We completed day 2 from the trail guide. As you can see the guide is totally out of whack with reality. Arlene and I are no slouches but it would have been impossible to go faster. We woke up outside the wadi in a camping spot- well beside the official one. We moved over because about 30 high schoolers were on a field trip and sleeping out under the stars ( which, by the way are so amazing in the desert.) We got our gear together, ate some porridge and powdered eggs and set off, toes bandaged and hoping for the best. As usual it wasn’t long before we were climbing another mountain- another long steep slog up gravelly slopes -20% grade. It took hours and near the summit who should we meet but a cyclist, dragging his mountain bike across the rocks. I don’t know how he could possible manage the descent WITH A BYCYCLE!! He was a geologist who came to the desert once a month. People do all sorts of crazy stuff though he seemed a down to earth kind of guy. He warned us about the trail down – two dry waterfalls and a bunch of boulders to navigate “but you can slide down them”. Nothing about that in the trail guide. But he failed to tell us
you can slide down them if you don’t mind careening down 80 feet with your pack propelling you onto a pile of rock. Somehow, again with Arlene’s ingenuity we came out alive. I swear she is an angel sent to save me. The boulders – well there were dozens of seemingly impossibly high and treacherous rocks. Sometimes we slid the packs down first, hoping all our electronics would survive(in the event we survived, otherwise who cares, right??? I cannot believe the Israeli govt allows this trail to be certified. It’s well marked all along the way with fresh paint on boulders. I picture some evil person gleefully freshening the orange, blue and white markers at all these potentially lethal points on the trail. Our pictures will never do justice to the impossibilities of the trail. ( though to Arlene they are obstacles to be overcome). After defying the odds yet again (and I am thankful for prayers and guardian angels) we walked for a couple hours along a very wide wadi (dry streambed) and came to the camp. We set up just before dark, ate another of those delicious freeze dried meals – and I’m not being sarcastic- they are fantastic-. The area was lovely, as is all the open scenery we see, and appeared to be used by dirt bikers
In the morning I told Arlene I slept badly. I was cold, sunburned, blistered and dirty. She laughed and said she slept better because she was only cold and dirty. The previous night I had slept really well despite the teenagers, dud to the fact at that time I was only blistered. At the time this seemed hilarious and we laughed for 20 minutes.
We have created a few guessing games for example: what time do you think it is? How much charge do you think the solar charger put into the iPad? How long do you think we’ll live on this section of the trail? We should up the stakes. Loser has to give up a mountain meal or cut her water ration in half.
Decided not to check my toes, after all nothing I can do about them until we reach a town somewhere. They were no sorer than the previous night and looked a bit less red under the blister pads. I’d never seen a blister that went from the tip if the toe under the nail and down to nearly the first knuckle. Quite strange. Arlene said she lost several toenails on her Kilimanjaro trip. She also had Asolo boots that dye loved ( like mine) but discovered they were too snug above the toes. So that “fits like a glove” admiration I had for these boots turns out was not a good thing after all. Not sure what the solution is. Maybe my toes, after getting over the shock, will adapt.
Day 5 (for us)
Ok so here’s the scoop on today. Clear blue skies, warm- lovely, scenery absolutely awesome. We left at 7 and walked down the wadi for a good 2 hours before reaching Timna park. Fabulous place. Striking rock formations such as Solomons pillars (misnamed by a British archeologist – nothing to do with Solomon anyway. There were also the ruins of an Egyptian temple and a replica of the biblical tabernacle. We missed the latter as a park employee offered to give us a lift to the pillars. The surrounding mountains and valleys are magnificent, the stone itself ancient. Would have been a lovely place to cool our heels ( and toes) for a day. However it was only about 11, so we set out on the trail. We knew it would be hard since even that inept trail guide said so. But again the ascent was underplayed . It was straightforward ( meaning no ridiculous impasses but it was VERY steep, in fact the final push was basically vertical, all on rock. But what a view from the top!!! We rehydrated, ate some power bars and peanut butter/sand on dried out bread. The summit was a tabletop with sheer sides. NOTHING in the trail guide said anything about easing yourself backwards off the rim with nothing but 2000 feet of air below you and a couple of metal handholds on a narrow lower ledge. But that’s what we had to do. We had seen three guys’ heads appear mysteriously over the edge but dismissed their route as having anything to do with the INT. They invited us to smoke a joint so the trip down wouldn’t seem so bad. As if smoking pot would help! What I wanted was a helicopter evacuation off that tabletop. Somehow we did it and the rest of the descent was…sketchy.. Once again we lived to tell the tale. This was actually a geological trail with explanatory plaques but no one in Canada would dare take a bus load of school kids to see it! Just below the tabletop summit we passed a cheery group of people with about 15 young kids in tow. One guy had a four year old slung across his shoulders, another a baby on his back and one on his front. The kids were all scattered over the rocky, razor thin trail. They were headed to the top for a picnic!!!! We expressed our amazement and concern but they seemed unfazed. We were completely flummoxed by this reckless endeavour.
It was after 5 ( 10 hours of hiking) when we got into a more open wadi. The trail took a turn up again so we decided to camp in the wadi, which is a no-no because of flash floods. The wind had picked up, so we walked a bit further to see if there was a more sheltered place, decided to pitch the tents, when to our amazement a car whizzed by not 200 feet from where we were standing. A road? Sure enough it was a very narrow paved road and looking right, we noticed a building. We knew everything would be shut down because Shabbatt had begun (sabbath) but went to investigate. Turned out it was an almost completed visitors centre and someone had left the door unlocked!! Unfortunately there was no running water yet but there was power to charge up our iPads. We forgot about tents and just blew up our air mattresses, put them on some ceiling tiles for insulation and that was our camp for the night. Warm and out of the wind. Providential. If that car hadn’t gone by we would never have known. We only saw two other cars that entire night pass by. Of course we didn’t turn on lights but ate dinner under the green glow of the exit signs.
I forgot to mention that while Arlene was helping me down backwards from a rock she started laughing about the holes in the back of my pants. On the trail I found a pair of black stretchy capris and we both thought that was an amazing coincidence. Unfortunately they were about 2 sizes too small. Wouldn’t that have been something if they’d fit perfectly??
Another cloudless warm day. The night was uneventful . No police arrived to throw us out which was surprising because this place should have been locked and have security cameras. There are lots of antiquities mounted on the wall. We’ve decided not to back to the trail as it does a loop. We can see the town we would have ended up at across the valley so will just head out as the crow flies. Not sure what will be available when we get there. Things only open up in the evening of the sabbath. The next section of the trail is supposedly (from this flawed guide book) a much easier walk, though still 22 km. We’ll see how it goes – and what the toes look like” Arlene pulled her Achilles’ tendon on the descent which is a bummer.
After such an extreme day yesterday I’ve decided that whenever I know a section of the trail is too hairy and unreasonable I’ll give it a miss. The problem is the guide, and there’s only one, does not really warn you. It might say “difficult “ or “steep” but it in no way prepares you for the actual conditions you find on the trail.
All sections of the trail are challenging but I didn’t come over here to look death in the face, plus it’s hardly fair to Arlene who I’m sure feels some responsibility for both our safety. She has quite literally saved me countless times over the past 5 days. But we are still enjoying ourselves, revel in the accomplishments ( surviving so far), are in awe of the scenery and history. Day by day, step by step, only perhaps being a bit more discriminating about the limits required for a safe yet challenging journey.