The area was probably off-limits for camping - either it was designated for the use of a nearby military base, or it was in a nature reserve. Luckily, the forested area atop the summit was a distance away from any roads or picnic areas, and I felt stealthy enough to set up the hammock there.
Day 56: Safed to Har Bar-Yohai
Day 56, April 24: Alone again. Idan hurt his arm yesterday. I had a feeling it would happen somehow - he was eating nothing but rice and tuna for Passover - suicide. Easter. Got to highest peak of Meron - 1151m. Will probably be very cold tonight. All downhill from here. Bottomless pit. Rabbi tomb. Side trip to Jish for bread etc. Cow crap unavoidable and gets everywhere. Literally climb the highest mountain and cow crap is there. Met people from big group and millions of day hikers.
Idan had slipped on the deadly mud back in Nahal Amud, hurting his arm. Today he decided the injury was too serious to continue and we parted ways near the town of Meron. Back before I started the hike, Dave Landis (the co-founder of the Jesus Trail and one of my sources for info on the Israel Trail) had predicted that of my group, I'd be the only one to finish. It seemed it was coming true - I was to hike the last few days alone.
This was Easter, and by coincidence I made a food run into the mostly Christian Arab town of Jish, but there didn't seem to be too much in the way of festivities. This seemed out of character, given the public celebrations and fireworks I'd seen in Nazareth on Christmas. Finding a supermarket full of bread was like heaven - you can't freaking buy bread in any remotely observant Jewish store during Passover (or pasta or oatmeal or granola or...). I wasn't the only one with the same idea; there were plenty of Jewish shoppers too.
This same morning as I was packing up camp, a girl hiked past who'd been with the Nifgashim group - with whom we'd done the first week of the trail. She and a couple others had also set off on their own and were hiking north to south. I'd lost track of where the big group was by this time, as they tended to hop from place to place and skip sections, and I didn't get too much info from the girl I saw either, thanks to the language barrier.
After Idan left, I made my way up a much more attractive (and very crowded) forested section of Nahal Amud, along a rushing stream, and then up into Nahal Meron and up the side of the mountain. The views up there are the most breathtaking you can find in the north, Mt. Carmel included. There are Druze villages perched on the steepest, most rugged mountainsides, and the mountains plunge down thousands of feet to the rift valley and the Sea of Galilee - all in dozen kilometers or less. If there's one place I wish I'd had my camera, it was up there. Maybe I'd previously made up my mind that the Alon Valley on Mt. Carmel was my favorite place in the Middle East, but this made me reconsider the decision.
The wadi on the way up was where some nutty international travelers I'd met had gone to do a "cleanse" diet, consisting of honey, lemon juice and something else insubstantial. I think those diets are basically BS and pure placebo effect at best, but whatever. They found an abandoned millhouse to sleep in, but only one of them had sufficient gear to stay warm, so the other two huddled together shivering miserably through the high-altitude winter nights. Then they got kicked out by a park ranger - it was a nature reserve and camping was forbidden - and found their way to a "vegetarian village", where they could not resist the lure of food, and gave up the cleanse diet. Israel is full of odd little hippy communes like that village - not to mention towns defined explicitly by some characteristic like which sect of Judaism they follow. It seems like, more so than in urban America at least, people can just isolate themselves with like-minded others and just live life in a little bubble. I guess it's not so different than rural America, except that here's it's right out in the open who is and isn't welcome in a town.
I spent the afternoon I engaged in a furious upward push. My sights were set on the summit of Bar-Yohai, the highest peak in Israel (outside of the disputed Golan). I dismayed to find that the picnic area up there did not have working faucets, but I had enough water to last. I also made a fatal error and stepped in a bit of cow crap, hence the complaint in the log entry.
The night was sure cold. It put Tel Azeka to shame. The view from the mountaintop was truly spectacular, and in other conditions I could have sat there for hours, watching it get dark. As it was, the sun was still up as I finished eating dinner, and I already couldn't stand not to be in my warm sleeping bag any longer. The night's sleep was bad - I spent much of it awake, changing positions, trying to keep warm. The air at 1151 meters can really drop in temperature once it gets dark. But hey, I slept above an entire country!
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