Saturday, February 18, 2012

On Camping and Climbing

Barring all apologies for being a bit slow with my blog posts, it seems this might be the frequency from here on out, not for lack of adventure or thrill, but rather because, quite honestly, I've got better things to do than waste time on my computer…although writing is justifiable, I simply get too distracted and a blog post that should take an hour to write ends up taking three, et cetera. Anyway...

It'd been a while since Ari and I have really gone anywhere or done anything exciting on our own volition, so we were overdue for an adventure, and anxious to take our new climbing gear for a spin, and the weatherman predicted bluebird weather for the weekend. Quite the ideal combination. So we packed our harnesses and rope and shoes, threw in a tent and some food and warm clothes, and set off for the Arab North. We were headed for the cliffs near Gita, a tiny Jewish settlement near Ma'alot Tarshiha. Well, Shabbat has always impeded our weekend travel plans, at least to some extent, but it really made things very difficult, as the ideal bus that would take us a half-hour walk from Gita wasn't running on Friday, meaning we had to settle for a bus requiring a two-hour walk down roads not meant for pedestrian travelers.

As an aside, I sincerely hope this blog post finds its way through the jumble of Google searches and indexes to the eyes of hopeful climbers in Israel who don't read Hebrew, as the information on this place is really very scarce on the web, and finding our way there sin car was a bit tough. This is a map of our path to the cliffs, bus route in blue, walking route in red. All in all, it took us about five or six hours of travel from Tel Aviv to get there. Rent a car, folks.

Bus in blue, walking in red
Although public transportation has, in our past, been our best friend, in this one situation, it really, really, really would have been nice to have a car. Essentially to get there, we had to take a train all the way north to Nahariya (which incidentally was incredibly relaxing), the northernmost coastal city in Israel. We had a bit of downtime there where we hung out at the beach and had some yummy falafel. From Nahariya, we took the Nateev Express local number 43 service to Ma'alot Tarshiha and beyond, to Yanuh. If you're traveling to Gita by bus, don't go on Shabbat. Go any other day of the week and take the 35 from Acre directly to Jat, it'll save you a lot of time.

Killing time on the bus
Turns out the 43 goes through Kfar Vradim, where our madrich from Jerusalem, Amir, lives (see blog post on Mount Meron). After alighting in Yanuh (we were indeed the last people on the bus), we began the two hour trek on foot. We wound our way through the Druze village of Yanuh, located on top of this beautiful ridge, with sweeping views of Nehariya, Acre, Haifa, and of course, the Mediterranean in the background. We had to straddle the side of the road down to Jat, which lacked a significant shoulder. The walk was a bit tedious, but the views were incredible. Once we got down the mountain, it was a lot easier, and we talked and walked and walked and talked, and sooner or later, we ended up at Gita (just follow the signs once you get to Jat).

Village of Yanuh with Druze flags on street lamps
Ari on left, Druze couple on right
Gita is tiny, yet beautiful. According to Wikipedia, there's only 200 people who live there. It was getting dark at this point, so we didn't linger. From Gita, we followed some directions printed off the internet. Basically, we went to the south-western corner of the settlement and followed this dirt road west, towards the sea for about ten minutes, until we found this quarry. Descending into the quarry, you'll find the path continues at the south-eastern side of the quarry, and the road starts to go down into the valley. You'll pass through a gate in the barbed wire, and then just followed the established path down the slope until you reach the cliffs on your left.

The quarry, great reference point for wayward travelers
Routes left of the boulder
And then we were here. And shit. We were in a valley called Nahal Beit HaEmek, literally stream of the house of the valley (real original). Regardless, we were incredibly isolated in the Druze north, and for a night, I felt out there, disconnected. This feeling alone justified the difficulty we faced getting here.

We set up our tent on a terrace at the base of the cliff, a place where people have clearly camped before. The night was lazy, we just explored the cliff face a bit, eyeballed the thrity-some-odd routes, ate quinoa and salad, and called it a night, exhausted from traveling. The night was a bit strange. First off, there are tons of wild dogs in the region, and occasionally, one would bark, which would cause the whole valley to erupt in a cacophony of responses. Also, it was windy…really windy. Of course, I forgot the tent stakes, so our tent was oscillating like one of those springy doorstops for the whole night. I didn't sleep well.

Ari by sunset
We woke up at around 8 in the morning to beautifully blue skies and feeling incredibly enthusiastic about the day to come. We ate, donned our gear, and set out to climb. This was our first time climbing actual rock, and as it turns out, it's a lot more difficult than in a gym. Where I can climb a 6b in a gym (5.10c), I came pathetically short of climbing any 5.10's at Gita (granted it had been about a month since I'd climbed before, and I slept like shit). And it's scary. Being fifty meters off the ground is much more of a mental battle than a physical one, at least at my level of climbing. But man is it a great feeling to get to the top, set up anchor, and rappel down. It's rewarding on a basic level; reward stripped down to its components, not hidden behind years of work. Despite how much I need to improve, it was great just to be at the cliff face.

Climb time

The routes at this place are incredible. They have everything here, crack climbing, strength routes, long routes, short routes. And they're so very difficult…or maybe I just suck, I'm not sure. But regardless, I need to get significantly better before I can do anything serious at Gita.

40m up, tent's a speck from up here
At around 10, other people started showing up, all climbers. So we talked and hung out. Ari and I weren't climbing all the time (we actually wore ourselves out rather quickly), and when we weren't we sat around, I napped a bit, he drew, etc. One of the parties there brought a dog, who spent a good amount of time with us. About halfway through the day, Ari cut his finger pretty badly, so that was basically that for climbing.

Good vibes

When it started to get dark, we trekked the whole route in reverse and caught the 35 when it started running to Acre.

Fooling around
So that was our fun weekend adventure.

Beethoven - Sonata No. 17 in D Minor - "The Tempest"