Monday, January 2, 2017

Israel National Trail Part 1

I usually don't post about trips that are shorter than one months but for this recent trip I want to make an exception: It has just been too awesome! So what has happened?



I dislike Christmas and New Year's holidays and try to escape them whenever possible. When I was looking for a suitable "refuge" I was surprised to find very cheap flights from Berlin to Tel Aviv - and as the Israel National Trail has always been on my bucket list quickly decided to go there together with a friend for the last two weeks in December. The Israel National Trail (INT) traverses the whole length of Israel in around 1000 km. Two weeks is not enough time to do that so I had to choose a suitable section. I was immediately intrigued by the desert part of the INT but was afraid of water issues in the desert. But coincidence helped me out: My old hiking and paddling friend Buck 30 announced that he was going to hike the INT just a couple of weeks before me and he let me profit tremendously from his experiences. He assured me that water was not as much of an issue on the INT than on the American trails and therefore I decided to tackle the Negev part of the INT which turned out a good decision!

First view from the INT with Jordan and the Red Sea in the background
After flying into Tel Aviv with several hours delay we spent the first day in Israel in Jerusalem in order to acclimatize and to run errands. But then we were off to Eilat on the Red Sea Coast by bus where we immediately started the INT at 2 pm. The half day showed at once all the beauty - and the difficulties of the trail.

It was a steep climb up the first mountain with a breathtaking view onto the Red Sea. But of course everything took way too long and we ended up with a hair raising descent into the first wadi or canyon just when the sun set. I pitched my tent on the first flat after the descent only to wake up at 2 am with my tent being blown down by the fierce wind ... The first wadi took my breath away again - I felt like in Utah with all the beautifully colored sand stone.

Day two was even more beautiful than the first day - and even more complicated. The wadis are dry but still have "water falls", dry water falls which are basically a pain to climb. I had always thought that the AT is technically difficult but it is nothing compared with the INT. I was very happy to not hike alone this time as it was a great help to have a partner for lifting backups up and down. Especially the climb down the Ein Netafim ("Ein" means "spring"), one of the few reliable natural water sources along the trail was so narrow that I wonder how anyone could master it with a backpack on! We still made it to an official "night camp" where we were greeted by another INT specific: several school classes had settled down there for the night and the noise was unbearable even from half a kilometer away. We decided to camp in a nearby canyon ...


Next day we reached Timna Park just as the sun set - and four buses with about 100 screaming school kids appeared. And so it was wild camping for us again ... After crossing Timna Park, a National Park where already the ancient Egyptians had mined for copper we were up for another steep climb up the Eilat mountains - and some more breath taking views before we camped in a side canyon full of ammonites.


On Friday we had the "Shabbat" problem: Basically all Israel shuts down for Shabbat - no shops are open, no buses are running. Shabbat is Saturday but it already starts on Friday shortly before sunset. And we were out of food... After some internet research we found a huge gas station close to the trail which was open every day: Yotvata! We detoured from the INT on a very windy and rainy day and still had the most wonderful views - and one of the most expensive resupplies ever ... We ended up buying pita bread and hummus from the cafeteria because most of the stuff in the convenience store of the gas station was totally unsuitable for hikers! 


But we were very lucky in another respect: From Yotvata we wanted to skip a long boring section of the INT that follows the highway. We had given up all hope to catch a bus on a Friday afternoon and were not looking forward to hitchhike in the rain when a shop assistant told us that there would be one last bus! We stuffed our backpacks with food, ran outside and really caught the bus that deposited us safe and dry in Sapir.