Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Night on the Stairway to Heaven

November 9, 2011

Despite yesterday's adventure on the Papali Ridge and Castle Trails when David Concepcion mentioned he was going to go up Moanalua Middle Ridge and down the Stairway to Heaven under the almost full moon the temptation to tag along was too great to resist.  However, I really didn't feel like going up the Middle Ridge so I'd asked if I could climb and descend via the Stairway to join them at the CCL building instead.  He had no objections to my crashing their party and Mrs. XJ granted me an evening pass so off I headed to Haiku Valley.

Back before they'd adjusted security to arrive ridiculously early, people used to be able to beat the guards and head up the stairway to watch the sunrise.  Having done that before I wasn't worried at all about finding my way through Haiku Valley to the bottom of the forbidden stairs.  The details are a little fuzzy but 7:53pm sticks out in my mind as my start time.

H-3 bathed in moon and high pressure sodium light
I'd made my way through the various trails that wind up the valley taking both road and paths through thick bamboo stands that had been tunneled through.  I eventually reached the bottom of the Stairway and began the long climb.  Up until now the moon had been shining only occaisonally blocked by passing clouds making a headlamp unnecessary except while in the bamboo jungle.  I kept mine off so as to not attract any attention from cars whizzing down H-3 as I gained altitude.

My least favorite section of the Stairway is the first.  It seems the steepest and the longest.  I entered what I call "The Valley", which I've further subdivided into the upper and lower.  Here is where the native forest begins.  Both ohia and lama are present in the valley sections and I could plainly see both under the light of the moon.  Eventually I reached the first landing where I took out the tripod and the D90 for a few night shots.
View from the first landing
Light pollution provides plenty of illumination!
After taking a few shots of Kaneohe and Kailua below I put everything away and resumed climbing.

Using my new Nikon AW100 I tried a freehand shot of the old winch house.  It took a little post processing magic to render a grainy black and white.

The winch house
 At this point the weather had taken a turn for the worst.  Rain showers pelted me and the wind had picked up.  Luckily climbing the stairs generates a lot of heat and the rain and wind had a pleasant cooling effect although I knew it was going to get pretty cold once I stopped moving.

I arrived at the CCL Building at 9:40pm drenched.  The views had vanished as the clouds had moved in.  In the swirling clouds it was a constant drizzle when it wasn't pouring.  Along the way I'd emailed to make sure that the group climbing up Moanalua Middle Ridge was still coming even though at that point I'd have continued to the top anyway.  I set up inside the building out of the worst of the wind and immediately I began to get cold.  I put on a light jacket I'd brought and passed the time with a few shots inside the building.   Knowing that I'd probably be waiting,  I'd brought a couple extras up with me like a LED lantern and my small stove and pot to brew a little coffee.

Waiting in the dark
My LED lantern illumnates the graffiti of the CCL Building

I've spent a night by myself in the Ko'olaus before and I hike all the time by myself but for some reason my imagination was running wild.  The wind, rain, and clouds combined with the creepy decay of the CCL Building were getting to me a little so I tried to stay busy to avoid thinking too much.  I updated my Facebook status, "Damn it's spooky up here! Wind howling, totally clouded in, and all alone."  I called Mrs. XJ to let her know everything was fine but the winds made talking difficult and the signal kept dropping.  After setting up the stove I got the water started for hot coffee and went outside to take a couple shots of the building and the occasional break in the clouds.

Improvised kitchen to brew some hot coffee on an old Bud Light cold pack.

CCL Building in the clouds
Kaneohe in the swirling clouds
I put away the tripod and the cameras and periodically went outside to look for the lights of the group.  Emerging from the clouds and rain first was Shaun.  Soon the lights of the remainder of the group appeared.  After exchanging greetings in the building people were braving the elements to get night shots of Kaneohe.  It was good to put faces to so many names.  By 11pm it was time for me to start heading down.  I excused myself and thanked David for letting me crash their expedition and began the journey downward with my tripod attempting to strangle me periodically.

Clear shot with the point and shoot on the way back down.
Another problem on the way down were the crappy Columbia "hiking" shoes I was wearing.  The damp stairs were pretty slippery with the crappy tread on these shoes I'd wish I'd never bought.  I'd have been better off in a pair of Longs rubber slippers!  Two of the group passed me and I ended up following them down to the road.  They waited for the group while I continued out of the valley.

Despite the cold, rain, wind, and clouds I don't think it's possible for me not to have a good time on the Stairway to Heaven!

David's blog, DGC's Hawaii Hiking Tales is great if you haven't seen it.  His account can be viewed here.

More pictures of this trail and others I've done can be viewed on Flickr.  Aloha and thanks for reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment