In February 2015, a few months after my first introduction to Sinai's back-country, I got to go back and hike a northern extension to the route I'd done in November, over a high limestone plateau that resembled much of the Negev. It included by far the most brutal day of hiking I've ever done - 11.8 km, 1200-ish meters of elevation gain over rough ankle-twisting terrain, a 50-pound pack, and a lingering foot injury, all because the wadi our support camel was supposed to walk up washed out, and a leisurely supported hike turned into a backpacking trip with no water supply for 3 days...
As it should be, the scenery become wild and stunning almost as soon as we left the coast. That was good, because soon the weight of my pack was too much to think about the beauty more than in passing
Salem, our guide from the Tarabin Bedouin, had never done what we would consider backpacking before - much less hauled 40-50 pounds of crap up an elevation gain like this. He gamely trudged along without a word of complaint or a cuss that I heard - more than I can say for myself.
That's 13.5 liters of water for three days. I went through almost all of it, and could have done with less. One benefit of Bedouin style cooking is that you use minimal water for cleaning dishes, rather than the liter-per day that Westerners might be used to budgeting
Naturally, the first day (when the packs were heaviest) was up the roughest, most ankle-breaking trail I've hiked. Or maybe it just seemed that way because of the weight...but it was a nasty one by any standard
We quickly (well, relatively) rose from the coastal ranges to the high limestone plateau, al-Gardud
Before lunch, we were looking back over the Gulf of Aqaba
The climb leveled out somewhat, but it was still relentless up, up, up
We spotted this niche-filled rock with several shelters built around its base and were too exhausted to continue to the next possible campsite, a spring a few kilometers ahead. This place could accommodate quite a few campers in its many little "rooms," and as it lacked a name, I suggested "Funduq al-Shefalleh" - Shefalleh Inn, after the wadi in which we found it. I hope it sticks.
An eagerly awaited night of sleep draws in. Even in fairly unremarkable landscapes, there is nothing like a desert sunset.
A simple dinner - canned meat heated up on the fire, bread and cheese, and then tea made in the can the meat came in. Backpacking minimalism at its finest.
The white broom, or retem bushes, were blooming white. The same bush, rotem in Hebrew, gives its name to many an Israeli woman
One of few flowering plants we'd see
Off into a landscape that in many places was indistinguishable from the Negev
Complete with Negev-style dry waterfalls, where the water has to be dug for if you must have it. It had barely rained this year anyway; hence our need to carry so much water
Somehow, still smiling
High passes, and scaled-up versions of Negev scenery
And the little storage/shelter rooms you find around the desert
Preparing for one more pass...
...into very different scenery. Throughout, our guide knew where every branching footpath ran to - mostly springs of various qualities, some so bitter they are only used by hunters for the animals they attract
A long descent might be a reason to cheer with such a weight on your back, but it was steep and rough enough that it was almost one of the more difficult parts. There was still time for glamor shots, though.
For the night is dark, and full of terrors. Another pre-built camping spot awaited in Wadi Matarsha.
Assured that the wind would come down from the plateau in the night, I nevertheless picked a spot protected from the wind's current trajectory, downsteam in the wadi. Sure enough, in the small hours it switched. I also got so much sand blown onto me that my camera briefly stopped working - I've really put that thing (a Canon Powershot G20) through its paces. The worst damage is the scratching on the lens - being essentially a high-end point and shoot, there's no option for filters or lens covers. But it did surprisingly well on this low-light shot and some others. (A note from late 2016 - the camera finally gave in, after four years of hard use, in the middle of my cross-country bike ride. RIP)
From Ras Matarsha, it was on down to the coast by the dramatic, water-fall filled Wadi Melha al-Atshana through the coastal ranges. No shots, as the sand-clogged camera wouldn't start - but see the other Sinai album for a taste of some similar terrain. On reaching Ras Shaitan, where we were to stay at a beach camp, I realized I'd done some serious damage to my foot. Almost a month later, it's finally about healed up. Good timing too, as tomorrow I leave for fatbike exploration of southern Jordan (now also posted on this site).
Middle East Hiking >