The forbidden Stairway to Heaven - otherwise known as the "Haiku Stairs" located in Kaneohe, Hawaii. The stairs were originally a wooden ladder built to transport soldiers up to a military radio transmission tower during World War II. Later, the ladder was replaced with wooden stairs followed by metal - only to be closed to the public due to liability issues.

I started my journey at 2:00 AM with a friend to get past the 24-hour guard and prospectively arrive at the peak of the mountain by sunrise. We met outside the Trump hotel dressed in black and armed with DSLR and GoPro cameras while waiting for the Uber to arrive. The destination was set to an address 10 minutes away from the entrance and a conversation about who would sleep on the floor at my "friend's" house was staged to mask our true intentions. Once we arrived, we made it to the road where the guard would post up at night to watch over the entrance to the stairs. Unfortunately, he spotted us before we saw him so we scrambled back into the bamboo forest. My friend climbed up the hill in time while I hid myself in the bamboo clutter as the guard approached the opening. I pressed myself flat on the dirt ground and closed my eyes to prevent his flashlight from reflecting off my pupils. After what seemed like the longest five minutes of my life, he left without spotting me and I made my way back to regroup with my friend.

15 minutes after we started moving again, four flashlights flickered on and we stopped dead in our tracks and pressed ourselves down on the ground. We weren't sure if these four were police but it was astonishing watching them move through the forest silently with the exception of a rare branch snap even while their flashlights were off. They were scanning the forest from left to right in teams of two. One pair started from the bottom while another began from the top. We were sitting ducks. As they were about to close in on us, I reached into my pocket for my flashlight, made sure it was turned off, and threw it diagonally as far as I could. The figure stopped and began walking towards the sound of the flashlight landing. I knew this would be my one opportunity to escape. I slid down the forest as if I were on a slide and used my feet to stop myself at incoming trees to slow my momentum. Adrenaline was racing through my veins as I hopped over a 14 ft fence and rolled down a steep hill littered with rocks and branches. When I was far enough away, I covered myself with dirt in a secluded segment of the bamboo forest and waited for one hour until I was sure they were gone. I watched the security van leave to change shifts and I ran for the stairs. My friend was unable to make it as he ran for the bus stop and went home after stumbling into the four figures on the open road with nowhere to hide. I ended up hiking the stairs with two hikers who coincidentally came out of the forest not long after I arrived at the entrance.

The stairs were everything I had imagined and more. The mountain was covered by a blanket of fog, the stairs growing out of the mountain produced a post apocalyptic atmosphere, and there was a beautiful picture waiting to be taken everywhere I looked. At the beginning, the stairs were extremely steep, resembling a vertical ladder instead of a staircase. We took extra caution climbing past a damaged segment in the stairs caused from a landslide. I ended up being the only one out of the group to make it all the way to the top but, unfortunately, a can of Redbull ruptured inside my bag which temporarily waterlogged my camera. This left me with just my iPhone and my eyes to document the experience.

3 hours, 3922 stairs, and 2480 ft later, my new friends and I were above the clouds. Another 3 hours, less than 3922 stairs and 2480 ft later, and we found ourselves moving down the side of the mountain as an alternative exit strategy after getting close to the bottom of the stairs. We successfully evaded the police waiting for us and I hopped on my flight back to Toronto safe and sound with a wealth of experience.

~ Desmond Li 19
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