Meeting on the Israel National Trail - Week 2

Sapir Lake to Lotz Cisterns

The second week of the 12th annual journey on the Israel National Trail featured drastic changes in the weather – a heat wave that changed to clouds and rain towards Purim. The same thing can be said about the walk itself, which focused on eastern and western regions of the Ramon Crater and introduced the hikers to very different geological phenomena.
Three years ago KKL-JNF joined this initiative as a strategic partner, and are involved in the content, instruction and administration of the trek.

On Sunday, March 5th 2017, the hikers continued their wonderful journey with renewed energy in the magical desert, a place where time has stood still and has been relatively touched by Man. KKL-JNF guide Gidi Hermoni said:
"The high Negev Mountain loves not being trampled on or developed. There are ancient trees here and the view is completely primeval, something that we do not take for granted.”

Lake Sapir to Yahav Mountain

On Sunday morning, the hikers started their journey from the Arava towards the Ramon Crater. The journey began at the marvelous Lake Sapir, developed and maintained by KKL-JNF with the help of their friends worldwide. After going through the village of Sapir, the hikers entered the Negev area. From then on they would go through deserted areas and experience the feeling of walking in a virgin and primeval landscape. After arriving at the Karkeshet River caldera – a type of crater caused by an ancient volcano that collapsed on itself - they followed a steady uphill climb to Tzvira Heights, and on the way noticed the famous and impressive geological cracks –chasms ranging from a few centimeters to over a meter wide, with seemingly endless depth. .

The hikers stopped for dialogue circles under the shade of an acacia tree, where they learned about the Sapir Lake project and the earthworks undertaken by KKL-JNF to prepare the ground for the lake and the town of Sapir.
The group continued their walk until noon, when they stopped for another break in the shade of a beautiful waterfall at the Tzvira River, where they gathered up their strength to climb the Yahav Mountain. At the end of an exhausting climb, they were rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the Arava to the east and the Negev Mountains to the west. As usual, after every uphill there is a downhill, which ended with them arriving at the Gav Holit campsite. There, after partaking in a delicious and nutritious meal and singing traditional Israel songs around the campfire, the happy hikers called it a day.

Impressive view from Karbolet Haririm

On Monday the hikers woke up early, and after a discussion circle they climbed some steep waterfalls at the Geled River. Afterwards they freshened up in the waters of Ein Geled. The morale of the group rose after seeing water in the desert. After a breakfast in the shadow of an impressive cliff, they continued climbing up the wadi until they reached the Ammonoidea Ridge, where they saw the famous fossils of ancient animals. On their way down from the ridge they leapt over a small precipice, with some of the group volunteering to help others get through.

On their way down the trail, they turned to the Ma'ok River and found some shade under a stunning acacia tree on the riverbed, where they talked about old Israeli songs and their influence on Israeli society. The conversation and rest gave them renewed energy. They climbed over to the slopes of the crater and after a lot of effort under the scorching heat, they ascended to the top of the Karbolet Haririm Mountain, where they saw the impressive view of the crater and the town of Mitzpe Ramon. They continued the trail down Ma'ale Dekalim, Han Saharonim and Gvanim River before arriving at the campsite.

Yosef Spiezer, a KKL-JNF guide, summarized the first two days: "We walked 42 kilometers in two days and got two wonderful days as part of an amazing project – 'Meeting on the Israel National Trail'. There are some who say that West Ramon is the most beautiful part of the trail".

The Ramon Crater– natural phenomenon

From Tuesday through Thursday, the journey took place along the Ramon trail – a new trail marked at the beginning of 2016. The most exciting point of the trail was the climb to the Ramon Stalagmite, where the hikers arrived to a spectacular lookout over the crater. Along the trail they encountered flowering carpets of Desert Rhubarb and colorful Tulips. KKL-JNF guide Gilad Ben Zvi described the formation process of the crater and the geological uniqueness of the place. Emphasis was placed on savoring the beauty of the desert rather than making it bloom – a change in perception made in order to keep this region of the desert the way it is. The guide presented the issue of animal extinction in the area in the early 20th century and the animals that have returned to the wild. As part of his talk, he read aloud passages from the book "Memories of a Hebrew Zoologist" by Israel Aharoni.

The hikers were joined on this part of the trail by Montfort CEO Ziv Yekutieli, who joins the journey every year for a few days.

"I've been traveling with this group for quite a few years, 4-5 days at a time, in the south. This year I joined the hikers on Monday night and walked with them until Thursday,” he said.

“The trail is known as "West Ramon", but it is in fact more southern Ramon. At the south side of the crater there are four gaps (openings at the precipice of the crater). At the beginning of the trail you leave the crater southwards through Mif'ar Gvanim, ascend and descend the cliff, go near Mif'ar Peitam, turn north through Mif'ar Arod and walk to the Lotz Cisterns,” Yekutieli continued.

“The entire journey was a fascinating experience, especially in Ramon Crater where you could see so many geological phenomena in one place. You get to meet interesting people, have conversations and exchange views and ideas. Ido Mountain was especially beautiful because from there you could see really far and in all directions, so you could see a large portion of the Negev. We saw carpets of flowers. It was exceptionally beautiful seeing a whole extension, at the western edge of the crater, covered in reboudia and tulips. We also saw some wild donkeys, the type that had been completely hunted down in the past, and has now returned and is developing well. It is a very beautiful creature that has adjusted to the desert and has never let man domesticate it," Yekutieli noted.

The riddle of Jacob's ladder

Friday, March 10th 2017, was the last day of the journey for the week. After an emotional morning ceremony, the 100 hikers left for the morning walk. From the Lotz Cisterns they climbed up Romem Mountain, which is 1,200 meters above sea level, and they were accompanied by powerful winds that brought dark clouds from the west. The hikers hurried to put on something warm, but after a while everyone was already hot from the hiking. The dominant color on the way was greyish green and yellowish brown. Every now and then you would see the blossoming of Matthiola, Bellevalia and Gagea.

As they reached the top of Mount Romem they found a large Tumulus (ancient stone monuments which are thought to have been erected for ritual purposes), out of which emerges an ancient stone wall built eastwards towards Ramon Mountain. The director of the Har Hanegev Field School asked the group a riddle about the line that the wall makes: "Perhaps it is some sort of "Jacob's Ladder" that connected, in that time, between the tall mountain peaks that are close to god? Who decided the ladder was vertical? Maybe it was horizontal and it connected the mountains Ramon and Romem, both reaching 1,200 meters? After all, between the stone monuments a wall is connecting the two mountains, so maybe this is the ladder?"

KKL-JNF guide Gidi Hermoni explained that these mountain tops have not known war. This fact is of special interest to the hikers who participate in ‘Meeting on the Israel Trail’. From Romem Mountain they continued on to Rosh Alot and reached the landscapes of Genesis, which have been barely touched by modern man. The view deeply affected the hikers.
In the ancient orchards between Romem Mountain and Rosh Alot, they encountered Atlantic Pistacia, impressive ancient agricultural terraces and even almond trees. It is all magical. There are dozens of trees that no one waters – their roots reach water. The guide told the group about KKL-JNF’s conservation project for ancient trees. He describes how the KKL-JNF unit take its methods from our ancient ancestors, conserves the trees and operates a genetic bank of ancient trees, all being done using low-tech methods to preserve the past and the present.

The intoxicating combination of spectacular views, the pleasant smell of wormwood in the air and the changing weather accompanied the hikers to the top of Rosh Alot and back to the Lotz Cisterns.