Friday, June 13, 1997
HIKING IN THE UPPER KESERWAN
It's almost summer! Let's get out of the heat and pollution of Beirut, try to forget about Lebanon's environmental problems for a day (no guarantee here), and go for a hike!
On Sunday, August 13, 1995, I went on a hike with the Club de Vieux Sentiers in a remote area in the mountains of the Keserwan northeast of Beirut.
From the coast, we took the road that goes to Faraya. East of Faitroun, before reaching Hrajel, we took a secondary paved road going up to Ain el-Jurn and Wata el-Jawz, the site of extensive sand quarrying that has ruined much of the area. (The quarries seemed to have closed; this was the site of angry protests by residents in the 1980s.) We topped out on a ridge and entered the watershed of Nahr Ibrahim. At Naba'a al-'Arous (Bride Spring), near the village of Qohmez, we parked on the side of the road near an old-fashioned outdoor restaurant.
The sights began before we had even begun to hike. On the north side of the road was an orchard like no other; it sat in what looked like a theater. A few terraces formed an almost-complete circle, except for an outlet for the stream; more trees covered the flat bottom.
We started hiking at 10, going up a dirt road on the south (uphill) side of the main road. It took us up along the edge of an apple orchard and some jumbled karst limestone formations, following a small water canal. We arrived at Naba'a al-Hadeed (Iron Spring), the source of that water. The water simply came out of the base of the barren mountain looming above us; a tunnel went in for an undetermined distance. Black dots, goats, were sprinkled on the mountain. We filled up our bottles with cold, fresh water. Ag ain, I would find out that,in the higher elevations of Lebanon, one could hike an entire day with just one bottle.
From the spring, we walked on a more-or-less level dirt road heading east along the wide bench we were on; to our right was the previously mentioned steep, barren mountain; beyond our left, the ground dropped down through orchards into the Nahr Ibrahim gorge. It would have been a magnificent view, but, to my dismay, an ugly dirt road winding down the other side of the Nahr Ibrahim gorge and a glaring-white rock quarry in the bottom came into view. Greed and destruction had made their way to one of the remotest and most beautiful areas of Lebanon. A geologist present on the hike told me that he had convinced someone who owned a million square meters of land in the same area not to open another rock quarry due to the beauty of the area and the poor quality of the rock. We took a break at another pile of karst limestone overlooking the gorge and, on the other side, the mountainside town of Qartaba.
From this point, we left the road and hiked up the steep, layered, barren slope, gaining a decent amount of elevation. We reached a trail following one of the limestone layers of the mountain. It took us to a spring improbably perched on the side of the steep mountain; an old stone reservoir collected the water. A herd of goats climbed up to the spring and drank from it. We filled water directly out of a pipe. We continued higher up, reaching the ridge of the mountain separating Nahr Ibrahim gorge from the Faraya-Hrajel area. Looking down the other side, we had a good view of Wadi Shabroukh. This was a steep, u-shaped gorge with barren sides and a bottom filled with the dark, rich green of cherry orchards; this hanging Shangri-La of a valley was the source of the waterfall overlooking Faraya-Village. We descended down the south side of the mountain on an abandoned dirt road. This road had apparently been opened during the war, as evidenced from the occasional pieces of shrapnel on the ground. The road headed west and regained the elevation we had lost. We were in the "Jrid" area. Here were countless sinkholes extending to the south. Some were huge, perhaps a few dozen meters deep and across. In the sinkholes, snow and rain accumulated in the winter and drained straight into the ground instead of running down in streams; the water came out of the numerous springs in the area. (For more on sinkholes, see my LebEnv # 2 on my hike in the Laklouk area.)
We were back on the ridge at 1 p.m.; we ate lunch in the meager shade of some big rocks, with a view looking north. In the morning, the visibility had been clear, with a layer of low clouds hovering over the distant coast. Now, the clouds had diffused and spread east like a flood over the mountains, making the view hazy and the air humid.
At 2:10, we got up and continued hiking. The mountain was so steep on the north side that climbing down was out of the question. Instead, we turned south again and joined another dirt road heading down in a westerly direction. It wound its way down the hills towards a large, flat, grassy area bordered by two well-defined sinkholes and an area of smooth rock. We walked past a third, shallow sinkhole. It was littered with literally thousands of shotgun shells. This was where men, "real men" as one hiker sarcastically put it, came to shoot at hapless migrating birds of all kinds. It was quiet now and would likely remain so; hunting had been banned all over Lebanon for five years. In fact, I would not hear a single shot for the entire day! (Once hunting is again allowed under strict control, such massacres would likely not occur again.)
The road flanked the west end of the mountain and took us through a grassy area east back to Naba'a al-Hadeed; we had just completed the loop. We returned to the cars the same way we had come up, arriving at around 4 p.m.
During the hike, I and other hikers discussed various environmental issues. One hiker passionately spoke about a proposed restaurant/theater that would detract from the natural stone bridge near Faqra, one valley to the south from here. I was heartened to see to what extent some people had embraced the cause of saving Lebanon's environment from abuse and destruction.
The "Club de Vieux Sentiers" hikes are announced in L'Orient-Le Jour paper (on no specific day of the week), but they always meet in Antelias on Sundays at 7:30 a.m. For more info, call Joyce Tombi at (01) 443753. (I don't think you need to dial the area code from within Beirut); she is a frequent hike leader and can probably tell you the latest.