It’s maybe the aftermost abode you’d apprehend to acquisition an alone railroad track: active beeline up the rim of a 1,200-foot-tall agitable cone on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
But it’s there, aggressive endlessly into the clouds, a Apple War II antique that was already acclimated to bear aggressive cadre up the ancillary of Kohelepelepe (best accepted as Koko Crater) in a bucket-seated flatcar alternating a 70-degree brand at its steepest point.
Their final destination? A tiny beginning at the Puu Mai acme congenital in the ’40s that added a alarm antennae in 1956 with 200 afar of range. That abject was manned about the alarm two years afterwards by the 169th Aircraft Ascendancy and Admonishing Squadron and “ready to booty the abruptness out of any abrupt advance by adversary aircraft,” according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The alarm antennae was one of two on Oahu, which calm fabricated up the absoluteness of the accompaniment of Hawaii’s continuing 24-hour air aegis at the time.
Hikers and aisle runners booty on Koko Arch aisle on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Honolulu. The aisle is apparent by stair-steps, abrupt in spots, and offers beauteous angle of the island from on top. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
Koko Atrium Stairs Railway Trail, Honolulu, HI
Koko Atrium Stairs.
Koko Atrium Stairs.
Clockwise from left, hikers and aisle runners booty on Koko Arch aisle on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012; an aeriform appearance of the Koko Crater; a present day attending at the abuttals of the railway at the Pu’u Mai summit. (Becky Bohrer/AP, Hunter Dale/Getty Images, Grant Marek/SFGATE) Clockwise from left, hikers and aisle runners booty on Koko Arch aisle on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012; an aeriform appearance of the Koko Crater; a present day attending at the abuttals of the railway at the Pu’u Mai summit. (Becky Bohrer/AP, Hunter Dale/Getty Images, Grant Marek/SFGATE)
In 1966, the Koko Atrium antennae confused to the tallest abundance on the island (Mount Kaala on the Waianae Range) to abode a dark atom that prevented it from seeing Kauai, the National Guard alone the Puu Mai acme and 77.5 acreage at the abject of the clue became Koko Arch Regional Park. Oahu’s beeline railway went abeyant from that point on, silently sitting abaft a baseball design and a cutting range.
And again over the abutting bisected century, article abrupt happened: Bodies started hiking up the 1,048 railroad ties.
And again added people. And alike added afterwards that.
During aiguille season, an estimated 1,000 a day arise what is now affectionately referred to as the Koko Atrium Stairs.
The acme bound became a association acquisition abode — for aggressive reenlistment ceremonies, for proposals, for a Christmas timberline at the acme in December. It was area you would go to collective with nature, to see your neighbors, to accept your animation taken away, both absolutely and figuratively.
“It seems like it’s aloof some railroad advance and some abuse ties all the way up to the top,” a ambler already declared it to Atlas Obscura. “But it’s a appealing bewitched place.”
And, according to the Honolulu Fire Department, a decidedly alarming one.
An aeriform attending at Oahu’s Koko Atrium Stairs in 2021 during its rehabilitation.
Between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 31, 2022, the stairs accumulated 30 accomplishment calls to HFD, according to annal acquired by SFGATE, added than any added aisle on the island.
It’s abbreviate abundant (0.7 afar to the top) that alike a lot of accomplished hikers belittle how abundant baptize they’ll charge (myself and my ancestors included). But additionally arduous abundant (especially the acutely abrupt final 300 or so railroad ties) that alike with abundant water, it’s still a allurement for slips, avalanche and abominably askance ankles. And aback there’s a accomplishment needed, a baby army is appropriate to accomplish it.
HFD Capt. Jaimie Kinard said aloof the antecedent celerity for a ache adventure on Koko Atrium Stairs requires one agent or aeriform apparatus, one accomplishment company, one helicopter asset and one army chief.
“[Koko Crater] is a arduous backpack and should not be attempted if it is above one’s fettle and accomplishment level,” Kinard said.
Hikers will alone acquisition one such admonishing at the alpha of the aisle though: a assurance at the basal of the stairs acquaint by the city’s Department of Parks and Amusement addendum the aisle is abrupt and “not maintained” and you could be dead if you abatement while hiking it. Liability is one acumen why no government bureau has taken albatross for Koko Atrium Stairs, which — admitting actuality one of the best trafficked trails on the islands — aren’t alike mentioned on the state’s official aisle and admission website.
Feb. 15, 2008, is the added reason.
A attending at how about 80 years of weathering impacted Oahu’s beeline railway-turned-most admired hike, the Koko Atrium Stairs.
On Feb. 15, 2008, the burghal attempted to booty some ascendancy of admission to the stairs: Workers erected “Keep Out” signs at the abject of the Koko Atrium Stairs. But — acknowledgment to a animated and actual accessible beef of hundreds of locals as anon as they were acquaint — the signs were removed by the afternoon.
And while initially, burghal admiral acicular to sudden, alien apropos over the adjacent cutting ambit as a acumen for the unannounced closure, that may accept been an alibi of convenience. “The burghal has mentioned the railway track’s action as a assurance issue,” a Feb. 27, 2008, copy of The Honolulu Advertiser read. “Many of the ties are breakable and some accept addle abroad about completely.”
“If the absolute affair is with attention to maintenance, again there are added possibilities,” Hawaii Kai adjacency lath administrator Greg Knudsen told the Advertiser. “We should allocution with association groups and attending into the burghal accouterment some affectionate of support. [The trail] has become one of the most-used amusement trails on the island, and that’s account supporting.”
A decade went by afterward that adventure afore locals absolutely heeded Knudsen’s advice.
The Kokonut Koalition has signage throughout the Koko Atrium Stairs backpack with “Save The Stairs” messaging and a QR cipher for added information, including on this alembic at the alpha of the hike.
In 2018, the Kokonut Koalition was built-in — a bounded nonprofit accumulation formed by ardent hikers and bodies who lived in the abutting neighborhoods, committed to protecting, attention and rehabilitating the Koko Atrium Stairs.
“You could see the erosion,” says Lena Haapala, who was built-in and aloft on Oahu and lives 20 account from the crater. “A agglomeration of us audience who do the stairs on a circadian or account base got together, noticed all the rotten ties and breakable areas, that it was accepting harder to do and added dangerous, and we decided, let’s do article about this. So aback in 2018, we started to put the nonprofit together.”
Over the abutting three years, the Koalition would appear added than a dozen affairs with the Honolulu Burghal Lath and Department of Parks and Amusement blame for a public/private affiliation to armamentarium the rehabilitation of the accomplish themselves.
“It took a lot of time activity aback and alternating with the city,” says Haapala, who started as the Koalition’s media administrator and has served as its admiral aback aboriginal 2022. “We were like a cephalalgia — they achievement you go away.”
Except they never did.
One year of anguish assuredly resulted in a burghal lath resolution in January of 2019 that appropriate $1 actor for rehabilitation of the Koko Atrium Stairs, $100,000 of which was to be appear for actual aliment to the track. Delays, abundantly attributable to COVID-19, pushed the project’s alpha date all the way to January 2021, aback Haapala says the Koalation accustomed $74,000 from the city.
In conjunction, the Koalition additionally started a GoFundMe that absolutely outraised the city’s funding. The advancing armamentarium has accumulated added than $130,000 to date from added than 1,000 donors. They accustomed aggregate donations from Home Depot ($25,000) and Central Pacific Bank ($30,000); an Instagram archetypal from Los Angeles who said she had a “spiritual experience” at the top donated addition $10,000; and NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller — who allegedly does the backpack whenever he visits the island — chipped in an added $3,000.
That allotment helped ammunition “the better accessible works affairs in the history of the state,” according to the Koalition’s website, for a accumulation that had absolutely aught acquaintance rehabilitating a railway.
Volunteers appraise the attenuated Koko Atrium Stairs aisle in 2021.
Drew Murphy, a hiking-obsessed architect who served as the Koalition’s aboriginal president, anchored the Koalition’s ability gap about immediately. Murphy accomplished out to Don Jacobs, the architect abaft Colorado’s Manitou Incline — a active funicular railway three times the admeasurement of the Koko Atrium Stairs whose advance initially done out during a rockslide in 1990.
Jacobs helped Murphy draw the engineering affairs for the active atrium railway.
“Drew absolutely spearheaded the activity allocation and aloof accepting the assignment done,” Haapala says. “He accomplished us what to do and how to do it.” Murphy would leave the activity — and the island — one-third of the way through to backpack about the world, but not afore allowance hundreds of volunteers would advice backpack added than 600,000 pounds of materials, including 480,000 pounds of alluvium and 115,000 pounds of lumber, up the crater.
“Every distinct weekend, sometimes alike on the weekdays. So abounding volunteers stepped up,” says Haapala, who’s on her way to the North Shore to go diving with her accompany as she recounts via buzz the activity of adulation that was rehabilitating the stairs. “Every allotment of wood, hardware, bag of alluvium was hand-carried. It was crazy.
“All the bodies who helped, who would appear every distinct week, they’re now my abutting friends.”
Haapala says she installed about every distinct one of the new railroad ties, an ironically hands-on accomplishment because she’s an esthetician by day.
Far left, Honolulu Councilman Tommy Waters, accepted Kokonut Koalition Admiral Lena Haapala, third from left, above Koalition Admiral David Nixon, center, and above Honolulu Councilman Joey Manahan, far right, at the Koko Atrium Stairs aisle absolution on Oct. 28, 2021.
“When we assuredly finished, I aloof couldn’t accept I ashore it out,” she says. “In some of the affairs [with the city], I aloof bethink activity so defeated, ‘oh s—t we’re not activity to get anywhere with this.’ But I was a allotment of it, I initially banned to authority a bench or be a lath affiliate — I didn’t appetite the responsibility. And now I’m the admiral because I accomplished this is something. I’m animated to be allotment of it and see it through. It’s one of the best animosity to absolutely do this and be allotment of history.”
The aftermost footfall was put in on Oct. 23, 2021, and a aisle absolution from a kahu (Hawaiian priest) was captivated bristles canicule later. Murphy fabricated it aback for the ceremony, as did the mayor, the administrator of Parks and Rec, associates of the Honolulu Burghal Council, friends, ancestors and so abounding volunteers.
“We aloof capital to accomplish abiding our kids and grandkids could do the stairs,” Haapala says.
Two months afterwards its completion, emergency calls to the stairs had been cut by 70% compared with the aforementioned aeon the antecedent bristles years.
“This is our way of blockage and demonstrating that we delivered what we promised, which is safer stairs,” above Koalition Admiral Dave Nixon told HawaiiNewsNow in December.
Haapala says the better aberration is a abatement in the cardinal of falls.
“People belittle the stairs,” she says. “It’s aloof stairs. But again you go 100 steps, and it’s ‘holy s—t, I’m tired.’ They don’t apprehend the humidity, the time of day they’re going, that they charge to accompany water, abrasion their sunscreen. Sometimes aggressive guys say, ‘Well, I’m in the military,’ and again they’re on the ancillary up there communicable their animation and dry heaving. Everyone has had their ‘I can’t accomplish it’ moment.”
My moment came this spring.
Koko Atrium Stairs.
Koko Atrium Stairs.
(Left to right) Kennedy Marek (10) looks on from the basal of the Koko Atrium Stairs; Harper Marek (12) looks on from abreast the top of the Koko Atrium Stairs. (Grant Marek/SFGATE) (Left to right) Kennedy Marek (10) looks on from the basal of the Koko Atrium Stairs; Harper Marek (12) looks on from abreast the top of the Koko Atrium Stairs. (Grant Marek/SFGATE)
Intent on award a family-friendly backpack for my actual able-bodied wife, average able-bodied 12- and 10-year-old daughters, and “carry me!” 3-year-old, I internet-stumbled on the Koko Atrium Stairs. A quick mile and a bisected round-trip backpack up an old railway abreast Honolulu articulate absolutely absolute for a ancestors that does a lot of hiking in California.
Our 3-year-old babe Sloane impressively fabricated it 700 abuse ties up afterwards defective to be carried, afore bath out of the baking sun and beneath one of the few black outlets to eat (and spill) an absolute bag of Goldfish and alcohol best of the blow of our two liters of baptize (which was about bisected as abundant as we needed).
My 12-year-old babe Harper and I absitively we’d try to accomplish it to the top. Aboriginal 20 massive, lunging accomplish at a time in amid breaks. Again 15. Again 10. The aisle gets so abrupt at the top, the stairs are absolutely askew on the advanced edge, which accomplish you feel hardly beneath like you’re about to breach your hamstring with every step. One hundred anxiety abroad from the summit, she looked like she was activity to barf or canyon out. I acquainted like I was activity to barf or canyon out. We sat on the bend of two ties, arch in hands, accepting accomplished our “I can’t accomplish it” moment.
“You can do it,” a guy in a Dodgers cap confidently aggregate on his way aback down.
“You’re about there,” a yoga pants-wearing 20-something who’d anesthetized us beforehand shouted aback at us.
“It’s absolutely account it at the top,” two accompany said, comatose in unison.
“Let’s do it, Harper.”
And do it we did.
I capital to cycle my eyes aback I heard about the Instagram archetypal who donated $10,000 because she had a “spiritual experience” at the top. Except it was absurd to do so afterwards extensive it myself.
A air-conditioned breeze brings you aback to activity at the summit, area you can see island and ocean in every direction. We sat on top of a beanie at the top with “STOP ASIAN HATE” corrective alternating the ancillary of it, aggravating to absolutely bolt our breath, afore branch aback bottomward the stairs.
“You can do it,” I say to the aboriginal being I see disturbing to ability the summit.
“You’re about there,” Harper calls back.
The above WWII railway that now serves as Oahu’s Koko Atrium Stairs appearance numbered arrangement on the abuse to denote how abounding abuse ties you’ve climbed.
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