I wrongly assumed that the quarry would shut down in the evening. It actually carried on all night. The noise got louder at night with drilling, huge bangs and trucks reversing. I got my earplugs out but I couldn’t sleep with them in. I find earplugs really uncomfortable and can’t relax (I used to have loads of ear problems when I was younger so I blame it on that). I resorted to looking at the stars through the netting instead, drifting in and out of sleep. I just needed to get away from this area.
The sunrise in the morning was coating the mountains with a rich orange. The scenery was stunning from the second we started climbing up into the reserve. I took a rest on a small pile of rocks next to the path until Gil passed and told me the piles are burial sites that are 4000 years old. Whoops! I apologies to the man or woman I sat on!
At the top of the climb we were greeted with a view of the Katan (small) Crater. This is small?! Just amazing. There are 5 craters in the Negev desert and we will be visiting 3. We started the descent into the crater, passing incredible sands and rocks of all colours.
At the base we hiked 4km to a turning. We hid our bags in a bush, although we haven’t seen anyone for 2 days, and grabbed lunch and water and took a short detour to the craters exit known as Satans Mouth.
Here the layers of crater, almost vertical, sit dramatically from the ground. It looked like they had fallen from the sky.
I enjoyed our lunch of crackers with Tahini, walnut and raisins (one of my favourite combinations) and pretzels, all while sat in such dramatic scenery. I tried to savour the moment. A little mouse came to have a peer at us and I threw a bit of cracker his way. He darted out, grabbed it and disappeared back over the rocks seemingly pleased with his catch of the day.
We returned to our bags and started the hike to the other side of the crater and the dreaded steep climb out. The sun started to feel insanely hot. They mild temperatures (when I say mild I mean 23-25 degrees!) of the last week were slowly starting to rise. Today was 27 degrees and in 2 days this increases to 30. Even though I put lots of sunscreen on and had a sun hat, the sweat that was pouring off me wiped it away and I could feel I had caught the sun. I was baking. I kept drinking and snacking but I started to feel weak and sick – probably mild heat exhaustion.
I said in my blog previously that the climbs always look small from the ground. Not this one though. The climb to Ma’ale Eli looked huge. A steep 400 meters.
I paused before starting assessing how I felt. I was hot, my legs were heavy and I felt tired even standing still. This was going to be tough. There’s only one way to the campsite though. I started climbing. My heart was pounding but I kept going. I saw Gil pause at the bottom then slowly heading my way. It started to get really difficult so I focused on a point and just got to there. Then I would choose a different point and get to there.
I reached a section with handrails and scrambling. I kept pushing forward. The end was in sight. I used the last of my energy to get over and….it wasn’t the end. No where near.
I sat for a rest and waited for Gil to catch up. We carried on together. Slow but steady. More climbs and more handrails.
Then, the best bit, it finally flattened out. We had reached the top and the rewarding view that came with it.
We That’s a tough climb even when you are feeling good, but doing it when tired, ache and with heat exhaustion, that’s got to deserve an ice cream! Unfortunately there was no ice cream, but there was an army base with free water for hikers. You’ve got to take what you can in the desert.
The designated campsite was full of coaches and tents that hundreds of kids were walking towards in the distance. Thankfully, there was a second empty camp are 50 metres away. I put up the tent and dived in quickly, the flies have been driving me absolutely insane today. Food, water and rest is just what I need. Tomorrow is a difficult day as well so I hope I feel better and that the kid group have a reasonable curfew!
We needn’t have set an alarm as the group of kids near by were woken up at 5am to music and someone shouting instructions on a speaker. They had gone to bed about 10am so must be tired. We crossed a road and started hiking up until we reached Meizad Zafi where there is a ruined Roman fortress a great view from all angles, including of the Jordan mountains. I’m spoils with views.
The trail started to descend and we found ourselves on the edge of a steep drop and, to our right, Israels largest dry waterfall. We did a bit of yelling as it provided the most amazing echo – I counted 10 second. It would start echoing in front of you and then, when it was fading out, it would start again louder to the right.
The climb down was steep and rocky and I was wary of all the huge rocks that had fallen off the cliff. At least it’d be a quick death if one of them fell on you! The walk across the wadi was gentle and peaceful, at least it would have been if it wasn’t for the flies that were doing a great job of swarming around me constantly. There were hundreds of them hitchhiking a ride on us. It was like torture as they tickle me so much. I really hate flies. I wonder if there is anyone in the world who’s favourite animal is a fly?
We hit a steep wall and the start of a massive climb which ended with a 10 metre ladder. The sun was beating down on my head and I was drenched in sweat in minutes. Gil gets a bit of vertigo and wasn’t keen on the final section that involved walking on a thin path with a sheer drop to our right. Heights don’t phase me in the slightest. I save all my fear for spiders.
I didn’t celebrate too much when we reached the top as we still had an even bigger, more strenuous climb to come.
We hit another one of those dreadful 4 foot high underpasses that belong in an army training camp. This was the longest yet. Halfway across, crouched over, dragging my bag and sticks, I whacked my head on the concrete roof. My hip started to really hurt then my knees. Gil came back in to rescue me and took my bag the rest of the rest of the way.
We passed a large group who had all been hiking sections of the trail over 5 years. We started to make our way through the crowd and the leader came to speak with us and was asking us lots of questions. He turned on his portable speaker and everyone turned to face us. He then announce to the group our names and how we had walked here from Dan in less than 5 weeks. We were greeted with lots of wows and claps. ”They are carrying their rubbish away with them” someone shouted pointing at the rubbish bag I had hanging from my bag. More wows and claps. After lots more congratulations and good lucks, we finally made it through the crowd. So sweet! After 3 days not seeing a soul other than a few Bedouin boys, it was strange being around so many people again.
Then, the climb. Up Snapir (flipper in Hebrew – although I couldn’t see the flipper shape). It was a tough but fun climb up jagged steep rocks. I was tired but nailing this, I like scrambling.
The view from the top was amazing. This was the Makhtesh Gadol (Large Crater) and large it was.
There was one more climb and then a winding rocky descent off the craters edge to Oron where we were camping tonight. It had been a hot and strenuous day and the soles of my feet were bruised from all the rocky terrain. It was exciting hiking in such amazing scenery though and I was really excited to spot some mountain deer.
Yet again, I found myself at a campsite next to a factory, one that opens 24 hours a day according to the security guard. At least this one is clean(er) and it has water. Tomorrow is the infamous Karbolet, the toughest day of the entire trail so we need to leave with all our water bottles full so we can’t afford to camp anywhere else. I’ve just resigned myself to having sleepless nights for the rest of the trip and have given up hope that I might get to experience some proper wild camping even though I am in the middle of nowhere – sometimes it’s better to be pleasantly surprised than constantly disappointed.
Before bed there was a massive explosion coming from the factory. It went straight through me light an invisible force of air and shock the tent. Shortly afterwards, we were hit with a thick dusty cloud that stung my eyes and dried my throat. We put the outer on the tent to try and stop the dust getting in but it didn’t help much. I kept coughing. A security man came and gave us a bag full of food which was amazing – fruit, yoghurt, bread and cheese. We had a second dinner then tried to settle down for the night. It was so nice of the security man, although he probably felt bad that we had to sleep in the dust cloud.
I am walking 1000km the full length of Israel. Part of the reason I have taken on this challenge is to raise money for Africa’s Children in Education. Each time I receive a donation it is a HUGE morale boost…please donate!