Conquering Masada

After crossing over the border from Jordan and driving through the Southern Negav area of Israel, our first overnight stop was near the historic Masada.  Masada is an old Israeli fortress located at the top of a small mountain near the dead sea. It’s very well known as part of Jewish History and has become a popular stop of Birthright and other tourist groups.

Part of the experience of Masada is hiking up before sunrise so that you can see the sun rise over the dead sea from the mountain top. Despite this, there is really only one convenient place to stay over night near Masada and that is the Masada Youth Hostel located about a 2 minute walk from the complex entrance. We arrived at the hostel in the late afternoon to discover that there is absolutely nothing to to do in the area besides Hike Masada and visit the dead sea. No town, no nearby restaurants…nothing. And the hostel itself is more like a large dormitory with private rooms and only large impersonal gathering areas.

View from the Masada Youth Hotel in Israel

There is a large balcony overlooking the salt fields. After a dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from our grocery supplies we split a bottle of wine and watched the sun rise. This would later turn out to be a huge mistake. We went to bed and set our alarms for 4:30 am so that we would have time to hike the mountain before the 6 am sunrise. Still dehydrated and exhausted form our week in Jordan, exploring Petra and hiking through Wadi Rum, (not to mention the bottle of wine from the night before) we dressed quickly and walked with a small crowd to the ticket booth at the base of the mountain.  We were planning to hike up the Snake Trail – named because of its winding ascent up the side of Masada. This trail is only open in the morning, it usually closes at 10 am due to the heat. There was also the option to reach the top via cable car.
As we began our hike it was pitch black and we became nervous when we realized that there was absolutely no lighting on Masada. After a miserably failed attempt to follow another group with a flashlight, we realized there was no way we were making it up without our own. We decided to go back to the room and get our own flashlight. Since we had been climbing slow in the dark, and since we had to partially retrace our steps on the way back, we were already behind our planned schedule to see the sun rise. To make up this lost time, I ran back to our room grabbed the flashlight and ran back to the entrance where we started the climb.

As we restarted our Masada hike, I began to feel light headed. My sprint back to the room for the flashlight had left me out of breath, I was tired from the night before, and dehydrated from days in the Middle Eastern Heat. To top it all off, we hadn’t had time to eat breakfast that morning so I was still running on fumes from the PB &J the night before. Before we were even half way up the mountain I was already worried that I wasn’t going to make it. As I climbed, the dizziness and nausea got worse and worse. I felt as if I was in the midst of my own personal siege on Masada.

Moments after conquering the Mountain, you can see how red my face is in this pictures….

After what felt like hours of climbing, we eventually made it to the summit just in time for the sun rise and joined the crowds watching the horizon. I’m sure it was beautiful but at the point I was just ecstatic that I hadn’t died on the way up. After the run had fully ascended, we began the hike back down to the hostel. Even just moments after sunrise, we could already feel the dreaded heat begin to build so we hurried to get inside. Back in our room, we immediately collapsed, sleeping until it was time to visit the dead sea that afternoon.

Just the Facts:
Location: Southern Israel, near the Dead Sea
Cost: Around $6 to hike, more to take the cable car. (Note: Entrance is included as part of the Israeli Tourist Pass)
When: Wake up early (4:30am) to hike to the summit before sunrise. The snake path (hiking trail) closes at around 10 am due to the heat. At that point, you must take the cable car to reach the top.
Attire: Sturdy hiking shoes, shorts and t-shirt. No need to wear long pants
Time Needed: 2-3 hours for hiking
Difficulty: Moderate – Despite my harrowing ordeal, the hike isn’t super difficult. Make sure to eat beforehand and drink plenty of water.
Food: There is no food or water for sale, make sure to make light snacks or eat before hand.

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2 Responses to Conquering Masada

  1. Suzy says:

    While I'm sure at the time you were dreading the climb up, those views are amazing! I'm not sure I would make it up there though going off of a bottle of wine!

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