Segment 15 – Meir Sh’feya Youth Village to Bet Hanania
We had several notions of what today’s hike on the Israel National Trail would be like. Predictions of extremely hot weather caused several group members to back out, and made us concerned about coping with the heat. Certain Israel Trail reviewers have described the first four kilometers as a boring leg, so we had visions of a dull climb alongside high-tension power lines for the first hour or so. I know Ramat Hanadiv from orienteering and had recollections only of the thorny thickets across the reserve. So by the end of the day’s hike, we were all totally delighted to realize that are fears had not materialized, and our expectations had been far exceeded.
6:45: At Beit Hanania, Yuval, Varda and I join Ilan and his passengers in their car. We leave our car just outside the moshav, parked in a dirt lot in the shade of eucalyptus trees.
7:02: As we turn onto the road leading to the Meir Shfeya Youth Village, we spot the Aloushes in the car ahead. Perfect timing. We pull off the road and park in a field. Moments later another car pulls into the field and parks right next to us. A woman with a walking stick and a man with a long beard emerge; they commence hiking with barely a nod to us. Since we have some new hikers with us today, we pause to make the introductions.
Having crossed Route 70 on the west side of the intersection, we miss a trail blaze on the south-east corner. The trail blazers must have anticipated this; about 100 meters south of the intersection, we spot a blaze, turn east onto a dirt road, and U-turn back toward the main road. The first segment takes us along some orchards and greenhouses. The trail gets a bit obscure. The blazes are hidden by overgrowth. We wind our way through a thick patch of reeds. Numerous paths have already been created by the trampling of hikers. This is not quite the trail, but it’s close enough, and certainly much more entertaining than walking on the shoulder of a road.
We emerge onto a road, and have to scout around a bit until we spot the blazes again. The trail takes us under the road and we continue east through farmland towards Har Horshan.
7:34 (2 km): We turn south onto a dirt road that climbs along the flank of Har Horshan. The hour is still early. The temperature is still comfortable. The trail has a fair amount of shade. Ruthy and I are engaged in conversation and chug up the hill at a good pace. Occasionally I turn around to take in the expansive view and snap some photos of those behind us.
7:49 (3 km): A quick pit stop. We close ranks. We are just about at the end of the climb. After passing the summit and starting the descent, we begin to encounter mountain bikers riding towards us. I notice that a good number of them are women. I also notice that the power lines are NOT so conspicuous. But as soon as I make a comment to that effect, the power lines come into full, overpowering, view. Still, these first few kilometers have been most pleasurable and offer a lovely landscape.
8:30 (5.4 km): We arrive at the ancient quarry, today used for rock-climbing by the Israel Alpine Club. We find a great spot for our breakfast break, in the cool shade of the rock face – even a mattress awaits us! A fallen tree trunk provides another bench.
8:47: Resuming our hike, the trail takes us through more farmland, orchards and open fields.
9:06 (7 km): We cross over a road, briefly walk on the shoulder, then turn onto a dirt road takes us through an area of greenhouses and farmland that is also used for illegal garbage dumping. This is the only portion of the hike, and fortunately it’s less than a kilometer, which would be nice to simply jump over, or pass through blindfolded.
We pass outdoor banquet gardens; one sign says “Tuscany” while the other says “Elysee” (Italian and French dining options?). We also meet a man who asks whether we have seen his three German shepherd dogs, who have somehow run away from home.
9:19 (8 km): We cross Highway 652, hike up to and beyond the parking lot of the Ort school, and pass through the gate into Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park. (We did not see any trail blazes from the highway until we reached the gate.) This last stretch has been uphill and without shade, and we are becoming concerned about the day heating up.
9:25 (8.4 km): Ein Tzur. I am delighted to discover this beauty spot. Although I have orienteered in Ramat Hanadiv a few times, I am completely unfamiliar with this archeological site. Water flows from the spring, and fills several small pools. We wander around the reconstructed, manicured site. (Inevitably, however, pieces of trash appear in the frames of my photos). The area is shaded, and the heat is not intolerable.
9:55 (9.2 km): A family with an unhappy, screaming toddler provides the impetus for us to depart. I’ve brought an orienteering map for guidance (that we don’t really need, of course), which Yuval is following. I take glee in discovering permanent orienteering control markers have been set up throughout the park. As we cross the park, we gradually ascend, ultimately reaching Hirbet Akab, an archeological site at the highest point on the south-western cliff-line of the Carmel.
10:35 (11 km): Before investigating the site, we happily collapse onto three benches in the deep shade of several (oak?) trees and take a well-deserved break. Once revived we discover we have a magnificent, though hazy, view of the Mediterranean. To our delight, a sea breeze is blowing up onto the Carmel, and the heat is not a problem! A flock of migrating birds soars overhead. Signs explain the historical significance of the site, and we even find a wine press that is still being used (probably by groups of school children and tourists).
11:09 (11.6 km): Leaving Hirbet Akab, we follow the trail towards the southern tip of the Carmel, overlooking the Mediterranean as we go. The views are stunning, although visibility is less than optimal today. The sea breezes continue to cool us as we hike.
11:20 (12.1 km) The trail crosses a fence, leaves the park boundaries, and takes us into an area of tumuli (ancient burial grounds). The geological formations are most unusual, and we need to be very cautious with our footing. We make the steep descent to the coast from Hotem Hacarmel (the Carmel’s nose). We agree that this part of the trail is definitely most suited for dry weather.
11:48 (12.7 km): The trail reaches the railroad tracks. We walk on a path through high grasses. While the trail map shows we should be crossing the tracks almost immediately, the actual trail has been diverted slightly. Two railroad tracks are enclosed and protected by chain-link fences, and cannot be crossed; a third track serves as our hiking trail and we follow it for a few hundred meters more.
12:07 (13.4 km): The trail turns right and goes under the railroad tracks, crossing the (waterless) Taninim River. The remainder of the hike is a kilometer across farmland. I was expecting to see more vineyards here. But the ground has been tilled, small unidentifiable tree saplings have been planted in some of the plots, while other plots appear fallow.
12:21 (14.4 km): As we aim towards the spot where our car is parked, we have to navigate major road construction to reach Beit Hanania. It is hard to spot the trail blazes, although Ruthy manages to find and follow them. My main concern is to simply and safely get across Highway 4.
12:26 (14.7 km): The spot where we had parked our car is no longer deserted. A mobile kitchen has been towed and parked in the shade of the eucalyptus trees, and ground mats, plastic tables and chairs have been set out to create a restaurant. Yuval, typically mild-mannered, is having a fit. The restaurant owners have somehow towed his car about 25 meters, since it was parked on their “floor space”. He’s concerned they may have caused damage. We question whether they even have a business license. The proprietors are not very apologetic, but are willing to provide contact details. They do not offer us anything to drink, but do not object when five of us sit at one of their tables for half an hour while waiting for Yuval and Ilan to return after retrieving Ilan’s car from the start point. There’s no apparent damage to Yuval’s car, and the hike ends on a very high note.
We were a small group of just 10 people today, seven women and three men. Three of the women were on their first hike with the group, but blended in perfectly. The heat was not nearly as brutal as we had anticipated, and did not slow us down to any significant degree. I think we maintained a good pace – not too fast, not to slow – with occasional stops to regroup whenever we became too spread out. Five and a half hours on the trail – just the right amount of time. The best surprise was the variety of terrain, vegetation and vistas that accompanied today’s hike. We even had a good mix of ascents, descents, and level segments. Although each of our hikes has had highlights, I think this hike had the most highlights, and gave us the best value-for-the-money (so to speak) of all our hikes so far.
View the complete set of photos of our hike on the Israel Trail, from Meir Shfeya to Beit Hanania. (Use the SLIDESHOW option for viewing.)
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