We’ve featured an array of weird and wonderful stairs in this blog, from the long and straight to the winding and seemingly endless. But how about a staircase that is considered so dangerous that access is limited to the public and security guards patrol the entrance?
That’s the situation on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where the Ha’iku staircase, also known locally as the Stairway to Heaven, climbs its way to the summit of Pu’ukeahiakahoe, situated in the Koolau mountain range and offers stunning views of the island. So it’s understandable that the staircase would attract many visitors looking to hike to the top and capture what they see for posterity.
There’s just one problem: the staircase has been closed to the public for over 25 years. The original wooden staircase was installed during World War II as a way of accessing a radio antenna positioned 2000 feet up the mountain. The antenna would transmit low frequency signals to navy submarines positioned as far away as Tokyo Bay, though the signal has also apparently been picked up on New York’s Long Island, and even India. During the 1950s, the wooden staircase was replaced with a steel one and a Coast Guard Navigation Station was established at the summit. That remained in use until the 1980s, after which the staircase was closed.
Now security guards are stationed at the bottom of the staircase to prevent trespassers climbing the steps. But they are not there 24 hours, which means determined hikers can access the staircase and brave the climb using what light is available at dusk or dawn, despite the fact they are technically breaking the law.
And that light can prove to be a very important factor, given part of the ascent involves climbing a vertical ladder positioned on the side of the mountain face, before the rest of the track takes a more manageable angle and makes its way along the mountain ridge with sheer drops on the other side.
There is mounting pressure on the local authorities to open the stairs to the public but the appeals have been met with resistance from the powers-that-be, citing the potential costs of maintaining the staircase, as well as potential liability issues due to an ongoing dispute over land ownership. Honolulu’s Board of Water Supply currently presides over the staircase and demands proof of a $1 million insurance policy before they’ll even consider letting you climb up.
There have been signs the City is willing to open the trail to the public. Indeed, in 2000 almost $1 million dollars was spent revamping the route before plans were abandoned. But if hikers continue to circumnavigate the security measures in place, it may become impossible and impractical to keep the staircase closed in an official capacity for much longer.