Ma’ale Akravim and Nahal Gov Desert Trek

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Distance: 8kmTime: 4 hoursDifficulty: Strenuous
Ascent: 452mTrailhead and Markers Gallery

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Desert hikes.  Aren’t they all the same?

Last week’s trek through Ma’ale Akravim and Nahal Gov proved, yet again, that the answer is no.  To the contrary, every desert hike is a unique flower, with its own, history, geology, and natural beauty.

Nevertheless, there are some things that always stay the same in the Negev desert.  The silence for one thing: it hangs in the air like a thick sheet of glass, causing any noise to shatter through in an echo.  Also, the animals: you just never know when you might meet an ibex or a rock badger on the trail.

But despite these similarities, last week’s trek through Ma’ale Akravim and Nahal Gov was different from other desert treks. It had its own unique beauty.

Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
Different.

This trail was completely off of our radar.  We kind of stumbled upon it.  But after we hiked it, I wondered how that was possible.  The name Ma’ale Akravim, or Scorpion’s Ascent, is well-known for many reasons.  It’s mentioned several times in the Bible, where Ma’ale Akravim is described as the Southern border of the lands of Judah. It was also an important point along a Roman era trade route, where guards monitored the road from up above.

We embarked upon the Ma’ale Akravim trail late in the morning on an autumn day.  The sun shone brightly, but the weather was perfect for a desert hike. 

Here’s how we hiked this incredible desert trail:

Going Up!

To start, we followed the blue trail up an intense ascent.  I guess it is called Scorpion’s Ascent for a reason. 

Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
Impossible angles.

We walked up, sometimes over rock placed at an impossible angle.  After a while, we got to a flat area, where we stopped for a rest.  From there, we could see out to the surrounding area, a bit dusty and hazy in the late morning soon.

Then, we were on our way again.  We followed the trail up, up, up, for about a half an hour or so. On our way, we passed by a breakaway trail to Hurvat Tsafir. We climbed up the little hill to take in the views from atop the ruins. Then we got back on the blue trail and continued on our way, pushing on to the very top of the ascent.

Antiquities

Soon, what do you know?  We reached antiquities!  All the way up there, on top of that hill stood the remains of a Roman fortress built in the 3rd century.  Tsafir Fortress was built to protect the road which ascended from copper mines to the Mediterranean Sea.  It was used for about 300 years, until the 6th century.

Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
The fortress.

After climbing to the top of the crumbling walls, we continued on our way. Soon, we reached a series of small caves hidden in the side of the mountain.

This, of course, seemed like the perfect place to stop for a break in the shade.  We found shelter in one of the caves and pulled out our tea and sandwiches.

Brunch on Top of the World

Having a simple meal in a spectacular place like this one is always a special experience.  From our lookout in the cave, we could see rolling desert mountains and a canyon that snaked through the valley.

Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
In a miniature house with a chimney!

We cooled down and rested after our challenging morning climb.  Birds flew in and out, their noisy chirps echoing through the emptiness.  It was peaceful and pleasant up there.

After a short break, we packed up our stuff and were on our way again.  We still had lots of ground to cover.

The Crossover

From here, we continued along the black trail as it proceeded, now mostly flat, across the mountain towards Nahal Gov.  For a brief moment or two, we used metal handholds to climb downwards.  Then, we were walking on a narrow path as it hugged the mountain, far above the valley down below.

Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
Get down.

It looked a little terrifying.  But in fact, it was an easy walk along flat terrain high up in the sky.

Soon, we reached the green trail turnoff and the real downhill, towards Nahal Gov.  We made our way down along sporadically placed metal rungs towards the sun-drenched valley.

Rocky Road at Nahal Gov

What first struck me about Nahal Gov was the golden grasses that lined the bottom of the canyon.  I’m guessing that these grasses turn green after plentiful winter rains.  But for now, they were yellow and drenched in rays of sunshine, giving the whole bottom of the canyon a surreal glow.  We made our way across on the green trail, saying hello to a desert sand mouse or two as we proceeded. 

Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
Sun drenched and golden.

Soon, we reached a place where the canyon got narrower and the descent intensified.

Nahal Gov was different than other canyons I remember hiking in.  It wasn’t smooth and white like some canyons.  It certainly wasn’t shadowy and cool. 

Instead, it was filled with a strange array of rock formations.  In some places, giant boulders lay strewn across the path.  In other spots, the canyon got super narrow.  We had to hug the walls on metal hand holds as we followed the path.

Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
Squeeze through.

Ropes and Ladders

Then, we reached a really fun part of Nahal Gov: a series of descents along smooth, water polished rock.  On these parts, someone had thoughtfully attached ropes along with the metal rungs.  They made the descent much, much easier!

Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
Handy.

We climbed down into pools of darkness, sometimes on a rope, sometimes on a full -fledged ladder.  Soon, we reached another, more open area.  And guess what happened then?

We bumped into a herd of ibex!

No matter how many times it happens, it’s always fun to see these guys roaming through a desert canyon.  They stood at a safe distance, then looked at us quizzically, as if wondering how our presence would impact their lives.  After snapping several pictures (that’s all, folks!) we were on our way, leaving the ibex to munch in peace.

Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
Our favorite desert friends.

Wave Goodbye

For the last part of our journey, the canyon narrowed again.  Nahal Gov is very well taken care of.  White ropes and carved out footholds made it easy to navigate downwards along these smooth rock walls at the end of the canyon.

Then, we reached a crazy rock wall, multi-hued and covered in a series of wavy ridges.  We crossed through this last gateway, and then said goodbye to Nahal Gov.

Back on the blue trail, we made our way to the trailhead close to sunset.  It had been another incredible desert adventure.

Hike one Negev trail.  Hike two.  Hike a dozen.  It doesn’t matter.  You’ll find something unique and beautiful each and every time.  This trail through Ma’ale Akravim and Nahal Gov is another great addition to the desert-lovers bucket list.

Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
Wavy.

Hikers’ Notes:

Here’s what you need to know to hike Ma’ale Akravim and Nahal Gov:

  • Best suited to fall, spring, and winter. This trail is out in the open and would be too hot to hike on a summer day.
  • Not suitable for dogs.
  • Challenging climbing and heights involved. Not suitable for small children.
  • Wear good, closed hiking shoes. Bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen.
  • Nahal Gov can also be hiked as a one way, family friendly adventure. Take the blue trail to the right, then hop onto the green trail. Walk out as far as you like, and then return the way you came.
  • To walk this trail, follow the blue trail to the left from the parking lot. You will tackle Ma’ale Akravim (the blue trail), passing by a breakaway trail to Tsafir Ruins. When you reach Tsafir Fortress, return to the blue trail and then turn onto the black trail. Follow the black trail until you reach the green trail (Nahal Gov). Follow the green trail through Nahal Gov until you reach the blue trail, which you will then follow for a minute or so back to the trailhead.
  • Use the trail map, trail marker gallery, and Google Earth to find your way on this trail.

Don’t forget to read my guide to the navigational features in this post before you hit the trail!

Trail map from Amud Anan.

Questions? Have you hiked Ma’ale Akravim or Nahal Gov? Let’s hear about it in the comments!

Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
Taking in the scenery.
Ma'ale Akravim and Nahal Gov hike
Precarious.

Hiking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is each hiker’s responsibility to check it and navigate using a map and compass.

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