Mar 27, 2012

Touring in Eretz Yisrael: Nahal Dragot, a.k.a Darja

There are two types or touring that can be done in Eretz Yisrael - there is the sightseeing edition, such as when you go to Mini Israel or to a museum, etc. And there is the hiking edition, where you climb up or down mountains, hike through canyons, wadis, riverbeds, nahals, ponds, etc.

Hikes range in difficulty, and when planning a hike one should be sure it is appropriate for the level of the group participating. the Nature Authority in Israel rates each authorized trail with level of difficulty  -if you are hiking with a stroller, or with small children, be sure to find a trail rated appropriate for families, for strollers, etc. Don't take a 5 year old on a hike rated "Difficult", and a 20 year old out looking for an adventure might be bored on a trail rated "easy".

Nahal Dragot, commonly known as "Darja", is one of the most difficult and extreme hikes in Israel. When planning a tiyul, Darja is the one trail that puts fear and consternation into even the avid hikers heart. Planning for Darja requires bringing along a long rope appropriate for rappelling down sections of the trail, along with the ability to swim through mostly filthy water.

Darja is a trail in the mountain range across from the Dead Sea. The hike starts at the top of the mountain and goes down into and through the canyon. At times the trail is just a few inches wide.

I went the other day with my son and 16 other people to hike through Darja. I did Darja about 19 or so years ago when I was in yeshiva, and I remember it being difficult back then. We took two different approaches - 19 years ago we went with our gear and plans of how we would avoid our cameras getting wet, we had maps and other stuff in our backpacks, and we worked very hard to ensure our packs would stay dry. That required using ropes and ingenuity that took a lot of time and effort. And it failed. This time, our guide told us that we should plan that everything we take along will get wet. It is impossible not to. With that advanced knowledge, nobody even bothered trying to be a chochom about it and we all packed accordingly. We triple wrapped food, and anything else somebody might have brought along that he wanted to keep dry he made sure to put in a water tight bag.

As we began hiking down into the canyon, there is a set of caves that have been identified as a hiding place for the troops of Bar Kochva when he led the rebellion against the Romans. Scrolls have been found there, some even bearing the signature of Bar Kochva himself. The terrain of the hike is difficult, very difficult, but absolutely stunning views and topography. The reddish-brownish rock, the fauna, the interesting birds, the vultures above that made me think they were waiting for us to get stuck in the trail so they could have dinner, were all but some of the beautiful features of the trail.

The hike in total was 6.5 hours long, and included sections that we needed to rappel down walls of mountainside that were 15 or 20 meters high, slide down mostly smoothen rock, wade or swim through ponds of stagnant water that had turned a horrible color and at times included a horrible smell, jump from heights of 5 or so meters into ponds of this colored water, along with climbing over and under rocks and boulders of all sizes. At points the Nature Authority had installed metal hand-holds in sections of trail, where climbing down nearly blind or when climbing across a sideways trail that required some twisting and physical contortion was absolutely necessary.

The video below was made by one guy who brought along his camera and kept it in a water-proof divers bag. That is also why the images are a bit dark and fuzzy - he took his pictures while it was in the bag.

I would add that we passed a group of 50 guys, many of whom could not swim, who were having a great time hiking but were also having great difficulty with it. They had started at 7:15 in the morning, while we started at about 8:30, and we passed them at about 9:30 in the morning. They were hiking with inner tubes and inflatable rafts to  be used in the water sections to help those who could not swim get across. There were also a couple of small groups of hikers that we encountered on the hike.

Darja is a hike that every hiker in Israel should do, but you must plan for it appropriately.

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  1. Well said about having to plan well.

    I would add that you absolutely must start early in the morning!! Don't let the 6.5 hours Rafi mentioned fool you into thinking that you can always do it quickly if you choose. It's very easy to get stuck behind large groups at bottleneck points (there are many), where you can wait a very long time.

    A friend of mine and I did the Darja around 15 years ago. We must have started at around 9:00 am and we probably could have done the whole thing in 5-6 hours. However, because of the groups ahead of us, we and dozens of others didn't make it out to Route 90 until after midnight!!! So we were doing some of the more dangerous sections in the dark.

    Cellphone reception was non-existent there at the time (I guess this may have changed, but my friend's phone was ruined by the water) and we had no way of letting anyone know that we were basically ok.

    Again, you need to start early in the morning. It's also a good idea to bring your own rope.

    1. cellphone reception is no better. there was no reception until we were near the end. nobody brought phones except for one guy who kept his in a divers bag, and the guide who kept it in a water-proof bag until he took it out at the end well after we finished all the water sections.

      6.5 hours si considered good time. the group we passed took far longer. I have no idea how you could possibly do many of those sections of trail in the pitch black. Every now and then you hear of a group that got stuck after nightfall - they generally need to be rescued (which is why we hear of them)

  2. I did it 30 years ago, twice (not the same day). It was great fun.

  3. I'd love to do it.

    Where can I get more details about the wadi online?


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