Israel National Trail Day 11: Ras Ali to Isfiya
Welcome. To the uninitiated, this is the blog where I tell the stories of hikes around Israel. In this entry, I return to the series I call 'Israel Trail, Home for Dinner' - my ambitious attempt to hike the entire country, north to south - without spending a night away from my family.
It has been over 4 months since I hiked the last section of the Israel Trail. A few consecutive happenings - laser eye surgery, lockdown, travel to America, quarantine, another lockdown followed by two weeks of no school for my kids meant that unpaid full day excursions were off the table. Finally, after last week's storm, I got out this Monday. The first difference to the first ten sections was timing. I had been used to waking up at 3am, driving 2 hours and starting my hikes at 5am. This was a function of hiking on Israel's hottest summer days, when I was desperate to escape the hottest hours of the day and be finished hiking by noon. But today was different - with a cool day ahead, I got up at a leisurely 6.30am, drove only 1¼ hours to the entrance of Ras Ali, and got straight out on the trail. (For an interesting article about this little town, check out this blog post: https://www.israeldiaries.com/ras-ali-bedouin-success-story/) Having not gotten up north for a good few months, it was exciting to see the lush greens of the Galil around me. There were also splashes of pinks and reds from the anemones and cyclamens that were growing. This area is quite special and suprisingly untouched - unnamed wadis coming from the left and right, a few grazing cows, and not a building in sight - that is, apart from a secluded shack flying the Golani Brigade's flag. After this beautiful hour of solitude, I neared route 762, and although all my maps (garmin, amud anan & INT app) showed a direct crossing over or under the road, freshly painted trail markers brought me parallel with the road to the roundabout junction 200 metres east. This wasn't surprising, as changes are regularly made to the trail, especially in areas where crossing roads are considered too dangerous. But then, at the roundabout, the new trail markings directed me eastwards of the village of Zubaydat, as opposed to westwards, where the rest of the day's trail continued. At this point I called in the cavalry - my wife, and asked her to look in the updated 2020 Israel Trail red book and send me pictures. This was to no avail, as the map there was also not updated to reflect this change (If you own a book there is a link with updates).
So as a last resort, I called the organisation responsible for the trail signs, and they said there had been an update recently as the tunnel under the road was impassable. So I stuck with the signs and passed through the town of Zubaydat, and after an interesting encounter with this guy (pictured) eventually met a point my maps deemed on the trail. Now I could see the end point of the day - the massive, looming ridge of the Carmel Mountains and the town of Isfiya. Any one who has driven past Haifa knows the ridgeline I am talking about, and it was a stark reminder of what awaited ahead of me. But after a lovely easy stroll through forests and rocky meadows (and coming across an awesome burnt-out car) I arrived squelching through the mud at Kfar Hassidim. In fact, exactly where I entered the town was a place I had visited before with my family - an outdoor homage/museum to the shtetls of europe. In fact, the street I was now on was filled with different attractions, including a thoughtful rest stop for INT hikers to refill water and have a break. As I left the town of Kfar Hassidim I made the mistake of opening the Moovit app. This showed me that I could walk for ten minutes and get one short bus ride back to my car. The temptation was real - I knew that the journey back from my intended end point would take much longer, needing multiple buses or hitchhikes, and I started convincing myself that I should just call it there and get back home nice and early. But I knew that if I left the large ascent up the Carmel for another day, or more specifically, the beginning of another day, it would be another excuse in my mind delaying my next excursion out on the Israel Trail. Also, and I will be writing about this in a seperate post - there are implications of doing the Trail in 50 sections, not the least of which is added cumulative time and petrol costs. I want to keep it at 50.
So I checked the time of the bus I needed from Isfiya, ate lunch on the move, and started the gruelling ascent up Yagur Nature Reserve. This was a series of zig-zags on a non stop incline. The views got better as I went, and I powered on until I reached the outskirts of Isfiya, where the hill got even steeper. I actually ran through Isfiya, cramping my leg in the process, but I got the bus in time, and an hour later I was back at my car at the start.
Another section down, another trail explored; another 'Israel Trail, Home for Dinner'.