Day 1 Monday 8June09
We left at 8:30 in the morning after seeing Dani off to school and having a hardy breakfast. We both had new stuff, Don had new hiking shoes - Vasque with vibram soles, not regular sneakers. I bought actual hiking boots - Asolo Voyagers. I also had a new back pack, the real deal with an internal frame etc. Of course we had spent the last two weeks breaking in the shoes.
We took the same buses to Kiryat Shmona that we had before and a local bus back to Tel Hai. All this went like clock work. Even before we ate the falafels that we'd bought for our lunch we went to get my special rock. For a second Don didn't find it because he forgotten we buried it a bit, but it was right where we left it. Finding the rock gave me a feeling of confidence. My idea of carrying it all the way to Eilat was going to work! Then we enjoyed our lunch while some students from the near by college chatted near by. They all asked us if we had enough water. And that was going to be the refrain of the whole journey. The first thing that every person we met asked us was "Do you have enough water? Are you all set?" It is the Israeli summer refrain.
Please everywhere you hike take out more than you bring in!
Then we started walking. It was 1:20 the hottest part of the day, and a Sharav (desert wind) was blowing. The hike from Tel Hai started steeply uphill and it was hot. Pretty soon I was panting and puffing and had to stop under each and every tree to catch my breath. After about 40 minutes of this we arrived at the first land mark, called Ain Roim, a natural spring under a fig tree. Taffy drank his fill and walked around in it. We cooled ourselves, but it was full of mosquito larvae, not appetizing. However the water flowing out of the spring was clean and we could have filled up our water bottles there if we had needed to. I think that this spring runs all year.
From there we continued up. Below us was the city of
We were walking on a gravel road which was occasionally paved. We couldn't make out why a road would have little lets say a 10 meter section of asphalt and then continue as gravel. There was not a single person, vehicle, nobody. The emptiness started Don and me on one of our favorite discussions. What if everybody had vanished and we were the only one's left. At about 5 pm when the shadows were getting longer and the heat wasn't so bad a car came by. The middle aged man driving, stopped and asked us ... yup you guessed it, "Do you have enough water? Is everything OK? Need any help?” and then the last thing everybody always said was "Kol HaKavod" which means literally, ‘all honor to you’, but I guess a better translation is, ‘good for you guys!’ What they really meant was that they thought it was a miracle that two, some what plump, middle aged fools were attempting the Israel Trail in the heat of summer and were still alive to tell the tale! I think it made everyone who met us happy in some way that we were attempting it. They were sincere in their wish to help. I feel sure that this man would have brought us to his home at the slightest sign that we needed relief.
The truth was that it was so hot, and the wind was so dry that we needed to drink a lot, and our water supply (9 liters when we started) was rapidly decreasing. We were counting on getting water at the Ain Roim Farm that is mentioned in our hiking guide. However, we arrived at where the farm should have been and all we saw was a gate. No farm. Then we turned briefly on to a real though very small road where there was a small army base. I think if we had been a bit more desperate we would have called out for someone in there to let us fill up, but we still had some water and we were still hoping to find the farm. After another half hour, we were both too tired to go further, particularly since the way forward was steeply down and looked difficult. So with just barely enough water to last until the next morning, we found a relatively flat place to make our camp.
It wasn’t an appealing place. It had neither view, charm, nor was it particularly comfortable, but if you’re too tired to go on you have to take what you can get. The trick is to stop sooner before total exhaustion sets in. Suddenly Taffy, who had seemed completely exhausted, shot up after something and I caught a brief glimpse of a beautiful antelope before it bounded away into the bushes with Taffy running after. We called Taffy back and he threw himself on the ground again. As we sat there in the heat trying to rest, the flies annoyed us, and then we saw that it wasn’t only flies, but also bees that were buzzing around our heads and making life difficult. Since when do bees that eat nectar and pollen bother people in this way? We soon understood that they were trying to collect any moisture that they could. It was water they were after.
I knew that bees are diurnal, but I wasn’t thinking so we tried to make our dinner with the bees still buzzing all over us. It made eating unpleasant and stressful. I actually saw a bee go into Taffy’s mouth. The bees were not aggressive in any way, none of us were stung, but we didn’t enjoy our dinner either. The bees stayed with us until it started to get dark, and then they gradually disappeared until at true dark there were none.
I gathered the wild wheat to try and make a nest for myself and was rewarded with diabolical thorns piercing my fingers, and scratching my arms. Finally we bedded down and then the terrible high whine of the mosquitoes started. I went to find my repellent, but couldn’t find it. Don, using the mosquito net, was asleep and I didn't want to wake him up. I just sat there paralyzed, I couldn’t mobilize myself to either search properly for the repellent (which turned up the next morning) or to wake up Don to share the netting. Then the most bizarre torture of all started - a deep, loud, repetitive beat from the direction of the army base. Of all the things I thought I might endure while hiking the Israel Trail, unbearably loud trance music was not one of them, and yet that was indeed the case. There in the wild, with mountains on the North and West and the Hula valley far below, we were subject to the worst of modern life. Everything ends. At about midnight the music stopped and so did the mosquitoes and I slept deeply until 2 am and then fitfully until Don woke me up at 5 with the dawn.
Day 2 Tuesday 9June09
We decided to leave without breakfast. We still made sure there wasn’t a sign, not even a tissue paper showing we had ever been there. Then we left with the sun raising in the east. We wanted to find water and a place with fewer bees. Sure enough only a few minutes down the hill there was a tank, specially for hikers, with drinking water where we filled up our bottles, of course, putting twice as much weight on our backs. Then only a few more minutes down and we found the place where we should have camped, a large flat area with trees for shade, large rocks to sit on and a view.
There we setup our stove, Don made tea and we ate hard boiled eggs (with salt and pepper!), drank our strong tea with long life milk and finally granola for dessert. There were bees, but in reasonable numbers. How wonderful that food tasted, and the tea (!) nothing tastes or feels as refreshing as hot, strong, sweet tea in the bush after a long night.
We lugged our heavy packs on to our backs and continued on long, lovely, easy paths in the cool morning. We were on our way to the Koah Fortress. Neither Don or I had ever heard of the place, but we soon saw it ahead of us on the far side of a deep ravine. This Fortress was relatively modern structure over looking cliffs on three sides. Who had built it and why, we wondered. Eventually the path brought us to a road which approached the fortress from the back, but the Israel Trail had other plans. We rested for about ten minutes before we left the road and followed the trail down into the ravine, called Wadi Kedesh.
This wasn’t hiking it was mountain climbing and even though the tail markings brought us down the cliffs the easiest way it was a bit frightening with our heavy packs. The Wadi was like a fairyland: sun beams through the trees, a carpet of golden leaves from the Oak trees on the path, musical notes from birds.
Then there was the climb up which was again not hiking, but climbing. It was only possible because of strategically placed handles that had been cemented into the cliffs. It took all my strength to make the climb carrying the pack. It wasn’t until we were about 2/3 of the way up and were resting and I was taking care of some blisters on my heels, that we realized the fortress would have water and we didn’t need to carry so much. We cooled ourselves off with the extra water and with lighter packs I was able to climb out of the ravine. The site of Koah Fortress was similar to Tel Hai though it didn’t have the impact of the Roaring Lion. There was a recording in English and Hebrew that explained the history of the place. The English built it to control the Arab uprising of the 1930s and then, in what seems unbelievable to me, they gave the fortress to the Arabs in 1948 when the UN dissolved the English mandate. It took the Jews three attempts and 28 lives to conquer the place. It is called Koah because in Hebrew the letters add up to 28 honoring the 28 who died, and the word also means ‘strong’.
We rested and refilled our water and then from the fortress followed the trail past a ruined Arab building into a pine forest and onward toward the Naftalie area. We were now in low stunted trees, and bushes, with the
Our main concern was refilling our water because we drank up most of the 9 liters while we rested. Our guide book mentioned a packing company that would let people fill up with water. If it didn’t materialize we'd be in bad shape. This hike from our day camp to the mountain overlooking the Dishon Wadi was the worst part of our trip. It was too hot and dry, there was little cover, and we were increasingly worried about water. Under these conditions we bypassed the Naphtali Mountain peak and took the shorter and flatter black route around it, this was the only time in the whole hike that we took a shortcut. We found ourselves in a terrible field of thorns, that had numerous paths through it. Trying to keep to the Israel trail was like navigating the ZORK maze. "You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike." Even though it was about four in the evening the sun was still fierce and we were withering. We finally found the packing house where they were packing green apples into “Pri HaGalil” boxes and they kindly let us fill up on water before they closed up the shop. We were lucky to have arrived in time.
From there the
At this point my feet began to bother me, and I had to stop every half hour or so and take my boots off. It wasn’t my blisters, it was just too much weight on my poor abused feet. I kept thinking how much better it would be for my feet if I was 10 kilograms lighter! Finally we hiked up the ridge to the
It was a relief to put down the heavy pack, take off my boots and put on my sandals. We set up our camp, but this time we waited until dark before making dinner. Rarely has anything tasted better than our meal of ramon noodles with parmesan cheese.
Again it was hard to sleep. There was a deadly dry wind that made us constantly thirsty, and the ground was hard with no nesting material. The beauty, however, was overwhelming. Before the full moon came out the big dipper was right above me, our friends the jackals were singing from different points in the wildness around us, I heard the hiss of some kind of wild cat, and then when the moon came out everything was bathed in the luminous moon light. There was no sound of human habitation, no cars and blessedly no music.
Day 3 Wednesday 10June09
With water on our minds, we had our strong tea, ate granola and started on our way. We were on the ridge before the ravine, and the first part of the hike was down hill on an easy path.
Soon we were in the first part of Wadi Dishon which looked to be a popular
We were resting our feet in the Wadi when we saw two men and two dogs walking quickly towards us. One of the men was a park ranger, and we chatted with him for a while. Of course, they asked us about water and we answered that we had enough, though we were privately worried, of course, they both said “Kol HaKavod” in that slightly amazed tone of voice. The ranger asked us where we had camped and I assured him that we’d camped before the descent into the Nature Park. They must have had a car at the beginning of the Wadi and this must have been their daily exercise because a half hour later they passed us going back. I commented on the extraordinary cliffs and the ranger explained that there had once been many Egyptian Vultures there, but that some cattle treatment had poisoned them all. I told him I’d seen two, and he said they were slowly making a comeback.
Water was our main concern. The weather was still hot and dry with the sharav desert wind sucking the water from our bodies at startling fast rates. Our plan was to hide our backpacks and climb to the settlement of Dishon where we would find someplace to fill up on water and get ourselves some treats at their grocery store. However, when we came to where the Wadi crossed Rt. 886 there was cattle trough full of water where we let Taffy drink his full (when he could divert his attention from barking his head off at the cows). When we examined the trough we found that it was automatically filled with clean water from a spout. With some trouble we managed to fill all of our bottles from the spout. We crossed the road with heavy packs and when we came to the track going up to the village we decided to forgo the village of Dishon since we had water. We kept hearing a peculiar warning cry that didn’t sound like a bird. Eventually we noticed that the rocks on the sides of the cliffs were full of hyrax.
We came to one of the places where the Water Authority pipes was accessible. My feet were hurting, I was tired and feeling utterly filthy. I was covered with dust and grim, my hair felt like straw, basically I’d had enough. I took off my pack, climbed on top of the concrete slab with some difficulty, and just sat there thinking I might never move again. Don was a bit more energetic and looked around. There was a bright green patch of reeds and he strolled over there, and found a small trickle of clean water flowing out of the overflow pipes. There were hundreds of little peeper frogs living there. Finally here was enough water in a nice setting (not a cattle trough) where we could drink our fill and wash up! We made sure to do this away from the tiny oasis so we wouldn’t bother the animals living there. First Don washed his hair, face and beard with water that I poured over him and then I washed my hair and face with Don pouring the water. We dried off with our one little towel. It was bliss.
Eventually and sadly we filled up our bottles, left our oasis, and continued up the dry dry Wadi.
Two young women passed us who had hike all the way from Eilat. They looked so fresh, and comfortable as if they, together, could walk forever. As I watched them disappear towards the Northeast they started singing.
In the heat of the day we found a place under tall pine trees to rest and have lunch. There were too many flies around so we pitched the mosquito net and ate inside. We needed to drink a lot against the dryness so again we worried about water. There was no easy place to go if we didn’t find water on the trail. We were now past the Dishon Nature Preserve walking in Baram forest and hiking parallel to a road for a few kilometers. We decided that we’d stop a car if we had to, however, soon we noticed flowing water in the stream bed. It was a deep brown, not suitable for us to drink, but Taffy drank and walked in the water leaving more for us. A small distance further we came to a drilling station. At first I didn’t know what was being drilled, but it was the Israel Water Authority, and they were drilling water. The run off was making the stream. We went in the gate and asked a teenager there if we could have water. He led us to their kitchen and offered us cooled bottled water. We explained we needed 9 liters of water, but he said to just take it. We had partially filled one bottle with ice cold water when we heard someone yelling. “Don’t give them that water!” Instead we were directed up to the drilling area where we filled all our bottles from the testing spigot. Before we left I think I drank an entire liter and half bottle of water in a single swig. Soon after the water drilling station we came to a lovely flowing spring, and from that point on the trail followed a flowing stream.
I've had recurrent fantasies of what the Dishon ravine would be like if it actually had the running stream that historically used to flow there before the Israel Water Carrier, Mekarot, started pumping. There have been many nights where I fell asleep trying to come up with good arguments for letting the water back into nature.
We hiked from Rt. 886 about three kilometers up Nachal Dishon on the 1st of August 2013, more than four years after passing this area on the Israel Trail, and the changes were dramatic. My dream had come true! There was now a running stream right in the dog days of the summer while on that early June day four years ago the area had been dry as a bone. This is probably the result of Israel's new reliance on desalination instead of rainfall.
I feel lucky that I live in a country where most things are changing for the better every day! Enjoy a few pictures from Nachal Dishon taken on 1st August 2013.
As we walked on towards the Baram Nature Reserve we met another three young women who had hiked the whole way from Eilat, they wanted their picture taken and in return we they took ours.
When we entered the Reserve there was a camping area and for once we were wise and stopped early to take advantage of the perfect place to stay. It would have been perfect, there were no roads, no lights, no sign of humans in the world, but there were areas where the campers before us had left garbage. I spent about half an hour cleaning up, so we could truly enjoy the evening. Then we set up the mosquito net perfectly using a tree and some sticks. Don rested and read, while I took advantage of all our water to take a sponge bath. The water came off of me dark brown from the dust and grime of three days of hiking.
There weren’t many bees bothering us probably because there was plenty of water, but their were flies so again we ate after real dark. I laid down at 8:30 pm and saw my friend the big dipper towards my right and then I was out like a light. I woke up often, but managed to fall asleep again easily.
At 4:30 in the morning I knew that I’d slept enough. I was cold so I kept the sleeping bag rapped around me as I sat up and looked around. There was no light towards the east, dawn had not yet started. It was so silent that I distinctly heard the rustle of the sleeping bag and my own breathing. I sat and waited. When there was a slight glow coming from the east, a ruckus loud bird started crying in a tree behind me. In a few more minutes there were other trees with birds twittering and calling. Then I started to hear a sound that at first I thought was some kind of construction noise coming from far off, but then I realized that it was the familiar hum of bees, but where was it coming from? It was now 04:40 and still only a small amount of light was coming from the east. I finally looked up and saw that honey bees were collecting about 2 meters above where I was sitting. They hovered up there in one place fairly equally spaced from one another all facing east. Eventually there were a lot of bees above me in formation all of them facing the light in the east. If a bee went near another bee there would be a small fight. Then after about 10 minutes they gradually flew off in different directions until there were only about 5 bees and then 3 and then they were all gone. What was this beautiful, mysterious behavior that I saw? I wrote to some bee experts, but they had no explanation If there is anyone who has seen anything similar I would appreciate hearing from you.
The next morning feeling amazingly refreshed, without even any pain in my feet, we left our camp site this time MUCH cleaner than we found it.
We finished the second leg of the Israel Trail after the Baram Nature Reserve at the base of