This was a week full of transitions, of different sorts. From the deep descents and ascents of the south to the more (relatively) gentle rolling hills of the center; from desert(s) to a savannah-like climate; from solitude to more social interaction; from desperation to hope. (Well, not really, but almost....) 😏 And in other ways, too.
The week started with the dramatic (even terrifying) descent of מעלה פלמ״ח (Maale Palmach), and then a stunningly beautiful walk down נחל חתירה - and then a long and steep trudge up מעלה ימין to the night camp overlooking מכתש הקטן (the machtesh hakatan or "small crater"). Only thing: the 'water drop' I'd paid for wasn't there. Oh my. Stopped a few tourists on their way back from driving up מעלה עקרבים and begged some water; then my guy came at 11pm (! I was asleep in my tent) so all good for the next day.
Except. Aside from the rain that night - no worries tho it and the wind kept me up much if the night - Monday turned into a pretty harrowing day. Starting with the almost unbearably challenging מעלה אלי (Maale Eli) descent into the מכתש הקתן (small crater), then 9 hours (in the heat) later found myself still climbing out if it... And then still with another few hours of ups and downs to go.
Night hiking with no moon has its advantages - cooler, the occasional bobcat (קרקל) crossing your path, and new noises to wonder about, plus the stars of course - but I don't recommend it. Anyway - managed to get to the night camp in one piece, after about an hour of stumbling through the last few hills with my headlamp guiding me brightly (while turning anything out of range of the light into one huge eerie pool of blackness).
But the Maale Eli descent was amazing - gorgeous and captivating in the size and patterns of the cliffs coming into the Machtesh Hakatan, and even in the haze and heat the view was breath-taking. Those first two days this week were two of the most impressive and enjoyable desert panoramas I've seen, and I'd be delighted to do them again (one day perhaps,tho definitely without a 24-kilo backpack).
A kind of routine developed, on these difficult mornings. I sing a lot - sometimes just 'cause I feel like it, often simply to pass the time, occasionally to distract the fear (as here), and in this case also literally to hear myself sing - as the echo was tremendous!
I now have a habit of starting the singing each morning with an old Camp Swig tune for ברוך שאמר - Baruch She'Amar -
ברוך שאמר והיה העולם - ברוך הוא
ברוך אומר ועושה
ברוך גוזר ומקיים
ברוך מרחם על הארץ
ברוך מרחם על הבריות
Imagine me singing at the top of my lungs as the echoes form a sort of 'round'.... Fortunately no one else is there to notice. The words mean a lot to me, and it becomes a form of תפילה and meditation. (That and רבות מחשבות are my kind of theme songs these days....)
ועצת ה׳ היא תקום.
עצת ה׳ לעולם תעמוד
מחשבות ליבו לדור ודור....
The rest of the week was less eventful, including a long trek - about 20 km - through the heights of the Judean desert, where virtually nothing exists except rocks and more rocks as far as the eye can see (or the foot walk) - see photo. Then I enjoyed some time at Tel Arad (remains of a biblical settlement) and at the Yatir winery (one of Israel's best - couldn't resist). Finally, on Thursday, did a long (24 km) and harder-than-expected (more uphill than thought, and the descents are harder in your feet and knees than you anticipate) hike through יער יתיר (Yatir Forest) from הר עמשה (Amsa). Which ended in another hour of night-walking - this time in Meitar forest with jackals seemingly surrounding me from a distance (yup - I recognized their calls from home). Gotta work on the getting-there-before-sunset aspect.... But ended up being 'rescued' & taken (they insisted!) to the home of the nicest people you could meet, in Meitar, who it turns out know the folks of one of my friends and neighbors in Beit Shemesh very well. So no complaints.
Like I said - many transitions, and not only from desert to forest. (Mt. Amsa is one of the few places in the world where three climes meet, and it's apparent in the riot of different flowers and bushes, colored rocks and soil, even in the changing wind patterns.)
In the bleakness of the rocky desert, looking for a song to sing, I suddenly recalled a song I'd written more than 30 years ago, and started singing it. But I couldn't remember the words - and that was so very frustrating. A few minutes of striding along, humming the tune, which is an incredibly uplifting, fun and hopeful melody, and my anger turned to inspiration: If I can't recall the lyrics... I can just write new ones! So over the next hour I did just that - and I think the new lyrics may even be better than the original. Certainly they're more powerful - and more relevant - than the musings of a 20-yr-old. First time I've written a song in 29 years....
This week the shvil also became more social. For the first time I stayed at a few מלאכי השביל (Trail 'Angels') and each is in their own way warm and giving, curious and sometimes envious, and often with their own story to tell. One hosts shvilistim in a sort of Bedouin tent in memory of their son Ofer. And the little cabin I spent Shabbat in is in memory of a young soldier, Yishai, who died on a trek in South America. Both of course loved hiking in Israel, so what a fitting way to honor and preserve their memory.
Shabbat in the small community of Sansana here in the South Hebron hills was really lovely - restful and relaxing and in a religious community with the most basic and important tenets really evident: warmth and hospitality, serious davenning, lots of young children with incredible exuberance - just a wonderful, wholesome, down-to-earth village feeling. Hosted by the tireless Sofer family, I was immediately made to feel not only welcome but part of the clan - which was incredibly timely, under the circumstances, and really heart-warming. Transitions....
Spending Shabbat with them, and in such a young and vibrant kehilla (including a new friend, Shai, who shared some of his fine single malts with me 😋), made me miss home and my family and friends.... But am looking forward to a visit (& re-supply!) this evening by Mo & Tani, and to then continuing the journey....