Sunday 30th December 2012
If you fall off a horse get right back on! With this proverb in mind I wanted to get on the trail again quickly and I wanted the next hike to be easy and fun; otherwise I was afraid that after what happened on our last hike, Don would give up on hiking the Israel Trail altogether. So I planned a one night hike which would end where we'd planned to finish on the last disastrous leg. The first difficulty was getting back to Gev Holit where we’d left the Golan Stone. The place was at least 25 kilometers from the nearest road. We solved that problem in the easiest possible way by paying Haim Berger to bring us there. Haim agreed to pick us up at the Sede Boker Gas Station, he also agreed to take us on a small detour to Nachal Tzvira (נחל צבירה) so we could stash water and leave most of our stuff near our night camp, in this way our first day would be with day packs.
It was wonderful to actually meet Haim, though he had stashed water for us several times, we'd never met face to face. Haim is a wealth of interesting stories and knowledge about the Negev and Arava areas. It was worth every penny of his fee to have the chance to pick his brain during the two hour drive.
Haim Berger with his jeep behind him. Go to his website if you are interested in a tour.
By the time we reached Gev Holit (which is part of Nachal Nekarot נחל נקרות) it was already past 11am, but our hike that day was short so we weren't worried. We said goodbye to Haim, took a few pictures, I easily found the Golan Stone, and we were on the trail again. Don felt great and so did I.
Almost immediately we lost the trail blazes. We walked back to the last one and saw that the Israel Trail actually stayed down in the wide valley. The prominent trail going straight up the mountain was NOT the Israel Trail. As we regained the trail we noticed another backpacker who was climbing up the way from which we had just returned. Don and I debated whether to try and get his attention in case he was not aware that he wasn't on the Israel Trail, but then we figured he was probably an experienced hiker who wouldn't appreciate advice, perhaps that trail was a alternate route. Mistake! But more about that later.
Eliyahu going up the wrong path
We walked along the flat valley for about 20 minutes and only then did the trail turn left into a wadi and start climbing up the mountain. It was a steep climb with places where the trial traversed high cliffs, but it was a well maintained trail and we didn't have to mountain climb. It took us about an hour to make the ascent and reach the high plateau. By that time it was close to one o'clock and we sat there on the empty exposed flats with views in all directions to eat lunch. The winter sun kept us warm.
Don in the distance and Taffy on the Negev heights
When we were finished eating I strolled to the very edge of the plateau towards Gev Holit. I was looking for the alternate path up and the other backpacker. There didn't seem to be a way up the cliffs from that direction and there was no sign of the other hiker, worrisome.
We were now hiking in the Negev towards the Arava. The highest parts of the Negev Plateau is over 800 meters, with mountains much higher. While the lowest part of the Arava, also called the Jordan Rift Valley, is the lowest place on earth at minus 300 meters. This rift valley extends the entire length of Israel from the Red Sea, past the Dead Sea, past Lake Kinneret to the end of the Hula Valley where we'd started the Israel Trail. It is the difference in altitude between the Rift valley and the Negev, with its corresponding potential energy, that causes the Negev's amazing geological phenomena of hidden ravines, enormous fallen boulders, magical dry waterfalls, and eerie cracks.
Walking on the rocks east towards the Arava
The plateau where we were hiking was flat, but it was not always easy because while we walked from blaze to blaze, there wasn't really a trail, and we were walking on rocks. In our usual pattern I walked as near as possible to the edges while Don kept his distance. The area was desolate with no life visible. Mountains striped dark and light reared up in strange shapes in the distance.
Unearthly landscape, with Don in the foreground
By 2 pm the trail began to lead downhill. We passed a slope of flint rocks sparkling in the sunlight We suddenly understood that the flint wasn't transported to these places it was simply that a layer of flint was exposed by the erosion of the limestone above.
Soon we were walking in a wadi with low cliffs on both sides. The trail was now smooth and easy. The weather was cool, perfect for hiking. As the shadows became longer the wadi got deeper. There were now stunted Acacia trees and new green vegetation from the earlier winter rains. We rested for a while near a flowering bush.
It was clear that we were getting near to the tree where we had hidden our pack and water. At about 3:30 we reached the rough dirt road and spotted our stash. We organized all our stuff, and all the water between us and continued walking, heavy with the added weight. We started to look for a nice place to camp. There was a pleasant official camping place in the area, but we passed it by; only when we reached the area where the trail was about to climb back up to the plateau did we make camp. It was a little after 4 pm, on December 30th and the sun was already setting.
Nice night camp in Nachal Zvira ( נחל צבירה )
While we were putting up our tent and getting everything ready we noticed a young man walking towards us. He turned out to be the backpacker we had seen going up off the Israel trail at the start of our hike. His name was Eliyahu and he was a yeshiva student from the USA on a one year study program in Israel. He told us the harrowing tale of his misadventures; the trail had ended abruptly, but he felt he'd come too far to go back so he had tried to power forward over the cliffs. He told us convincingly, that he had thought he was going to die up there, alone in the wilderness. He claimed only prayer had saved him. When I asked him if we should have yelled and cautioned him that he was on the wrong path, he said, yes yes yes!
A good lesson, sometimes minding your own business is the wrong choice. Then he told us that his yeshiva expected him back that night so he was going to keep hiking. We told him how dangerous it was to hike at night, that he would have trouble seeing the trail blazes, that there were still various difficult areas to traverse, but off he went. So much for following advice, but at least we'd warned him this time!
A few minutes after we lost sight of Eliyahu we spotted three hikers coming down the mountain going the other way, and then after them another group came by. They were all Americans in Israel for the Christmas – New Year’s break. We'd forgotten it was almost a new year.
After darkness fell and the glow faded from the mountains we made our usual ramen noodles and cheese for dinner. We were sick of same noodles after all this time, most of it went to Taffy. It was only 5:45 when we retired into our tent.
Taffy sleeping in our tent
Monday 31 December 2012
The next morning we were packed and walking with the very first glow of dawn in the east. We reached the top of the ascent in about 45 minutes as the sun came up over the far distant mountains in Jordan.
Don climbing to the cracks סדקים Plateau before sunrise.
We were once again on the Negev high plateau walking almost directly east toward the Arava and the rising sun.
Don silhouetted by the rising sun on the Cracks plateau.
We meandered on the flats for about 15 minutes when we saw impressive cliffs towards the north, shining in pink from the morning sun. Shortly after noticing the cliffs we realized that we were walking next to a series of cracks סדקים in the ground. They were a few centimeters to more than a meter wide, and of unknown depth, though they seems to go down forever. You couldn't see any bottom. It is hard to explain the fear and fascination I have of these strange deep chasms
Diana and Taffy next to a crack סֶדֶק
We were getting hungry so we left the cracks behind and continued to the east until we reached the descent to the Arava. There with a view of the Jordan mountains in the mist we had breakfast. We ate our hard boiled eggs including one for Taffy, granola with milk and strong hot tea with relish.
In all my life I am never happier than when Don and I are eating breakfast on the Israel Trail.
Don and Taffy eating breakfast with a view of Jordan past the Arava
I was after 8 am when we started down into the rift valley. The trail was easy. We noticed many of the sour edible plants, (Theligonum cynocrambe ) called Dogs Cabbage in English and (טרשנית שרועה) in Hebrew. They were growing in vivid green in contrast to the desert paleness. Dogs Cabbage looks pretty ordinary, but it is a botanist’s delight having both male and female flowers on the same plant. It also grows in practically every environment in Israel from the extreme desert to the Golan Heights.
Soon we were down from the heights walking through the 'left over' hills and valleys leading towards the almost total flatness of the border between Israel and Jordan. There were many flowering plants and Acacia trees making each wadi seem like an oasis. By 9:30 am we reached a flat area with only one of two more out croppings before we left the heights completely behind. There were weird plate like footprints on the dusty path which we soon realized were camel tracks.
Then we reached an area called the Caldera where a ancient volcano had erupted. It was not dramatic, if there hadn't been a sign we wouldn't have noticed, but we did find outcroppings of black magma, a deeply black, dense rock.
Remnants of volcano - black magma
Then we walked over the penultimate row of hills and walked on a dirt road in the wide valley towards the south and MoshavTzofar. It was 1:15 pm when we turned off the Israel trail towards the Moshav.
Well "Tzofar so good!", said Don.
The Arava (Jordan Rift Valley)
We left the Golan stone next to a tree outside the village and got a ride from a lovely lady straight to our bus stop.
Then, at the next bus stop, who should get on the bus, but, Eliyahu! He hadn't been crazy after all and had camped shortly after he left us. I was relieved to see him safely out of the wilderness!
Our Hike in Pictures