We continued our descent by way of a black 4x4 road (black being like a black diamond on a ski slope). I took a picture of SpongeBob, I mean Mark, on the way down. Mark earned the name SpongeBob on the first day because if you were behind him, it was impossible to see his head - only his arms and legs and a square pack. We had fun giving him a hard time the whole time :)
We paused for 30 minutes for lunch, nursing our blisters and sore feet, as we were not planning on stopping anymore (and hadn't thus far) except for 5 minutes here and there. As we crested our next hill, we got our first glipse of the Sea of Galilee. From here we took a moment to look back at where we had come from. We continued down a hill, crossed a highway, and went to the ridge of the next mountain. Even as we were hiking, I was thinking this is a LOT of elevation to get down in a short distance (and a short amount of time) - I had no idea how true that was!!
Our final descent was very STEEP!! We ended up going back and forth down switchback after switchback, using tree branches, bushes, etc. to keep us on our feet on the way down. It took a long time to get to the bottom, and then when we reached the bottom, we had to climb partway up the hill on the other side of the creek bed. The trail then followed the curve of the mountains, so that you were walking on the edge about halfway up the mountain face.
Mark and I switched off carrying an extra backpack during this stretch so that we could all make it off the mountain in one piece. Partway through this stretch (Nahal Amud), we were in two groups of three people - one group abouut 30 minutes ahead of the other. As the hills leveled out into a flatter, wider creekbed, we found ourselves walking through the prickly bushes...every thistle you can think of hugged you onto a narrow one-person wide path, and you were still scratching by all of them. I reached out my hand to steady myself on a tree around a corner, and immediately felt these incredible pains in my hand that shot my blood pressure way up! I had been stung by over 20 stinging nettles, and my hand immediately swelled up. The intense pain continued for another 15 minutes, then began to subside, and the swelling went down in an hour when we caught up with the other half of our group.
At this point, it was evening, the sun was beginning to set, and we knew that it would definitely be dark before we got to our destination. However, there weren't any places that we could have camped either, so it was either cut our trip short when we were so close, or push through the next stretch of the riverbed until we came to another highway. We started through the next section, but the thistles were totally closed in around the trail and taller than we were. We were getting all scratched up and met two guys partway through heading the other way. They said that it was thistles all the way through and that there was no way we'd make it before the sun went down. We stopped in the middle of the trail, put long pants and sleeves on, and went as fast as our insanely sore feet could carry us - pausing only to take a picture of a flock of storks that was watching us.
Then it happened - Ryan, in the lead, came back towards the rest of us and said that he had heard big crashes through the bushes in front of us and a deep growl of a mountain lion. Oh great! I was thinking the whole time earlier in the day, "It's a good thing that there are no mountian lions in Israel, because if there were, this would be where they would live." I was wrong - there are mountain lions in Israel.
We had no choice but to keep going at this point - you couldn't even move off of the trail with all the thistles, so we all clapped and made noise and stuck together and kept going. Soon we had to pull out flashlights and headlamps because it was too dark to see, our feet were killing us, and we were moving so quickly through a riverbed of rock now, which is hard to hike through. We kept telling each other not to twist an ankle or we'd be in big trouble. I saw many glowing eyes along the way, a snake, a dead cow carcass, and other foreboding cliffs ahead. Not only that, but trying to keep to a not-very-well-marked Israeli trail through a wide river bed now, at night, with flashlights, isn't the easiest thing to do either.
Mark finally spotted headlights ahead, and we made it to the highway. We all collapsed and laid in the dirt and gravel on the side of the road. We were exhausted and the bones in our feet felt like they had worn through the bottoms of our shoes. Mark and I were the only ones with any water, and it was only a gulp or two, and what little food was left was quickly divided between us. We stayed there for at least 20 minutes, and then decided to walk along the highway (no more mountain lions and riverbeds for us!). It was another 3-4 kilometers along the highway before we reached a gas station by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. What relief!! A sign of life...and food...and drink! We dropped all our stuff outside and bought water, chocolate milk, food, everything and ate like ravenous wolves. Hayley and I stayed with all of the gear, while the other four made their way to the shore of the lake to dump our Mediterranean Sea water into the Sea of Galilee.
By the time they got back, it was past 11pm, there were no buses, and there was no where we could go for the night, so we camped in a wheat field behind the gas station. The next morning, we caught a taxi into Tiberias, and caught the first bus to Jerusalem that we could.
What a trip!! What fun and crazy adventures! That will be a great life-long memory, fellow trekers! I'm so glad that we could do it together!
Many videos to come from this leg of the trip...check back soon!!!