Wadi Darga and the Caves of Bar Kochba
This hike has it all. Adventure. Danger. Panorama. History. Spectacular views. Isolation.
On the Northwestern side of the Dead Sea is a canyon system called the Nahal Darga. The word ‘Nahal’ means dry riverbed. The Nahal Darga is a very deep, rugged, dry riverbed that flows into the Dead Sea. I gave this place a nickname. The little Grand Canyon. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth at over 1400 feet below sea level. It is truly desert. The rainfall is less than 2 inches per year. Normal daytime temperatures exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. My kind of hike. I cant wait to start. I did not know all this the first time I hiked here. That is the thrill of hiking somewhere the first time. One never knows what is around the next bend.
I was alone the first time I explored this section. I have since trekked into this area more than any other.
I left Jerusalem very early on the morning of May 4, 2014. The public bus system in Israel is incredible. There is a bus stop right on the Dead Sea highway at Metsoke Dragot Junction. From there, with my very detailed topographical map in hand I began the climb up the access road to the top of the mountain which is a climb of about 1000 vertical feet. At the top of the mountain, the road turns into a dirt track for another mile or so. I found the trail and began the descent into one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen. Down, down, and down. Not a technical descent, but steep enough to put the fear of God in you. One misstep and you would be seeing God. The trail snakes its way almost to the bottom and then turns to follow the canyon upstream. Not too far along is a sign which indicates another trail up. This one is technical. There are handholds put in for safety, but this trail goes straight up the cliff. At the end of an exciting climb are two very large caves. The Bar Kochba caves.
Simon Bar Kochba was the leader of a Jewish revolt against the Romans in 132 AD He was such a charismatic leader that many thought he was the messiah. He was not. And so the Romans under Hadrian defeated this revolt in 135 AD. Most people know of the Jewish revolt of 66 AD with the ensuing Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It is interesting to note that when Hadrian put down the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 AD, the destruction was greater and the numbers of Jews killed, far exceeded what happened in 70 AD. The estimate of Jews killed exceed 580,000 by the end of 135 AD.
In the early 1950’s archaeologists discovered letters written and signed by Bar-Kochba himself in these very caves. These caves were one of the last strong holds of the Bar Kochba revolt. I can see why he chose them. They are very hard to get to and very easy to defend. But, I am also sure that by the time Bar Kochba arrived to these parts, the had reached a location of last resort.
I very carefully descended from the caves. 3 of every 4 climbing accidents occur on the way down.
From there I continued to the bottom of the dry stream bed and climbed up the other side of the canyon. Once up the mountain, I was treated with more spectacular views, and a level track straight through the desert to the top of another descent back down to the Dead Sea. I always plan my hikes as a circle, and not an out and back. 1000 vertical feet down to the outskirts of Mizpe Shalem. If you have ever used the Dead Sea fashion product called Ahava, you should know that they are produced at Mizpe Shalem.
What can we learn? We put our faith not in man, but God alone.
Psalm 65:5,6 I depend on God alone. I put my hope in him. He alone protects and saves me. He is my defender.
Take Care and God Bless.