We started hiking the Israel Trail a year and two weeks ago. We have now walked about 370 kilometers from the Golan Heights to Tel Aviv. Don is now back to working full time so we no longer have the luxury of hiking when ever the urge hits us, however, Don has two days off a month for the Israel Trail. So we’ll be hiking Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the end of each month. The day hikes are over and its back to camping.
Day 1 Wednesday May 26 2010
We took a train to Tel Aviv to avoid rush hour traffic. Then we took a taxi from the University Train station and managed to arrive where we had left the Golan Stone before 9am. Things started badly when I couldn’t find it. It is amazing how upset I was, like everything was ruined. It turned out I was looking in the wrong area and Don found it almost immediately when he starting looking. From now on no matter how rushed or tired I am I will be careful to place the rock in a safe easy to find place.
We turned east, and leaving the Mediterranean Sea behind us we started on the trek leading us towards Jerusalem. For about two hours we hiked through Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park - with all the joggers, bikers and all their dogs. There were frequent water fountains that had special containers attached to them so that the dogs could also drink. It was easy pleasant walking.
Right there in the middle of the city along the banks of the Yarkon River we saw a Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) seemingly unafraid, watch us go by. Jackals thrive in many Israeli urban areas, but I have never seen one during the day. I hope that it wasn’t sick.
There were also lots of birds, including egrets, cormorants, loons and ducks, and a couple of times we saw a large rodent that looked like a muskrat. The first one we saw actually jumped out at Taffy as he walked along the path near the river. It certainly startled Taffy! Turned out the animal was a Nutria (Myocastor coypus)which is a semi aquatic rodent originally from South American that has been accidently introduced around the world and is now a significant pest in many places.
Two hours after we started we reached the end of the Yarkon Park’s paved jogging and cycling path. There was a water fountain there and as we were no longer sure where the next easily available water would be we filled up all our bottles and now had the full weight to carry. The whole of leg 6 was through the most populated and industrial area of Israel with almost no topography to hide it, so we certainly had not left ‘big city life’ behind. Also we had to pass over or under pretty much every major highway in Israel since they all meet in this central area.
The trail entered a path through a tall bamboo thicket by the side of the Yarkon stream. There was hardly a breeze, and no shade so the sun beat down on us. We crossed Rt. 4 and at about 12.30 pm we found a place under a eucalyptus tree to rest for an hour and have our Turkey sandwiches with corn chips for lunch. One of the wonderful treats of hiking on the first day is that we always freeze two bottles of water and wrap them in a small tower. So we had ice water with our lunch.
We were still following the Yarkon stream so our path winded back and forth with every curve of the stream, a lot of walking but little distance covered. We passed over Rt. 5, (there was never a time on this hike when we were not within hearing of a major highway) and at about 3 in the afternoon, feeling quite tired, we briefly lost the trail where a dry tributary of the Yarkon confused us. We backtracked, found the trail and continued. There were several times now where we had to cross the stream. As we continued we were worried that we would never find a place to camp that had any semblance of privacy or quiet. At around 5:30 we came to a strange building on the river. It turned out to be a historical building called ‘The Concrete House’ Built in 1912 it housed the water supply for Petah Tikva, and it was the first structure in Israel build from reinforced concrete. The area around this house would have been a fine place to camp, but the roar of the nearby highway goaded us to keep walking and hope for something quieter.
After another 45 minutes we came to the back entrance of the Yarkon National Park. It was locked, but we easily found a way around the fence and soon found ourselves in a lovely quiet picnic area that was closed for the night There wasn’t a soul around. There were tables, there was running water, and there was lovely green, soft grass to sleep on. Even though it was certainly forbidden and we hadn’t even paid the entrance fee, we decided to camp there. We found a relatively secluded area in a corner, and waited for about an hour for dusk. Then with the luxury of a table to eat on, and running water to wash with, we prepared our dinner of Ramon noodles with cream cheese.
We set up our sleeping pads and bags on the grass, brushed our teeth, washed up, and laid down to sleep. It is always hard for me to sleep when we’re camping, but in these comfortable circumstances I soon dozed off. Suddenly I heard a weird repetitive noise and there was a deluge of water coming down on me. Indeed in Israel it is a known fact that in order to have green grass during the summer you have to water it. And the law in these days of draught is that all watering has to be done in the night. So the automatic water system had just turned on.
It was a scene from vaudeville. I jumped up and grabbed as much of our stuff as I could and ran with it…. straight into a sprinkler that hit me with a gush of water square in the face. Meanwhile Don was not moving at all, but yelling at me to go left, go right blah blah blah. Why wasn’t he helping?? Turned out that he was right on top of a sprinkler and was holding it off. Well he had to get up eventually. Finally with much hilarity, we found an area that had already been watered and set up camp again slightly damp but no worse for wear.
Day 2, Thursday May 27 2010
We woke at dawn (before 5am) and Don made us strong hot tea which we drank with hardboiled eggs and then granola. By 6am we were packed up, had made sure that the area was cleaner than when we got there, and we were ready to go. We immediately faced an obstacle in the closed locked 8 foot high fence of the park. We could have backtracked and gone out the way we came in, but it’s hard to not to move forward when you’re hiking. Instead Don climbed to the top of the gate and steadied himself there while I managed to lift Taffy (all 25 kilograms of him) up to Don who then hauled Taffy over the fence and let him down the other side. We wouldn’t be able to do these kind of feats with a larger dog or if Taffy didn’t mostly cooperate.
The trail then brought us along the northern edge of the park, over the Yarkon on a very funky bridge and then to the springs, full of yellow water lilies, which are the origin of the stream. From this spring you could see a large fortress in the distance. This is the ruins of Antipatris Fortressin Afek Park. The park was not open when we passed, but it looked like it was well worth a visit. Their web site states that there are camp grounds at Afek Park (which might be useful for Israel Trail hikers) though we did not any sign of them as we passed.
A short way past the Park we crossed Rt. 483 via a low tunnel which we almost had to crawl through – not an easy task when carrying a full backpack. From there the trail wondered through farm land on its way to Rt. 6, one of the busiest, newest highways in Israel.
The weather was weird. There was a war going on between a sharav (desert wind) and a sea breeze. We would get these blasts of hot air like a furnace that would last up to an hour, but then there would be cooler periods where clouds would appear and it would sprinkle. All in all it could have been a lot worse.
Right where the trail reached Rt. 6 there was a nice surprise, Mekorot (the Israel Water company) had built a water station especially for Israel Trail hikers. There were benches, water fountains and a place to fill bottles. We rested, shared a Snickers bar, and I used the running water to take a sponge bath and wash my hair. Then, refreshed, we filled all our bottles and continued. If Mekorot would do this along the whole trail, the Israel National Trail would be vastly improved. I would gladly donate a lot of money if I could help have this done!
From this point the trail follows Rt. 6 for about 15 kilometers with occasional detours into the surrounding countryside. Not my idea of nice hiking! But it could have been worse. For much of the way the highway was blocked by acoustic walls so the roar of traffic wasn’t bad and there were areas where the topography blocked it out all together.
It was here that misfortune struck. Everything was like usual, Don was walking a few meters ahead, the trail was going up a slight incline - nothing was difficult, nothing was wrong - when somehow I tripped on a slight step up and perhaps because of the heavy backpack I didn’t manage to get my hands completely in front of me. In other words fell on my face.
It is strange how everything can change in an instant. My glasses broke (though luckily no glass got into my eyes), I bit my lip, smashed my nose and hit my forehead pretty hard. Don rushed back, and helped me up and I found a wall to sit on.
So the question was did we have to cancel the rest of the hike and get me to a doctor, or was I OK. My lip stopped bleeding quickly and I wasn’t in any serious pain, so I decided to keep going slowly and make a decision after I had walked a while. In the end I felt fine except for an extremely swollen lip, and I decided to continue.
We went under the highway and past the planned city of Elad. South of the city we passed an impressive forth century Roman mausoleum in amazing condition. The place might have been a tourist attraction, but the grounds were unkempt and strewn with garbage. From there the trail took us away from the highway for a few kilometers into the Kula forest. Almost immediately we could not find a Tri Color blaze. However, we knew exactly where we were with the map so we climbed up to the top of the forest on a gravel road that met the Israel trail at the top. There we saw a Mekorot (water carrier) pumping station and like usual we looked around it to see if there was anyway to get water. In this case it was easy. They had an overflow pipe releasing water outside of the fence. We choose this area to have salami and pita lunch. Even though my lip was really swollen I didn’t have trouble eating. Don, dozed while I looked at the map. Don has the amazing talent of being able to sleep anwhere. After about an hour we refreshed ourselves by taking a sponge bath with the flowing water and then filled our bottles.
I forgot Taffy’s leash which Don went back for, but after that delay we continued through the forest for about 2 more kilometers before we again went under the highway, this time in a long tunnel just high enough for us to walk through. On the other side we reached a huge construction site where they were building a new industrial center. The trail skirted the edge of large scale excavations. The trail then took us through the already built industrial center. On our left between us and the highway were huge almost completed factory buildings, on our right were plants for Tunuva and Nestle. We filled our water bottles again and then made a bee line straight to a trailer selling Nestlé’s ice cream.
The trail went through the industrial center and into the Barkat Forest reserve. Though we were still not that far from the highway, we felt far removed because it was hilly. It was only about 5:30 in the evening with much daylight still ahead of us, but we decided to camp in this park because from that point for about 6 more kilometers the trail seemed to hug Rt. 6 and we weren’t sure we’d find a quite place to camp.
We spent the time chatting, and then Don did some puzzles he’d brought with him while I messed around with the camera. I was a bit worried about my face and my decision to keep hiking. My nose felt crooked, and I knew I looked terrible, but what could I do about it at that point? Finally evening came and we made ourselves dinner. There were no individual lights to be seen any where, but there was a glow from the industrial center to the north. Just before I went to sleep a group of bike riders went noisily by in the darkness. That part of the Israel Trail is also part of new bicycle route from Jerusalem to the sea, but how anyone could bike on such rough terrain in the dark is beyond my understanding.
Considering that I had planted myself on bunch of thistles, in a groove between rocks, and that I had a battered up face I slept surprisingly well.
Day 3 Friday May 28 2010
The next morning we made our way through the rest of the Barkat Nature reserve back down to the highway. There was a relatively well preserved ruin there called Nevallat
Near to this ruin we went under the highway again where there was a strange oval shaped building set in a hill. I have no idea from what era it is, or even for what it was used.
We found ourselves with the highway to the west of us, but towards the east there was no sign of human habitation for as far as the eye could see. There were signs indicating that it was a IDF practicing range where permission was needed to hike even on Saturdays and holidays. I would love to explore in that area.
After another two kilometers we reached the place where Rt. 6 goes into a tunnel on its way to the huge junction with Rt.1. The trail went up the hill that the highway went under, to an area with old olive trees and a picnic grounds. Bikers were out in force, and we later found that there was a bike rally going on. Of course, it was Friday and people were out enjoying their day off.
There at the picnic grounds the Tricolor deserted us, and we spent a frustrating half hour trying to figure out which of the multitudinous different trails going more or less in the right direction was the correct one to take. Finally more by luck then anything else we found the Tricolor blaze again and continued towards the underpass of Rt. 443. We were now in the Ben Shemen Forest.
There we met Amit Katz who was 'through hiking' the Israel Trail from South to North. He started from Eilat on 23April2010. He has probably finished the hike already, which seems strange to considering it will take us years to finish. The Israel Trail hikers are a small communtiy. I had read Amit’s postings on the Israel Trail Forum.
After about a kilometer more we went under Rt. 443 where there was a large picnic grounds. None of the water faucets in the area worked, but we talked to a young man who was working there, and he showed us where there was a working water faucet in an out of the was area. You have to walk up towards the monument and then on the road towards the east. On your right there is a faucet on the side of the road.
The young man named, Sharif, gave us some delicious mint tea, and while we sat sipping the tea and resting, we realized that the next sure place to easily get off the trail was too far away, and that where we were was a perfect place to stop, so we decided to be smart and stop even though it was only 10 am.
When we returned to Haifa and I had seen myself in a mirror we decided to get me to a hospital after all. It turned out that I had fractured my nose, and I needed to have it snapped back into place. For a week I was in a “nose cast”.