The Israel Trail, a well-marked, wide path that opened in 1995, extends from Tel Dan in the north to Taba in the south. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the first leg of the path, from Beit Ussishkin to Tel Hai. This week we will cover the area from the Aryeh Hashoeg ("Roaring Lion") monument honoring Joseph Trumpeldor, to Metzudat Yesha (The Yesha Fortress).
If your first contact with the area is the Kiryat Shmona bus station, you would do well to head for a quick bite at one of the fast-food places nearby, as there are no reliable refreshments on the actual walk. My visit was enlivened by the security guard's stare at my currently over-generous girth. He thought I might be smuggling arms. "No," I smiled, "It's not a weapon, it's just the belly."
Just make sure you are stocked up on five liters of water per person. And maybe an extra one to slake the thirst of someone less prepared than you. Believe me, you will need to drink a lot.
You start at the edge of Kfar Giladi and the magnificent Roaring Lion sculpture commemorating the heroic deaths of Joseph Trumpeldor and his seven companions. Following that battle in 1920, the inhabitants of Kfar Giladi decided to evacuate, persuaded by settler Moshe Greenwald, declaring that "if those who fell are dear to us, so should be those who survived."
This section of the Israel Trail opens along the historic path that was used to transfer the wounded and the dead on the night of March 1, 1920 from Tel Hai to the founders' courtyard in Kfar Giladi. You come down deep into the ravine of Tel Hai before U-turning at the bottom, and pulling up along the other side onto the path entering the JNF forest on the Naftali Ridge. Look out for the events of Tel Hai commemorated in modern sculpture: the eternally black traffic light, the un-crossable bridge of stone, and, higher up, a figurine of what seems to be an overweight ageing toad in siesta, but on examination is called the "burning stone."
The path evens and widens out as it enters a lush forest, and it soon reaches Ein Ro'im (The Shepherds' Spring) - which, by the way, is dry. Today it is just a scenic rest stop with picnic tables and plaques with the names of those who endowed plots of trees. Perhaps a kindly donor might put in a drinking fountain for tired and thirsty hikers.
As I hiked, I saw a hassidic family plodding along from the opposite direction. Heavily dressed in traditional garb, though the mercury soared to over 30 degrees celcius, the mother looked pale and parched, and the children even more so. I gave them some water, and I do hope they made it back to civilization.
THIS SECTION of the Israel Trail offers splendid views of the northern tip of the Syrian-East African Rift Valley, which runs along its west side from north to south. This area combines the solitude of the forest with slowly changing panoramic views. These extend to Metulla and the Lebanese border in the north, Kiryat Shmona and the newly re-flooded Lake Hula in the center, Mount Hermon and the Golan Heights in the east, and almost down to the Sea of Galilee to the south. You will notice the contrast between the charming red-roofed residences to the west of Kiryat Shmona, with the dour, gray, Soviet-type apartment blocks to the east.
Another three kilometers along the wide, scenic path, and you will be standing at the entrance to the Geological Trail. The surface limestone rocks are believed to have formed beneath the sea as recently as 30 million years ago (as the presence of sea animal skeletons in the detour along that path will testify). The wide and flat Hula Valley below dropped to its present depth following a series of earthquakes four million years ago. The surrounding hills, including the Naftali ridge, collapsed in a series of fault lines, looking like a pack of cards frozen in the act of being slowly shuffled. You can take a detour here, and later rejoin the main path. The detour to explore the fascinating Geological Trail will add another five kilometers to the day's hike.
THE NEXT five kilometers, passing under the Manara Cableway and Omega are smooth sailing, with slowly changing impressive views of the Hula Valley. As the walk snakes its way along the steep hillside, a refreshing breeze makes it enjoyable, even on a hot summer's day.
There are two diversions: cattle grids and bee hives. The metal grids keep the cattle in place and give free rein to foxes and deer. The hives enable a certain Mr. El-Baz to supply the community with honey. Just walk fast along the other side of the path and you will leave the bees behind. I didn't - and I wasn't too happy to meet my new acquaintances.
The Israel Trail markings will then make a sudden left turn into the Kedesh Nature Reserve. You will find yourself negotiating your way down rough, slippery limestone, but at the bottom you will feel at one with nature as you follow the gently rising trail for several kilometers. Eventually, the Yesha Fortress comes into view: so near and yet so far, with the impassibly deep Kedesh Ravine in between. Don't worry. The path continues to Route #886, which you will follow for a few hundred meters as it skirts the worst of the ravine, and then turns left, before the final climb up the northern side of the Yesha Fortress.
Yesha Fortress was constructed as a border stronghold during the British Mandate. Situated on a hill 345 meters above sea level, it controlled two major strategic points: the north to south Tiberias-Rosh Pina-Metulla highway, and the route from east to west between the northern road and the Naftali mountain settlements.
In April 1948, 28 Palmah soldiers (including Dudu Charkaski, of Chaim Hefer's famous song "Dudu") were killed trying to take the Yesha Fortress from the Arabs who held it as the British withdrew. They failed, and the Jews only gained it a month later in "Operation Yiftah" in the War of Independence.
Descend to Route #90 and Kiryat Shmona taking bus #34 opposite the main entrance to the Yesha Fortress. Otherwise you face a 4 km. descent along Route #899 to its junction with the main Route #90.
What you need to blaze this part of the Israel Trail
You will experience:
Breakfast in the clouds (with a little luck).
The faint but unmistakable fragrance of pine, cedar, cypress, pistachio, and eucalyptus trees, and maybe the odd fox or deer.
Stunning views over the mountain-encircled Hula Rift Valley.
Peaches in bloom and honey being made.
Your sense of balance put to the test on slippery limestone.
Start: Trumpeldor Memorial (Aryeh Hashoeg) - on the ascent to Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. Route 90 north of Kiryat Shmona for 2 km., then L uphill, and follow signs to the Trumpeldor Memorial. Bus Routes #21 and #24: to Kfar Giladi road, and a 15-minute signposted ascent to the Trumpledor Memorial.
Finish: Yesha Fortress, exiting onto Route #899. Bus Route #34, connecting with Kiryat Shmona.
Access/Exit: Junction of the Israel Trail and the Geological Trail. It is reached from Margaliot (Route #9977, just before entering that settlement from the east) by following the red-marked impressive and revealing Geological Trail (3 km.). That junction is also connected to a 2 km. path starting 400 meters to the north of the Manara Cliff Cable-Car entrance, on Route #90.
Length: 18 km. Recommended Seasons - spring, summer and fall.
Level of difficulty: Easy, apart from Tel Hai Ravine at the beginning, the moderately demanding Kedesh Nature Reserve, and the climb out of the Kedesh Ravine to the Yesha Fortress. Keep energy in reserve for those final sections! The rest of the route is suitable for all-terrain drivers and mountain bikers, with suitable alternatives, entry, and exit points.
Estimated walking time: (including reasonable breaks) - 8 hours (2.5 hours to the junction with another 5 hours to the Yesha Fortress).
Map: Scale 1:50,000, Map 1, covering North-East Galilee, the Golan Heights, and Mount Hermon.
Bring: 5 liters of water, a hat (for protection from the sun), sunscreen, and sturdy shoes with good traction. Assume that refreshments are unobtainable on this route. Always carry a compass, first aid kit, penknife, and flashlight. You never know when they might come in useful.
Water: allegedly at Ein Ro'im, but I did not find any there. Bring your own for the whole trip.
Accommodation (Kibbutz-type): Ayalet Hashachar Hotel (kosher), 04-686- 8611; Kfar Giladi Hotel (kosher) 04-690-0000.
Other: JPost.com Hotel finder.
Restaurants: Dagei Dafna, Kibbutz Dafna (kosher) on Route #99, 04-694- 1154; Nehalim, Alon Service Station on Route 99 (not kosher), 04-690- 4875; Caf Alon (kosher, 04-681-7796) opposite the west side of the Central Bus Station, and enjoy coffee and cake in style.
Places to visit nearby: Tel Dan Archeological Park, 04-695-1579; Tel Hai Museum, 04-695-1333, and for something a little different, The Great Apple Cider Hagalil Visitors' Center at Kiryat Shmona (visible from Israel Trail), 04-690-4477.
Attractions: Hagoshrim Kayaking 04-681-6034, Metulla Canada Center (ice-skating and swimming), 04-695-0370/1, Manara: Cliff Cable Car, Omega, rappelling, and climbing facilities, 04-690-5830.