* When Old Friends Go Walking and Talking

Segment 25 – Horvat Hanot to Azeka Junction

The feedback after our last hike on the Israel Trail a month ago encouraged me to organize another outing as soon as possible. The selected date, during the Hanukkah holiday, was problematic for some and convenient for others. I decided to go with the earlier date, and save the following one as a rain date. Turned out there was no need to postpone; the weather was ideal for hiking. But since we’ve not yet had any significant rainfall this year, the trail was dry, and I spent much of the day searching for some color to photograph.

Our hiking group consisted of long-time friends, whose friendships go as far back as school days and army service (aside from Miri and Shlomo being siblings). A chatty bunch. Delightful company.

Before starting the hike, I took the group over to Horvat Hanot to show them the mosaic floor, which is kept covered by sand for preservation.


Unfortunately, no brooms were at the site, so we were unable to expose more than a tiny patch of mosaic. Otherwise, we might have seen this, for example:


Before we turned onto the trail, I made a point of telling everyone that Yuval is responsible for following the map, but that everyone needs to keep an eye out for the trail blazes. I even stopped at an Israel Trail blaze to point it out to everyone. OK, fine. We all know what the blaze looks like.

We began hiking at a nice pace, and immediately became engrossed in conversations, while enjoying the scenery …

… and even stopping so that I could get into at least one photo for the day.


But after about half an hour, and some 2 kilometers into the trail, Yuval says, “We’re not on the trail.”


We should have been walking on the Emperor’s (Roman) Road:


But we’d missed a turn almost at the start, and had been hiking along a very pleasant trail with scenic views, parallel and slightly north of the Israel Trail. It now occurred to us that we had not seen any trail blazes for quite a while.

I was miffed to have missed the highlight of this trail segment, and was ready to turn back, but was dissuaded by Yuval. He determined we were just north of map-point #2 of the segment (a reconstructed olive press), and proceeded to lead us through the woods, and down a slope towards Route 375.

My only compensation was spotting this bright clump of cyclamen in those woods, glowing against the dry forest floor.


Upon reaching the parking lot next to the olive press, at the end of the Roman road, we reconnected with the Israel Trail. Continuing on, we soon reached a junction with the trail we’d been on earlier. There we stopped for morning brunch.

After breakfast, I caught another brief glimpse of some bright, new-growth, color.


Alongside the trail, just before it crosses Route 3855, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a drinking-water fountain especially meant for Israel Trail hikers.


Note the walking stick in Miri’s left hand. This is where it got left behind.


Trail blazes were clearly visible for the entire hike, except when it came to crossing Route 3855. The passageway tunnel was not marked, so Yuval motioned for me to climb up and cross over the road. But everyone else behind me went easily and safely through the tunnel.


The walking and talking continued, while we mostly descended …


… but also ascended, and enjoyed some beautiful vistas …

2013-11-30_Israel_Trail-b-12 2013-11-30_Israel_Trail-b-13

… even if it is all so dry, so very dry.


After passing around Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Hey, I had my second, and final, photo op of the day.

Here we encountered here a couple “shvillers”, who had become separated from their friends, having followed old/misleading blazes towards the kibbutz. That wasn’t surprising, since that object we are sitting on has a blaze pointing in the direction behind us, which is NOT the Israel Trail.


Having completed the final climb of the day, we stopped for our last rest/snack break.

And more chatting, of course.


And I managed to catch one more splash of local autumn color.


The pre-hike estimate and the actual distance covered were both about 14 kilometers. We completed the hike in just five hours. I’d like to say it was physically an easy route, but I really think the camaraderie made it so.

See the complete set of today’s photos  on my Flickr site.

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!


* Good to Be Back on the Israel Trail

Segment 24 – Even Sapir to Horvat Hanot 

On just a week’s notice, I gathered a small group of hiking friends, and took to the Israel Trail once again. We picked up the trail near Moshav Even Sapir, just outside Jerusalem, where we had finished a previous hike some two years ago.


The autumn day was crisp and comfortable for hiking, and provided clear vistas as we traversed the hills and valleys.


The first segment of our hike was along the Springs Trail in the Aminadav forest. We passed many springs and pools, some dry and others filled with water. Definitely a place to return to on a hot summer day for a refreshing dip.


A view of Hadassah Hospital (Ein Kerem) from the trail.



Playing peek-a-boo in the rock formations.



Upon reaching Horvat Saadim, a small nature reserve noted for its oak and carob trees, we found the site overrun with several busloads of Israeli Scouts from Jerusalem on an outing. No stopping here. We continued on the trail through the Honorary Consuls Grove of olive trees, and then descended steeply, but just briefly. We landed and continued on a wide and easily-hiked dirt road. But the trail soon turned off and took us down a long and very steep descent that I had not anticipated.


Descending with a view to the Refaim Valley.


At the bottom, we stopped for a breakfast break of sandwiches, fruit and nuts.

Moving along, we crossed Nahal Refaim, passed under the train tracks , and then began climbing our way back up, along Nahal Kobi.


Halfway up the climb, we stopped to catch our breath, and I finally got into a photo.


Almost at the top, near Ein Kobi, we chanced upon two swings hanging from the trees. Time for some fun!


More fooling around at Ein Kobi.


Ein Kobi.


Leaving Ein Kobi, the trail continued with easy hiking for a while in a pine forest, and then emerged onto the open agricultural fields north of Mevo Beitar.


We were a bit surprised to discover that the trail indicated on our map was not the same as the one marked by the actual trail blazes. It seems the local  farmers have gotten the trail modified to accommodate their vineyards and fruit groves.

After several attempts, we finally found a wild date tree whose fruit was ripe and edible.


Finally, we crossed Route 386 near Tzur Hadassah, and began the final stretch of the day’s hike.


Horvat Dorban ruins, north of Moshav Mata.


Descending from the ruins on the hill, we again encountered clusters of Israeli Scouts, and had to weave our way past them. We also had to weave our way through some interesting trees.


At the palm tree grove at the Mata spring we encountered more scores of Israeli Scouts, from Tel Aviv this time. Shlomo could not resist his natural inclination to play with the kids, and pulled out a magic trick.

Karen, you’re almost there!


The network of trails from the Mata spring up to Horvet Hanot were so full of hiking Scouts and families that we simply followed the crowds back to our waiting cars.

The hike was longer and a bit tougher than I had expected; I should have done my prep work more thoroughly. But all in all, it was a wonderful day out on the Israel Trail.

See the complete set of today’s photos  on my Flickr site.

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!

* March in May on the Israel Trail

Segment 12 – Alon Hagalil to outskirts of Tivon

Rain in Israel on the last weekend in May?! Almost unheard of, but that’s the kind of weather we’ve been experiencing this year. Thunder and heavy rain had woken us at 5 a.m., just before the alarm clock. As we drove north, the rain continued on and off. The forecast was for scattered showers as well as sunshine and high temperatures. We expected the latter to prevail at this late spring date.

We met and began our hike on the Israel Trail at the entrance to Alon Hagalil. Just as we started, a wave of rain rolled in, and we scrambled back into our cars. Within a few minutes the downpour changed to a drizzle, and we started off again. As we hiked through the Alonim forest, the rain alternately got stronger and lighter. Those of us without rain gear were soaked – by rain and not sweat – within the first half-hour.

Having been off the trail for almost five months, we were a bit remiss about keeping alert for trail blazes, and missed this right turn onto a narrow path. We had actually seen the right-turn blaze, but mistaken turned onto a much wider trail 50 meters beyond. (Another excuse: one of the maps we were using for navigation was the 2010 rogaine orienteering map, which does not have this narrow path marked on it.)

After several hundred meters, a couple junctions, and no visible trail blazes, I halted the pack. Although Yuval had identified our location on the map, I insisted that we backtrack to the last-seen blaze. We found the path, and continued on our way.

As we emerged from the forest and headed into the open valley, the rains finally stopped. The skies were still cloudy and we enjoyed comfortable hiking conditions.

Our first water crossing of the day required a small hop. Upon reexamination of our hiking map, I see this stream is fed by a spring called Ein Um Hamid, and flows into Nahal Zippori.

Our hardest uphill climb of the day. Not very strenuous, and by time we got to the top, our wet clothes had dried out.

The trail bypasses the village of North Ka’abiye on the north bank of Nahal Zippori. Stunning views of the valley.

No, this next photo is not off-balance. The trail here was probably a mountain-goat path once.

I dried my socks while we took our breakfast (brunch) break.

The pool at Ein Ivka. Avner and Shlomo stepped in (with shoes and socks). The water is not clean enough for deeper dipping. This pool is an easy and popular destination for both hikers and 4X4 off-roaders, and we soon had lots of company.

Leaving the pool, we decided to continue hiking alongside Nahal Zippori, rather than diverting away from it on the Israel Trail route. Another water crossing.

And yet another water crossing. Having hiked here recently, Avner knew a place to cross the stream on a fallen tree trunk.

Shlomo was kind enough to wade into the stream and help most of us get across.

Avner R.


Shosh H.









Shlomo N.

Shlomo, our new hiking friend.

Shlomo and Avner once again testing the waters. We decided against this water crossing.

We reconnected with the Israel Trail at  the old Carmelite monks flour mill.  We continued hiking on the trail as it circumvents Keshet ridge (and the town of Nofit at the top).

Before the final leg of the hike, we stopped for our second snack break.

A hike on the Israel Trail  is never complete without some Israeli song and dance.

Unfortunately, I left my second camera battery at home in the charger, and photo-documentation of our hike ends here. Suffice to say the clouds had burned off and the temperature had gotten quite hot by midday. Legs and backs were beginning to ache, and we were all quite weary during the last hour and final kilometers.

* * * * * * * * * *

See the complete set of today’s photos (Flickr).

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* Welcoming Winter on the Israel Trail

Segment 29 – Dvir(a) to Sansana

“The way you spend New Years is the way you’ll spend the rest of the year.”

A friend of mine posted that message on Facebook on New Year’s day. If that message is true, well then, I can expect to be doing a lot more hiking on the Israel Trail this year, and in the company of wonderful friends.

Despite last minute cancellations from my regular hiking companions, and the threat of rain, I did not want to postpone this hike a second time. As long as we had two cars, to park one at each end of the segment, we were good to go. Unlike our previous outing on the trail with 19 hikers, this time we were just five, and that was just fine! Yuval and I were joined by Cindy and newcomer Robin (who usually play tennis together on Saturday mornings but have decided to vary their routine) and Avner R (on his second hike with us).

While Yuval and Avner went to park the second car at the end of our route, we three ladies were graciously invited to wait inside the guard station at the main gate of Kibbutz Dvir. After a heavy rain overnight, the morning air was cool and gray, and we took up the offer.

We left Dvir and walked about a kilometer until we connected with the trail at the Teva/Dvira Forest. But instead of turning left (west) towards Pureh as we had done last spring, we turned right (east) towards Sansana.

The first path we took was familiar — an orienteering meet a few years ago had its start and finish here (Dvira).

Not only was this the first day of 2011, it was actually the first day of rain in the Negev this winter. Small puddles and muddy spots on the trail, together with the sweet scent of washed pine trees, were a pleasure to our senses.

Having crossed through Dvira/Teva Forest, the trail took us onto an old paved road for half a kilometer.

Then the trail took us up and down, and across the North Lahav Nature Reserve, which is an unforested area.

We crossed another road, and then climbed up into the forest of Mount Lahav.

Purple dots appeared alongside the Israel Trail blazes on this section. I’m still trying to find out what they’re all about.

It was drizzling now, but not cold. The trail turned onto a road again, which made the going easier for us. Suddenly I had a flashback, remembering this as the location of a control point on a mountain bike orienteering course last year. Yuval could not recall it. But later, at home, I retrieved the Lahav O-map and did indeed confirm my recollection.

Photo op. Of course we had to take a picture next to the Israel Trail sign.

The trail leaves the paved road just as it reaches the Joe Alon Museum of Beduoin Culture. We detoured slightly to scout it out.  Although none of us had ever visited the museum, we were not inclined to interrupt our hike for a museum tour. A coffee break, on the other hand, was a great idea. The cashier at the entrance waived the 25 shekel museum fee, and allowed us access to the coffee shop just inside the gate. Although the sign says “Coffee Ron”, we thought the place should be more aptly named “Coffee Joe”. Hussein the barrista made us cappucinos, and had no objection to our eating the snack foods in our backpacks.  

Time to get back to the trail. We continue east around Kibbutz Lahav. Misty  and muddy.

The last leg of the hike. The trail crosses this road to Sansana and heads to the left. So no, we did not have to ford this huge puddle.

One of the day’s highlights was this tributary of a nahal (not sure which one), where rain had fallen and filled the crevices with pools of water. Within a day or two all these puddles will be dry, making this a rarely seen sight.

Rain on the pine needles.

Sansana forest on a winter day.

Two snails getting it on in the rain.

The final ascent, through the forest, and to the waiting car.

Cindy’s new shoes. Guess they’re worn in now.

Apologies for a rather sketchy hiking report. In the few days since our hike, I’ve traveled across the Atlantic and am currently in Boynton Beach, Florida. USA. An afternoon rainshower afforded me the perfect opportunity and atmosphere to complete this blog posting.  

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!

* Ups and Downs on the Israel Trail

Segments 23-24 – Shoevah to Even Sapir

Although November is almost over, Israel has not yet received any significant rainfall this autumn. Our weather concern for this hiking day was not if it would be cold and wet, but rather how hot it might be. Faced with such conditions, I decided the best segment for today’s hike on the Israel National Trail would be the ascent to Jerusalem. I hoped to enjoy the greenery and shade of the forests, and to find water in the spring-fed pools marked on the map. Since this segment is the closest the Israel Trail gets to Jerusalem, it was a natural decision to hike the trail in an “ascent to Jerusalem”. But we had plenty of descents as well.

We began our hike in Shoevah, the same place we began a hike 6 months ago. We left our cars at the gas station at the entrance to the town, and walked a few hundred meters to the start of a trail. From there it was another 1.5 kilometers until we actually connected with the Israel Trail. This time, instead of  turning to the right (north direction of trail) towards Shaar Hagai, we continued straight (south direction) towards Jerusalem.

This part of the trail would not be any fun to do on a bicycle. Much too rocky!

After steady walking and taking for an hour (since leaving our cars), we reached Eyn Limon (the Lemon Spring). Still early in the morning. We had a short snack break. The air was cool and no one expressed an interest in testing the water in the pool.

After Eyn Limon,  the trail changes from a slight to a steeper incline. In my briefing at the start of the hike, I had described the entire ascent to Tzuba as a moderate climb. I understandably took some flak from the hikers when the going got a bit vigorous. As we headed up, we had lovely vistas of the forests, farmlands and villages on the surrounding hills, the outskirts of Jerusalem.

As soon as we reached Tzuba at the top of the climb, we crossed the road, and headed back down again.

As we approached Sataf, we faced a short climb. Now, this is climb that can be considered steep. Shula needed a shove from Saraleh to get going.

There were good trail blazes on this short segment. In some places, I could see three or four blazes all at once.

Cindy stops to catch her breath and pose for the camera.

Yuval kept an eye on the map the entire day. No matter how good the trail blazes are, it is always wise to keep a map in hand.

We stopped for our mid-morning sandwich and snack break at Sataf.

Vista point at Sataf.

Shula sits for a moment on an olive tree. If Miri had been with us on this hike, I think she might have been inspired to turn this pose into one of her sculptures.

Beauty spot on Sataf. The brown sign indicates the wall surrounds a garden of trees indigenous to the land of Israel. The white sign prohibits entrance.

Stone steps, stone steps, and more stone steps, lead down from Sataf. A 100-meter drop into Nahal Sorek. By the time we reached the parking lot at the bottom, some of us were keenly aware of previous injuries to our knees and ankles.

The gem of the day became apparent as we neared the end of our hike. After a short segment parallel to Highway 386, the trail turns right and crosses under the road. For the next kilometer the narrow trail climbs gradually through thick forest and across remnants of ancient stone terraces that harnessed the rain waters that flowed down this tributary of Nahal Sorek.

We were surprised by this enormous wall. It is a dam (I later learned) that was once part of an irrigation system for retaining and channeling water from nearby Eyn Hindak.

After we climbed the trail up and around the dam, the forest thinned out, and we soon arrived at Eyn Hindak. There we found no water in the pools, and lots of litter and remnant of picknickers. Yuck! Even more disturbing was the damage from a fire earlier this year (caused by carelessness) that scorched most of the hillsides from Eyn Hindak to where the trail crosses the road to Even Sapir. Despite the lack of rain, a few small wisps of green have started to rejuvenate the landscape.

We had left cars parked at the entrance to Even Sapir (starred), which gave us the option of climbing out of the trail at Eyn Hindak (3). That is what we did. That route, in fact, used to be the course of the Israel Trail.

Here’s a summary of our ascents and descents. My GPS recorded a climbing total of about 460 meters, and a hiking total of about 13 kilometers. (Click image for enlarged view. Correction: Road crossing at Tzuba is Route 3965, not 395)

P.S. We did find water at Sataf, of course. Avner took a quick dive into one of the pools before we noticed the sign prohibiting it. Here’s the incriminating evidence.

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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!

* Israel Trail 2009-2010 Recap

Despite a 2-month suspension of hiking due to my retinal detachment in November, we completed 10 hikes on the Israel National Trail this (academic) year for a total of about 140 kilometers. It’s hard to be exact on the distance measurement. I activate the GPS recording when we commence walking, and stop it when we reach the end of the hike. Sometimes our hikes include a kilometer or more on a “connector” trail to the point where we pick up the Israel Trail. I’ve also accidentally paused recording a few times, and have had to estimate the length of the unrecorded segment. It’s really not critical. Eventually we will have bragging rights to 940 kilometers – the official distance of the trail. So far, we’ve done about 200.

The Trail is For Me!

The Trail is For Me!

Three of our regular hiker couples went off — independently of each other — to discover New Zealand this year. First were Saraleh and Avner Halachmi – check out Avner’s travel blog (in Hebrew). Then Ilan and Miri Berman took off – check out their gorgeous set of photos. Finally, David and Ruty Aloush made the journey. Varda also missed a couple hikes. As a result, Yuval and I are the only ones with a perfect attendance record.

Our group has coalesced very nicely, and I am no longer adding new names to the distribution/ invitation list, with one exception. We have a handful of unattached and hiking-without-husband women in the group, and I’d be happy if a similar number of men-on-their-own would join us and provide some gender balance.

Every hike this year was a pleasurable and memorable experience — with weather, terrain and social mix creating a different flavor each time.

You can take a look at our journeys through my collection of photos from the Israel National Trail.

Next year I intend to hike a couple 2-day segments south of Arad, which will probably entail hiring logistical assistance. I’m soliciting recommendations and advice — if you have suggestions, please post a comment or send me an email.

* 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).
Click on the SLIDESHOW button for quick and easy viewing of the set.

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!