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|Trail Map||Hike it with Google Earth||Trailhead and Markers Gallery|
|Distance: 20km||Time: 9 hours||Difficulty: Advanced|
|Ascent: 824m||Parking at Nahal Mishmar||Parking at Nahal Mishmar|
My body officially hurts.
That’s because yesterday, I went on a truly epic hike, an all-day, full body adventure that separates the men from the boys. This hike wasn’t just challenging; it was also incredibly beautiful, taking us through a variety of different types of desert terrain.
This hike up the Mount Zruiah in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, across the desert to the Hever Mountain, Valley, and Pools, and through Nahal Mishmar certainly wasn’t boring.
We began just after dawn, in order to complete the 20 kilometer length, 800 meter ascent (and descent) hike before nightfall. In late December, this turned out to be quite a challenge. We did not move slowly.
Along the way, we met wild animals, birds, and just one or two other hikers. We experienced multiple insane lookouts over desert canyons, then climbed down into said canyons. One after the next, we tackled intense climbs. We walked across the desert, through flat, silent wilderness. It was a great day.
So how did we end up on this adventure? For the longest time, we had been wanting to climb the Zruia Ascent in Ein Gedi, one of the only trails in the reserve we had yet to tackle. As we looked at the map, we realized that we had also been wanting to get to the Hever Pools, located in the flat desert plains just south of Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.
A plan began to take form. We would climb Mount Zruiah, walk across the desert to the pools, then continue to follow the red trail out until the drop off point to Nahal Mishmar (one of our long-time favorite desert trails). Then, we would descend through Nahal Mishmar and finish up on Highway 90 near the Dead Sea.
The trail looked amazing: I loved the idea of connecting two beautiful nature reserves in one long adventure. The only thing we needed was a way to get from Nahal Mishmar back to Kibbutz Ein Gedi at the end of the day. Luckily, Yosi the cab driver from Kibbutz Ein Gedi was more than happy to give us a lift.
With our hike all planned out, we set our alarms and got ready to set out before dawn.
Here’s what we saw on this one-way hike from Zruiah Ascent in Ein Gedi to Nahal Mishmar:
Party from the Break of Dawn
We began on the trail in the early morning light, at about 7:00 AM, just outside of Kibbutz Ein Gedi. Giant mountain cliffs loomed large in the distance. This trail looked like it was going to be quite a challenge.
First, we walked around the kibbutz, along a barbed wire fence on a crumbling path. This took a while. But after twenty minutes of mostly flat walking, we found ourselves on a serious ascent.
I love hiking in the early morning. Between the soft sun and cool cloud patterns, everything just looks a thousand times more beautiful. As we climbed up the cliffs, the golden rock seemed to gleam, on a background of bright blue sky and wispy clouds. The cool December breeze kept us from overheating as we climbed.
I could already tell that my body was going to hurt after this trail. Each uphill step was an effort, save for the short breaks as we snaked on flatter pathways around the mountain. At times, we had to throw our full bodies into achieving upward momentum.
When we finally reached the top, it was close to 9:00 AM (yes, we may have stopped along the way to field frantic phone calls from the kids – keepin’ it real).
On Top of the World
At the very top of the Zruiah ascent, there was a clear marked breakaway trail to the top of Mount Zruiah. Of course, we weren’t going to skip that! So, we pushed just a little bit more to reach the very top of the mountain.
It was so worth it. The views from the summit were spectacular. On one side, we could see down towards the Dead Sea, its waters reflecting turquoise in the early morning sun. On the other, we looked down upon the most spectacular view to Ein Gedi’s Nahal Arugot. The gorgeous mountains and cliffs with a green stream snaking down the middle reminded me ever-so-slightly of The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone where we had visited this past summer. It was gorgeous.
Of course, this was going to be our breakfast spot. After saying our morning prayers, we poured hot coffee and enjoyed our meal while looking out on a spectacular view. While we sat there, we watched as a pack of ibex ran wildly down the side of the cliff, as if to mock our careful ascent along the difficult terrain.
Once we had finished our coffee and muffins, we were on the move again, along a wide green marked trail that took us across the desert. What was especially cool about this trail was that it was in a sort of inaccessible part of Israel’s Judean Desert. To the east were mountain cliffs, blocking the view of the Dead Sea nearby. In the distance looking west, we could see the city of Hevron, which is actually a short drive from our home. But it had taken us an hour and a half to drive to the trailhead this morning.
That’s because these desert cliffs are not marred by any roads. There is no way to cut across from Hevron and Gush Etzion to Ein Gedi. We were hiking in a quiet, inaccessible part of Israel.
Haver Cliffs and Pools
After a long walk in the silent desert, we reached the dropoff point to the Hever Pools. We climbed down, then broke off the trail to go explore.
Since it was still relatively early in the season, the pools were not full. We climbed over smooth white rock and peered down into their gaping emptiness. Still, birds, and animals were clearly drawn towards whatever water was there – we heard them chirping and swooping down below.
Next up, another ascent, up an intense cliff towards the lookout down to the Hever waterfall. We climbed up, then veered off trail to walk along the side of the cliff. At first we saw nothing, just the usual crazy mountains above a deep canyon. But then we saw it: a sheer drop and one single pool halfway down the cliff. It looked absolutely insane.
After spending a few moments taking in the scenery, we were on the move again. It was getting late in the day. We didn’t have too many hours of light left. If we wanted to complete this trail as planned, with a hike through Nahal Mishmar at the end, we were going to have to hustle.
We walked at top speed through relatively flat desert terrain, stopping only to pick up an interesting rock here or there. Our legs hurt, but we were determined to get to Mishmar with enough time to enjoy it.
After a long, fast walk with several uphills and downhills, another massive canyon came into view. We had made it. Nahal Mishmar was just up ahead.
From here on in, we were going to have to slow down. The descent into Nahal Mishmar was slow and treacherous. We inched along a steep downhill, walking carefully so as not to slip.
Eventually, we made it to the bottom. From here, we had a choice to make: would we take the fast red trail above the canyon, ensuring that we would make it back to the road before dark? Or would we continue along the (much more fun) blue trail, through Nahal Mishmar, where climbing ladders and stone slides awaited?
We decided to take a break on a large flat boulder to discuss. Our legs needed a moment’s rest in any event. And we could use some fuel.
We collapsed in a heap and pulled out our toasted sourdough sandwiches. Within moments, the birds joined us one after the next, all flying in a bit too close for their personal safety. We guarded our food closely as they moved in for first dibs: Tristam’s starling, a sparrow, one bird that we call a Desert Penguin.
After replenishing our energy stores, we knew that we had made a decision: we would continue on along the blue trail, through the more challenging and more exciting Nahal Mishmar canyon climb.
We left our crumbs to the birds and were on our way.
From here on in, all was right with the world. We fell into the full body movement required by climbing through a canyon. One leg up, another stretched way down. Swing down with the arms. Grab on a hand hold rung. Now grab onto a chunk of rock. Then slide down a two meter rock slide!
It was beautiful, as it always is in Nahal Mishmar. Soft layers of stone contrasted with craggy rock. The shadows of the canyon framed the golden mountains and bright blue sky just beyond. Throughout our entire journey through Nahal Mishmar, birdsong escorted us. There were caws and chirps and trills. And oh, so much challenge.
At one point, we looked up to see a family of rock hyraxes scurrying along a cliff. They sent down a cascade of stones in a miniature avalanche. We continued on through the shadows, putting our full bodies into motion as we climbed through the canyon.
As the sun began to descend in the sky, we reached the campsite at Nahal Mishmar. We remembered good times: camping out in the blistering heat of summer to watch the meteor shower in this very spot. For now, we would be continuing along the jeep trail towards the road. Yossi the cab driver was waiting for us.
After a fast-paced walk, we reached the end of the trail. Yossi got out of his cab and offered us each a bottle of water. And then just like that, we were sitting in an air-conditioned, clean cab, the dust and sweat and beauty of the morning all behind us.
Our adventure that day had been truly epic. We had seen so many parts of the Judean Desert in one short day, from dawn to dusk. Between crazy climbs, gaping valleys, animal life, and a canyon dance, our journey from the Zuria Ascent to Nahal Mishmar had been absolutely incredible.
Here’s what you need to know to hike this trail from Maaleh Zuria to Gevei Haver and Nahal Mishmar:
- This trail is best suited to cooler days in fall, winter, and spring. This part of the desert (the Dead Sea area), stays much warmer than other parts of the desert until the colder parts of the year.
- This is a one way trail. Make sure to plan for transportation back to the trailhead outside of Kibbutz Ein Gedi. Here's the number of the taxi driver we used: 0504085000 (He charged 80 NIS for the ride.)
- Wear good hiking boots and hiking socks and a hat to hike this trail. Bring along plenty of food and water. You will need it!
- This is an advanced trail with serious ascents and descents along with difficult climbing. This trail is for physically fit hikers only.
- If you hike this trail further along in the winter after the rains have had a chance to collect, Nahal Mishmar may be full of pools of water. Either plan to get wet (you can bring water shoes and switch into them), or take the red trail back at the end which travels just above the valley. You will end up in the same place, but you will miss a lot of the fun!
- As with all desert trails, make sure to check for flash flood warnings before you go. This trail should not be attempted on days when there is a risk of flash floods.
- The Zuria ascent is part of Ein Gedi National Park. Technically, you are supposed to pay an entrance fee to hike this trail. If you have a National Parks Card this is not an issue. Otherwise, you can stop at the office at Nahal Arugot or Nahal David before you begin. You are also supposed to notify a ranger before hiking this trail.
- You must start this trail before 8:00 AM in order to complete it by nightfall. We began at 7:00 AM.
- It's a good idea to bring along some headlamps in case you get stuck walking in the dark at the end.
- To follow the trail: Begin at the lot outside of kibbutz Ein Gedi and follow the green trail. At the top of the Zruiah Ascent, follow the breakaway trail to the top of Mount Zruriah. Return to the green trail and follow it until you reach the red trail. Make a left on the red trail. The red trail will bring you to Gevei Hever. Stop to explore, heading off trail to see the view from above the pools. Return to the red trail and follow it to Nahal Mishmar. In Nahal Mishmar, follow the blue trail through the canyon. The blue trail will meet the red trail. Follow the red trail straight past the campground to Parking Point B.
Don’t forget to read my guide to the navigational features in this post before you hit the trail!
Questions? Have you hiked this epic trail from the Zuria Ascent to Nahal Mishmar? Let’s hear about it in the comments!