"For Experienced Hikers and Swimmers Only": Day Four

After picking up our sporty Kia “Rio” from the Tiberias “Eldan” branch we felt like we had graduated to our big boy/girl pants. As Max said several times “we have a car!...well, a Kia…” Having a car is really an exhilarating feeling. All of a sudden the map was open to us instead of the handful of things I’d planned when I thought we were confined to the bus routes.

Before Max and I came to Isreal we had this idea that while here we were going to take advantage of the outdoors-ness there is to be found in Israel. We often said “We are going to be different people. We are going to hike.” On our trip up north we started to make that a reality.

I had read about the Yehudia Reserve on Israel’s national parks website and in my trusty lonely planet and we decided that we wanted to try and hike one of the trails while we were up north. The Reserve is around the north tip of the Sea of Galilee and just into the Golan Heights. After further reading we decided to hike the trail that included a 30 foot descent on a ladder attached to the rock and into a pool that you had to swim across to continue on the trail. Awesome. We almost chickened out when we got the trail head after reading the “instructions” from the pamphlet. I’ll share some of them with you:

-Attention! Only general and approximate areas of the army-firing zones are marked in the pamphlet. Their exact borders are unmarked.

-Do not deviate from marked trails

-Please keep the reserve clean: take your garbage out with you (remember this one)

-Swimming in the pools is at your own risk. Jumping into the pools is strictly forbidden (Bear in mind what I’ve just told you about how you have to continue the trail…)

-and the degree of challenge for our hike that said “For Experienced Hikers and Swimmers Only” (To be fair we are fairly experienced swimmers and we have hiked before…a handful of times…)

We knew we’d be sad if we chickened out so we bought the overpriced water and went for it. The first part of the path winds through a defunct Syrian village with the remains remarkably intact. It was something. We then descended a very steep set of stairs into a canyon. At the base of the stairs was a beautiful waterfall that we spent some time at. At the waterfall’s edge I noticed white pieces of cloth hung over the tree bows. It occurred to me that they were prayer shawls. There was a large group of Yeshiva students before and after us and they had all stripped to their shorts to jump from the cliffs above the waterfall, leaving their prayer shawls swinging in the breeze. It was quite poetic. “Yeshiva” is an institute for learning sacred texts in Judaism. This particular group must have been some sort of summer Yeshiva youth program for kids from the United States – think EFY but more excited because it’s traveling EFY in Jerusalem (and if you smell where this is going, you are right).
About an hour past the waterfall we came to the 30 foot ladder. I was initially a little nervous about this ladder business, imagining a giant flat cliff face and a 10 story ladder consisting of tiny nobs poking out from the rock to grab onto. The ladder, even though it did descend 30 feet beside another waterfall into a pool of ice cold water, was actually not as scary as I’d originally thought. It was an actual ladder with rails on either side. What did almost make me loose it were the once poetic teenage boys in front and behind us. They were loud and push and annoying – each one trying to prove their bravado to the next. We got butted in front of multiple times and the garbage they left at the top of the waterfall while waiting for the ladder was unbelievable! Not just discreet wrappers being dropped while looking the other way, but full on empty cans, water bottles, bags, left over food just being thrown about. It was vile. By the time it was our turn to go down the ladder I was too mad at these idiot kids to be nervous and Max was too busy trying to stop me from pushing them all to their deaths to feel the nerves.

At the bottom of the ladder I jumped in a swam around a bit before Max passed me the backpack and jumped in himself. Bless our R.E.I. backpack, we were able to float it on its back right across the pool while swimming on either side of it. Hardly anything in our back got wet. I didn’t bring my camera because of the water, so we’ll just have to rely on the pictures of other people’s now broken cameras to do the hike justice.

After getting to the other side we stowed our pack and swam around at the base of the waterfall for a bit. It was the most relaxed and free I’d felt on the whole vacation. Especially since, as we noticed, none of the teenage boys that surrounded us were very good swimmers. Several of them squealed and kicked their way through the pool to the rocky shore…much to my malicious delight. While all of the boys sat on the banks with their leaders and smoked (yes, smoked. Good laws) Max and I swam about for a while and had the pool almost to ourselves.

Getting out, however, posed a bit of a problem. We hiked the trail with our swimming suits under our clothes, but when I jumped off of the ladder into the pool I gave Max my t-shirt and swam in my swimming suit top with my shorts. My swimming suit isn’t really low cut, but around these conservative boys and their leaders I felt like the harlot of Babylon. When I got out of the water I made Max hold a towel up around me so that I wouldn’t steal any virtue from the teenagers or their religious leaders. (I know, I was worried about stealing virtue from smoking teens!) It worked pretty well and virtue stealing was mostly avoided until my back started to itch. If you’ll remember, a few days prior to this Max and I went swimming and forgot our sunblock. We were majorly burned, and if you’ve every been majorly burned you’ll be able to sympathize with the “itchy feeling” you sometimes get. As the water was drying from my back I started to itch like mad. It was like red ants crawling all over my back and I was going to loose it. It was small at first and I just squirmed a little under the towel, but then it got worse and worse and I started squealing and gasping in earnest. I threw the towel mostly off and tried to use it to scratch my back, all the while contorting and shimmying (yes) and yelping. Max was completely bewildered and just tried to keep me covered up as much as possible. After a while of what I’m sure was the most inappropriate display of yipping and wiggling my back (which, as I’m sure you’ve figured is attached to my front) we figured out that a wet tank top would at least stop the itching temporarily. As I breathed a big sigh of relief I looked up to lock eyes with a heavily bearded graying man – frozen in horror. I didn’t know whether to laugh or slide back into the pool and swim away, but I’m sure that Max was more embarrassed than I was. I quickly remembered my wrath at the obnoxious group and I thought “serves them right.” All the same, Max quickly ushered us away and the whole thing is a big laugh now.

After the waterfall and ladder of death were passed the hike turned nasty. It was seriously straight out of the jungle book and we were climbing on rocks horizontally on all fours as much as we were walking upright. We didn’t step on one flat piece of ground the entire hike and our ankles were feeling it. We kept our spirits up until the end where we had to climb out of the ravine we’d been following on “switchbacks” that pretty much led us straight up out of the canyon. The view was absolutely spectacular, but we kept doubting our “new life” of hiking as we ascended the steep cliff face.

After getting back to our car, 4.75 hours from beginning, we felt exhausted but completely triumphant. Later that night we ate our finest meal in Israel yet at the “Pagoda” right on the Sea of Galilee and watched the sun sink behind the hills we had just conquered. It was a great day.


  1. This sounds so amazing! I'm glad it went well for you. I am also grateful for the hearty laugh you made possible for me. I can only picture the look of shock and disapproval.

  2. We are now blog friends!! Yay!! I'm sad I missed seeing you before you left! I'm excited to read about all your grand adventures though!! :-) Love ya! (I love that I use my nickname from our old apartment still in my blog name! Hehe!)

  3. The "hot spring" is a very odd thing isn't it. I recently discovered Lava. First cold snap (which will be arriving tomorrow) I want to head back. Miss you two at the Kirkin. It was a sweet one as always. That Pastor "Mc"Imprial is quite a guy. love love you.

  4. What's the "Eldan" branch? I didn't know if by Tiberias branch you meant the church's Tiberias branch? Have you been? If you ever go back please say hi from Lindsey Moore! I'm not sure who all is still there besides the Hansen family from 1997-1998, but there might be some.

    I love reading about your adventures! Oh, how I would love to go back...

  5. I am really enjoying your posts! This one was particularly great.
    (from your neighbor in 11D)