Chasing waterfalls

A challenging hike from Ein Gedi's oasis to Nahal Arugot will find you with pride and offer magnificent panoramas.

ein gedi 248.88  (photo credit: Jacob Solomon)
ein gedi 248.88
(photo credit: Jacob Solomon)
This circular walk from goes from oasis to oasis: It follows a biblical climb out the desert oasis of Ein Gedi onto the plateau of the Judean Desert before wending a very exacting descent to the neighboring oasis of Nahal Arugot. The hike is almost entirely within the extensive Ein Gedi nature reserve. For a small admission fee you get to tread well-maintained footpaths with neatly carved steps and metal handrails on the steep and exposed parts - in the early, tourist-frequented stages. You will meet some of the reserve's staff en route. Show them the plan of this hike, and later report your safe finish as you pass through the terminus gate at Nahal Arugot. You must be out of the nature reserve by 4 p.m. (5 p.m. in summer). That is not just to leave a wide margin in case of being trapped by darkness, but for the sake of the reserve's more established inhabitants. The Ein Gedi oasis contains sources of water and food that are vital to sustain its varied wildlife. The limited hours that the reserve is open make it possible for the animals to reach those resources safely and silently before the shades of night. For Jerusalem visitors lacking private transport, it means getting the 8 a.m. bus (Route 486 from the central bus station) which, with luck, will drop you off outside the parking lot at 9:20. Enter the reserve through the turnstile and leave details of your trek. It will be a very fast hike along the heavily frequented section to David's Spring (16 minutes) and from there on, follow the notices to Ein Gedi Spring and the Dodim Cave. By 10 a.m., fast climbing should get you to the 5,000-year-old ruins of the Chalcolithic Temple with its circular altar. You are just at the foot of the Ein Gedi ascent. There will be a nature reserve warden waiting for you who will want to know your route - and that you are suitably equipped. If it's after 10 a.m., you will not be allowed to start the black-marked Ein Gedi ascent, which takes off nearby. Once seen off, you are on your own. There are no more cutely hewn steps or metal railings. You are on a black-sandwich, clearly marked ancient route to the summit, 90 minutes away. It would have been well-known to King David in his younger days, and also to later biblically recorded Moabite and Ammonite attempts to capture Judea through Ein Gedi, around 830 BCE: "Behold, they shall come up by the ascent of Zitz" (Chronicles II 20:2,16), which the text itself links with Ein Gedi. There are no major difficulties, but its lengthy, multi-twisting nature requires patience and a short break every 20 minutes. Eventually, the path narrows into a rocky pass before exiting the reserve into the 4x4 jeep-trailed extensive plateau of the Judean Desert. A red-marked detour gets you to the Ein Gedi Lookout Post. The abandoned plastic bottles surrounding the summit cairn at 200-meters above sea level let you know that you are not the first visitors. But the remains of the Chalcolithic temple far below silently congratulate you on making it to the top, as do the views down to the Dead Sea and the gentler, three-dimensional view of the Moabite Hills on the Jordanian side. The plateau itself extends northward toward Nahal Dragot and the Bar Kochba caves, and far to the west, the settlements of Maon and Carmel. Rejoin the black-marked sandwich trail and follow it for rather over a kilometer, with the deep canyon of Nahal Arugot making its first shy appearance on the south side. It sweeps to the left informing you that you are entering the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve once more, and that the 40-year-old Bnei Hamoshavim descent is for hikers only. Stop there, rest and eat a well-earned lunch. Drink lots of water - dehydration-related dizziness could be fatal ahead. Now comes the titbit of the trip. The official description of the Bnei Hamoshavim descent by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority is an "extremely difficult trail," and it seems to have a fearsome reputation. I would moderate that to being "challenging and requiring determination." Indeed, I increasingly admired those who hacked the trail connecting the plateau with Nahal Arugot deep below as I snaked a careful way down. There is, in fact, no one place that is obviously dangerous - as long as you look down very carefully before putting one foot before the other. Follow the well-placed black-sandwich markers, even when common sense suggests taking a more direct route. Don't! I found out the hard way that the trail blazers knew very well what they were doing. Indeed, the safer way is often counterintuitive. Be prepared to take up to three hours for the descent, with very frequent breaks so that your concentration and judgment for each step is at its sharpest. Whereas a donkey might make it up the Ein Gedi ascent, it would take a very determined gazelle to get down the Bnei Hamoshavim. Extensive fault lines, desert weathering, landslides and flash-flood fluvial erosion produced the spectacular canyon landscape of Nahal Arugot, experienced at its best from Bnei Hamoshavim. Going down, the silences break into far-traveled whoops from bathers in the Hidden Falls, on the very floor of the Nahal Arugot Canyon. When you get to the signpost at the bottom, congratulate yourself for surviving the Bnei Hamoshavim descent and take a right turn along the red-sandwich path. Soon afterward, you get to join the party of bathers under the gushing freshwater just below the Hidden Falls. Retrace your steps up to the red-marked path and follow it along the length of the rapidly changing scenic canyon, complete with its hewn steps and handrails. Forty-five minutes later you are reporting your safe arrival to the warden at the exit terminal of Nahal Arugot, just beyond the acacia trees to the right. Turn left along the metaled road, pass the Ein Gedi synagogue remains and pull into the Ein Gedi parking lot 1 kilometer on, with the bus stop for Jerusalem just outside.