June 15 and 16, 2014
Distance: Day 1: 25km (15.6 miles)
Day 2: 28km (17.4 miles)
Total distance since Tel Dan: 918km (569 miles)
Solitude. That’s the big impression from these two days on the trail. It’s not uncommon that I don’t see any other people on a day on the trail, but with an overnight stay on the trail, it’s a lot more time alone. Over a two day period I saw one other human being for five minutes, a French-Israeli woman on a day hike by herself out in the middle of nowhere (Wade Nekorot). Well, that’s not counting the pilots of the F16s that buzzed by a few times, but I didn’t really see the people themselves anyway!
I learned a few more things about backpacking on this trip – like the importance of having good bug protection. Where Katherine and I camped out last time we didn’t have any bug problems – we were far from any sources of water. This time I had bugs galore, and they gave me a really miserable night for sleeping. And that was the other thing I learned – for hot summer nights, it would be good to bring just a sheet to put over me, I was melting inside the sleeping bag, but the bugs were way too intense for it to be comfortable without something over me.
On this outing I crossed from the Negev to the Arava. As a result the logistics could have been a bit complicated, so my wife Lauri graciously agreed to be my chauffeur again, and she dropped me off on Sunday on the Negev side near Mitzpe Ramon, and picked me up Monday on the Arava side at Zofar.
We left the house around 6:30, and with a stop for coffee near Sde Boker I was at the trailhead by about 9:15. The temperature was warm, but not uncomfortably so. My pack was pretty heavy – even though I didn’t need much of any clothes this time of year, and it didn’t take that much food just for two days, I was carrying two days’ worth of water – a full 11 liters of water and 1 liter of Gatorade. Love the metric system – a liter of water weighs a kilo. So that’s 12 kilos of water, or over 26 pounds just for water.
I had looked into have someone stash water for me at Holit Night Camp, where I was planning to spend the night. He wanted NIS 650, which is like $185. One of my friends quipped for that price he should be delivering Scotch! I decided for that price I could carry an extra 13 pounds for one day.
The first 3 or so kilometers to Gevanim Night Camp were flat and easy. This was the first night camp where I saw a porta-potty. Although it was labeled “WC” which raises the philosophical question of whether it’s properly called a “water closet” if it doesn’t have any water. There was a bucket of sawdust for covering, and with no roof it was actually much nicer than most porta-potties.
Leaving Gevanim there’s a short but fairly steep climb of 100m (300’) up Mt. Saharonim. The trail goes along a ridge on the mountain for about 2km with some very nice views. Near where the trail starts down to the Nekorot Horseshoe there’s a nice view of Saharonim Khan, a Nabatean caravansary on the Spice Route that is a World Heritage Site. There’s also a great view of the horseshoe-shaped wadi below.
After a short, steep, rugged descent I was hiking in Wadi Nekorot, which got quite narrow places. About 8km from the start of today’s hike I found a nice shady spot with a convenient rock ledge to sit on and I took a longish break. By now it was about 1pm, and the temperatures were definitely heading toward the unpleasant zone. Not long after I resumed hiking I ran into the only othe person I saw during the two days on the trail, a French-Israeli woman who was out on a day hike by herself in the middle of nowhere in Wadi Nekorot.
After another three fairly flat and easy kilometers in the wadi, the trail climbed 200m (600’) to Karbolet Haririm, the “dry cockscomb,” also known as the “little Karbolet” to distinguish it from the Karbolet further north on a different makhtesh. The view of the walls of Makhtesh Ramon from the top were truly spectacular. It made for another good place for a break. I also had cell phone coverage, and took advantage of it to send a position report to my wife.
The trail descends down into Waki Maok. As I started my descent I startled a family of ibex; they took off like a bolt of lightning, running at amazing speeds across very rough terrain. There were strange sound affects as they ran across loose rock they sent rocks flying down the hill.
Another descent down some rough terrain and I was at the upper end of Wadi Geled. It’s worth taking the 100m detour to see the spring. In his book, Jacob Saar speculates that it may be the sort of spring the Torah talks about when it says “Moses hit the rock two times with the stick. Water came out of the rock” (Numbers 20:11, which coincidentally happens to be part of this week’s Torah reading, Chukat). There was perhaps a trickle of water there, but it was enough to allow for some vegetation.
From there it was only 3 more km to Holit Pit, my destination for the first day. I was very disappointed by all the trash. Clearly it was crowds of people who came in by jeep who left the trash, but especially if you arrive by jeep, is it that hard to clean up after yourself? I really don’t understand why someone would go to the effort to get to a beautiful location in nature far away from civilization, only to leave a bunch of trash. Makes no sense. I saw a hyrax, however, who probably appreciated the trash.
I looked up hyrax, and was surprised to find they are related to elephants. They look more like rodents.
Even though it’s clearly a popular spot, I had it to myself. What made my solitude complete is there was no cell phone coverage either. I felt a little bad that I wasn’t able to check in with Lauri, but I figured she’d figure I just didn’t have cell coverage. So I was as alone as you get in the modern world – all by myself in a place with no cell phone coverage. I guess that’s the definition of true solitude. After eating dinner I went for a climb up one of the nearby hills to see if I could get reception at the top, but no luck. I was cut off from civilization (and Facebook!).
I set up my bed and tried to go to sleep right after dark, but I had a pretty miserable night. It was way too hot for my sleeping bag, but the bugs were driving me crazy even being in the sleeping bag. I don’t think I ever managed to sleep for more than 30 minutes at a stretch. It felt like I didn’t sleep at all. I was swatting at bugs all night, but they most have mostly been insects other than mosquitos because I wasn’t really bitten too badly in the morning. The stars were most brilliant early in the evening. Around midnight I think it was the moon rose, and then many of the stars disappeared in the “harsh” moonlight. By 430 I had been laying in my sleeping bag for nearly 8 hours and was ready to give up. I felt surprisingly well-rested given the lack of sleep. But I did lay quite still and got into a kind of meditative state, other than the swatting at bugs, so I guess it was a reasonable facsimile of sleep. By 0445 I had my backpack on and was hiking by moonlight. With the GPS for navigation and the trail initially being flat and along a dirt road, it was pretty easy going even in the dark. It was a very comfortable temperature for hiking, and I wanted to make the most of it.
After about 4km the trail made a steep climb of 200m (600’) in a little over a km to the top of Mt. Yahav. I took a break for breakfast as soon as I got to the top, feeling a little proud of myself for climbing a mountain before breakfast. I was glad I had my camp stove along so I could make coffee. What would breakfast be without coffee? Well worth the extra weight. I enjoyed beautiful views to that golden morning light as I sipped my coffee and ate my granola. I was surprised that even 200m above the valley floor I still had no cell phone coverage. There’s the definition of “the middle of nowhere” – the top of a mountain without cell phone coverage.
The trail follow the ridge at the top of the mountain for about 1km, then starts a steady, fairly gradual, descent to Wadi Zvira. At the bottom of the wade there was a pair of hiking boots on top of one of the trail markers. Made me wonder…did someone hike out barefoot? They brought extra shoes? Even though they seemed to be my size, I left them. I’ve been hiking in my trail running shoes, much lighter. Although I find with the weight of the pack, I could use something sturdier. The bottoms of my feet were hurting by the end from the pressure of rocks on the bottom of my feet. The cushioning in the shoes doesn’t work as well when you’re carrying 50 pounds on your back.
I took another brief break after an hour and a half or so of hiking. At 11km from the start there’s another 100m climb (Jacob Saar doesn’t mention this one in his book), and then a descent to Wadi Eshborn. From there it was mostly flat or down the rest of the way to Sapir. On the approach to Sapir you go through an ancient caldera – you can identify it by darker colored rocks “aimed” in the direction of Sapir. I got to the junction with the trail into Sapir at about noon, and decided to take a long break under a convenient tree. I even unfurled my ground cover and lay down for a few minutes. I had considered getting off the trail at Sapir, but my ride wasn’t coming for a few hours yet, so I decided I’d keep going to Zofar. It was quite hot already (when I got picked up the temperature was 38C/100F), but I had plenty of water, it was flat, and I was not in a hurry. It was another 7km from where I took my break to Tzofar (Zofar), a moshav with about 300 people, named after nearby Tzofar Stream (Nahal Tzofar) which in turn is named after one of the “friends” of Job. Job’s friends keep asking him, what he did to get God so pissed off at him. With friends like that…
But today’s valuable lesson was that if you start early enough, doing some hiking in the desert in the summer is possible. You just want to start before dawn, and you can get in a good five or six hours before it becomes uncomfortably hot. Armed with that knowledge I may try and make it closer to Eilat over the summer. I only have about another 8 days of hiking until I reach the finish in Eilat, which I hope to do by my birthday at the end of October.
“Day 43 Gevanim to Geled: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=7096492
Day 44: Geled to Zofar: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=7096487”
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(Israel Trail Days 43 44 Gevanim to Zofar; 87 photos)