From the Scrolls of Fire to Mount Yaaleh

This route for experienced walkers leads down from the northern shoulder of Nahal Sorek to Samson’s Cave, across the stream and up to the summit of Mount Yaaleh at the top of the southern shoulder of the gully.


Geographic location: Jerusalem, Judean highlands and surroundings
Difficulty: Fit walkers - Hard
Target audience: Fit walkers
Season: All
Track type: Walking path

Identity Card



Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.


This route for experienced walkers leads down from the northern shoulder of Nahal Sorek to Samson’s Cave, across the stream and up to the summit of Mount Yaaleh at the top of the southern shoulder of the gully.

The route before us crosses the Nahal Sorek River near its emergence from the large canyon, allowing wonderful views of the riverbed and the coastal plain. Walkers will have to cope with a 400 meter descent before climbing up again to their previous altitude. Please take this into consideration before planning your route.

Geographic location: Jerusalem Mountains

Special Sites in the Area: The Scrolls of Fire monument, Samson’s Cave, Mount Yaaleh.

How to get to the starting point:
Our starting point is Tzomet Shimshon (“Samson Junction”) on Route 38. Drive north for 600 meters or so then turn eastwards toward Kibbutz Tzuba (Route 395). After 6.5 kilometers, at the roundabout before Moshav Ramat Raziel, turn right along a paved road that will lead you to the monument two and a half kilometers further on. Along the way you will pass the entrance to Moshav Kisalon.

How to get to the finishing point:
The finishing point is Mount Yaaleh. From Beit Shemesh follow the road (Route 3866) that ascends to the Stalactite Cave (Me‘arat HaNetifim). Continue along the road as it climbs for another six kilometers or so until you reach Challenger Junction (the Stalactite Cave is to the left, Nes Harim to the right). At the junction continue straight on along the road that ascends to the lookout tower on Mount Yaaleh. Continue for another 350 meters or so, and then park at the foot of the KKL-JNF lookout tower.

Warning:
1. This route is designed for experienced walkers only. It includes a steep ascent.
2. We do not recommend attempting this route in the hot hours of the day in summertime.
3. This route should not be attempted too soon after rain, as surfaces will be slippery.
4. A vehicle should be waiting to pick you up at the end of the hike.

Projects and Partners Worldwide
The site was developed with contributions from friends of KKL JNF worldwide.
.

The Scrolls of Fire monument


The Scrolls of Fire monument. Photo: Naama Hirsch

We park our car close to the Scrolls of Fire sculpture, one of most moving monuments in Israel. Constructed in the form of two scrolls, it is situated in the heart of the Forest of Martyrs, where KKL-JNF has planted six million trees in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.

Nathan Rapoport, who created the sculpture, spent over three years working on it in Italy. The result is a moving work of art sculpted in bronze, eight meters in height and weighing over twelve tons. The surface is covered in so many scenes that every visit to the sculpture seems to reveal new depictions.

The sculpture’s twin scrolls recount the history of the Jewish People. One portrays the disasters that have befallen the nation, from the destruction of the Temple to the Holocaust. Where this scroll of destruction meets the second scroll, which symbolizes rebirth, a female figure can be seen rising above a wire fence, while another figure is shown kneeling and attempting to draw breath. People are depicted sailing towards the coast of Israel and bringing both the country and themselves back to life.

On the Way to Samson’s Cave


The Samson’s Cave cliff. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik

From the Scrolls of Fire memorial we walk eastwards along the road for around 200 meters. Several meters beyond the back gate to Moshav Kisalon, a surfaced dirt track descends southwards, and this trail, which is marked in blue, is the one we must follow. It descends through a KKL-JNF forest of pine and Arizona cypress interspersed with native Mediterranean vegetation – principally mastic trees (Pistacia lentiscus), sage-leaved rockrose (Cistus salviifolius), and thorny burnet (Sarcopoterium spinosum), all of which bloom attractively in the springtime. If we raise our eyes to the horizon as we walk along, we can see our destination ahead of us: Mount Yaaleh, as it looms over Nahal Sorek.

After some 300 meters the dirt road turns to the right; our blue-marked route, however, continues straight ahead along an unpaved road. We are still walking in the KKL-JNF forest, from which we shall emerge only after another 400 meters or so. The dirt road turns right and skirts the edge of the forest, but we turn left here and follow a footpath that leads us across open ground.


A water cistern near Samson’s Cave. External view of the cistern wall. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.

We are now walking along the Hartov Spur. The path leads down to a small saddle then ascends to Har Shimshon (Mount Samson), which, on maps, bears the altitude marker 546. The landscape is simply wonderful: a Mediterranean batha (wood- and scrubland) of small carob and mastic trees interspersed with Greek sage (Salvia fruticosa mill) accompanies us on our way. On the slope near the top of the hill, a square depression resembling that of an ancient winepress has been incised into the rock. In this case, however, a course of two large bricks has been constructed at the edge of the depression for no apparent reason. All around are additional signs of ancient human activity in the form of holes and depressions in the surface of the rock.

Before us stands a steep, prominent rocky hill, with a smaller cliff face on its western flank, which faces Nahal Sorek (altitude marker 488). We make our way there along a rocky path that is, however, quite easy to negotiate. A considerable number of Israeli common oaks (Quercus calliprinos) escort us on our way at this point. Near the hill, the blue-marked path descends to the left for some distance along a rock shelf, at the end of which it turns abruptly to the left and makes its way down the cliff. Before we begin the descent, however, we should continue for another 20 meters to the edge of the precipice in order to treat ourselves to a glorious view of the wide meanders of Nahal Sorek and the full magnificent impact of the cliff face, from which the mouth of Samson’s Cave gapes at us.

Samson’s Cave


Samson’s Cave. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik

The long shelf of rock that supports Samson’s Cave (Me‘arat Shimshon) is composed of hard chalk and dolomite belonging to what is known as the Kisalon formation, which was responsible for the creation of the impressively steep rock faces of the Jerusalem Hills. Our path ascends the cliff by means of steps, some of which appear to have been carved out in ancient times, and with the help of spikes driven into the rock face. On the rocky slope we come across a footpath indicated by “transparent” markings (i.e., two white stripes with no colored strip between them). This path ascends slightly and leads us to the cave.

Near the transparent markings is a stone wall. If we glance (cautiously!) over the edge we can see that this is the wall of a giant water reservoir whose opposite side is supported by the rock face. For some reason no steps lead down into it. Without having measured it, we estimate that it is around four meters deep, ten meters long and seven meters wide. Its builders appear to have taken advantage of an existing natural cave and expanded it by cutting away additional rock as required. Determined to make a good job of things, they built a wall against the cliff face, too, and sealed it with plaster, as the fissured rock of the Kisalon formation is not watertight.

Samson’s Cave, situated just a few paces away, is very large. Inside it, stone walls, steps and the traces of ancient rock-cutting activity are all evidence that the cave was once used as a dwelling place. High up on the western wall of the cave is an entrance to an alcove that may once have served as living quarters.

Solitary monks would appear to have lived in the cave in Byzantine times. They preferred to live in caves and on rocky ledges because such isolated quarters ensured that they disturbed no one, and because this isolation enabled them to keep their distance from human society. The cave bears the name of the Biblical Samson (Shimshon) for no particular reason beyond the fact that the Bible mentions his having roamed the area around Nahal Sorek.

On the Way to Mount Yaaleh
 


A view of Nahal Sorek. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik

From the cave, we now have to retrace our steps along the blue-marked path and follow it downhill to Nahal Sorek. The carob and oak trees that grow right at the edge of the riverbank provide us with generous shade. We cross the river here, where an iron railing provides support between one large rock and the next. Long strides will take us across from rock to rock with no fear of tumbling into the foaming waters.

On the other side of the river we arrive at a broad dirt track indicated by red trail markings, which leads from the quarries of Hartov. We turn westwards (to the right) and walk a few more steps before taking our leave of this red-marked path and turning left to follow the blue-marked trail. This path crosses the Jerusalem-Beit Shemesh railway line inside a circular aqueduct– whose interior requires a little stooping and the ascent of a short eight-rung ladder – before we emerge into the open air once more.

From this point on, the route is a matter of survival. The blue-marked trail ascends along a steep spur, climbing around 180 meters within a distance of only 850 meters and ending triumphantly at its junction with a path indicated by red trail markings. Here we branch off to the right and within a hundred meters, we find ourselves in the parking lot of the Avshalom Cave, also known as the Stalactite Cave. Here we gird our loins once more and continue to the left along the red-marked trail.


A view of Nahal Sorek. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik

Before us are another 2.5 kilometers of walking up a much more gentle gradient. Our path takes us through natural woodland and offers a wonderful view of the landscapes of Nahal Sorek and especially of the ridge of hills on the other side, where we made our descent earlier. The agricultural terraces of the village of Deir al-Hawa signal the approaching end of our route. Beyond them a footpath indicated by black trail markings awaits us. When we reach it, we turn right, and after 150 meters or so, we come to a blue-marked dirt path. Here we turn right again, walk for around 350 meters, then turn off the path to the left on to a green-marked trail (there is a KKL-JNF sign). This path takes us uphill and we soon find ourselves at the KKL-JNF observation tower on the summit of Mount Yaaleh.

Mount Yaaleh

At the top of Mount Yaaleh, which is 750 meters above sea level, stands a KKL-JNF observation tower that in summertime is used by firewatchers on the lookout for impending blazes in the forest. The hill is part of the western ridge of the Jerusalem Hills and so provides a wonderful view across the Judean Plain and the Coastal Plain. On a clear winter’s day, the high-rise buildings of Tel Aviv are also visible. At the site itself the remains of the Arab village of Deir al-Hawa (“Monastery of the Wind”) can be seen. Its name presumably derives from the westerly winds that blow across this hilltop. The village was occupied during Israel’s War of Independence, on October 21st, 1948, in the course of Operation HaHar (“The Hill”). After the war, a transit camp for Kurdish immigrants was established at the site; they remained there until 1953, when they settled in Moshav Nes Harim.