Crossing the Negev Desert: 14 Days on the Israel National Trail

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The Israel National Trail is a hiking trail over 940km long that crosses the country from The Lebanese border on the north, to the Egyptian one in the south. In May we hiked the northern section, and you scroll down to read about it in a different entry. During January 2012 we completed the southern section crossing the whole Negev Desert from Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat. This section is a little more complicated on the logistic aspects, so more participants were attracted to hike with our organization rather than doing it on their own. People were given the option to hike the complete 14 days with us, or join for parts of it. There were 3 participants hiking the whole length, 3 more did most of it, leaving behind sections that they have already hiked, and the rest joined for different time periods from 2 to 5 days. Al in all there were 50 participants joining the experience.

We began on Thursday, January 5th, hiking the most attractive section: From Sde Boker to Wadi Hava to Mitzpe Ramon. Wadi Hava is a remote canyon, which is very difficult reaching without logistic assistance. The fact that that section was taking place during the weekend, when many people can take vacations, enabled 30 people to participate. We hiked to the lower and upper Aqev Springs, to the northern and southern Hava Rock-Cracks and above the Northern cliff of the “Huge Makhtesh”, the largest erosive crater in the world. During the evenings we enjoyed nice Poyke meals (you can read about that stuff in a different post, dedicated to that, in the Field Cooking category) with wine and guitar playing.

Sunday in Israel is the first working day of the week, so about 20 people left us after their weekend hiking experience, but we welcomed 6 new participants that joined us for the next section. This section is dedicated to the East Ramon region. On the first day of that section we cross the Makhtesh from the town of Mitzpe Ramon to the Amonites Wall, a natural wall that consists of an ancient ocead layer rich with Amonite fossils. Chicken roasted in aluminum foil on the fire with onion soup as first course where our treat for the evening. It was a very cold and quite windy day, walking in elevation of 700-900 meters above sea level, under “deceiving sun” (that shines but doesn’t warm) while the rest of the country was rainy. After a good night sleep, waking into the freezing cold desert we headed for two days of hike, crossing all the way east to the Arava region, almost at the Jordanian border. Tuesday evening, when we arrived at our destination, was a nice treat awaiting us: The first hot shower after 6 days of hiking! During those 6 days we had Har-El with his equipped jeep escorting us and schlepping our gear, but from that evening we had to settle with My small pickup – 1994 Renault Express, that stood bravely up to the expectations!

Day 7 was one of our longest sections: 28 km. Since the days are short, we had to keep a quick pace and reduce the breaks. The cold wind added some difficulty, but towards the afternoon, as we arrived to the camp, it stopped to allow us a nice and comfortable night at sea level elevation.

Day 8, January 12th: That was our most adventurous day, climbing up the ladders of the Barak Gorge, and climbing down the ladders in the gorge of Vardit. Thus, together with 24 km of trail, was not an easy task, but as we arrived at the camp just with the last light we felt satisfied and happy… until we realized the strong and cold wind that the hills around campsite could barely weaken. This night we had company: At 5 a.m. a wolf arrived and sniffed around the remains of our meal. I barked at it but the wolf did not understand doggy language. The small stones I threw on it were understood better…

The next section of the trail is kind of boring. Since there are army practicing zones on both sides of the trail, it follows the asphalt road, on a flat and un-interesting landscape, for 40 km. To avoid it but still cross this section with our own muscle-power, we arranged bicycles for us to ride and cover that section. So we had some time in the morning for a nice breakfast before we started. There were only four of us riding this day, the rest of the group either left before, or decided to take a day off and cover this section by car. The strong and cold southern wind we were facing was not cooperating, but at km 31 there was the Neot Semadar café where we stopped for nice and rich hot chocolate. Once the 40 km were finally over, we walked 3 more to the camp at the Kassui Dunes. This evening Nirit joined us for driving the logistic car, escorted with her bright and active son Gev that right away explored the possibilities offered by the sand dunes.

The next day was a Saturday – Shabbat, the day of rest in the Jewish religion. We planned a short 11km section for that day, ending at Shacharut campsite (“The Camel Riders”), where we were provided with the second and last hot water shower of the trek.

The remaining 4 days were in the vicinity of the Eilat Mountains. We were now hiking with our last of five topographical maps, and the weather enabled us hike with our shorts for the first time… There were 11 participants on the trek and we knew we are approaching the end. Two long days of 22 and 26 km, followed with the last and more moderate sections: 16 and 14. On the 14th and last day we hiked through one of the most beautiful sections of the Israel National Trail: The Gishron Canyon. Its an orgy of rocks and colors: Black and purple Igneous rocks, Red, white and pink sandstone, yellowish limestone, greenish clay and much more. The last uphill of the 14 days brings us atop Mt. Tzefahot, from which you see the dark blue Gulf of Eilat at your feet, surrounded by beautiful mountains and four countries: Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The feeling was great, but a little sadness in the mixture: Soon the trek will be over, the life that we experienced was turning into a memory, our friends that walked with us are about to go back to their homes, and even the joy of wiping ones dirty hands on the 14-days-used pants is reaching its end… So we stayed on the summit for one last strong Arabic coffee, took a deep breath of the desert fresh air, and walked down towards the Gulf of Eilat…

You are welcome to watch Eli Shoshani’s photo album of the trek!

https://picasaweb.google.com/107622147846058937848/Shvil_Eli_01_12?authkey=Gv1sRgCLy2v9zV7_70tQE

The last section on the trail, from Caesaria to Sde Boker, is planned for February 2013, stay tuned!

A guided trek on this trail or different trails can be reserved at www.yoeloren.com

2 Responses to “Crossing the Negev Desert: 14 Days on the Israel National Trail”

  1. Tomas Says:

    Hi, I would like to visit the Negev desert in January. (INT). I want to ask you about weather in this period:(mostly raiy/sunny, temperatures in day/night). Thanks for any information.

    Tomas

  2. Yoel Says:

    January has cold nights (Sometimes freezing) and relatively cold days in the high-elevation parts of the desert, from the area of Arad to south of Mitzpe Ramon. It has also a good chance for rain. Still you can get many sunny days despite the temperatures. As you proceed south temperatures rise and rain is scarce, and most days are sunny. In the Eilat mts. the temperatures are warm during daytime and cool at night. Good luck!
    Yoel

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