March 11, 2013

Best Time to Hike

An olive tree on the mountain top near Mazraat el Chouf
Now is the time to go hiking in this place. Summer’s too hot, spring’s too ... hot as well, fall is. . . well, still too hot, and winter is too wet. But right now, right in between the end of winter and the beginning of spring, it is perfect hiking weather. Actually, end of fall is not bad either, with the difference that right now, everything is green and blooming, the air is clear (as opposed to hazy the rest of the year) and the rivers are high. If you go at the end of fall, all you find are dry river beds. And what makes a hike interesting are wild rivers and noisy waterfalls. So March and April are the months to go hiking.
Water coming down the cliff
And so I decided to gohiking this Sunday. Lebanon right now is teeming with organizations that offer activities in nature. People have finally discovered the outdoors. For no particular reason I ended up with this outfit that was going to hike from Mazraat Chouf to Moukhtara, which is in the Chouf Mountains, right through the valley of the Barouk River and the Shouf Natural Reserve, where there is a river (obviously) and lots of waterfalls at this time of the year.

Waterfalls all over the place. Come July, and they're all dry.

They posted this bit of information on the hike: 'Medium to Hard Level (7 to 8/10 – 10 KMs – 5 hours'.  Now you know how they tend to exaggerate things in this place. How you are going to get robbed in every service car, how every housekeeper is going to run off if you don’t lock them up and how you most definitely are going to get sick if you go to the beach before June? People tend to think 10 kilometer is an incredible distance on foot, and when they tell you something is dangerous, it’s something you’d let your child do on her own.
The kids
And so I was not very impressed by their blurb. Medium to hard? An 8 out of a 10? Than you don’t know the Dutch. 10 kilometers? The Dutch do that in a jiffy. And so some Dutch (moms and their children) got together and decided to do this hike.
It started off relatively easy, and into the valley we went. Granted, there was some clambering involved, but nothing serious. And so we’re walking, talking all the time, pointing out flowers and funny rock formation, fantastic view points and discussing odds and ends. Into the valley, and up, and down, and up again and down. Now and then we crossed a river, or passed a waterfall. And the trail kept going and going. Up again and down again.
Uhhh, so this was the much anticipated lunch: nothing!
The guide had mentioned that there was a rather complicated and technical part on the trail, that is why he classified it as a ‘hard’ hike, but that caused us no serious problems. Okay, it was quite tiring, and it involved more and more climbing and we were starting to wonder when lunch was going to be. Turns out we misunderstood the lunch thing; he’d stop for lunch, but it was a ‘bring your own affair.’
Ooops. And so we gnawed our way through our pathetic stack of dry biscuits. We’re Dutch and we’re tough. “Are we almost half-way,” one of our kids asked? “Sure,” I replied, “I think we’ve done at least 6 kilometers.” The guide looked at me. “We’re not even half-way, madam.”
Another oops. But we’re Dutch and we’re though! And then he turned to the group and said: “I want to explain a little about the technical part. What we’ve hiked so far was easy.”
And I choked on my dry biscuit. This was not the hard part? BUT WERE DUTCH AND WE’RE THOUGH!
Waterfalls everywhere
And so on we walked, and climbed and marched and plodded ourselves through the mountains. The path got steeper and steeper, the trail narrower and narrower, the cliffs deeper and deeper. We started to jealously ogle those experienced walkers who had come to the hike with Nordic poles. No longer did we laugh at them, but rather tried to find a stick to give us support as we had to climb down from those rocks. Our knees, by that time, had given up on us. The hands of the guides offered in assistance when navigating a difficult spot were – after ignoring them all hike – graciously accepted. And the end was not in sight.
How much further?” we asked, and trying not to show our disappointment when he’d reply enthusiastically, “Oh, we’ve already done 7 kilometers.”
7 KILOMETERS! Jesus H. Christ on a stick, I thought we had passed the 10 K already!!
Much needed assistance
It was no longer down again; it was only up and up and up. Well, that was good news because we had finally reached the top of the plateau. This is where there had to be a place where the bus would be waiting. The end was near. Finally!
That thought had barely registered when it was down down down again to the river. “No no, Moukhtara is on the other side of the valley.” You mean we have to go down into the valley, cross the river and walk up again? And all this on some biscuits and water?
Little did we know we had to be on the other side of this valley
Well, I could draw this story out and out, but the end of the story is that we made it to that bus. Exhausted! I shuffled the last bits uphill. And when in the bus the guide told us we had done about 9.8 kilometers, I could have sworn his GPS was not working. It was at least 13 km, if not 14. At least!! Maybe more.
He just sent me the profile by e-mail. It says 10.7 kilometers. I am stiff as a board! I had to roll myself out of bed this morning, and at work hauled myself up the stairs by the banister. Every muscle in my lower body hurts. Next time when I read ‘Medium to Hard Level; 7 to 8/10– 10 KMs ‘, I think I am going to take this more seriously. But, there will be a next time!
The end is in sight; civilization


Mahmoud Ghalayini said...

I read your email, and it really describes your situation yesterday... You were really tough Dutches... However, it seems that you took the Lebanese habits of not reading well the details and descriptions ;-)
You can review what we wrote when describing the trail. It is still there on the website...
Yalla hope you enjoyed it and hope to see you all in other easier trips :)

See you

Anonymous said...

hoi sietske mooie fotos. jacob

Anonymous said...

hello again!!! and unfortunately we didn't meet live!!! Do you have kids at Lycee? you take beautiful photos!!! yalla, til we meet again! :)