2nd week on the Trail; if the first was "hard", how to describe the second?
Hiking through and then up the side of מכתש רמון, hiking up חוד עקב only to find the cliff side down impassable (for a 51-yr-old with a 24 kilo pack, on his own & without a death wish) so going all the way back to עין עקב as the sun sets & hiking all the way around the mountain, a 10-km detour, to reach the night camp...
And all this before the impossibly tortuous, unbelievably frightening כרבולת overlooking מכתש הגדול on Thursday. That was a killer. Literally. Remember the scene where Frodo and Sam are pulling themselves up hand-over-hand on the craggy rock-face of Mount Doom, weighed down by their packs (and the ever-heavier ring)? And Frodo says something about being "here, at the end of all things"? That about sums it up - but where was my Sam?
It was harder than Half Dome - longer, more dangerous, more slippery, more windy, with a backpack no less, and no cables (and no Moriyah with me either). And it just kept going! Every time I thought that was it, it's over, there was another treacherous climb to another peak, or tip-toe across a ledge looking straight down into the abyss - literally - of the crater, or crawl and scrape down the edge of the cliff to get to yet another rise. As a lover of nature, I've never been happier to see a phosphorous factory ahead of me, signaling finally the eventual end of the hike.
Jumping in to the water at עין עקב was a highlight of the week; learning about the incredible work at Midreshet Ben Gurion and being re-inspired by visiting Ben Gurion's grave were also; visiting the Rujum winery & staying at the Desert Shade farm were fun and really interesting too.
Meditating at the peak of the כרבולת was a high point too - no pun intended.
Moving into the northern Negev has introduced a few new elements to the trek. Won't bore you with details of the geology (wish you were here Marissa Tamar Isaak to explain some of it to me, but what I've discovered already is fascinating - not least crunching over seashells millions of years old and walking literally past entire geological periods in minutes, demarcated by different colors and textures of various strata - shiny black stone next to chalky white dust next to shelly red and brown clay...) but the flora has changed as I go north. Where the first week I could walk for half a day before seeing a living thing, and at that just a tired brown straggly sprig sticking warily out of a crevice, by the middle of this second week there were a riot of colors every hour or so. Violet and pink weed flowers; little magenta-tinted grape-like things on low bushes (what ARE these things? And can I taste one?!?); yellow and white daisies; blue and purple bulbs like small tulips; and I even saw one set of three red poppies!
Many more birds now too - hawks and falcons, and a few herons high overhead; been accompanied by quite a few called a סלעית, black and white songbirds native to the Negev. Flirted with a family of Ibex (צבי הנגב) on the slopes of the כרבולת - they kept coming near and running off, I did the same. Got some nice photos - but on the camera, not on the phone. (Don't turn the phone on much while on the trail. One of the real pleasures of this trek. And not only for me... )
Ended the week with a wonderful, uplifting, moving, restful and certainly very unusual Shabbat with my friend Nasikh Immanuel Ben Yehuda and his family and the community of the Black Hebrews in Dimona. Their close-knit 'urban kibbutz' is a place where concern for the environment and humanity are expressed in everyday living, from a vegan diet through immaculate sidewalks and lovingly-tended vegetable gardens to gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. Reminded me little of our 'kibbutz' on HaShita.... :-)
I can't say I'm looking forward to returning to the desert - מכתש הקטן and מעלה פלמ״ח await me tomorrow, perhaps not as incredibly hard as this past week but apparently very difficult, including cliff-walks with cables - fun fun! - yet I can say I'm heading out refreshed and re-energized.