One of the wonderful things about Israel is that its trekking and hiking season is something that exists year round. During the winter and early spring, we prefer to take advantage of the desert before the summer heat makes it unbearable, while spring and summer make a calling for us to head north towards the Golan Heights and Galilee regions. So, we decided that it is essential to get a few more hikes in down south before making our way north. Last weekend, we were lucky enough to take a group of 40 trekkers deep into the depths of the central Negev in the area of Makhtesh Ramon and its endless terrain for hiking and exploration.
Friday’s hike at Nahal Ada – Wadi Ada– was relatively short as we did not want to tire anyone out too much before a full day of trekking on Saturday. The Ada Canyon provided us shade on a hot day and allowed the group to technically challenge themselves by scaling boulders and climbing up ladders as they made their way through the canyon. Once you get out of the canyon, you are greeted by views of Wadi Paran which is the country’s longest dry river bed. The Paran River is a seasonal stream that gets its water during the rainy season when it becomes inundated with massive flash floods. The river starts flowing in the Sinai Peninsula and runs through Israel and dumps into the Jordanian side of the Arava Valley. Seeing the stream from above may look like nothing more than a sandy river bed, but when it floods, the Wadi itself is definitely one of the more impressive phenomena in Israel.
After getting to camp, the festivities began. For many of our trekkers, it was their first time eating pita fresh off the sajj before enjoying two massive Poyke dinners. Poyke is slow cooked in a huge cast-iron pot directly over the heated coals. The key to a good poyke is just throwing anything in it that you can imagine. So in addition to the basics of veggies, barley and lentils, we added a ton of wine, spices and even some whiskey to top it off. As a result, our goal of getting up and out before sunrise was a bit delayed due to the food coma from the previous night.
Even with a late start, the group got off to a fast start and we were able to fit everything in as planned. The day’s trek started by climbing Mount Saharonim while continue through the Nekorot Horseshoe and onto the Ardon Riverbed. The hike finished by climbing Givat Herut and catching some stunning views of Mount Ardon and the north-side of the Makhtesh. You cannot be in the Makhtesh without actually addressing what a Makhtesh is! We often refer to it as the Ramon Crater, but there is nothing crater-like about it – save for the concave appearance. A Makhtesh is formed through thousands of years of water erosion after numerous oceanic periods and folding in the earth’s crust. This phenomenon is unique to Israel and the Sinai Peninsula and thus the word Makhtesh has become an internationally recognized, geological term to describe this unique form of erosion. To get a complete understanding, you have to see this video via the link: http://stwww.weizmann.ac.il/g-earth/geo-israel/makteshim/flash/stages502.swf (provided by the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot).
The areas through which were trekking were part of the ancient incense route used by the Nabateans to transport their perfumes towards the Mediterranean coast via the Arabian Peninsula to Petra and through the Negev. They would use large caravans of camels to help transport their goods through the depths of the deep desert regions. In the areas of Israel’s three major makhteshim, you can see archeological remains from these trade routes. The incense route itself has been recognized as a UNESCO heritage site. Throughout the trip, a number of people from abroad kept telling us how they never would have discovered these areas on their own. For non-native Hebrew speakers, hiking in Israel can be a daunting task due to the lack of updated and precise information about the trekking trails. Israel sells itself as the Holy Land and has not done enough to promote its great outdoors – this is what we pride ourselves upon, the idea that we are at the forefront of opening up Israel’s rich, natural landscapes and amazing diversity in hiking.
The next major trek planned is at the end of February and will be to Nahal Talkid and Nahal Piran – we are headed to the Jordan Valley!