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Hermon: Hazori to Hula

Golan: Devora &  Gilbon

Golan: Nahal Meitzar

Galilee: Nahal Kziv

Galilee: Nahal Amud

Galilee: Nahal Rosh Pina

Galilee: Ramat Adamit

Coast: Dor to Caesarea

Judean Hills: Ela Valley

Judean Desert: Masada

Judean Desert: Peres

Negev: Mount Zaror

Negev: Hatira Coxcomb

Negev: Ramon Ridge

Negev: Hatzra Ascent

Negev: Nekarot Hike

Negev: Ada Canyon

Arava: Barak Canyon

Arava: Maok & Nekarot

Eilat: Israel Trail Finale

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Up and Down the Coxcomb

A challenging hike on the Hatira Ridge, in the riverbeds of Nahal Mador and Nahal Afran.

At the Geha Junction it was raining, in Kiryat Gat the first rips began to appear in the clouds, and in Nahal Zin we were already greeted with smiling, completely blue skies.

 We were heading for the eastern slopes of the Hatira Ridge, the ones with a view of the southern edge of the Large Makhtesh. For this purpose, we planned to hike up the riverbed of Nahal Mador to the top of the wall of the makhtesh, pause at Mt. Karbolet, and make our way down Nahal Afran.

In the past, the guides leading hikes on this route would get a little worried at a certain point. The dirt road to Nahal Mador, the one marked in black on the Hiking and Trail Map (Central Negev, No. 15), passes through the grounds of the Oron phosphate works. Though the guides arranged entry to the area in advance, and usually it all worked out, they could never be sure that the guard at the gate would really open the barricade. 

Well, in this regard I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the plant has blocked the black road with piles of earth and the road can no longer be used. The good news is that a road bypassing the Oron plant is currently being prepared. We actually had the honor of trying it out. In order to drive on it, you have to turn right (west) about 500 meters before the gate of the Oron plant. Afterward, you drive to the foot of the hill with the antenna and complete the bypass of the phosphate works from the north. Then the road crosses the railroad tracks and continues parallel to the tracks for approximately 6 kilometers, until you reenter the black road, which you follow for about 2 more kilometers to the channel of Nahal Mador.

 But even the new road is not that wonderful. It is quite difficult for a bus to negotiate. It is passable for a 4x4 and a high tender, but not for a private car. In our opinion, even a stubborn טיולית of the old variety, will manage to pass through the road. In short, pay attention to the map in this article in order to understand what is happening. “By the time the article is published,” promised Dany Gaspar, coordinator of the Israel Trails Committee, “we will have marked the bypass road in red. ERETZ readers will not go astray.” 

The road to Nahal Mador offers beautiful views. The eastern layers of the Hatira Ridge, which conceal the Large Makhtesh, dive down toward the Zin Plain. Only a yellowish hill is attached to them in a strange way (geologists call it an “incongruity”). The Hebrew name of the hill, Givat Mador, preserves the sound of the Beduin name al-Madriyya. This is a residual hill typical of the Negev, that is, a leftover from strata of rock that once covered the Zin Plain and even the Hatira Ridge. The slopes of the hill are composed of soft, yellowish marl and chalk of the Arev Formation, which contains the phosphates. The top of the hill is made of harder chalk, which gives it the shape of a table. As Nahal Zin dug its way through, the rocks of the Arev Formation were swept from the mountainous areas and the remnants were left in the syncline of Nahal Zin.

 We parked the car east of Mador Hill, at a meeting point of a blue trail and a red trail. We would be hiking up Nahal Mador (blue trail 15230) to the top of the wall of the makhtesh. We would walk southwest and descend in Nahal Afran (red trail 15230). From there we would walk back to the car. Our hike would cover a total of about 17 kilometers. 

To the Wall of the Makhtesh

 The hike began with a wade through the broad channel of Nahal Mador. The desert tranquility was disturbed only by a few shallow trenches that had been dug by a tractor, apparently with the aim of reaching the underground water table. In the first days of January, water could not be seen in the water holes, but they were covered with green vegetation and a few tamarisk trees were growing in them. Tamarisks “sniff out” every drop of water in the desert. Their lightweight seeds are scattered over large expanses, and when they fall on damp ground, they sprout and take root. 

Flowers were just beginning to appear, but their presence was a good sign of what would take place in the area in February and March. The orange heads of the field marigolds already dotted the channel. This plant grows almost everywhere in Israel, except for the most remote recesses of the desert. There were many leaves of desert Roman squill, but most of their bell-shaped blue flowers were still closed. 

After we had walked for 45 minutes, the route of the trail changed. We reached the slopes of the Hatira Ridge. The riverbed digs into them, makes its way down several small falls, and wisely circumvents a larger fall. The falls accentuate the sharp slope of the layers of the Hatira Ridge on its eastern side. Sometimes they seem almost vertical. This is a beautiful segment of the trail. It does not climb on the slope of the mountain, but also digs into its strata. 

After an hour and a half of walking, we came upon the Israel Trail. The trail passes along a huge wall with fossils of oysters of the genus Exogyra. These fossils are not rare, but the concentration here is impressive. Exogyra is a type of oyster that is known by a twisting to the left of one of its shells. The opposite shell is like a flat cover. The Exogyra oysters inhabited a shallow marine area and they were very common in the Lower Cretaceous epoch (140-100 million years ago).

 Here, on the shaded slopes, in the fissures of the rock, grow the round leaves of the common pennywort, a thoroughly Mediterranean plant. Shaded rock fissures are a Negev highlands habitat that sometimes provides shelter to plants that are not native to the desert. This phenomenon is due mainly to the fact that the pocket of ground in the fissure of the rock receives relatively large quantities of water, since the rainwater flows into it from the surrounding rock.

 At elevation point 682, the trail’s marking changes its color to red. We were at the top of Mt. Karbolet, Hebrew for Coxcomb. Such a name is not given to just any mountain, and indeed, the view was incredible. On one side we could see all of the Large Makhtesh. On the other side we could can see the sloped layers of the wall of the makhtesh. We were in the middle, walking on the “razor” that alternately descends and ascends, justifying the name given to it. Far away from us in the south rose Mt. Rechev on the Hatzera Ridge, the home of the Small Makhtesh. Even further away we could see the Mahmal Ridge, which contains Makhtesh Ramon.

 We were greeted by a deep riverbed. The trail cuts across it and rises to the slope behind it, traversing a huge rock surface that is composed entirely of an immense concentration of Exogyra fossils. Then the trail leads down to Nahal Afran. 

Nahal Afran

 Nahal Afran was the highlight of the hike. This strange name derives from the Beduin name of the riverbed, Wadi Afran (the Riverbed on the Soil). It begins with a series of five rock cavities, which were full of water. The slope with the cavities descends to a clear geological fault line. The inclined layers of this slope are simply swallowed up under a steep wall.  

The layers of rock create quite a commotion here. They twist and turn in all kinds of whimsical ways. The whole descent is a real experience. The trail runs steeply along the slanted layers, in narrow crevices. You have to walk slowly and carefully. Walking fast can easily end in a sprained ankle. Thus you pass from “crust” to “crust” of the makhtesh wall until you reach the large waterfall. Here, too, the trail “breaks,” circumventing the waterfall from the left with the aid of hand rungs.

 Toward the end of the crevice, the trail leaves the channel to avoid a group of boulders, ascends steeply and leads back down to it in a very steep descent. Afterward, you somehow pass between and under large boulders.

 In the last “crust” of the Hatira Ridge, to the right of the trail and adjacent to it, is a lovely group of packed fossils of tower snails. They are of the genus Cerithium, whose representatives inhabited shallow seawater in the distant past. They are up to 7 centimeters long and their whorls are very prominent.

 Now we came out of the belly of the mountain to the open landscape of the syncline that separates the Hatira and Hatzera anticlines. Nahal Afran digs through the sediments of the syncline on its way to its meeting with Nahal Mador. We had another 6 kilometers to go before we reached the spot where we had left the car. It seemed to us a reasonable price to pay for the scenery we had beheld.

The sun went down. Now we couldn’t see anything. From time to time, we discerned rocks marked with two white stripes and a red stripe in the center, a sign that we were going the right way.

 More sophisticated hikers would have arranged to have the car brought close to the exit of Nahal Efran and save a walk of an hour and a half. We were not so clever.

The Method to its Madness

The Israel Trail runs along the top of Mt. Karbolet, which is the southern wall of the Large Makhtesh. At a certain point, the trail descends in the direction of the gate of the Oron phosphate works and then leads back up to the mountain. Why? A campsite is planned near the gate of the phosphate works. From there the trail leads back up to the Coxcomb. A second campsite will be established on the slope of Nahal Afran. The campsites serve the important function of replenishing the hikers’ water supply. If you don’t want to descend from the Coxcomb you can follow a blue trail. The 2003 edition of the Central Negev Trail Map (15) includes the changes that have already been marked in the field.




Useful Information:

Length: 17 km. Your pickup vehicle can shorten the way by 4 km if it waits for you near Nahal Afran. Please do not drive beyond the high-tension wire so as not to damage the natural landscape. The beginning of the route can be reached in a strong vehicle or a 4x4.

Difficulty: The hike is for proficient hikers not only because it is strenuous, but also because it requires skill at negotiating the very steep slopes in Nahal Afran.

Equipment: Make sure to bring a flashlight in case you finish the hike in the dark

For map click here






© ERETZ Magazine 2016