The Via Ferrata Masada Challenge

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Distance: 2.9kmTime: 2-3 hoursDifficulty: Moderate
Ascent: 242mMeeting Point for Masada ChallengeMeeting Point for Masada Challenge

There are few things that qualify as a more quintessentially Israeli adventure than sunrise at Masada.  But although we’ve been on tons of adventures in Israel, until this past Friday morning, I had never seen sunrise at Masada.

It’s not as if I had never tried.  On a summer touring trip when I was 14, we arrived at Masada just a bit too late for sunrise.  And in 1998, when I was studying in Israel for the year, our bus full of 17-20 year olds didn’t pull out of the parking lot in Jerusalem until after sunrise.

Over the years since those misadventures, I’ve thought about catching sunrise at Masada.  But there were so many other spectacular sunrise adventures to be had – many of them, much, much closer than Masada, which is at least an hour and forty five minutes from my home.  So instead, we visited Masada on cool winter days, hiked up in a variety of ways, and even hiked at the foot of the desert mountain.

I see the sun!

But this past week, something happened which made me decide that it was time to catch sunrise at Masada – a new Via Ferrata trail opened up, coinciding with the onset of a heat wave.

We knew that we had to go try out this new suspended hike at Masada, a trail that included the use of climbing equipment and helmets, all supplied by the Parks Authority, ASAP.  But how could we hike this trail during a heat wave in the desert near the Dead Sea, which is the hottest part of Israel?

The only solution was to hike it first thing in the morning.  Sunrise at Masada was in the works.  To reach the top of the mountain by 5:30 AM, we had two choices: either take the cable cars up from the main entrance or hike up the ramp trail on the western side of Masada.  The western side is closer to our home, and we were also keen on the idea of adding a pre-sunrise hike to the picture.  In order to reach the western trail in time for this pre-dawn adventure, we would have to leave our home by about 3:30 AM.

But guess what?  This heat wave and inauguration of a new trail at Masada also coincided with my birthday! So, we decided to splurge for a night at a kosher hotel in Arad so that we could push our departure time to 4:30 AM instead.

Ready to hike the Via Ferrata trail at Masada!

We made our reservations, drove to Arad, checked in, and set our alarms for 4:15 the next morning.  If things went well, we would have completed this awesome new adventure with plenty of time to return to the hotel for a luxurious breakfast at 9:00 AM.

Here’s how we hiked the new Via Ferrata trail at Masada:

Right on Time…Along with Everyone Else

Success!  We woke up at 4:15 and were in the hotel parking lot by 4:30, ready for the 30 minute drive to the Masada West entrance.  When we pulled into the parking lot, we were surprised to see that we weren’t the only ones dead set on catching sunrise at Masada – there were several tour busses in the parking lot.

We followed the quiet crowds in the faint pre-dawn light, up the steps towards the ramp trail.  Despite the crowds, it was very quiet and pleasant.  We slowly and silently made our way up to the top of Masada.

Just us and the rest of the pre-dawn hikers.

At about 1 kilometer in length, this trail didn’t take very long.  We were up top by 5:15, with plenty of time to scope out our own quiet spot to watch the sunrise.  Since the crowds headed straight forward to the Northeastern side of the mountain, we headed in the other direction, finding our own quiet perch atop the ancient ruins.

Ready for Sunrise

So how was sunrise at Masada? Well, the truth is, we didn’t see it.  Again.

Along with the heat came a hazy, cloudy day.  Although the sky was filled with a beautiful gentle glow, the clouds prevented us from actually seeing the sun as it peeked over the mountains beyond the Dead Sea.

Sunrise…sort of.

We sat in our one sunrise vantage point for a while, then proceeded south to catch the magical views from different lookouts.  It was quite spectacular, even without being able to see the sun.

On To the Main Event

After sunrise was all finished, it was time for us to find the beginning of the Via Ferrata trail.  According to the message we had received from the Parks Authority, the meeting point was somewhere on the southern side, and we had to be there by 6:15 AM.

Wandering at dawn.

We wandered around aimlessly, searching in vain for any sign of a guide with climbing gear.  Eventually, after wandering for some time, we met a ranger who pointed us in the right direction.

We got there in the nick of time, just as the group was about to set off.  After strapping ourselves into climbing gear and helmets, we took our places as the last two in the procession of hikers attached to the metal cord.

Takes Some Getting Used To

And we set off!  Down we climbed, along metal rungs that took us down a sheer cliff towards a whole new layer of Masada antiquities.  As we climbed, we had to periodically pass our clips over hooks which jutted out of the rock.  The climbing was fairly straightforward, but keeping our clips running along smoothly took some getting used to.

Trying to stay organized.

The views from this part of Masada were even more amazing than the ones from the top.  We enjoyed the heady sensation of balancing on narrow edges, knowing that there was no risk of falling.  And the helmets were helpful too – we didn’t have to worry about any rocks falling from hikers up above.

New Discoveries

But the best part of the trip was seeing bits of history that we had never seen at the top of Masada.  We saw monastic seclusion caves, giant cisterns, and a staircase built by Byzantine monks.  I had never even realized that these remnants of the past were here on the side of the mountain.

Beneath a monastic seclusion cave.

We climbed up and down metal rungs, over dangerous precipices, all the way to the very end of the trail.  And with all of the cool climbing gear, we felt safe the entire time.  The hike was over before we knew it – less than thirty minutes from when we began.

When we reached the top, we unclipped ourselves from the safety wire and took off our climbing gear.  We returned to the meeting point to give our gear back to the guide, and set out across Masada, past the familiar sights at the top, back towards the western entrance.

Incredible views.

All in a Morning’s Adventure

As we hiked backed down the ramp trail, we felt thankful for this chance to see Masada in a new way.  The Via Ferrata trail had been an entirely different type of adventure – it had been really incredible.  In the heat of early morning, under a cloudy sky, we took in the sights of the ramp trail, now by daylight, as we returned to our car.

We were back at the hotel before 9:00 AM, just as anticipated, ready to enjoy a delicious Friday morning breakfast.  What a way to start the day! This amazing adventure at the new Via Ferrata trail at Masada was just the thing for a birthday celebration.


Hikers’ Notes:

Here’s what you need to know to hike the new Via Ferrata trail at Masada:

  • This trail is suitable for kids ages 10 and up.
  • Not suitable for those with a fear of heights.
  • By advance reservation only (40 nis per person).
  • To get to the top of Masada you can head in from the east side (by cable car or the snake path) or the west side (via the ramp path).
  • Bring water, sun protection, and sturdy closed toe shoes to hike this trail.
  • Find your way to the meeting point by clicking on the Google Maps link in the table at the top (second point).
  • Read about the trail on the Parks Authority website right here.
  • To reserve: Masada Challenge

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 the Via Ferrata/ Masada Challenge? Let’s hear about it in the comments!

Hanging around Masada.

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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