Discover Two of the Most Challenging Trips in Israel
Now that the winter is behind us, let the good times roll. While we are at it, lets push past our usual trips into the world of super-adventures. The trips described below are NOT YOUR AVERAGE TIYUL. These adventures are extremely challenging and require more time, energy, and focus than your standard ‘family trip’. They are suitable for those eager to join the special forces or those who are just gluttons for punishment, aka extreme hikers. They are well worth the reward and each step will be enjoyed if the trip is done safely and with the proper preparation. The following description is by no means a substitute for a guide or an experienced leader. A guided trip will ensure a safe and worry-free trip for your group. Contact Ariel at Adventure Israel for specific information and advice. Remember to check the weather for rain or heat warnings before you head out.
Chatzatzon to Darga
Approx. Distance: 16 KM
Approx. Time: 9 hours
Region: Midbar Yehudah
Starting Point: Mitzpeh Shalem (14 KM north of Ein Gedi)
End Point: At crossing of Nachal Darga and Route 90
Things to bring: Hat, 5 liters of water, food for the day, sunblock, bathing suit, dry case (for keys and cell phone), 30 meter rope.
NOTE: Nachal Darga is a canyon hike that is regulated by the Park Service. Groups cannot enter the canyon after 10 AM, as such, Chatzatzon, the first leg of the hike must be started by 7:30 AM. Additionally, if there is even the slightest chance of rain in Jerusalem, Hebron, or the Dead Sea area this hike must be avoided due to flash-flood concerns. These are not mere suggestions, ignoring the rules is illegal and will compromise your safety. Still interested? Read below…
Darga is not for the faint of heart. This is an adventurer’s dream trip which includes hiking, sliding, swimming, climbing, and loads of magnificent views. Begin at entrance gate to Mitzpeh Shalem, look for the blue trail which runs parallel to the perimeter fence of the yishuv from west to east. Trail starts with a short gentle climb towards a water tower that quickly transitions into a steep and rocky hike along the ridge line. As you ascend, keep your eyes peeled for the painted trail markers to avoid losing the route. The views begin within the first 15 minutes of the climb and get progressively better as you ascend. The Moav Mountains of Jordan, the Dead Sea, and the Arava plain are all in sight. Continue on the blue trail until you summit at a flat expansive area with breathtaking views and a clear visual of everything you just finished climbing.
From here, look for a red trail heading off towards the northwest (towards Jerusalem) which will bring you to Nachal Darga. This trail is relatively flat for two kilometers and then drops precipitously into the valley below. Continue descending on the red trail for approximately one kilometer until it intersects the blue trail at the canyon floor.
This is the beginning of Nachal Darga. This would be a good place to don your bathing suits and pack away anything that needs to be kept dry. From here on in, you will be obligated to enter pools of water, some are shallow, others are deep and require swimming, all are fun and challenging! The blue trail continues meandering for approximately six kilometers through the slot canyon, some parts require a rope to guide your descent into a pool of water or a dry basin. (Look for the steel bolts that are anchored into the rock in the areas that require a rope.) As you hike, climb, slide, and swim your way along this trail you will encounter multiple locations where metal rungs or hewn hand/foot holds are there to assist you. Always pay close attention your footing and grip to ensure your safety. Follow the trail to its terminus at Route 90. From here you can walk back the two kilometers to your car which is just south of you in Mitzpeh Shalem or hitch, chances are by now a hitch will be rather appealing. Once you are back at your car, look up towards the top of Chatzaton, which you climbed many hours earlier, and enjoy your enormous accomplishment.
Ein Akev/Hod Akev
Approx. Distance: 20 KM
Approx. Time: 9 hours
Region: Machtesh Hagadol
Starting Point: First Parking area on access road to Ein Ovdat (near Midreshet Ben Gurion)
End Point: Same as above
Things to bring: Hat, 5 liters of water, food for the day, sunblock, bathing suit, towel, flashlight (just in case).
NOTE: This trip is regulated by the Park Service. Entrance to the Ein Ovdat Reserve requires a payment at the gate. The Park Service restricts hikers in the region to daylight hours only. There is minimal shade so make sure to wear a hat and sunblock. Additionally, the rangers stop all foot traffic to the spring (Ein Akev) after 2 PM so be sure to plan accordingly so you can get your swim in. This mega-hike will take you along the south-western rim of Machtesh HaGadol and down into an oasis with a fresh cold spring in which you can swim and relax. From there you can head back home or if you are feeling super-charged you can ascend Hod Akev, a distinctive peak jutting out of the crater basin.
Begin hike at green trail which heads steeply up the ridgeline immediately south of the parking area. (This steep climb will be your only serious uphill until after your swim in Ein Akev.) Once you reach the height of land, continue on the green trail is it heads to your left (east) skirting the rim of the crater. Enjoy the views of the massive crater beneath your feet and the open desert plateau to your right. About a kilometer and half after cresting the ridge, you will come across a small bedouin village (looks more like a sprinkling of random fabric across a moonscape) with a tent standing adjacent to the trail. This is a good spot to cool off and get out of the sun, and if she is around, you can meet Rebbetzin Bedouin who will quickly offer you (or force on you) hot tea and fresh pitas, for a charge. Once you hit the trail again, enjoy the gentle terrain, soon you will be amazed by the rim-walk you will encounter. Be extra careful to stay to the right side of the trail, do not approach the cliff edge, as a rule of thumb: always enjoy the view, do not become part of it. Shortly after the rim-walk, the trail descends abruptly to Ein Akev (not to be confused with Ein Akev Elyon which is a few kilometers to the south). Continue to junction with blue trail and follow sign to the spring which is about three minutes away. Enjoy your lunch alongside this rarity of lush green flora and a perennial stream running through the middle of a vast desert. Hop into Ein Akev to cool down and splash around but be aware the water is cold and the rocks are slippery. (This wonderful place reminds me of what I have learned through years of adventuring and now share regularly with those who join me: Never give up on a swimming hole, no matter how cold you fear it may be, you will never regret having gone in. Chilly maybe, perhaps even frigid, but you will always come out with a smile and a worthwhile experience.)
If you are able to leave the spring, believe me it ain’t easy, follow the blue trail which runs along the flowing water until a junction a few minutes downstream. You now need to decide your route for the return trip. If you have had enough and would like to take the short route home (approximately 6 kilometers of flat terrain), you need to stay left at this junction. If you are prepared physically and mentally for a grueling climb and then a long haul out, then follow the signs to the right, red trail, towards Hod Akev. Summit after two and a half kilometers. Check out the incredible sights and realize that you are standing on top of a very uniquely shaped peak with commanding views of a giant crater. From here continue across the very flat peak along the red trail then begin descent. After two kilometers you will hit a dirt road with green markers, turn left here. Hike for about one kilometer until blue trail and stay left to follow the blue trail for approximately two kilometers where you will hit the red trail which will bring you back to your car after a mere five kilometers. Whhheeeew, your done! Great job! Go get yourself an espresso for the ride home.
Ariel Fishman runs Adventure Israel, an action-packed adventure travel provider specializing in rappelling, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, caving, and survival trips. ODT workshops, corporate programs, and adventure therapy are also available. All trips are safe, fun, and empowering, and the intensity of the adventure is decided by you. From extreme expeditions to super-relaxed family trips, Adventure Israel’s staff are here so you can enjoy and challenge yourself like never before. Ariel can be reached at 058-536-4938. For pictures and more trip options visit http://www.adventure-israel.com.HERE