A couple weeks after doing the west side of the Moanalua Saddle, I got an invite from Christian Young to do the east portion of the saddle to crossover to the Haiku Stairs with his friend Courtney Comardelle. While the trail to Red Hill is fairly sketchy due to narrow crumbly sections, the hike to the stairs is considerably more dangerous. Not only are there narrow and crumbly sections, there will be climbing sections where a fall would cause serious injury if not death.
To prepare for this hike, there should be at least one good climber in the group as you may need to set up ropes at a couple of the obstacles. The rope or webbing should also be longer than 100 feet, as 100 feet will not reach all the way to the bottom of the second obstacle. Sunglasses or goggles would also be recommended as you will be out in the open for many parts of the hike with dirt flying around. You should also avoid this hike if it is raining as that would make a few sections too risky.
The hike starts in Moanalua Park and you will follow the paved road until you connect with the Kulana’ahane trail. From here, you will follow the stream until you reach the end of the trail marked by metal signs. Then, you will climb the short ridge up to the center of the Moanalua Saddle. Finally, you can go left towards Red Hill (or beyond to Halawa or Aiea) or you can go right towards the stairs.
As you make a right on the summit trail, you will notice how the trail already narrows and becomes crumbly. You will also start to notice steep drops to your left. For the most part, you can keep right on the trail to avoid walking on the edge. But there will be some precipitous drops on your right as well so always be aware of your footing.
You will soon get to your first obstacle, a short but crumbly notch. There are not many handholds or footholds and you will need to be careful of every piece breaking off as you attempt to climb it. Avoid putting all of your weight on any one portion as that would increase the chances of a foot or handhold failing.
The second obstacle shortly follows and will be the most challenging part of the hike. You will need to climb about 100 feet of a near vertical loose soil wall. The footholds here are fairly small but the ones that have survived previous hikers are relatively strong. It will be difficult to find handholds at times and you cannot always rely on the grass as they are often too easily dislodged.
Afterwards, you will encounter the final obstacle which has some ropes already installed. This part may be the crumbliest section of the hike as the ground is more sand than dirt. Do use the ropes for assistance. These ropes were in excellent condition when we went but do check their stability as frequent use and the weather will age them.
Afterwards, the trail becomes easy and soon you will get this view if the weather complies:
After the final obstacle, you will encounter some unused staircases. There will be some rusty portions and broken pieces which you will need to be very careful about. Though unmaintained, they are stable.
We were lucky to have made it to the top on a completely clear day, which is fairly rare. We were also the only ones on the top and passed only one other person going up right before we exited. The railings were dry and there were no concerns as we went down.
On a clear day, you can see many of the major summits of the Ko’olaus. On the left, you have the 3 peaks of Olomana (not part of the Ko’olaus). Towards the center, you have the highest point on the Ko’olaus, Konahuanui. Then you have the eastern most saddle, Pali, that connects Konahuanui and Lanihuli. Then there is the center of the 3 saddles, Kalihi, which is considered the most dangerous saddle that connects Lanihuli to Bowman.
Rather than going down the stairs into Kaneohe, you can also go beyond the stairs and connect to the Middle Ridge and go back down to Moanalua valley to make a complete loop back to the park. This would be helpful if you only have one car or no friends that wants to pick you up.
This hike can be fun if you are a great climber and enjoy narrow sections with excellent views. The crumbliness will always keep you alert. But this is one of the more dangerous routes on the island and can be especially daunting if you have not done anything like this before. Definitely do not do this one solo and take precautions mentioned above. Before attempting this, you may want to review what other bloggers have said about the hike:
Explorers: Marvin, Christian Young and Courtney Comardelle