Climbing the Stairway to Heaven, or the Haiku Stairs, as it is officially named, has been on my bucket list since the early days of Instagram and Pinterest. I would lay awake at night scrolling through photos of people brave enough to climb the mountain and hike the stairs all the way up the volcano crater of the Ko’olau Range to the top of the rim overlooking the famed Haiku Stairs.
To be completely honest, I was really scared to do this trail. I don’t like to run on my own, and usually run with my group of Wy’east Sisterhood ladies, I also wasn’t sure I would be able to make it up to the top. This would be my first big trail run where the terrain was completely new to me and I was all on my own. Alone and climbing up the side of a mountain. I was pretty scared.
Classed as extremely difficult by most trail and hiking maps, this route is not something to be taken lightly. With the closure of the Haiku Stairs, and a threat of a $1,000 fine by patrolling police, I didn’t want to anger the locals or get slapped with a fine. My only way to get to the top, the Moanalua Valley Trail. A 9.8-mile extreme round-trip trail that is badly marked, muddy and steep.
Fear is good, overcoming fear is even better.
I made sure I had everything with me that, God forbid, I was caught on the top of a mountain over night, I had what I needed to stay warm and eat. Just the basics, but the things we always need to remember when out trail running in remote locations.
Moanalua Valley Trail Directions:
Getting to the Moanalua Valley Trail head is pretty easy, and is clearly marked on Google maps and the Topo All Trails Map which I downloaded onto my phone before I started. Park in the parking lot and walk up the dirt path to the green gate. This is the start of the Moanalua Valley Trail Legal route to the Stairway to Heaven!
Run along this gravel road for about 2.5 miles crossing over about 11 concrete bridges that cross the stream. There will be dirt paths that meander off the road a bit, but this is to avoid the water that is ankle deep at some places. At one point on this road there is a big muddy swamp. I tried to go through and sank ankle deep into mud. I finally found a trail into the forest that skirts this big mess and managed to not lose a shoe and stay relatively dry.
Keep going on this road till you hit, what feels like a dead end with rocks, then turn LEFT and climb up a small rocky trail. You will see this on a tree stump. I assume it means ‘This way to Heaven.’?
Heaven this way —>
It gets a bit tricky after this; Keep going for a bit and the trail forks in two directions. One into a swampy river, and the other over a small creek up into some long grass. According to the all trails maps they both get to the same point. But I went RIGHT into the swampy mess. Someone had kindly left a bag tied to a tree so I took this as a good sign. Climb under the trees and over into the river. Keep going up and you will finally see the old gravel road starts again for a bit then thins out into a single lane track again.
I finally got out of that and saw these signs, so I knew I had made it past the confusing part! This was showing up at about 2.5 mile mark on my Garmin
Turn LEFT here and cross the river. Now your climb up begins!
This is where the trail gets super technical. Trying to run this is pointless, there is mud, roots, loose gravel, rotting fruit, flies, it’s just a big old nature mess up there. But one thing there is not, people. I saw nobody. It was spectacular.
Throughout this climb up you will reach 5 rope climbing points. These are very steep and sometimes muddy climbs up. I wish at this point I had gloves as the ropes are muddy and slippery or dry and scratchy. There was also a bee hive at the bottom of one of them, so while you are trying to figure out how to get up you have bees swarming around your head.
But soon you are out of the tree line and you start to get these 360-degree beautiful views that are just breathtaking.
The last mile of this hike to the top is narrow ridge line trail and mud. I don’t think I was ready for all this mud, and I would seriously consider the type of shoe you are using to do this trail. I don’t know how you would safely do this in something other than the Altra King MT. The grip is the most important, as the trail is narrow and steep drops on both sides. There was one point coming back down I put a foot wrong and nearly fell off the side. It is scary.
Finally, you will see the lookout tower. Built in 1942 this powerful transmitter was a way to communicate with Navy ships out in the Pacific, the stairs, a way to reach the top of the transmitter.
I unfortunately did not get good weather at the top. It was raining and foggy and a bit windy. I was hoping to still get more visibility and climbed about half a mile down the stairs but still had no views.
It took me just over 2 hours to get to the top, and I really wasn’t moving that fast on the climb up. There were a few more people up there too, and they had taken the illegal way up. One group said they had to sneak past locals looking out for hikers going up and then an alarm sounded when they climbed the fence. This kind of stress is too much for me, I think the legal way to the top is where it is at for me.
The climb down obviously was a lot faster, just still tricky on the trails with the mud and crumbling vertical climbs. Once I was out of the cloud cover I got some great views and the trail warmed up again back to the sunny 85 degree day on which I started.
This day was definitely one of the best in my life, I have NEVER had so much fun on a trail before. Wading through mud, scaling trees, climbing up mountains, it’s every ultrarunner girls dream!
Some tips below on packing and fuel. One thing I would say, is treat this as you would a big adventure or a race. It is hot and arduous out there, and be prepared for anything. Tell people where you are going and make sure you have the right gear and fuel to keep you going!
The gear I packed to climb the Moanalua Valley Trail:
Ultimate Direction running pack
Epipen if you have bee allergies
Fuel as if you are running a big race – fuel list below
Water – as much as you can comfortably carry
Altra Running King MT trail shoes – I think the MT stands for Mighty Tough. These babies handled like a dream. I don’t know how you would do this in any other shoe.
Woolen socks – mid calf – kept cool and comfy all the way
Buff – I used a smaller one on my wrist – this was a lifesaver to wipe sweat and mud
Lightweight rain coat – Patagonia Houdini is what I carried, it packs down small but is good on keeping you dry
Trucker Hat - wait this is basically a trail runner staple…
Gloves – I did not have these and wish I did. Cycling adventuring gloves would have been perfect.
* Do not bring poles. There is probably ¼ mile you can use them and the rest of the time they would be in your way.
My fuel for the Moanalua Valley Trail:
4 x Science in Sport (SiS )Isotonic Energy Gels
2 x SiS Sport GoEnergy & Caffeine Gels
1 x SiS Go Electrolyte dissolved in water
1 x SiS Energy bar
1 x Cashew Butter & Jelly Sandwich
A full Ultimate Direction Hydration pack of water
I wish I had salt tabs, and forgot to bring those. It is hot out there and you sweat non stop. I stopped for lunch at the top and ate my sandwich finished off with the SiS Energy bar. IT WAS SO GOOD. Fuel like you would a race, trying for 100 calories every 30 minutes or so. Drink a lot of water!
For a full aerial trail view and photo stops, watch below!
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