I've climbed many mountains in my life but nothing compares to the Hawaiian magic and its exquisite trails. Six of the trails on Oahu changed me in ways I never imagined. 2 illegal hikes, 2 lethal trails, and 2 more places that are known as cliché and tourist-y but I ask you to give them (and me) a chance to prove you wrong.
I wanted to share some thoughts and life lessons these places have given me and while I can't guarantee that you will get the same experiences - as a matter of fact, it will not be the same for sure - but I can guarantee that if you keep an open heart, you will get the experience that you need at that point in your life.
1) Haiku Stairs
Crossed one more item off my bucket list, and damn, was it a special one!
I spent a day and a night in Heaven. Saw the most beautiful sunset, got dirtier than I ever imagined possible, climbed up on the sketchiest structures in the rain, had an amazing dinner with rose petals and mind-tickling conversations, got over my fear of being alone in the jungle at night, took a sacred bath in a waterfall in pitch black and many more things that I will keep to myself.
I have to warn you that the Haiku Stairs is an illegal hike and I cannot advise you to go there alone, but feel free to send me a message if you would like to know ways to go up safely. It is called the Stairway to Heaven for a reason. When the fog sets in and you are on top of the stairs, you WILL feel like you are in heaven and it's a damn great feeling. You have to climb 3,922 steps along the mountain range but it will worth all the sweat and potential tears.
Letting go was the main theme of this hike for me. Have you ever heard this story?
At a buddhist monastery Monk to a visitor: Are you suffering? Visitor: No. Monk: Great! Have a wonderful day! Monk to another visitor: Are you suffering? Visitor: Yes. Monk: Oh, must be attached - he smiled and tootled off. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Suffering is directly related to how attached we are. If you let go a little, you'll be a little happy. If you let you a lot, you'll be a lot happy. If you really let go, you'll be really happy. Sometimes we translate letting go as getting rid of, but sometimes letting go is better translated as letting it be without controlling it. I think this is one of the hardest life lessons everyone has to learn at some point. This is something I'm still working on but I think I'm getting better at it. It motivates me that I can see and feel the positive changes immediately once I let go. When this photo was taken, I did let everything go for sure. I did not mind for a second that I was laying in the mud or that if I roll over I die.
This next picture cost me a very noticeable scar on my stomach but it was totally worth it. I was quite literally on top of the world and I conquered my fear of heights.
2) Olomana Three Peaks
"It's not the mountain we conquer but ourselves" - Edmund Hillary
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This picture is as raw as it gets. I am messy, I am tired but never felt more proud. Climbing all 3 peaks of Olomana is my greatest physical accomplishment to date. I climbed it with zero mountain climbing experience and in record time (I had a flight to catch). Average total is 6-7 hours and it took me little under 4. It was on the 6th day of my epic but strenuous Hawaiian adventure. I was amazed what my body is capable of and it gave me a huge push in the upcoming months to achieve great things in life. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Located on the windward side of Oahu, the Olomana Three Peaks takes guts to hike! (In the past 15 years, 5 people have died on the trail.) But if you're careful, this hike offers views and experiences that you won't ever forget.
First Peak The first peak is about 1.5 miles up in the jungle and mud. When compared with scaling the next two peaks, this portion of the hike is the easy part (aka not too dangerous) but it takes the longest. There's one clearly marked trail that you follow to the top, and along the way there are a few spots where you're advised to use the hanging ropes. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Second Peak The climb down from peak one to peak two is where you start finding the sketchy stuff. The hike immediately begins by scaling down some steep cliffs. There are several old ropes to aid the descent, frayed and tied to loose tree roots. Scramble down some more cliffs and climb up some more ropes and you've made it to the top of peak number two. The view from here is exquisite. The 3rd peak is so close - right in your face. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Third Peak This is where things get nuts. The cliffs start getting a lot more narrow (2-3 feet) and the drop offs become deadly. There are a few passes that require scrambling skills where one wrong hold or a slip could send you over the edge. The final climb is straight up a narrow cliff 30 feet high with only a frayed rope to trust your life to. Pull yourself up this rope and you've made it to the top. Now you just have to do this all over again going back on the same trail. Unpopular opinion: the view from here is nothing special. If it wasn't for the hell of it, the 3rd peak is unnecessary.
3) Lanikai Pillbox
N 21 23 16 W 157 43 4 A place where I have no rules, no responsibilities, no bad days. My fears and phobias don't exist. My taste is completely different, I like what I usually dislike. The walls of my comfort zone are stretched out so far. I am reckless, yet never felt more safe. I am high on adrenaline. I am more me than anywhere else in the world. My happy place.
I will keep this one short and sweet and just give you one tip: there are little rocks along the way up, I'll paste the images below for reference. Stop there, have a seat and be in the moment. Every time I'm there I just forget the outside world and sit there for as long as I want. Usually I lose track of time and I feel so much peace. Everyone else will go to the pillboxes but that's not where the magic lies. This hike is very popular and easy, we can definitely call it a tourist-y location. But if you do it the right way, it will be super unique.
Pro tip: once you're done with the hike, walk down to Lanikai Beach and take a dip, it's absolutely gorgeous there!
4) Koko Crater Stairs
I expected to have a boring day because everything pointed to that direction. I fell into razor-sharp lava rocks a few days prior, so my original hiking plan was off the table. Then a heavy storm was about to hit the island, so looked like I was gonna stay in and catch up on work - which would have been the most depressing thing to do in Hawaii. But against all the odds (and thanks to my procrastination), I decided to get in the car and at least give it try... Nothing can be as bad as sitting at home. And with that thought, the day took a turn and with every minute passing, the magic was stronger, more unreal and by the end of the day, undeniable. When we get caught in everyday responsibilities, work, chores, proving ourselves and being on top 110% of the time, we forget the most important thing. We forget that magic is out there, we just gotta open our eyes and see it. And no one’s gonna see it for us or show it to us unless we make some kind of effort.
I was too deep down in an insane daily routine to even consider any other option than the daily grind. The only thing I’ve done that day was basically giving up control. I was so beyond tired of it all (mind and body running on the last drops of fuel) that I just said ‘f*ck it, whatever happens, happens…’ Little did I know that I will be rewarded for that decision big time.
The Koko Head Railway (aka The Stairs of Doom) are originally WWII railway ties; all 1,048 of them are uneven, worn down, slippery, or some are just missing. It is challenging physically and if you have fear of heights, then mentally too because there is a section where the ground disappears from under the track and it creates a bridge. I've seen people sit down and literally crawl their way up and down (mainly down since it's scary AF) but I knew I had to walk through it. And so I did and never been more proud of myself.
One thing you gotta do on top of the stairs: go a little further. I know you will be happy that you made it up but I guarantee, if you just go a little further up (past the pillbox), you will get to the other side of the crater and the view from there is epic. Just rest there and take it all in until you are ready to go back down.
Source: Tasty Island
I will have this day written on my heart forever. I may have shared snippets of it on social media, but no one will ever really know what went down in my head. And not wanting to share it is my prerogative. Just like keeping your magic to yourself is YOUR prerogative. My best advice? Once you find it, just hold on tight and when you feel it had imprinted on your heart and soul, just let it go. You Always. Have to. Let. Go.
5) Hanauma Bay
This might not seem like a hike but where I'm leading you in the bay IS.
You'll seldom experience regret for anything that you've done. It is what you haven't done that will torment you. The message, therefore, is clear. Do it! Develop an appreciation for the present moment. Seize every second of your life and savor it. Value your present moments. Using them up in any self-defeating ways means you've lost them forever.
This day was a bit crazy. 6-hour flight, then heading straight from the airport to the Hanauma Bay hike, lost my water 1 hour in, no shade at all, sketchy terrain, then hike for 2 more hours in the heat. I did not exactly know where the Hidden Rock Bridge is, so all I could do was listen to my intuition and let that lead me.
I knew this was going to be a risky one. I also knew I will regret it if I don’t do it. Just to mention some of the issues I was facing: 1️) This is a hidden location. I haven’t seen a soul during my 3-hr hike there. 2️) If you fall down the bridge, there is no coming back. The ledge is so high and steep that there is basically no way for you to get back up. 3️) It was super windy and the waves were unpredictable that day. But I wanted to do it so bad.. I sat there for a few minutes trying to figure out the waves' pattern. There wasn't one. So I figured, just screw it, I’m going to listen to my intuition and go when I feel like it. Que sera sera, right? As you see the video it was a close call but I was ecstatic that I made it in one piece!
It was so peaceful and beautiful there, I decided to just stay, chill and take pictures for another hour all by myself, while sightseeing helicopters were showing off the crazy 'suicidal looking' lady down there. Little did they know that I was having the time of my life!
WARNING: I cannot legally encourage you to go on the bridge but if you do, PLEASE use extreme caution and common sense around the waves and on the bridge. This is no joke.
6) Crouching Lion
Run into the woods. Dance naked. Hug the trees. Kiss the earth. Learn with animals. Laugh with mountains. Believe me, it's a therapy. — A. Rao ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This perfectly sums up my Crouching Lion hike experience. I don't think I've ever felt so much freedom in my entire life. I ran into the woods, danced topless all alone, kissed the earth (if faceplanting into the mud counts), got lost, laughed, hung out with chickens and hugged the trees (well.. only for climbing, but still).
This day I still had an hour and a half till sundown, so figured why not try that "quick and easy" (but illegal) hike everyone told me about. Sure.. it was quick(er than the most), but also I got lost and it turned into a strenuous and extremely dirty hike with too many battle wounds to count. It was nothing what I expected and somehow everything I needed. I felt so much happiness filling my heart on the top. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Pro Tip: don't ever (ever!) take this hike the day after it rained. This is an illegal hike but they don't enforce it with guards (yet) like the Haiku Stairs, so just be careful, use common sense and you'll be fine. ⠀⠀⠀⠀