Ram and I are hiking the INT during the off season. I now understand what that means. It’s cold and the days are short (11 hours). It rains the most during winter and when it does the trail is more dangerous and difficult. I keep forgetting it’s winter because we often pass orchards of lemons, grapefruits, oranges, bananas, and avocados. And after it rains more flowers bloom and more grass grows. How can it be winter when so many plants are flourishing? But, it is winter and during the day I hardly ever take off my jacket, which is very unusual.
On December 19th we started the day off by headlamp and we ended the day by headlamp. We didn’t reach our destination the day before so we got an early start, before the sun. Even so we didn’t reach yesterday’s destination until 3pm… It was a wake up call! This trail is something else.
Our mile calculating was based off of the PCT and the CT which are both older and well maintained trails. The INT is different. It’s only about 20 years old and as far as I can tell it’s not maintained. In fact it was really never made into what I consider a trail (an obvious path that’s usually pretty clear). Instead markers led you over whatever the “walk able or climb able” terrain is. The way is rugged and messy; mud, rocks, water, steep rocky climbs, scary cliff crossings, and vicious thorny plants. The mud may be the worst part because it’s the most common and after it rains it takes a whole day of sun (or more) to dry out. Some of the mud is really slippery, some is really compact able (so it sticks to your shoe until you have major platforms) and some is so sticky it nearly pulls off your shoes. A lot of the “trail” is more like off trail. I need to pay attention to every step and to each next trail marker or you can end up lost. Point of all this is: the terrain slows us down, a lot. Our average is 15 miles or less a day.
December 19th continued: Around 3:30 I was burnt out physically and emotionally. It hurts my hiker ego that we’re doing such low miles (for us). Our goal for the day was Kibbutz Sasa only 6 km (3.7 miles) away but I was dragging. It didn’t help that the area was bestrewn with creeks; it’s a miracle I didn’t fall in. Then came rain, the icing on the cake.
The trail markers led us into a thick forest on the side of a steep draw. I could feel the temperature dropping with the sun. The rocks and mud became more slick with each minute of rain. Ram stopped “I haven’t seen a trail marker for some time now” he said. Checking his GPS he saw we had gone way off trail. We turned around and rushed back, as safely as possible. Our host in Sasa expected us at 6 and it was already 5:30. By this time it was pitch black and we were hiking by headlamp. The rain, cold, steep trail, dark and slick ground was a rough combination.
We found our way back to the trail and soon made it out into the open. A muddy road lead us to the highway. Sasa was about 1.2 miles up the highway. I was walking as fast as I could and still falling behind. I heard something rustling and snorting in the bushes. It sounded HUGE and right next to me! I let out a “Bah! Ram! Somethings following me!” and jog to Ram. It was most likely a wild bore. There are a lot of them in the north. Still, they really freak me out.
I was relieved to reach the highway but it was still 40 long and excruciating minutes uphill. But, it was worth it! Our accommodations couldn’t have been better; a whole floor to ourselves with a kitchen and full bath. The host took us to a warm dinner at the kibbutz dinning hall. It was full of families, had fresh good food, was clean, warm and even had an espresso machine (Ram’s favorite thing on the planet, after me of course). We filled our plates and ate our fill. Our bodies slowly began to thaw. After dinner our host took us to a container filled with basic ingredients. There we grabbed a couple loaves of bread, cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots! It was greatly appreciated! Anyone in the Kibbutz can go there and grab what they need.
In the morning the previous days hardship showed, our faces were puffy and our lips red and swollen. It was hard to leave the warm room. We dreaded the cold and rain. But we’ve been very lucky. It hasn’t rained since! Somehow it’s still pretty muddy.
The trail lead us up and over the second highest mountain in Israel, Mt. Meron. From the mountain we could see other snow capped mountains in the distance, which is really rare. Down off the mountain we headed into Amud creek. It’s a 20km (12 mile) long, deep canyon with a seasonal creek that leads to the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). It was gorgeous, very dramatic and jungle like. It’s sad that in many beautiful places trash is scattered around, it could be paradise.
At the end of Amud creek is a big rock called “the Amud” (Amud is a pillar). Once we passed him we were at the Sea. Only 3 km from camp I began to feel very dizzy and my hands were ghost white. I had nothing left to eat so we sat down so I could drink juice but both of the juice powders we have don’t have any sugar. I decided to snack on the one thing I did have, a freeze dried dinner. After about 20 minutes I felt ready to try hiking the last little bit. Ram was worried so he took my pack and wore in on his chest. He looked so funny! What a gentleman he was :). Not ten minutes later we passed a tangerine orchard where Ram picked me a fruit. The trail will provide!
We made it safely to Kibbutz Ginosar, a village next to the sea. We camped on a lawn behind Gumpel’s pub. The owner, who lets INT hikers camp there, told us a women in the Kibbutz was murdered that morning! After hearing that, I was a little freaked out that every person who walked by might attack us. A Kibbutz is a small place, so it’s very likely that everyone knew her. On the bright side… because of it the bar was closed and we had a quiet private night.
Tomorrow we’ll see a lot of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river!
Awesome lizard in Amud creek