* Flash Mob on the Israel Trail

Segment 14 – Meir Sh’feya to Kerem Maharal (Hof HaCarmel)

Where is the best place to hike once hot weather has descended on the land? Yuval suggested the shore. Ruti wanted shade. I knew we needed a shorter-than-usual distance. After considering everyone’s preferences, I selected the southern half of the “Finger Cave to Har Horshan” segment from south-to-north. The reversal of direction did not save us any climbs, as the path had both ups and downs. But it allowed us to hike in the open areas earlier in the morning when the air was still on the cool side, and to enjoy the shade of the forest as the day heated up later on. The beach was just a few minutes drive from our end point, giving us the option of a swim at the end of the hike.

I was delighted to see 16 regular hikers and one guest appear at 7 a.m. We congregated at the edge of the field where the Israel Trail connects to the entrance road to the Meir Sh’feya Youth Village, which sits upon a hilltop.

The trail loops around the hill on the west, which meant the trees on our right gave us shade from the low, early morning sun.

We walked-and-talked along a dirt trail for the first 3 kilometers. The trail then turned on to an asphalt road. At that point I was chatting with Alon about cycling sections of the Israel Trail on bike. Indeed, we joked, this asphalt road is a perfect example of the possibility. Engrossed in our conversation, as were fellow hikers ahead of us, we missed a trail blaze. This paved road was heading towards a quarry! Fortunately, Yuval in the rear called us back before we’d gone too far.

Ahah! – so cycling this segment might not be so easy. The trail now became a narrow path, steep in places, heading up to Hirbet Talimon.

The Talimon ruins provide a perfect place to stop for our sandwich-breakfast break. Great vistas and shade. We felt no need to rush. Avner and Saraleh treated us all to finjan coffee.

As we descended the hilltop after our rest stop, we chanced upon two bulls in the bushes on the side of the trail.

Don’t know what I/we did to provoke such a reaction. Fortunately I got out of the way while the bulls charged across the trail.

For the next 2 kilometers the trail was an easily-hiked (and easily biked) 4×4 trail. Then the trail diverged from the black-blaze trail and went up Nahal Shimri. Now the real hiking fun started. There were boulders to climb over, and tree branches to duck under.

Somewhere about here is a “bell cave”. It was not printed on any of the maps we had with us, although I had made a notation on the map I gave Yuval. Reviewing my photos, I see we passed a sign post pointing to the cave. But neither Yuval nor I saw the sign. Nor did we detect a path leading to the cave. Unfortunately brother (/-in-law) Ron was not on the hike. I’m sure he would have had an up-to-date 1:50,000 map with him and led us directly to the cave.

I had been hoping for a rest stop in the coolness of the cave. But unable to find the cave, we sat instead in the shade of the trees in an olive grove. That’s when Miri decided it was time for our dance break. (In Hebrew would that be “break-dance”?)

Avner pulled out his harmonica and began to play. Gradually more and more of our hikers joined in the dance circle, causing me to exclaim, “Wow! We’ve got a flash mob!”

Party time over, it was back to the trail. The cactus lining the trail were in blossom. A beautiful sight.

We crossed over the road leading to Moshav Ofer, and soon entered the enchanted woods of Ofer Forest (Hof HaCarmel Forest).

More fun getting over and around the boulders in our path.

Serendipity on the Israel Trail: a tranquil, rest stop in the Shir Valley, established in memory of a soldier named Noam Bahagon who was killed in Gaza in 2003.

I was so enthralled with this unexpected beauty spot, that I got everyone to sit down in the circle. Some people were expecting me to make some concluding remarks to mark the end of our hiking season, but I had nothing special to say. Meanwhile, we’re still trying to come up with a name and/or a slogan for our group. Avner keeps asking for a t-shirt. I’ll try to accomodate that request by the start of our next hiking season.

While we don’t yet have a unifying t-shirt, many of us wore khaki pants and a light/white shirt. Almost like we were regressing to the days of our youth in scout uniforms.

Even I was dressed that way!

I think it’s a sign that our hiking group has really bonded.

I’m taking a break from organizing for the summer. I’ll be happy to join in any hike or outdoor activity that anyone else organizes. I’m awaiting invitations.

See the complete set of today’s photos (Flickr).
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Please use the Comment box on my blog to share your feedback with me and the other hikers and readers. Hebrew or English is welcome!

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* Celebrations on the Israel Trail

Segment 23 – Shaar Hagai to Sho’evah (Shoresh)

We should have celebrated an anniversary on the trail yesterday, but I didn’t realize it until last night. Exactly one year ago (May 2, 2009) I began my journey on the Israel National Trail. Over the year, my hiking group has evolved and established a pace and rhythm that suits our personalities and physical abilities. It has been such a pleasure and a success! May our adventures continue!

After checking the weather forecast and the route topography, Yuval and I planned a “standard” 15-kilometer route on the Israel Trail for our hiking group, from Sho’evah (Shoresh) to Shaar Hagai. We also decided to formally adopt the philosophy of hiking each segment in the direction that is easiest on the hikers, rather than conforming strictly to a north-to-south progression. That meant today’s hike was mostly downhill, although it did include one long tough climb.

Close to home, it was easy to convene at an earlier hour, and our group of 16 began hiking before 8 a.m. Everyone was relaxed and in great spirits. It was Ruthy K’s birthday. Indeed, we seemed to be in a party mood throughout the day.

We left our cars, and began the descent from Sho’evah to Nahal Kislon. We soon reached the Israel Trail.

For the benefit of other day trippers, here’s my tip for parking cars and accessing the Israel Trail from Shoeva (see map). Upon exiting Highway 1 at the Shoresh interchange, go past the gas station, and at the rotary turn onto HaDolev Street. Make a left onto HaAlon Street and park where the asphalt road ends and a dirt trail begins. Commence hiking! At the first junction in the trail, turn right onto the black-blaze trail. A the next junction turn left onto green-blaze trail, and follow it until it connects with the red-blaze trail/Israel Trail in Nahal Kislon. This connector segment is about 1.5 km, an easy downhill if you’re starting from this point.

The first part of the trail hike was a long, easy walk along Nahal Kislon. The sky was clear blue. The air was cool and fresh. The meadow grasses were still green. The wildflowers were still in blossom. Here, in the foothills of Jerusalem, it’s still springtime.

I love the wide trails. They are ideal for walking-and-talking. But, since I frequently stop to take photos, I often get dropped, temporarily, from the peleton (main pack). I’m also not in many photos. But every now and then, I keep up with the pace and the conversation, and even get into a photo or two. (That’s me on the left, thank you Ruthy A.)

Throughout the day we shared the trail with numerous cylists and a few 4×4 vehicles. We also crossed paths with many hikers, among them a pair of young men thru-hiking the Israel Trail from north to south. In his inimitable style, Shlomo struck up a conversation and treated everyone to some great laughs.

I did not ask their names, but gave them my business card and promised to put their photo on my blog. So, if you are these fellows, or recognize them, please post a comment on this blog (in Hebrew or English). Hope to hear you’ve reached Eilat safe and sound in a few weeks.

Continuing down the trail alongside Nahal Kislon, through the Kedoshim Forest, full of eucalyptus and pine trees.  The trees in this forest were planted in memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust.

After a brief rest stop at the Bnei Brit cave, we crossed the dry stream of Nahal Kislon, and began the climb up Mount Carmila (blue-blaze trail). Scaling this wall was just a hint of the physical efforts that lay ahead.

We began the climb. At first it was not too difficult, and we simply had to duck under or step over the fallen tree trunks. The trail got steeper. At one point it was blocked by downed trees, and we ploughed upward and around until we reconnected with the trail.

We took a short break to catch our breath and enjoy the gorgeous vista. And then we made our final attack. The ascent is so steep that the trail has switchbacks to make the climb (or descent) possible.

But we made it! We reached the top near Beit Meir. Birthday girl Ruthy celebrates with husband Micky.

We crossed Route 3955 (road connecting Sho’evah to Beit Meir) and stopped at a roadside picnic area in the Masrake Nature Reserve for a snack and rest break. Bad choice. It was full of litter, even though there was a trash receptacle on the site. It would have been wiser for us to continue a few hundred more meters along the trail, and stop at a camp site deeper within the reserve. Those sites are much cleaner. The sign explains why: “No trash collection here. Take your garbage with you. Thanks. Keren Kayemet”. 

We still had a bit more climbing to do, though not at all difficult. We passed through the Independence War memorial at Outpost 16.

The strategic importance of the outposts along this range is easy to grasp. The views from the top were magnificent. Avner and Saraleh overlooking Highway 1 towards Jerusalem.

We passed through Outpost 21 at the top of the peak. And then we began the second and final descent of the day.

Yuval and the gang overlooking Shaar Hagai interchange on Highway 1 towards Tel Aviv.

This descent was steep and difficult in places — but thank goodness we were doing it at the end of the hike and not the beginning. Climbing this segment would have exhausted us. Instead, we reached the pinnacle of the hike, both physically and metaphorically, at just the right time.

We improvised our own personal switchbacks as we descended.

Avner and Saraleh made coffee for the gals while the guys went to retrieve the cars.

We capped off the day with an amicable game of bocce|petanque|boule (choose your prefered name).

Final note: Uphills totaled about 350 meters, downhills about 560 meters. The total distance hiked was about 17.5 kilometers.

See the complete set of today’s photos (Flickr).
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Please use the Comment box on my blog to share your feedback with me and the other hikers and readers. Hebrew or English is welcome!

Congratulations to Shimon Shomrony, who provided the spark that ignited my adventure. He and the group he assembled five years ago finally reached Eilat, and the end of their journey on the Israel Trail, this past weekend!

* Farewell to Spring on the Israel Trail

Segments 6-7 – Lower Nahal Amud to Migdal

Only two weeks had elapsed since our last hike on the Israel National Trail. But we took to the trail again to catch the springtime greenery and blossoms before they dry and fade away for the summer. Once again it was a hot day, but the 9 hearty hikers who showed up were ready and eager for another adventure.

After leaving one car at the gas station in Migdal, we drove to the gas station at Kedarim, where we parked our other cars, enjoyed a good cup of Segafredo coffee, and then headed for the trail.

Note: I plan the hiking route and prepare the maps, which I put in Yuval’s hands. Yuval is responsible for keeping us on course since I take photos continuously during the hikes and am liable to miss a blaze or turn on the trail.

So, with Yuval leading, we bypass Kedarim junction on a 4×4 trail that is nearly hidden by waist-high wildlowers and meadowgrasses. I had intended to hook up with the Israel Trail from Highway 85, but Yuval takes us on longer route down to the trail.

Dashed pink line shows the intended “connector” route to the start of the day’s hike. The yellow line shows where we actually went.

We’re almost there. As long as we were heading downhill, no one seemed to mind the extra steps.

Ahh!  Finally we reached Nahal Amud. Still green and lush. It was especially exciting to find spots of water. Feeling like agile youngsters, Yuval and Alon jumped across the stream. Most of us carefully stepped across the stones to reach the other side. 

Indeed, for most of us, the scenery stirred up memories of youth group hikes and high school trips. Interestingly, none of us could remember actually ever having been in this part of Nahal Amud.

The steep canyon walls.

Tall grasses and prickles of late spring. Those of us who wore long pants definitely had better wardrobe function. Fortunately it was only guys who were wearing shorts, and their non-depilated legs afforded them some protection.

The trail frequently criss-crossed the stream bed. Oleander bushes with their pink flowers decorated the trail.

We reached the “stairwell” of the National Water Carrier.

What is it about government bureaus in this country that they are incapable of getting a competent English writer to compose and/or proofread the text on public signage?

We encountered a number of these creatures along the trail. Some of them were moving quite swiftly, and made us wonder if it wasn’t the same tortoise passing us by each time.

Nearing the end of the canyon.

Just after passing the massive stone pillar that gives Nahal Amud its name, we reached the Amud spring. Cool, clear water flowing into a pond. So refreshing. A delightful surprise.

I was ready to take off my shoes and hang out here for an hour or two. But the morning was getting late, and we still had some distance to cover.

Emerging from the canyon into the Ginossar valley. More exposed to the sun and heat here, the flowers have faded and the grasses have turned brown.

Oops. We were getting tired and a bit careless. We missed the right turn where the Israel Trail breaks away from the heavily marked black trail  (which continues down Nahal Amud toward the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

As we approached the power lines, we should have been on the lookout for the split in the trails. I promised to give half-a-kilometer credit to those who were ahead of me and had to turn around and come back (see dotted line).

Back on track. By now we were happy to have a paved track, which helped us pick up our pace.

Nearing the end of the route. Mount Arbel looms in the distance. We pondered whether we should ascend or descend it when we do that segment of the Israel Trail.

We ended our day with a delicious lunch at a Druze restaurant called Al Haruba, named for the carob tree in its front yard. The restaurant is located on a hilltop at the edge M’rar (next to Moshav Hazon), and has a stunning view of the Galilee and Kinneret. The owners of the restaurant are the two brothers of Affu (sitting at right), who is an army buddy of Ilan (second from right).

Final note: I’d promised a mostly downhill hike, and I kept my word. Our uphills totaled 236 meters, while the downhills totaled 493 meters. Both Ruthy and I logged 16 kilometers on our GPSes.

See the complete set of today’s photos (Flickr).
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* Family History on the Israel Trail

Segment 3 – Yesha Fortress to Nahal Dishon (Alma Bridge)

Our eleventh hike on the Israel National Trail began at the Yesha Fortress (also called Metzudat Ko’ah) overlooking the Hulah Valley. In the early days of Israel’s War of Independence, April-May 1948, the Palmach 3rd Regiment waged three battles with the Arabs before gaining control of the fortress.

The weather forecast predicted high temperatures, and indeed it was a hot day. But that did not stop 17 hikers from showing up for today’s trail adventure. Our group this time included three couples of friends from Maccabim who had not yet hiked the trail with us. One of our newcomer friends was Alon Friedman, who was about to see something he was probably not expecting.

Moments after starting the hike, we crossed Route 899 and entered the grounds of Nebi Yusha, a mosque and shrine for the prophet Joshua dating to the late 18th centuary. As we came down a slope alongside a small cave, Alon peeked in and spotted 5 memorial candles and a hand-lettered sign with 5 names on it, apparently placed there just days ago to mark the anniversary of their death. The fifth name was Filon Friedman. “That’s my uncle. I was named for him.” Alon said, stunning us all.

Cave with memorial for Filon Friedman and other Hagana soldiers

We gathered around Alon to hear a brief recounting of his namesake Filon, the commander of one of the three companies engaged in the operation. Unsuccessful in the attack, and with many soldiers wounded, the troops were ordered to retreat. Some were severely injured, and could not be evacuated. Filon ordered his company to continue retreating and he himself remained with the wounded men.

At Nebi Yusha. Alon tells us the heroic tale of his uncle and namesake Filon Friedman

When the Arabs came out of the fortress, they attacked and killed all the wounded men who remained in the area. When Hagana troops returned the day after the battle to retrieve the dead, they found Filon’s body with a single shot in the forehead, an act of suicide. His refusal to abandon his wounded troops (“Commander Filon’s Dilemma”) and his legacy are studied in schools, youth movements and the IDF. I later found a comprehensive website (in Hebrew only) about Filon Friedman.

Who could have imagined that a chance encounter with a makeshift memorial on the Israel Trail would have such significance to a member of our group. For me this was the highlight of the day’s hike. But we had only just begun.

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Unlike most all of our previous hikes, we had to walk in single file much of the time. In addition to the trail being a “single” lane, the meadow grasses have grown high, and the wildflowers are still in full bloom.

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The major theme, if it can be called that, of today’s hike were the purple thistles — grown tall and thick, and so abundant in places it appears they are being cultivated by the local farmers!

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One of the hikers, who really prefers cycling, later commented that he very much enjoyed the hike because it was one he could not have done on his bicycle.

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From Nebi Yeshua we headed up to Keren Naftali hilltop overlooking the Hulah Valley. The climb was somewhat steep, but made easier by the shade of the forest.

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We stopped at the top for a  well-deserved breakfast break. Unfortunately, the sky was hazy and the vista was not as brilliant as we would have hoped. We could not even see the snow-capped Mount Hermon.

Then we headed down the other side of Keren Naftali.

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Soon thereafter, Irit, one of a newcomer hikers suffered a major setback when the sole of her hiking shoe fell off. Despite the best efforts of the engineers in our group, Irit and her husband had to bail out (fortunately we were very close to the main road), and managed to walk the 3 kilometers back to the car.

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Sometimes we encounter fences and other obstacles on the Israel Trail.

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The single-file path eventually became a dirt trail, which allowed us to pick up the pace, and chat with more than just the person in front of or behind us.

Thanks to Hadar for taking my photo; otherwise who would know that I, too, hiked the trail. (I’m not walking backwards; I just turned around to face the camera.)

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Before reaching Nahal Dishon, we had to do one more climb, and tread through more thistles.

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And look back at where we’d been, and more thistles.

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We paused at the top for the group to reassemble as we had gotten rather spread out due to various physical ailments that were slowing some of us down.

A steep, but quick descent into Nahal Dishon.

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The stream bed was mostly dry, so out went any plans for dipping our toes into some cool refreshing water. The heat had indeed made this hike a bit more difficult than anticipated. But it was most enjoyable in every other respect.

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* Perfect Timing on the Israel Trail

Segments 28 – 29 – Kibbutz Dvir to Pureh Nature Reserve

This post is dedicated to my mother Bernice Meyer Saltzman, of blessed memory, who would have celebrated her 81st birthday on March 6th, the day of this hike.

If it had been a week earlier, we would have been slopping around, cold and wet, in mud and rain (and our scheduled hike was indeed postponed). If it had been a week later, we would have been hiking in heat, and the wildflowers would be wilting. But on this first weekend in March, the forces of nature were with us, and our hike on the Israel National Trail in the northern Negev was picture perfect.

We broke an unwritten (and non-enforced) rule: we hiked this segment from south to north. This was a decision I made to avoid long round-abouts with our cars at the start and finish. No one voiced an objection or complaint. The route was just as enjoyable in either direction. There were no particular ascents or descents that we avoided as the route was essentially flat.

Our day began with an 8 a.m. meeting at the Pureh Nature Reserve turn-off on Route 40. We regrouped into 3 cars and drove to Kibbutz Dvir. The kibbutz is surrounded by a security fence, and the guard on duty was kind enough to let us drive in and park our cars just inside the entrance. Since leaving a car unattended all day in the Negev is risky, this was a good thing.

From the kibbutz’s front gate, we had to hike about a kilometer to reach the trail.

The weather was perfectly comfortable for a day out on the trail.

The wildflowers were glorious. For most of the day the trail followed Nahal Shikma (on the left in the photo below).

Since the hike was not going to be particularly long or strenuous, Yuval and I had planned a short detour to a cave marked on the map. With both Yuval and his brother Ron checking their maps, we turned off the trail, and headed up a hill covered with a mixture of wheat and wildflowers, toward a pair of power line poles. I reached the top of the hill ahead of the others, and signalled for everyone to follow me, even though I saw no sign of a cave. The vista was magnificent (though spoiled by the power lines) — the hills appeared to be covered in snow.

Yuval wandered in the wildflowers, stubbornly looking for the cave, which has been either mismarked on the maps, or simply covered when the land was cultivated.

Returning to the trail, we crossed Nahal Shikma. It was amazing to see pools of water in the stream bed. While some spots were still wet and muddy, it was not too difficult to find dry patches to step across.

We walked along a field of peas. Reminded me of my dad’s vegetable patch back in Connecticut (not in size, of course, but the taste and smell was the same).

Time for a break. For most of today’s segment of the trail, trees grow along the banks of Nahal Shikma. It was not hard to find a soft, shady, pastoral spot to stop and rest. Avner pulled out his harmonica, and serenaded us. (People weren’t in much of a singing mood this morning.)

Tel Milha loomed in the distance. It’s not really that high, but relative to the rolling hills of the northern Negev, it’s a prominent feature.

The trail offers the option of circumventing the tel or climbing it. We opted to go up.

Up on Tel Milah, Avner looks back to see where we’ve been. Yuval looks forward to see where we’re heading.

I pose in front of the vista (north is behind me). The descent is very steep. For lack of jeeps or other 4X4 vehicles, we tested our own physical ability to get down the tel.

When we reached the railroad bridge (directly behind me in the photo above), we spotted a trail blaze on a tree pointing left (west). Our maps indicated that the trail heads north at this point. Apparently the the trail used to cross under the railroad and highway at this point, but now it continues north on the east side of the railroad tracks. We ended up crossing under the railroad bridge, but not the highway, and following a trail between the two. (See map at the end of this post).

It was an excellent decision. It wasn’t strictly the Israel National Trail, but I think we were close enough.

We walked through a lush meadow, not too close to the train tracks, and not too close to Highway 40.

Thanks to my MAPA website subscription, my Garmin Forerunner (GPS) and a software program called QuickRoute, you can see where we actually hiked. 

Click to view the complete set of photos.

Please share your comments. In Hebrew or English.

* A Stroll in the Park on the Israel Trail

Segment 19: Ganei Yehoshua (Park Hayarkon), from West End to East End

Having returned to Israel from the USA just a few days prior to hiking day, I did not know how much rain had fallen in the preceding week. I soon realized that trails everywhere in Israel were too muddy to hike. So I implemented Plan B: instead of hiking from the western end of Park Hayarkon all the way to Hod Hasharon as planned, we would exit the trail at the eastern end of the park, in the Ramat Hahayal high-tech business park.  

By the way, Park Hayarkon is officially called Ganei Yehoshua. That is also the name of the company that operates this park as well as the Menachem Begin Park and the Abu Kabir Nature Park on the south side of Tel Aviv. See the Ganei Yehoshua website (in Hebrew only).  

Our Israel Trail hike thus became a stroll in the park, on a cool but sunny winter day. For the most part we walked on asphalt and packed-dirt paths. The trail become soft and muddy only at the very end. While the others walked on an adjacent paved path, Cindy, Ruthy and I braved that final  section – a narrow path lined by tall grasses and reeds – and briefly enjoyed the sensation of being on a hike out in the country. 

Walking through Park Hayarkon on a Shabbat – especially on a sunny day after a stormy week – meant we shared the lanes with throngs of walkers, joggers, runners and cyclists. Certainly we could have walked faster and more energetically, and easily completed the 8 kilometers by 10 a.m. But that was not the point, of course. The pleasure is in pausing from time to time, to contemplate the views and become a bit more intimate with the scenery.  

Since this was an urban hike, I found myself focusing on the signs that have been posted to protect nature from humans, and humans from one another. Some of the signs seem silly, but upon consideration, I find it sad that the particular (or peculiar) Israeli culture and mentality warrant the need for such signs to keep Tel Aviv and its population clean and safe. The first sign of the day especially illustrates this point. Alongside the parking lot at the Reading Terminal parking lot, in search of a public toilet, we spotted this sign: 

No Peeing Here

No Peeing Here

Sign pointing to the nearby Dog Park under Bird’s Head Bridge (Ayalon Highway), so called because an aerial view of the confluence of the Yarkon and Ayalon streams at this spot resembles the profile of a bird’s head.

Dog Park at Bird's Head Bridge

Dog Park at Bird's Head Bridge

I guess it was too chilly, or still too early in the day, for “mangalistim” in the park. When they want to grill their kebabs and steaks, this is where they’re supposed to do it. I wonder why someone vandalized the sign. Perhaps it was an animal lover?

Have Fun Here Fanning the Grill

Have Fun Here Fanning the Grill

A Hebrew play on words. Walking for health. Walking the health trail. Whichever, I certainly agree. These billboards appear to provide useful information, but I’d just as soon not see advertisements (Clalli health fund and Superpharm stores) in the park.

Walking the Path to Health

Walking the Path to Health

In many places along the trail, pedestrians and cyclists share one lane. While hiking we noted many machos on wheels riding recklessly, showing little or no concern for the walkers and runners, as if the pathways belong exclusively to the riders. Rachel and Miri were deeply engaged in conversation throughout the walk, but managed to stay out of harm’s way.

Dangerous Curve: Keep Right

Caution Dangerous Curve: Keep Right

Funny how a trash bin cannot speak for itself. A sign needs to remind people where to put their garbage.

Tel Aviv-Jaffa: Do Not Litter

Tel Aviv-Jaffa: Do Not Litter

As we left the trail and returned to our cars in the Ramat Hahayal, we passed the ultimate sign of urban culture – a MacDonald’s restaurant. Noting the M shape of the fencing around the seating area, David remarked how it easy it can make something aesthetically pleasing, rather than ugly – all it takes is a little thinking.

MacDonald's in Ramat Hahayal

MacDonald

And finally, the best sign of the day seemed to have been arranged especially for me. About 40 minutes into the hike we chanced upon a team of marketeers gearing up for some Ganei Yehoshua promotional activities. I got so excited when I saw their sign. They were so pleased with me, it seems, that they gave me a Ganei Yehoshua cap! While I was busy taking pictures with the park mascot, an orange and unidentifiable creature, Yuval chatted with one of the organizers, who introduced himself as the General Manager of Ganei Yehoshua.

The Trail is For Me!

The Trail is For Me!

And of course, I was always happy to see my favorite sign:

Israel National Trail Sign

Israel National Trail Sign

See the complete set of today’s photos (Flickr).
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* Exceeding Expectations on the Israel Trail

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.

High grasses and reeds at the start

High grasses and reeds at the start

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.

Har Horshan

Har Horshan

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.

Breakfast break at the ancient quarry

Breakfast break at the ancient quarry

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.

Ein Tzur, Ramat Hanadiv - Lisa and Yuval Mishli

Ein Tzur, Ramat Hanadiv - Lisa and Yuval Mishli

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.

Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park

Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park - Ruthy Aloush leads the way

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).

Hirbet Akab, Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park

Hirbet Akab, Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park

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.

Hotem Hacarmel

Hotem Hacarmel

Hiking down Hotem Hacarmel

Hiking down Hotem Hacarmel

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.

Nachal Taninim ("Crocodile River") is just a dry ditch

Nachal Taninim ("Crocodile River") is just a dry ditch

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.

Hotem Hacarmel, which we have climbed down, rises in the background.

Hotem Hacarmel in the background

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.

Conclusions

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.)

Use the comment box to add your impressions from the hike, in Hebrew or English.

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