The Lost Tribe (#14)
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 Ofer to Nahal Oren
Our group of 14 started the day near the village of Ofer, following the Israel Trail’s comforting blazes. Yet within 20 minutes, we lost all trace of the tri-colored sign, or any sign. Splitting up when we saw a fork in the road, both groups soon reported seeing no sign of the Shvil Israel.
We were lost. And the day had hardly started.
Having done some research after the fact, it was discovered that one must always contact the shvil forum before setting out. This is because of trail damage due to the fire. Be forewarned!
We then spied a road below (the 7021) and from the map, we deduced that we should be heading this way. We contemplated bush whacking, but could not see an easy place to walk down the steep, overgrown slope. Backtracking, we eventually ran into Amir who suggested we follow a certain unmarked path that he chose.
We finally made it downhill and met up with the road that we spied form above. Here was a grove memorializing the tragic fire that blazed across the Carmel Mountains in December 2010, with photos of the blaze that ripped across these mountains, killing 44 people, 40 of whom were prison guards.
The trail then took us along a road and then northward up across ragged rocks till we could see the sparkling Mediterranean. A beautiful spring day, large puffy clouds sailed overhead. We clambered up and over rocks, passing spring flowers literally every step of the way. We saw purple iris, red anemone, Persian cyclamen and white rock rose as well as many other incredible spring flowers. We collected wild sage to spice up our cooking. Want to learn how to identify Israeli wildflowers?
The Carmel Mountain range, which extends 39 km and is six to eight kilometers wide, is made from flint and limestone and is covered by volcanic rocks. This explains the sharp, craggy stone that slowed our pace. The area is also made from carstite, which indicates that water has seeped into limestone, forming caves. We walk past several gaping holes in the ground that fell into deep caves.
We continued our walk and stopped at the Carmel Caves Park for lunch. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is the tenth site in Israel to be honored by UNESCO. We saw the caves above beyond majestic pink blooms of a Judas tree .
Although we did not have time to explore, it is really worth spending time here. Four caves were discovered in the site in the 1920s. Upon excavation, it was learned that people lived here 50 to 150,000 years ago, dating back to the Lower Paleolithic Period. Flint tools, animal bones, ancient wine presses and signs of human burials were found in these caves. Read more detailed information about the Carmel Caves.
Due to the steep hills and abundance of caves, this area was a place of refuge during biblical times. In the Book of Kings, it says that Elisha traveled here after being taunted by a group of men. Josephus wrote that Essenes fled to these very caves in the first century.
Our trail then took us northward through eucalyptus, pine and cypress forests, the glint of the Mediterrean always in sight. We came to a fence then lost the trail again and continued up a road until an army jeep stopped us, warned our group that we were in a shooting zone.
We quickly turned around and scrambled back to the shvil, soon realizing that one young hiker was gone, lost in the shooting range. We waited and waited, then decided that the group should go on. Four of us stayed back and two hikers backtracked. Luckily we all had phone contact and before we knew it, our lost hiker surprisingly resurfaced at the front of the group, while the two hikers on the search and rescue mission became lost themselves.
We eventually found each other and followed the path through a tunnel of sabra cactus, ducking low and hugging our arms to avoid the nasty thorns. Our path continued along a ridge and we found ourselves in an olive grove just outside Ein Hod. We walked past garden sculptures, then uphill right past the Artists’ Village. If one were to have more time, this is a highly recommended stop.
Since we were out of time and our cars were not nearby, we crossed the road and followed the signs to Mearat Etzba, named after a folkloric tale about a giant who once lived here.
Out path took us uphill into a forest that was destroyed by the fire. Jagged, burnt limbs seemed to tear at the earth, while other trees stood perfectly upright. Charred skelteons. Saplings peeked out from the destruction, a sweet sign of new life.
We walked onward and upward, then downhill through forests of thorny oak and laurel, walking into the remains of an old British Fort. The path then took us down a steep set of stairs to the Nahal Oren parking lot just off Route 7021. Our cars were patiently waiting for us and our tired feet relished the end of a challenging and eventful day.
We drove south as the sun dipped into the Mediterranean, ending a beautiful day. Clocking in at 25 kms, we calculated that if had not become lost at the start, we would have walked 21 kilometers.
Nahal Oren Park is home to caves, forested trails and biking paths, including a visit to a deep, dark cave, the home of the giant’s finger. You will have to visit yourself to hear the full story.