November 2014
Stephen Rubin

Hiking in Israel can be a daunting venture for non-native Hebrew speakers.  There is a serious lack of information in anything but Hebrew and the little information available is either out-of-date, inaccurate or nondescript – usually, all of the above combined.  Israel has done a wonderful job at promoting the country’s primary attractions and basic hikes within the well-known national parks; however, for those looking beyond the basics, its easy to get stuck revisiting the same trails and attractions due to the lack of quality resources detailing all of the wonderful trekking options across the country.

Heading down via Ma’ale Eli into the Small Crater


Our goal (I am referring to Ariel Lasman, my good friend and business partner) is to give people the opportunity to escape the city and discover the endless natural beauty of Israel.  This was initiated by reaching out to the thousands of foreigners living in Israel – including students, diplomats, professionals and extended travelers.  What we discovered was that people were waiting for this exact initiative – someone to take the reins, coordinate the logistics and allow people to set off into nature, often exploring some of the more remote pastures of Israel’s great outdoors.  The best thing for the soul is to get out in nature, lose the signal on your phone and connect with yourself and others through beautiful vistas, steep descents and demanding ascents! Along with the sense of accomplishment, there is something very calming about getting outside of the city and meeting people from across the world who share the same interests.  We were amazed to find that even a lot of Israelis were interested in joining the crew – both as a way to expand their network and the fact that even for them, without the updated knowledge, it can be a bit of a headache to plan a hike that is both logistically feasible and away from the typical hiking destinations.

Southern Dead Sea in the distance and the mountains of Jordan


The first trek we decided to do was the Small Crater – or as we say in Hebrew – the Makhstesh Hakatan.  There are five of these craters in Israel; however, they are not actually craters.  Hence, the word Makhtesh has been internationally adopted as a way to describe this unique geological phenomenon created over millions of years through water erosion. All of the craters in Israel offer unique trekking options that are off the beaten path, and our goal is to expose everyone to the endless possibilities of hiking and exploration across all of Israel’s geographical regions.

Coffee Time...always required
Coffee Time…always required


We decided to start with this particular Negev desert hike,  which starts from the viewpoint over the Small Crater, due to the intermediate level of the trail itself.  Obviously, we know our own capabilities, but when taking a hiking group for the first time, its important to evaluate where everyone stands.  The difficult part of the hike is one of the most daring descents in Israel – Ma’ale Eli.  You must inch your way down the rocky descent as you switch back constantly between boulders and craggy cliffs.  This is challenging, yet at a slow pace, accomplishable.  Of course, the reward is always coffee, tea and biscuits at the bottom!  After that, we continued through the Makhtesh and finished at the Gate of Asmodeus, or in Hebrew, Sh’ar Ashmadai.  Ashmadai is the name for the king of all demons! The gate is an excellent place to talk about the journeys of the PALMACH – the elite strike force of Israel’s pre-state defense network – deep into the desert, and the legends they told while trying to keep warm around the fire during the colder months.  One of those legends has to do with King Solomon, the building of the Great Temple in Jerusalem and the demon king himself – Ashmadai/Asmodeus.

A little vino to celebrate the first trip!
A little vino to celebrate the first trip!


The hike incorporated beautiful views, a challenging descent, geological phenomena (including the beautiful colored-sands) and captivating historical narratives.  We finished with a glass of wine as the sun began to set over the heights of the Negev and then made our way back to Tel Aviv – arriving exactly on time at 7:30PM (19:30). The group included people from Spain, France, Canada, South Africa, United States, Colombia, the Philippines, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Andorra and of course, Israel.  12 countries amongst 36 people is remarkable, and everyone shared a common language – Nature.

Yoni on the descent!


For more information on the hike, please contact me and I will give you all the details so you can do it yourself or with some friends. Keep in mind, you will need multiple cars as to leave one car at the end of the trail.   The hike is 10KM starting from Mitzpe Hamakhstesh next to an IDF base and descends via Ma’ale Eli on the Israel National Trail (and a red marked trail simultaneously) and finishes through the Gate of Ashmadai – Sha’ar Ashmadai.


Here is a topographical map in Hebrew.

מכתש קטן