Tuesday November 13, 2012
After more than six months without a hike, we were on our way back to the trail. My parent’s health problems had prevented us from continuing last spring, and then the long hot summer had to pass before we could continue the hike through the desert. Now, at long last, I hired Haim Berger to stash water for us at two key points along our way through the Ramon Crater and we were ready. Haim charges a steep price for his service, but we decided it would be cheaper than destroying our car. I did have this niggling concern that we were planning as if we could hike according to Jacob’s Israel Trail Guide.
Don was wearing new hiking shoes since he had walked right through the soles of his beloved Vasque’s. So besides not hiking for a long time, Don was facing the probability of new shoe feet problems.
Don with Golan Stone in Mitzpe Ramon
We knew that to reach the first water stash in one day would require an early start so we took the 3:30am train from Haifa to Beer Sheva transferred to the Bus to Mitzpe Ramon and arrived before 7:30am. Then we hurried to where we’d hidden the Golan Stone and found that the place had been changed, the huge boulders had been moved, and it appeared that we’d never see the Stone again. I overturned rocks randomly refusing to bow to the inevitable, when lo and behold there it was pressed deeply into the earth under a different boulder. Pure Luck!
We were ridiculously relieved. I’ve come to believe that everything will be ruined if we lose that stone, probably NOT a good attitude to have. (We have now hidden it 24 times.) We then went to the near-by gas station/cafe and had a filling breakfast of cheese pastries (bourekas) and strong hot coffee.
Ibex (Capra nubiana) in town of Mitzpe Ramon
After eating we filled our bottles with water and walked towards the Mitzpe Ramon Visitors Center, reached the edge of the crater cliffs, and walked with the cliffs on our left and the town on our right. A herd of almost tame Ibex (Capra nubiana) trotted past us as we approached the observation deck built right over the cliff. There we took pictures of the views of the partially overcast sky, the Ramon Crater in all directions, and the cliff straight down. A few meters from the observation deck the trail left the city and made its decent.
The Israel Trail is depicted on the map as going straight down with the green trail, and this is the way we walked. However, the Israel Trail symbols direct hikers on the black trail which loops to the field school and adds an extra 5 kilometers.
It was absolutely perfect weather for walking. The sun came in and out and the temperature was chilly enough to avoid feeling hot. A couple from The Czech Republic, who were taking a day hike, wanted us to take their picture and they took ours.
Diana, Don and Taffy almost down in the Ramon Crater
There were signs everywhere that though it was only November there had already been substantial and recent rain. Plants were starting to sprout, the earth was damp, and there were little pockets of water. For the first time since I’ve been in Israel I saw the common white, desert land snails (Sphincterochila boissieri) actually active - out and about. These snails are supremely adapted to desert life and manage to do everything necessary for survival while only being active during the few wet days there might be in a year.
We soon reached the bottom of the crater and after resting for a few minutes we followed the trail as it meandered through the wilderness towards the Shen HaRamon, (Tooth of the Ramon) which is a mountain ridge in the middle of the crater. There were plains of flint and dry streams with short carved limestone cliffs.
Diana in one of the Wadi's in the Ramon Crater
The clouds were blowing past making the sky different every time we looked, and there were even occasional drops of rain. We stepped out of a dry stream bank and started walking on a flat, flint strewn area heading towards an acacia tree far in the distance. I was functioning in automatic while my mind was far away in some other place and time. Suddenly there was a roar so loud it seemed to go through my body and shake the earth itself. Four phantom jets, hugging the ground in formation, went right over us. Wow! I was both terrified and elated, the phantoms are just training jets, yet their power was incomprehensible.
A few minutes more brought us to the beautiful acacia tree where we stopped, rested and had a snack before we started the ascent. There was no mountain climbing, just a steep long slope, but it seemed to take more than usual out of Don.
Walking up Shen Ramon in the Ramon crater
Then when we went down the other side there were some slightly tricky areas and Don had a difficult time getting down. There was a lovely pool of water there, but at that point I was concerned with Don and so I didn’t investigate the pool. We had done much much more difficult climbs so I was not sure what was going on. We ate lunch and I noticed that Don wasn’t hungry. By that time we were quite a bit behind schedule and as we walked on the relatively easy trail we discussed whether we could reach the water stash. I thought we had plenty of water and we could camp before the next ascent, but Don thought he could push through.
Right before the next ascent there was a cliff that had an exposure of the large fossils of an extinct cephalopod (animals related to octopuses) called an ammonites.
Diana in front of wall of fossil ammonites
We investigated the area of these astounding fossils and of course took a bunch of pictures. It was then a little after 3pm. Don insisted that he was fine, that it was too early to stop, and that we should press on. Forty minutes later we were going down the other side. There was sign on the trail describing an other outcropping of fossils and geological formations from the Triassic era, but were couldn’t see anything that resembled a fossilized creature. We reached Rt. 40 at a little after 4pm and now had about 3 kilometers more on a smooth dirt road before the area where Haim has stashed our water.
Taffy on the top of the last ascent of the our first day.
About half a kilometer from the night camp with darkness fast approaching, I insisted that we stop and make camp. I didn’t want to setup in total darkness.
Sun setting near night camp.
Also we had plenty of water to last us until the next morning there was no reason we needed to find the water stash right then. We took off our packs and then Don decided he wanted to go find the water while I set up the tent. This turned out to be a big mistake. He walked around in the dark for more than an hour, but he wasn’t able to find the water. In the meantime after I set up the tent and our sleeping gear, darkness fell, and I started getting seriously worried. I used my flash light and tried to signal, I yelled as loud as I could, and then finally I started walking out in the same way that Don went, yelling as I walked. When I didn’t find him, I walked back and heard him calling me from the camp. What a huge relief that was!
There was no moon, and the sky was overcast so it was extremely dark. Don cooked our Raman noodles with cheese while I fixed Taffy’s meal. Then we ate and talked softly as we sat there in the wilderness.
Wednesday November 14 2012
The next morning, like usual on our hikes, we woke up before light, packed up camp, and were on the trail with the first light of day barely gleaming in the east. And as usual I had trouble getting out of my warm sleeping bag, and Don almost took the tent down around me before I finally got out and joined him.
Diana last out of the tent in the morning!
The first thing we needed to do is find the water Haim had hidden for us. We did find it, but I must say that his description wasn’t accurate, and it was only because we wouldn’t give up and we tried to think of where we would have hidden the bottles ourselves, that we finally found the stash. Then we drank our fill, tried to get Taffy to drink (you can bring water to the dog, but you can’t make him drink it!), put the bottles in our packs, and then with all that weight we started walking.
Again it was clear that Don was not on the top of his game. I asked him several times if he was feeling up to the hike and whether we should bail while we were still close to a road, but he said he thought he would be OK, and we climbed the first ascent of the day which included a final section with rungs. There on the top, with views of the crater behind us, and of the trail on the edge of a ridge ahead of us, we stopped for breakfast.
Breakfast spot with view. Don taking off his shoes.
The first thing Don did was take off his shoes, a sure sign that he was having feet problems. (Perhaps you notice that trying to figure out what is bothering Don is not as simple as asking, “Hey Hon, are you OK?”, Don takes not complaining to an extreme). Also he didn’t have an appetite. Usually breakfast is our most enjoyable meal, but he ate reluctantly and much less than usual. I gave Don a pain reliever and a Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory pill and hoped for the best.
We continued and it was now the kind of trail I love, relatively flat and easy, but along the edge of the ridge so there were interesting views into the far distance on all sides.
Path ahead on the ridge.
After about an hour and a half the trail made an easy decent into Horseshoe Crevice (פרסת נקרות) . Initially this was a wide valley, but it narrowed dramatically and we walked on a flat path with cliffs on both sides. An hour later, on the other side of the horseshoe, the crevice widened and we entered a flat, wide open wilderness.
A view of Horseshoe Crevice (פרסת נקרות)
We were now heading to another ascent up to a ridge called the parched karbolet (חררים כרבולת). The first karbolet when we hiked on the rim of the Machtesh HaGadol was also pretty dry, but perhaps this area was indeed even more desolate. I looked up the word חררים and found that in ancient Hebrew it comes from Jeremiah 17:6
ה. כֹּה | אָמַר יְהֹוָה אָרוּר הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בָּאָדָם וְשָׂם בָּשָׂר זְרֹעוֹ וּמִן יְהֹוָה יָסוּר לִבּוֹ:
ו. וְהָיָה כְּעַרְעָר בָּעֲרָבָה וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי יָבוֹא טוֹב וְשָׁכַן חֲרֵרִים בַּמִּדְבָּר אֶרֶץ מְלֵחָה וְלֹא תֵשֵׁב:
Thus said the Lord:
Cursed is he who trusts in man,
Who makes mere flesh his strength,
And turns his heart from the Lord.
He shall be like a lone tree in the desert,
Which does not see good when it comes,
And will dwell on parched land in the wilderness,
On barren land that is not habitable
Well there were certainly many examples of lone trees, and this land was indeed barren and uninhabitable!
The dry Karpolet ( כרבולת חררים ): alone on top of the world
The ascent was not difficult, but it was long and steep at the end. The top was the highest peak in the area with spectacular view of wilderness in all directions. There wasn’t a single sign of human habitation for as far as the eye could see 360 degrees around the world.
View from the top of the "parched" karbolet. 360 degrees of wilderness
While we rested on the small flat area on the top a Hercules transport plane flew by in the valley to the east of us, it was almost at the same altitude as we were, and I waved as it flew by. I think they were doing training runs because they came by several more times as we hiked along the high ridge.
Hercules transport plane flying by.
Again we were on my favorite kind of path, easy but fascinating, as it went slowly down along the ridge. When we were about half way to the next valley we found a flat area in the sun and stopped for lunch. Don ate a few crackers and nothing more. After a good rest we continued and it was about 3pm when we reached a low flat area called Nachal Maok (נחל מעוק). We had one more steep ascent and what looked like a complicated descent before we reached our next water stash, however we had plenty of water so there was no compelling reason we had to get all the way.
We crossed the flat area and gradually started climbing. As we continued we saw that ahead was an imposing cliff and we wondered what new insane ascent the Israel Trail had planned for us, but luckily that was not the way. The trail veered to the west and went up a narrow saddle which was steep, but not crazy. Right at the very top there was a little lip we had to climb over, not that difficult, but Don could barely get up and I realized that he was suffering. It was obvious that he was exhausted and weak, but only afterwards did I find out that his feet were messed up with blisters, and that he was getting progressively more nauseous.
Last ascent of the day: Taffy almost on top.
We were now on the top of the last peak of the day and were on our way down to Gev Holit where our water was stashed. A few meters after we reached the top there were several ammonite fossils strewn on the trail, and on the surrounding rocks there was an exposure of many fossils. The decent was down Nachal Geled (נחל גלד), and in other circumstances it would have been a wonderful hike, with amazing views, and challenging and clever climbs down dry waterfalls. However, it was increasingly clear that Don couldn’t make it all the way down. I was looking for anyplace we could make a camp. Slowly and in obvious misery Don forced himself down the most difficult of the cliffs. The face of this cliff was contorted in the most bizarre and beautiful curves. I couldn’t imagine what geological forces could have made the rock bend in such a way. Shortly after that we came to a flat protected area with a lone acacia tree, it was a perfect place to set up camp.
Convoluted rock formations in Nachal Geled ( נחל גלד)
Don took off his backpack and sat without a word. It was 5pm and starting to get dark so I hurriedly started to put the tent together and get ready for the night. Don didn’t move. I didn’t understand what was going on, and in my defense Don doesn’t make it easy, but I’m ashamed to say that I started getting annoyed that he wasn’t helping me, and I asked him if he could put the tent stakes in. He got up, took the stakes, and then promptly sat down again and started vomiting violently, and only then did I recognize that Don was really sick. He vomited almost non-stop for about half and hour, and there wasn’t a thing I could do for him.
I was scared. There was no cell phone reception, there was no other person anywhere around, and the closest civilization was about 40 kilometers away with about 10 kilometers still to go of difficult climbing. I decided if things got worse I would first try to carefully climb to higher ground and see if I could get reception, if that didn’t work I decided I would hike out and get help. Thankfully the situation didn’t get that bad. When the episode was finished I convinced Don to have a sip of water which he kept down, then I helped him into his sleeping bag in the tent. I made sure that he drank a few sips regularly for the next few hours. While Don dozed I finished setting up the tent and our packs. I was too nervous to be hungry, but I forced myself to eat a couple of energy bars and then I too climbed into my sleeping bag.
Thursday November 15 2012
Don was still weak and miserable the next morning, but he wasn’t worse, and since we had no choice, we packed everything up, and carefully and slowly we climbed down the last part of Nachal Geled including navigating a pretty tricky dry water fall. We reached the wide, flat valley of Gev Holit with the sun coming over the cliffs.
Gev Holit in the morning sun
Don sat and rested while I looked around at all the pools of water, and then we found our stashed bottles and discussed what we should do. It was clear that Don couldn't continue on the Trail, but even by the shortest way on dirt roads we were about 30 kilometers from the main road and bus stop. There was no cell phone reception so I couldn't call Haim or a trail angle to come get us. The only option was to walk on the dirt road and hope that someone would come along, or that we’d quickly get reception.
But first we made breakfast. I ate our normal camp breakfast, Don had only a cup of tea and two crackers, but he kept it down. Then at the point where the Israel Trail left the dirt road I hid the Golan Stone and we started walking towards Route 90 and civilization.
The way was flat and easy in the middle of a wide valley called Nachal Nekarot ( נחל נקרות), but it couldn't have been fun for Don and even though I was feeling fine, it seemed endless. We walked for about two and a half hours and then stopped along the cliffs in the shade for a rest. I made Don drink and have another cracker. There was still no cell phone reception, and we hadn't seen a single person all morning. Don dozed, and I wondered how the hell I’d ever get him to the road. And then the most beautiful sound reached our ears, the whine of a jeep coming around the bend in the valley. I ran out and waved it down. There were two young people in the back, who were perhaps starting a hike, an interesting looking middle aged man was driving with his assistant next to him. I explained our situation and he told me to wait where we were and he’d take us to the road on his way back after taking care of his passengers. He said it would be about 30 minutes.
I thought our troubles were over, and while Don continued to doze, I enjoyed looking at the vernal pools that were near us. One of them had a diverse population of fairy shrimp and other typical vernal pool invertebrates, the other pool right about two meters a way, had only mosquito larva and nothing else. I wondered about the difference between the two seemingly identical environments.
After about an hour and a half I began to worry that our supposed savior had forgotten us and taken the other way out of the area. After two hours I was really anxious. It was now almost 2 pm and I couldn't imagine Don would be able to walk out before night fall. We decided we couldn’t stay there any longer and we started walking again.
And then after about half an hour the jeep appeared heading out. What a difference a vehicle makes, in no time we were at Route 90 with a bus stop across the street, ten minutes later we were on a bus to Beer Sheva, and four hours later we were home. I tried to talk to the driver, but he was a terse kind of person. He was handsome in a weather beaten type of way, and seemed rather mysterious. All I know about him is that his name is Stav. Thank you Stav!
The hike in pictures