Five Things I Learned Hiking HaMakhtesh HaKatan in the Negev
Hiking in the Negev in Israel is as beautiful as it sounds, and something I’ve wanted to do since we arrived a few years ago. As our time in Jerusalem is growing short, I ditched my spouse and kids, and signed up for a group hike in the HaMakhtesth HaKaton, a small crater in the Nagev. The Makhtesh Katan is one of five craters in Israel, and seven in the world, created entirely by erosion.
The 12km hike itself was absolutely stunning; however, it quickly turned more technical that I’d expected, and was quite beyond my abilities (and certainly my comfort level). It was absolutely stunning, but easily the toughest hike I’ve ever completed. I wasn’t the only one to find the the hike challenging, and our group ended up spending several hours seeking our way in the dark. Nothing like panicking because you’re in the middle of the desert in the dark with no cell phone signal and no map and you can’t find the nex trail marker. I was mentally preparing to spend the night; however, thanks to some experienced hikers and amazing teamwork, we made it out safe and sound.
In retrospect, I knew better than to show up to a hike unprepared, and I should have done a few things differently.
Bring extra snacks
I brought plenty of food for lunch and snacks, but not enough to cover three extra hours of strenuous and stressful hiking. I should have brought several protein bars, just in case. We were all grouchy because we were stressed and worried. I didn’t need to be grouchy because I was hungry too.
Bring a flashlight
Because I thought the hike would end long before dark, I neglected a few “rules.” Like making sure I had a flashlight, just in case. I wasn’t the only one, and we ended up navigating by our cell phone light. Yikes. Again, experienced hikers and group leaders brought the lanterns that led us out of the park.
Make sure I understand which trails we’re following
We had a scary moment about an hour before twilight. Half of our group had pressed ahead, and our knowledgable trail leaders were behind helping a few folks who were having trouble reaching the top of the ridge. Should we follow the black trail or the green trail? Someone said that the black trail would lead to a road, but that other hikers had followed the green trail. We guessed the green trail, and we were right. Other hikers guessed wrong and ended up miles off track (but safe and sound, to be perfectly clear).
Turn back when I realize that the hike is going beyond my ability to finish by dark
I had no idea that I was going to find the second half of the hike so challenging. We were all expecting an easy 6k back to our cars. However, I did realize pretty early on that my group was moving faster than my ability level. Despite all of the running and training I’ve been doing lately, I’m still 100 lbs overweight and I’m still slow. I should have spoken up early and found some folks to either follow an easier trail or turn back with me.
The last 3km of the hike, I depended heavily on my trail mates to get me over some tough spots. Some of that was because I’d twisted my ankle, but a great deal of it was because I was scared and in over my head. A lot of that could have been avoided had I done the above, that is, had I come prepared and been honest with myself about my abilities.
And one thing I’m glad I did do: challenge myself to go on more adventures!
Finishing the hike was hard! But I didn’t have a choice, so I did it. And I’m glad I did. I have a much better sense of where my abilities are now, and what I need to do to become a stronger hiker in the future. And I’ll never neglect the Ten Essentials again.