First Day: Tuesday May 12th 2009

 

    Don and I woke early.  We were surprisingly nervous, but we had a big breakfast of eggs and toast anyway because I thought we might need it.  We walked down to the bus stop, with our dog Taffy happily trotting ahead.  Then we took 3 buses, first a city bus to the north Haifa Mircaz Hamifratz bus station.  

Don and Taffy at the bus station

    Than an intercity bus to Kiryat Shmona, one of the northern most towns in Israel.  We had an hour to wait in K. Shmona so we ate a falafel at a place near the bus station. Then we took a once a day bus that went up to the Golan heights hitting each little town until we got off as close as we could to the village of Nimrod (not the same place as the crusader fortress) where Jacob Saar’s hiking guide said we should start.  The Israel Trail formally starts at Kibbutz Dan down in the Hula Valley, but we wanted to start in the Golan as Jacob suggested, for completeness sake, and so as not to miss some excellent hiking. 

Please everywhere you hike take out more than you bring in! 

       It turned out that to get to Nimrod from where we disembarked we would have to walk about 2 kilometers up a steep hill on a busy road, with no shoulder, that had trucks going back and forth.  It was dangerous and not the way we wanted to start our adventure.  So we decided to try to bypass the starting point by walking on what looked like a good dirt road.  First we found the small stone (subsequently call the Golan Stone) that I intend to carry by foot to Eilat and I placed it in a safe place, and then we started on the track. We had an excellent map so we knew where we were going, but the dirt road ended, soon we were on an animal trail, and then we were bushwhacking with no path at all. 

Goat trail to bushwhacking

    It took us about an hour to go a few hundred meters on sharp volcanic rocks which tore into the soles of our inadequate shoes.  While we were bush whacking we saw a tortoise. The species was, Testudo graeca, the spur-thighed tortoise, a common reptile in Israel.  Wikipedia stated that it is only found in the southern part of the country. (Wikipedia, for all its usefulness, has many mistakes), but we have edited the page now.
    
When we finally got to the path where we were suppose to be we were already exhausted.  That is the last bushwhacking we will do!
  

Testudo graeca, the spur-thighed tortoise found in the Golan Heights

      It was here that the real hike began. We were at the beginning of the red path which goes down and up through forested mountains.

Red trail to Nimrod's Fortress

     It felt like we were the only people in the world.  Ahead of us was the Nimrod crusader fortress, which is a national park as well as an archaeological site.  We arrived there at 5pm and found that it closed at 4pm and was completely fenced in.  The black trail was a bypass path that went though the valley around the fortress, but we had set our hearts on the dramatic way so in typical fashion after much searching we found a hole in the fence, took off our packs and pushed them through, crawled in, and with pounding hearts made our way through the silent closed area.  We were scared we'd be caught and be in deep trouble, so make sure if you want to hike through Nimrod to arrive there before 4 pm.  We walked past the silent fortress with the sun going down behind it and vowed to pay the Israel National Park service the entrance fee by mail.  We easily found the green trail and continued down the other side of the mountain.   

Start of Green path at Nimrod's Fortess

    On the way down this difficult path, we met two lovely young men who had made their way the whole 900 kilometers from Eilat in 7 weeks and were just then finishing their hike.  They were the only people we saw.  I wish I had asked them more questions and got more advise, but at the time I didn't think of it.  Instead we mostly talked about how great is our dog Taffy!  They had seen him first and were wondering where he had came from.

    After we left them behind we continued down, at one point we lost the trail and had to climb back up until we found the markers again.  A little after that we realized that we were getting too tired and that dusk would soon be with us.  So the first possible place to put down our sleeping bags we made camp.   

Making camp

    We prepared raman noodles with cream cheese on our little gas stove.  I swear it was the best thing I've eaten in ages.  Just the warmth of the food was amazing.  Below us was the whole Hula valley, behind us were the Hermon Mountains, we had found an amazing wild place.  Taffy barked off a family of boars.  Then after we watched the sun go down, we put on some mosquito repellent (There were a few buzzing around, but I wasn’t bitten even once) and went into our sleeping bags.
     I was so uncomfortable it is hard to explain. I ached from the exertion of our first day on the Israel Trail, the ground was hard, there was no place for my rather substantial curves, and in spite of being physically exhausted, I wasn’t sleepy. I saw every hour pass on my watch and every minute seemed an hour. I remember looking at my watch at 10:30 PM, tossing and turning for hours and then looking again and it was 10:45 PM. I could not get comfortable, on my back, on my side, on my stomach, there didn’t seem to be a position where some part of my body didn’t hurt. I watched the big dipper on its trip circling around the north star, Polaris. I watched the moon come up and shine so brightly that there were shadows everywhere, I saw a breathtaking shooting star. But truly… I wished to miss all the beauty and sleep. It was a torture of sorts.

     Morning always comes, and at 5am with the dawn making the moon seem pale and taking all the moon shadows away, Don woke up and we started the next day.

Sunset on the first day

Second Day:  Wednesday May 13th

 

     We made tea and munched on a bit of granola.  I had my tea with 2 tea bags -  it was hot, strong and refreshing after the long night.  Then we washed up a bit, brushed our teeth, and packed everything up.  We were meticulous to leave things better then we found them.   I was stiff, but feeling surprisingly okay.  We walked down the rest of the mountain and ended up at the Banias springs.  This is another archaeological area and a famous spring with cold clear water gushing out.  It is a place were all the tourists come - some purchase "holy" water from the Jordan.  We arrived there at 6:30 in the morning, again before it was open.  There wasn't a soul there, eerie,  but what a great way to see the springs at their best.  The only problem was getting out.  Again we had to find a way over the fence.

    The springs feed the Hermon River and the trial followed the river as it fell from one fall to the next.  I had thought that the tourist site was the whole place, but I was completely wrong.  The river walk was gorgeous.  We saw fresh water crabs, there were birds everywhere,  and becasue we were walking so early in the morning we didn't see a single person. 

Diana by the Hermon river

    At around 10:30 am we emerged on to a dirt road that advertised cold drinks 500 meters away.  We soon found ourselves at a village called She’ar Yeshuv where there was a cafe, totally strange place, decorated in mosaics, with pounding rap music.  It was too much of a contrast.  We hadn't even heard another person's voice, since the day before and now we were assaulted by the ugly noise.  Anyway the young guy who ran this place wasn't interested in lowering the music, so we bought a Popsicle and cold apple juice and kept on walking.   This would be a place that you could fill up your bottles with drinking water.

Cafe at village

    We walked through the village, a strange mixture of old modest trailer like homes and ostentatious mansions.  As we walked we wondered where the people who lived in those large houses worked?  It was really hot - all three of us were fading fast, but we still had to walk along the highway for about 2 kilometers before we turned into Kibbutz Dan.  At about 11:30am we arrived at the official starting point of the Israel Trail at the Dan Kibbutz.  I sat down there on the steps leading to a small museum, took off my shoes, and was too tired to do anything more.  I just sat there.  After a few minutes Don mobilized and found a picnic area with bathrooms and water and we made our way there.  For lunch we had salami on pita with some trail mix for dessert, but we didn't eat much.  Hiking took our appetite away.  We knew we'd never need all the salami that we’d brought so we cut up a large chunk of it into small bits and mashed it up with Taffy’s kibble. 

   Then I dozed on the grass for about half an hour after which I was so stiff that it took about 5 minutes before I could actually walk.  Before we went we had the lady at the museum (we didn't actually go into the museum, didn't seem like much and we were too tired) take a picture of us all together at Beit Ushishkin the official start of the 900 km Israel trail.

Starting the Israel Trail at Beit Usshiskin

     So then we started on the Israel Trial.  It is marked with three stripes.  One orange, one blue and one white.  If you're going south the orange stripe is highest.  If you are going north the blue stripe is highest.  It felt good to be on such a well marked and understood trail.  It started on a road, but soon turned off into a silent prairie like area with an easy dirt path through it.  There was a stream that we had to ford first one side than the other.  We now had some pretty detailed descriptions of what lay ahead so we didn't carry quite as much water.  Up to then we were carrying 5 bottles of water for all of us.  (Each bottle is 1 1/2 litters)   Water is so heavy!  But now we knew that Taffy could drink from the streams we would be following, and there was more water in about 5 kilometers.  So we only carried 2 bottles.  We walked slowly relishing the birds singing and the stream talking and the wide vistas with such emptiness.  Don and I discussed how strange it was that in this soft country side there should be no sign of human habitation.  We soon found out why.  The path came to a car barrier and continued on an tiny empty paved road.  The sign on the other side of the barrier was " Stop! Border ahead.  Closed military zone."  So the Israel Trial begins on the border with Lebanon, and that is why it is so empty even though it looks like the perfect place for a village.

First part of Israel Trail

     From there we came to the Shanir National Park where we had to pay for admission even though we were walking right through it. (This is suppose to be the only place on the official trail where you have to pay).  Here there were many people picnicking near the Shanir stream, there was a fountain with water to fill up our bottles and to wash off, and there was a place were a whole class of kids was wading and having a riot of a good time, but soon the trail became difficult and we were alone again.    

     By the time we left the stream we were over tired.  After resting at a tourist area at the end of the park I had to get on my hands and knees first and then grab something and pull myself up in order to stand!  The trail was now in the Hula valley where it made its way past many kibbutzim and settlements before it finally went up the mountains on the other side.  We had to walk on roads, it was hot, and where were we going to camp?  This was the most anxious part of the hike so far. 

     Finally at around 5 pm the trail turned off the road and went along a dirt road that was beside the fence of the a kibbutz.  I pointed out to Don that there was an area across the harvested wheat field near a small tree where we might camp.  But Don didn't like it and kept looking for places on the map.  But you couldn't really tell from the map if an area was possible for bedding down.  Anyway we kept walking.  Taffy was limping.  I was dragging -  a difficult time.  The trail came onto another road and there just didn't seem to be any places for us to stop, but I was almost at the point where I couldn't take another step.

      I saw a farm track that went off the road.  It was blocked, but not a problem to get around.  On one side of the track was an orchard, very high tech with all sorts of  automatic control systems.  On the other side was a harvested field of wheat, but at the edge of the field near the road wheat had been left standing and was high and over grown.  I think it is forbidden in the bible to glean the edges of your field so that the poor can find food.  But anyway on the interface of the wild area and the harvested area we set up camp and the minute we sat down there I loved the place.   

Second day's camp

     Don put his pad and sleeping bag on the edge, but I went inside of the tall wheat a little ways and tried to make a nest the way mountain gorillas do.  I took lots of the hay and put it down making it fit my body.  It was so much more comfortable than our first camping place up there in the mountain.

  We sat there doing nothing for about an hour until the sun was starting to edge down.  Then we went to the track away from the dry wheat and made ourselves raman noodles again this time with Parmesan cheese, and they were just as good as the day before.  We were worried about Taffy.  So we cut up some more salami, cooked it in a few cups of water, and put the mixture in to a couple of handfuls of kibble.  After it was cool Taffy ate the entire thing.  I looked at his paws and found a small bit of the pad on his right paw worn off.  It was like a doggie blister.

     Then I wrote in my journal for a while and when it was almost dark we went into our sleeping bags.  There had been some flies around, but by dark there were no bugs at all.  Again for a while I couldn't sleep.  While I was worrying that I would have another night where I was awake for every hour  I fell into a deep sleep and only woke up to see that the moon was even brighter than the night before, I slept for the rest of the night and didn't get up until about 5:30am!

Diana's nest in the wheat

Third Day:  Thursday May 14th

     I expected to wake up in pain after a day where we pushed ourselves too far.  We had hiked 17 - 18 kilometers over mostly rough terrain and before going to sleep the night before here is what I wrote in my notes, "my thighs hurt, my feet hurt, my arms hurt, my feet hurt, my calves hurt, my feet hurt, my shoulders hurt, my feet hurt".   I was pleasantly surprised to wake up a little stiff, but not hurting at all. Even my feet were OK and considering how stupid I was about shoes - I simply wore my regular sneakers -   that was something of a miracle.  I guess they are right when they say the second day of hiking is always the worst.

     We went to the track near the orchard to make ourselves our tea and munch on a bit of granola.  I'm not sure why but tea is what I crave on hikes, not coffee.  A tractor went past in the distance and made us a bit nervous, but if the farmer noticed us he didn't let on. 

     We talked about the day ahead.  I had planned to hike a full 3/4 day and get back home on the last bus, but we decided that instead we should cut this day short and get home early.  One reason was because of Taffy’s foot.  Also if we continued up the next mountains it would take a long walk to both get off the trail and get back on to the trail when we started the next leg.  If we stopped soon the trail was near the roads and buses.  

     We packed everything up, being meticulous to leave the area cleaner than we found it.  We left our wheat field camping spot and walked along the road until the trail branched off onto a dirt road that went past yet another kibbutz. We were making our way to the "roaring lion"  at a place called Tel Hai. 

     Every school kid in Israel knows about the roaring lion at Tel Hai.  But neither Don or I had been school kids in Israel.  And we aren't good tourists, it will sound ridiculous to Israelis, but we had no idea where we were going.  There was a dramatic and horrible battle at Tel Hai during the early period of Jewish settlement in 1920.  The settlement of Tel Hai had to be abandoned and Joseph Trumpeldor was one of the people who died fighting to save the place.  The Jews were able to return to the settlement a few years later and in 1926 the monument of the roaring lion was sculpted in the cemetery to honor Trumpeldor and the other who died there.  But I had no idea.  I walked, huffing up the hill to the area and came upon a primal stone lion roaring his pain to the valley below.   It was a the best way a person could possibly encounter a work of art.  We were there early so there wasn't a soul around.  And I had no idea, no preconceptions of what I was going to see.  I will never forget the jolt I felt when I saw it. 

Roaring lion at Tel Hai

    We looked around the park for quite a while.  We saw a class of school kids come through and get a lecture about the history of the place.  Eventually Don and I descended on the bathrooms where of course there was running water.  We washed up, Don even washed his hair in the sink.  Then we continued to follow the Israel Trail markers as they led us through the area.  It was funny,  Don kept saying that we could just go straight down and it would be much faster, but the trail wanted us to see all the sights so it took a meandering route.  Finally at almost the lowest point in the trail before it starts its long ascent up the mountains between Israel and Lebanon, we stopped.  There we found a place to put the stone.  I had carried it about 28 kilometers from the Golan to Tel Hai.  I have about 890 more kilometers to go before I find a place to put it in Eilat! 

Stone left at Tel Hai

   

   From there we walked out of the path into the Tel Hai college.  From Tel Hai College there were buses to K. Shmona where we immediately caught a bus back to Haifa.

    This first leg was designed as a test and we have indeed learned some important lessons.  The most important is that we need better shoes, with much heavier soles.  Also we are never able to walk as far as we think we can.  And we don’t need to bring as much food since the walking seemed to suppress the appetite.

 

I can't wait to pick up my marker stone and start the next leg!

Taffy at the end of the hike

 


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