We have decided to take advantage of being near home by doing a series of day hikes as the Israel Trail passes Haifa and heads south towards Tel Aviv. Day hiking is fundamentally different than hiking and camping because you only have to carry lunch and water. This part of the trail is much traveled so there are frequent picnic grounds with facilities, so we haven’t even had to carry much water.
1st Day Hike: 14 September, 2009 (half a day hike up the mountain.)
We arrived at Yagur Kibbutz at 9:30 am, picked up my rock and started up the mountain. There was a water faucet conveniently placed right before leaving the kibbutz up the trial. It felt delightful to be hiking without heavy packs.
In contrast to the trail up Mount Tabor the Carmel trail climbed the mountain in a series of hair pin turns that made it easy. The temperature was mild and though the grasses were still brown, the whole world looked less dry after the early first rain of a few days before.
We passed several groups of sixth graders on a school hike climbing down the mountain, however once we managed to pass them we were again alone on the trail. Even this well hiked day trail was empty in the middle of the week.
We walked through the pine forest enjoying the ease of a day hike. The cliffs on both sides of us were beautiful, and at the top of one cliff an Israeli flag flew in the wind. After about two hours of hiking we reached a picnic area with bathroom facilities and of course running water. It would have been perfect except for the cows and bull who thought they owned the place. There we sat down to have our lunch only to discover that we had forgotten to actually put our food in our day pack. What a disappointment, however, becuase it was a day hike it was not a big deal.
It took about another hour to reach the top of the Carmel Mountain range and the Druze villages. We left our rock on the other side of the mountain on the path going down the other side.
2nd Day Hike: 23 September, 2009 (down the other side)
When we started this hike it was already noon because of some trouble catching a bus to the Druze villages. We collected the rock and started on the path down the other side of the Carmel. The path started easy on a gravel road, but it soon veered off into a narrow gorge which would have been a problem if it had been a rainy day.
After about an hour we found ourselves in a wide gentle area in the interior portion of the mountain range. The Carmel range starts at Haifa and goes south for about 30 kilometers. It is wedge shaped and gets progressively wider as it goes, even where we were crossing there was a greater distance between east and west than we expected.
In this gentle area we met two young women hiking the Israel Trail in the opposite direction. At this point the trail again followed a gravel road and the walking was easy. Only a few minutes after we passed these hikers we came up to another young woman resting under a tree who was hiking the trail in our direction.
We continued on the gravel road now going up an intermediate rise when we realized that we hadn’t seen a trail marker for a long time. We went up a little further around a bend in the road, but when there was still no marker we knew we were off the trail and had to go back down the mountain. We found the place where the trail diverged from the road almost all the way back down – quite frustrating – it seems that we lose the trail at least once on each hike, all it takes a few minutes of day dreaming at the wrong moment.
At the top of this rise we had a view of the sea to the west, and Haifa to the north. Here there were a large group of Israel Trail hikers resting and having lunch. We saw more Israel Trail hikers on this hike than on all the other hikes combined probably because the weather was now superb for hiking – cool and pleasant – while University had not started yet so the college kids were out in droves before the term started.
The trail led us down to an archeological site with ruins and burial caves where we messed around for a while. Shortly after this there was a picnic area with bathroom facilities and running water where we had lunch. We had been hiking for 3 hours. We thought that going down the Carmel would take about the same amount of time as climbing up, but it was now clear that this hike would be much longer.
From the picnic grounds the trail went into Wadi Oren, which is a large gorge with a winding road through it that we have driven on many times. The trail hugged the upper south side of the valley going on ledges, down cliffs, and through tiny gorges, with magnificent views of the shining sea.
There were areas where we had to help Taffy down the sheer face of the cliff. The going was slow and soon the sun was getting low in the sky. We began to worry that we wouldn’t get off the mountain before dark.
We came to an area where we could clearly see the park at the bottom where we were heading, and it seemed we would indeed get down there before sunset, but then the trail turned south up another Wadi, if the going was slow we would not make it. There was a huge boulder ahead which the trail went around and then finally we were on a smoother path heading straight down.
We reached the bottom just as the sun was setting at 6pm. This was one of the most beautiful and interesting parts of the trail and it is right in our backyard.
3rd Day Hike: 6October, 2009 (Cave, En Hod artists village, and Neanderthal caves)
We arrived at Oren Park at 11am, found the stone, and started the trail which went straight up the mountain again. This part of the trail is a popular day hike for schools and scouts, and we had climbed it several times when our sons were young. It starts on a long steep stairway becoming a steep well tended path and soon leads to the entrance of a cave.
We explored the cave and found that it was much deeper and more extensive than we thought. It had a large cathedral like second chamber and several small champers off of that. We navigated the whole cave using candles. When we emerged from the caves we were covered in grime.
The trail from the cave continued up and headed south. After a little less than an hour of walking we reached a small cemetery right in the middle of the Carmel forest. There was in sink and faucet inside so we found a way in through the fence and washed off all residue from the cave. I am always amazed at how much better I feel after cleaning up.
About 10 minutes from the cemetery was the town of Ein Hod. Ein Hodis an artists village. This was one of the first times that the Israel trail missed a great opportunity. If you follow the trail religiously, it takes you on the main road below the village. Crazy! Who would want to walk on a busy dangerous road when you can go through this delightful place.
Simply go across the street, go straight into the main street of the village, take your time looking at all the sculptures, and galleries. If you want have a meal or a beer, take the time to look through their museum. There is a bed and breakfast for anyone who wants a luxurious break from camping. The whole village is wonderful, and if you turn right, downhill at the museum, a walkway takes you through the lower town and joins the Israel Trail missing the busy road.
After the village the trail went through an ancient olive grove where artists had build interesting stone sculptures around some of the most beautiful trees.
The trail wound it way down hill and then continued south on the edge of the Carmel hills skirting groves of banana and palm trees. Here, regrettably you could always hear the traffic on Route 4. We found a nice area under an Oak tree to have our lunch of tuna fish sandwiches with snicker bars for dessert. As always Taffy got a half a sandwich from each of us.
After more than an hour of walking we reached a place where the Trail deliberately went right into a thicket of Sabra Cactuses. Native Israelis are called Sabras, so no doubt this was something of a joke, but having previously had a run in with the tiny stinging spines on the Sabra fruit, both of us walked VERY carefully through the maze of cacti!
From there the trail meanders through the ruins of many stone buildings, probably not ancient, but at least a 100 years old. We passed a rather weird beautiful flowering plant which we had noticed before on Mount Tabor. It impressed us because it was flowering and growing so vigorously after a long hot summer before the first rains. I emailed Dr. Ori Fragman-Sapir from the Israel Botanical Gardensand he told me the plant is Urginea maritima, the sea squill (חצב in Hebrew). It is commonly know here in Israel as the herald of fall since it flowers at the end of summer.
Then we had one of our periodic lapses in concentration and found ourselves walking on a straight path without trail markers. We had to go back about 5 minutes to find that the Israel Trail diverged to the East winding up into the hills again. As we climbed we saw a rain storm out at sea.
After another hour of hiking up and down little cliffs along the rocky Carmel hills, we approached the tourist center and entrance to Nahal Me’arot. This is both an Israeli National Park full of fascinating hiking trails and the site of several caves where prehistoric man lived. There is an entrance fee for visiting the caves, but of course, the trails are free. We decided not to visit the caves, which I now regret. One of the amazing parts of hiking the Israel Trail is taking advantage of everything it shows you.
We hiked another 30 minutes until we reached a place where there was a dirt road which went west to Route 4 where we could catch a bus. It was almost 5pm so we decided this was a good place to stop. There at the junction of the road and the trail we left the rock.