered into my proposal scene with glee seconds before I was about to pop the question. Even if you know that your spouse to be is going to say yes, the nerves are there, it’s such a strange sensation to be nervous in front of your best friend, you spend every day with this person, you see them all the time, moments ago you were in full on sales mode convincing them to come for a turtle spotting walk when they would rather be stretched out on a sun lounger and watch the waves crashing on to the beach. You killed it with your convincing performance, you got them hooked on the idea that turtles we only moments away and now these nerves. But you push through anyway and persevere, you pop the question and after what seems like an almighty pause they say yes and there’s lots of love, tears and hugs.

It’s really quite special.

So what better way to celebrate your love and engagement with a four thousand step ladder climb up and an abandoned and illegal hike.

We were totally up for it our adventure senses were high and we locked into climbing The Stairway to Heaven or the Haiku Stairs as it is also known.

A mythical spot, but pictures on Instagram reveal it was real and like something out of a movie.

Source: Vimeo

Source: No Ordinary View

Source: Marcoitaliaaa

To get to the Haiku Stairs is a mission. In fact, I would say unless you go with someone who’s been before it’s fairly impossible to find. Not to mention the guard that you need to bypass without being seen to gain access to the fenced off and locked stairway to heaven.

When we pulled up to the spot that all the intrepid climbers had to us on google to go to, a peaceful residential estate at the foot of a huge mountain range in the distance with a massive American size highway running over head.

As luck and good fortune would have it we bumped into a family of 5 who would become our new friends and would be our guides for this trip. We were trying to be as inconspicuous as possible and not draw attention to the fact that we were in search of sacred the stairway.

We had read that some of the residents had got fed up with all the hikers coming to the area to climb the stairway and that was the reason it got shut down a number of years prior, now we must be careful not to draw attention to ourselves and not look like we were trying to find the way into this hidden gem or they would call the cops and it would all be over before it had begun.

As we asked in hushed tones, ‘are you here to climb the stairs?’, ‘yes yes’ the kids replied jumping around, ‘our dads been before, you should come with us’. And off we went at quite a pace.

Almost seconds after passing the menacing DO TRESPASING sign and walking down a dirt track the dad jumps into the undergrowth. Not knowing if he’d spotted the guard coming we all climbed the bank and piled into the bushes.

It didn’t take long to realise that no no this was not a fun hiding place, this was in fact, the way. What unfolded over the next hour was a series of connected tunnels carved through a maze of trees. The thing with this dad was, he liked to move fast, there were no time for questions.

This was the kind of father that liked to push his kids, in an almost commander like style and certainly sometimes too far. He was the hero and a gym junkie. You got the sense that you didn’t mess with his decision, well there was no time for debate, he was gone already, and we wanted to find the stairway, so we followed on at a lightning pace.

After doing a semi run joy for a good few hundred meters, dodging and driving through branches, the dads hand came up signalling for us to halt. We knew this was an order from the front to stop dead in our tracks and remain silent.

The dad popped his head out and scanned the territory for guards. We had reached the final frontier, the noise of the traffic on the highway over head was loud and added to suspense of it all. We got the all clear signal and jumped out from the labyrinth of forest tunnels and on to another dusty main track.

All the time the kids were showing us with their fingers to their lips to be quiet, don’t say a word. We were close to the entrance and also the guards hide out.

No longer than had our feet touched the track and we were off again. Up the other side of a large bank and into the woodland. The bank was so big about 5 foot that it was tough even for me to navigate and one of the little kids was so small they couldn’t even reach the top, the dad was gone so we reached back down to hoist him up. We had made it, unseen and unscathed.

You’ve got to imagine all of this happening in what looked like the scenery from Jurassic Park, well, because it was.

I thought this would be it for running, I was wrong. Now we faced another big challenge, we had to run uphill, a rather steep hill. It was hot and sweaty, and the dad had taken his shirt off to reveal a full body covered in black hair with sweat glistening in the sunlight. You can’t make this stuff up. But we had come this far, and we weren’t turning back yet despite the sights that were unfolding.

So off we went, upward and onward, the gradient of the hill was treacherous and at times if you lost your footing or a branch of a brush snapped that you were using to pull yourself up, then you were sent flying 10-20 meters back down.

I was concerned, had all the kids made it, there was a mum as well by the way, where did she come from, this family was just so excited to be on the adventure following their dad to the ends of the earth quite literally.

As we neared the top of the hill, we reached a point where if we looked straight across a small valley we could see the fenced off start of the Haiku stairs. Only problem was how did we get there?

On no, the dad had it figured out, we run down the valley and across a small stream then climb up the other side. This was intense stuff, it was a like tough mudder only he was making it up as he went along.

After getting way to intimate for my liking with the dads hairy back we were pushed up and up. One fall and it’s safe to say a nasty trip to the hospital would have ensued most likely aided by the not so friendly guards who were 50 meters down the track at this point. Sweaty back hair to the face was worth it if that meant we had finally reached our destination. The start of the Haiku Stairs.

As one by one we emerged from the side of the valley and on to the track I looked to my left and saw the little guards hut beyond the fence and to my right stretching up into the skies as far as my eyes could see was the staircase.

No sooner had hairy back dad made it on to the track was he encouraging us to move forward. As guests of the trip, I was chosen to lead.

Kinda wanted to catch my breath for a few more leisurely moments, but all good let’s do this. With Army dad shouting orders to his kids from the rear I had no choice by the lead onward and oh boy upward.

This was way tougher than I had anticipated it would be. These stairs were at stages vertical. This was a climb not a hike. And by abandoned and illegal it certainly lived up to that name, there were parts of the staircase that had been smashed by a landslide and were hanging off thousands of feet up in the sky on a vertical staircase.

To put this in context, if I let go, or slipped, I would fall all the way down and probably take out a few family members on the way. My palms were sweaty, but there was no way back, I was leading! On the stairway there’s no room for anyone else to pass. If you meet someone else coming the other way as we did they must hang off the side while you climb on by.

There was one part about a thousand stairs up where the gravity of the situation really got to me (pardon the pun) but it got to me mentally. Physically everything was burning, I was focused on stepping each step and making sure I had a firm hold of the handrail.

Mentality I was ready to give up at this stage, I looked back and saw Sandra who was behind me. For anyone who’s met Sandra you’ll know she’s a fitness expert and gym fanatic. She wasn’t having as much difficulty as me, there she was smiling away. She could see in my eyes I was struggling and just looking back at her gave me the strength to know that I could do this.

It was one of those truly special moments (like getting engaged) that you know you are meant to be together. Her love gave me strength to carry on, I was determined no matter how much it hurt, no matter how much my brain was telling me this was insane, and difficult and what if I fell, that I would keep going. Step by step I made it through the vertical section, passed the landslide where there were limited railings to hold on to and upwards. After another 10 or so minutes we arrived at base camp 1.

I had thought that was it. I thought this was the top. It certainly seemed high enough. From here the view was magnificent. Up here it felt like we could see all of Hawaii. We meet some other folk who were coming the other way and started talking to them about their own trek to get here. Turns out that we were lucky, they had got up at 2am and begun hiking in the dark across another mountain range to get here because they didn’t want to chance it with the guard. It was now 2pm meaning they had been going for 12 hours, we had only begun two hours prior. Suddenly I felt uplifted knowing we had save ten hours by asking for help.

It wasn’t long before army dad had rallied the troops and we were off again on the ascent to the summit of base camp 2. This time I wasn’t leading, I think army dad thought I was too slow and wanted to up the pace to really got on a sweat. One of the kids decided they couldn’t go any further and was left at base camp 1. Looking back now (and being a father) it was very odd experience.

As we carried on, I started to enjoy the climb, the hike to base camp 2 had less vertical sections and more traversing the ridge. Either side of the staircase was still a vertical drop, but it felt more stable instead of hanging of the side of a mountain with your bare hands and a family of five behind you and a few guards watching on.

At base camp 2 we stopped briefly to rehydrate and then pushed on to base camp 3. The summit.

At the top of base camp 3 there is an old abandoned look out which has a radio station on top and was used to communicate with all across the pacific during the second world war.

I was impressed by who we met along the way. It was interesting to me that for me this was one of the most crazy and intense things we had ever done, but to some of the people we met this was just fitness training. We met a guy who ran the stairs every day in his lunch break, for fun! I mean he must have been a navy seal or something because he was hauling ass, this guy was flying down the stairs, without fear, without hesitation. It showed me that experience brings confidence in one’s own ability.

At the top of the summit the dad and his son, jumped over the fence and continued to explore the ridge. Either side of them was a 2000-ft drop, one slip and they would have been gone but that wasn’t what was motivating them, they were having fun.

The way down was easier, gravity played its part so all you had to do was focus on not slipping and you’d move forward. The dad and family were a hundred meters or so gallivanting ahead and Sandra and I were ready to make our own pace for a while. It was best to face forward, so you knew what was coming and there were still some incredible hairy sections like the part where it had been broken off and the stair was just hanging in mid-air a thousand meters up, step by step we made our decent together.

When we finally reached the bottom, we walked passed the guards hut and on to the track, we were so exhausted and elated we hoped they wouldn’t spot us but we had heard that they were there to stop people going up not down. Luckily, they had gone so we found our way back through the maze of forest and undergrowth and back to the main track. At which point Sandra tripped on a pebble and feel flat on her face. I mean completely. Upset there were a few tears, but we had to laugh at the hilarity of the situation. We done all that and now out of sheer exhaustion a pebble was the thing that got in our way.

We got in our car and drove straight to McDonalds. We needed carbs! And lots of them. Climbing four thousand stairs with my fiancé was an experience I will never forget and one that I will look back on when we are grey and old and be so glad that we did.

What did I learn from climbing The Stairway to Heaven?

  1. Progress is made by putting one foot in front of the other and taking small steps to what it is you want. Whatever you do don't stop moving, even the smallest step keeps you progressing in the right direction.

  2. Seek Help From Those That Have Been Where You Want To Go – this was a big one, had we not found hairy gym dad I can safely say we wouldn’t had got to the stairs let alone scaled the entire thing in a few hours. By getting help we were able to streamline the process, saving heaps of time and possibly a fine from the guard.

  3. Endurance – climbing the four thousand stairs up into the sky was much like sales, you need endurance to keep going, and just when you think that you are about to close the deal, another stairway appears with a new set of challenges. Endurance to keep going a play the long game was what got you to the best results and to the top. Never giving up attitude and winning spirit

  4. Look For Support –Sandra’s loving guidance and encouragement at my time of need gave me the boost I needed to keep going and to get my mindset right

  5. Take The Risk –Everything you want is on the other side of fear. This was by far worth it. It goes for anything that you want to do, take the risk.

  6. Bring More Water - by this I mean come prepared. The journey was longer than I had anticipated or prepared for mentality and physically. The same applies to overcoming some challenges they can stretch on longer than first thought. Make sure you have the resources or are on the look out for resources in to make sure you can complete the journey no matter how long it takes.

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