Shvil Yisrael – the long distance Israel trail goes all the way from the upper Galilee in the north of Israel to Eilat at its southern tip. It is about 1000 kilometers long and presents the entire spectrum of Israel’s varied scenery. For a tiny state like Israel this scenery is particularly rich – from the flush green and water rich north to the extremely arid south. This trail represents some of the loveliest aspects of hiking and indeed living in Israel. Very few countries in the world can boast such a dense network of well-marked hiking trails as Israel does. This network was conceived and executed by the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) over the years. In fact the long distance trail connects many of the best short trails previously built and marked. Therefore in most cases the white/blue/orange marks of the trail are accompanied by those in other colors. It is possible, to hike only short or daily sections of the trail. The trail has recently been selected by the National Geographical magazine as one its twenty best epic trails.
Another lovely aspect of the trail is the fact that many people living along it serve voluntarily as trail angels. These angels put up long distance hikers and most important for an arid country like Israel, make sure hikers get access to drinking water.
Today I will describe our hike along one of the most remote and technically challenging parts of the trail. Our hiking companions were part of a group of friends with whom we have been hiking for the passed 25 odd years. We are all veterans of guides of youth hiking groups and their families. Most of our hikes are family oriented with plenty of small kids but this one was an adults only event.
We originally planned to sleep at the trailhead but the icy and wet winter weather dissuaded us and we slept in our warm beds at home and drove down to Dimona and the great crater in the early morning hours. This eventually caused us to loose some precious day light hours. To reach the trailhead we had to drive along a particularly nasty, muddy (the usually arid area was muddy after a rare rainy night) and washed out dirt road. We eventually reached the trail that was to take us to the eastern rim of the big crater.
The trail followed a dry riverbed, which had some water running in it and it took us all the way to the rim of the crater. There are three craters in the Negev desert – the small, the large and the largest – the Ramon crater. These craters are not volcanic but were originally lime stone (almost everything in Israel is limestone) mountain that was hollowed out by erosion over millions of years. The rim is thus where the mountain ends and all of a sudden you stand before a huge gaping crater.
Here our trail joined the official Israel trail and followed the crest of the rim for several kilometers.
The view was wonderful the walking however was tough and suited for hikers that have one long and one short leg (hence a tilted experience). We had dramatic clouds hanging over us and the crater.
We eventually reached the trail that returns down, following another river bed which today was very rich in water holes full to their rim.
Our adventure really started here as this part of the trail is very steep and occasionally one has to cling for dear life to pegs fastened to the walls high above the abyss. Not for the faint hearted nor for those suffering from vertigo. The going was made even more difficult by the fact that we had to circum-navi-climb the many water holes. Be the last we almost gave up and considered a dip.
Getting down last waterfall we were at long last again on level ground. We just had a few more kilometers to navigate by the stars in the pitch dark night back to our cars.
A future post will describe the trail in the dramatic EIlat mountains – the first (northbound) or last (southbound) day of the trail