April 17, 2014

Hitting the Israel Trail

First day chol hamoed Pesach. The Passover Seder is behind us, the extra calories are bulging atop us and the sun is glistening above us. We’re compelled to hit the trail.

We have been walking the Israel Trail for eight months now, completing a section every few weeks. To date, Amir and I have walked from the northern most point at Kibbutz Dan to the southern tip of Lake Kinneret and from Beit Oren south to Modiin.

That makes about 300 kilometers out of 1,000. We are in no race to complete it and are savoring each and every step of the way. Walking is one of the best ways to experience Israel’s natural wonders.  We have walked along the coastline, dipping our tired feet into the sparkling Mediterranean. We scrambled atop ancient Roman aqueducts and crawled into prehistoric caves. 

Each hike is a unique and magical experience. We have since formed a local hiking group and have charted our travels on our website. Check out

Map of our route.
Today we started at Beit Oren in the Carmel Mountains. We parked our car on Road 721. 

This windy, mountain road travels eastward through the heart of the Carmel Range, an area affectionately called Little Switzerland.

The trail immediately led us uphill, climbing through forest. At one place near the top, we had to hoist ourselves up through a narrow stone passage. Our hiker dog TJ (who too has done about 300 kilometers of this trail) found this point impassable and needed an extra push from behind to make it through. 

Breathless, we arrived at the top, having climbing 500 meters within the first hour.  Walking poles are highly recommended for this hike.

We then hugged the side of the shady mountain and walked eastward, marveling at the caves and formations in the limestone that seemed to drip, the carstite creating smooth pillars and windows in the rock face.

The trail climbed up again to a lookout. At the top, we could see the devastation from the Carmel Forest fire that raged in December, 2010, killing 44 people and creating a natural disaster. 

The trees on the ridge were skeletal, while the brush underneath had grown back strongly, surrounding us with wildflowers and scents of thyme and oregano.

We walked past the Carmel Forest Spa and saw vistas that stretched across the range to the Mediterranean where we could see white sailboats bobbing on the water in the distance.

We passed an ancient burial cave where once five ossuaries were placed.  Soon after, we saw a recreational area with picnic tables, washrooms and fresh water, a perfect place to stop and rest. This park was close to the archeological sites of Chorbat Rakit and the Yisach Cave.

The path then descended steeply though thick forest. As I had no hiking poles, I grabbed onto branches and roots to stop from sliding and tumbling as we went down into a valley. 

The path then took us into Wadi Chiq, an old riverbed. We walked along the dark, cool wadi, slowly heading uphill. 

A few cows that had found refuge here refused to move, merely blinking back at us as we tried to pass. TJ was of no assistance here.

We left the wadi and climbed up the side using metal bars as hand grips to pull us up the steep rocky slope. (TJ had to be pushed up here too.) 

This path continued uphill until we finally saw the roofs peaking out above us.

Exiting the trail, we found ourselves in the midst of a foreign, honking, urban world. Leaving the tranquility of the trail behind and stepping into a strip of car mechanic shops and zooming buses of Highway 672 made me a bit shell shocked. Not wanting to move, I blinked like those cows in their cool refuge way down below.

But this the beauty of Israel. You could be in an urban setting, yet if you follow a colored blaze just to your left, then walk a few steps, you will enter into a natural paradise.

It took a few minutes, but we soon realized we were in a Druze village called Usifya.  I had never been there so on the way home I googled it. I landed on the mayor’s welcome page and found this.

Want to visit Usifya?  Maybe the mayor needs a better translator!

During our post-Seder hike, we had had walked for six hours, burned many calories, yet had covered a mere 11 kilometers. The elevation map will explain why.

Weary, our feet tired and our bodies sweaty, we felt elated at having discovered another exquisite part of Israel.  

Fresh air, open vistas, a trail map and a pair of hiking shoes. This is Israel living at its best.

Chag Sameach

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