The Road to Tabor (J24-25)
In my first weeks in Nazareth, long before I ever dreamed of being a scuzzy through-hiker, I walked a mile or two out of town to Mt. Precipice, a hill on the edge of town overlooking the Jezreel Valley. It's the local folklore's pick for the site of the cliff off of which the angry crowd wanted to throw a particular hometown boy who went down to the Decapolis, got uppity and declared himself the Messiah, although historical evidence suggests a much smaller and closer cliff would have been more likely.
The story also goes that Jesus jumped from here all the way to Mt. Tabor, giving Mt. Precipice its Arabic and Hebrew name, translating roughly to "Mountain of the Leap." It also is being excavated for stone-age ruins found in caves below, as noted on the plaque on the summit - on which the reference to "10,000 years ago" is scratched out, presumably by the ultra-orthodox, who are known for such shenanigans.
From the overlook, an expansive view of the valley, Mt. Moreh, and on a clear day, Mt. Carmel to the west and the Palestinian hill country to the south beckon any soul with an instinct for wandering. To the east, Mt. Tabor stands alone, a domelike mound set apart from the nearby hills. Upon seeing it, I decided I had to hike there and camp on top of it, though I had no experience carrying a loaded pack all day and still considered camping to be at best a trial to tolerate if I wanted to hike for days in a row.
Mt. Tabor summons me from the Mt. Precipice overlook
I found that a route to Tabor was conveniently mapped in the Jesus Trail guidebook, which at the time was still my one source of directions for Galilean walks. The trail followed a ridge over the Jezreel plain and then hooked up with the Israel Trail to ascend the northern edge of the mountain. No big deal, right? I took along a pack very heavily loaded with stuff - I believe the heaviest thing was an old tent Dave and Anna had sitting around, which was a true abomination in the eyes of the ultralight deities.
Iksal and the Kislot Valley, a northern section of the Jezreel, separated by Mt. Moreh. In the
distance you see the lower, southeastern ridge of the Carmel range
On the way along the ridge east of Nazareth, the trail overlooks the village of Iksal. Note the etymological connection of "Iksal" and the Kislot Valley; the modern Arabic name is a variation on the town's name from ancient times, as is the case in many spots. Israeli tour guides generally explain this as the Hebrew/Biblical name having been preserved (thus enhancing their idea of whom the land really belongs to) but a lot of these names are probably generic Canaanite and whichever ethnic group gave them their name is long lost to the vagaries of history. Same thing with hummus, really. Everyone likes to say their ancestors were the ones that invented it, but probably it was some Jebusite dude named Ish-Baal back when Abraham was still running around in short pants in Turkey.
The route was about 15 km according to the guidebook (sections J25 and J24, in that order), although I got lost in the town of Daburiya at the foot of the mountain, which added some time and distance. The hiking featured plenty of nice views, and though the first bit out of Nazareth was not marked, it connected to the excellent trails system after a few miles, making navigation mostly easy.
Looking back at the hills where Nazareth sits. The day looks cooler in this picture than it actually
was. It was mid-May and the record-setting summer of 2010 had begun in earnest
The climb up Tabor is not an easy one. Carrying an overly heavy backpack and suffering in the heat even in the half-shade of the pine woods, I was hurting in a big way. That, and the climb's interminable length, are my only real memories of that first ascent. Once I reached the summit, though, I found an amazing view from the top of a ruined Byzantine fort or church, and a terrible campsite elsewhere amid the ruins. It was terrible because of the blade-covered plants everywhere, which soon taught me not to wear shorts. I set up camp, and then, trusting that my belongings would be safe in the tent, I set off to walk the ring trail around the mountaintop and take in the tremendous views.
The tent was not only heavy, but broken - one of the rods had snapped and wouldn't connect
properly, so it stuck out from the rest of the tent at a weird angle like a broken bone. I cursed the tent
the entire day while I hiked with it on my back, but the windy night made me glad I had it. Now,
with the lack of mosquitoes and rain, I'd take nothing but a light tarp and sleeping pad for a
trip like this. Live and learn
The hike up Tabor may have been hard, but it's no remote peak. There are two churches on top,
as well as ruins of an older one, and the remains of a medieval Islamic fort. The arch here is the gate of that
fort, guarding the road up to the Roman Catholic church
The Hill of Moreh, mentioned several times in the Bible. The Jezreel Valley is now purely
agricultural, with only a few somewhat suitable paths remaining for hiking
Midwestern-style patchworks of farmland cover the plains around Tabor, and some of the
same crops are even grown. But the distant hills of the Jordan Valley and the characteristic
architecture and planning of an Israeli town give away that it's not in Iowa. The town here
is Alonim ("Oaks"), and nearby is the town of Ein Dor, named after the site of Saul's
ill-fated foray into necromancy before his death a little ways south of here at Mt. Gilboa
As the light went, this olive grove took on an eerie appearance
Tabor brings an early sunset to the plains east of it
And elsewhere on the mountain, the last light falls on an empty orchard
The Greek Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration, and idyllic surroundings
Olive trees. Throughout my many miles of hiking, I became a connoisseur of their varying,
The failing light made this a pretty weak shot, but I'm glad I kept it. Lower right, you can see
the Horns of Hittin, and above them, the peak of Mt. Hermon, which would soon become fully
invisible at this distance once the summer haze settled in
I slept out the night and in the morning, lugged my pack up to the Catholic church to look around. There is a faucet on the church's outer wall providing drinking water, making this mountaintop a great spot to camp, and restrooms are available during daylight hours while the church is open.
Inside the Catholic Church of the Transfiguration. This mountain is the one that
tradition takes as the site of that event, and of course both the Roman and Eastern
communions have staked a claim to a patch of it
Gardens among ruins outside the Roman church
Morning brings a clearer look at a hilltop town north of the mountain. My map says it must be
Ein Mahel, and the far fringes of Nazareth Illit are seen to the left
The attractive facade of the Catholic church
An unusual layout has the sanctuary in a niche down some stairs from the main seating area
Loads of tourists are bused up here daily, and the church is often filled with them.
I'm not sure if each tour bus brings its own Catholic clergy, or if the ones here run the
services that seem to accompany each busload
Rather than make my way down the path I came up, I walked down the switchbacking paved road until I was back in Daburiya, and caught a bus back to Nazareth. Despite the brutally heavy load, the heat, and my navigational failures, I had unknowingly just gone through a life-changing experience, which led to me as the outdoor addict I am today.