Monday, February 7, 2011

Misakem Erez Day 2

From our sleeping positions we began to prepare for day two, we filled our water checked all our equipment was present and then got a safety brief. Next we took out a menorah and as a tired yet pumped tzevet we lit candles for Chanukah. Standing as a tzevet together we sang the blessings and the songs one says when lighting the candles and I thought for a moment how lucky I am to be remembering the Macabees (Jewish warriors who rebelled against the Greeks and defeated them in the story of Hanukkah) in the uniform of the IDF with an Israeli rifle in my hand and in the first of five final exercises to enter one of the top units defending Israel and the Jewish people. I really felt there and then that if I looked behind me I would see a line behind me of past Jewish warriors going back to Mickey Marcus, to Moredichai Anielewicz, to Jaboptinski, to the Macabees, to King David himself. Hanukah is essentially a military holiday and I thought there is no better way to celebrate than as a soldier in the IDF weapon in hand ready to defend our land.

As for the final exercise I was released second as I was the second in my team to arrive the day before and quickly got on my way. The first leg of my navigation was to descend from the mountain we had slept on and to enter the Beit Tenoufah valley which is a several kilometer long and 2-3 kilometer wide valley flat as a pancake with Mt. Achim (where I had slept) to its north and Mt. Turan to its south. I descended Mt, Achim and reached the water canal on the northern edge of the valley, crossed over the bridge and started to walk along the gravel road which cuts across the valley towards the south west. I walk straight along the path for 3 kilometers and then walk around the Arab village there from the west and then cross the road before me. Before me is a small wadi with Mt. Turan to the east and another set of large hills to the west. I enter the wadi and head south towards a sharp bend and there I find the fence around a water spout which was point six.

From point 6 I head back to the Arab village and the road, I then follow parallel to the road and Mt. Turan as I head straight east. I leave the village before me and then continue on to the next village and pass it as well. I am now searching for the first path to lead south with 2 buildings, one on either side of the path, at its finish. I find the path and take it all the way to its end which is where Mt. Turan begins to rise upwards. Here I begin to sarch for a cave, my 7th point. The area is incredibly difficult to search though with dozens of barb wire fences as well as agriculture and cow pastures I cant find any cave in the area so where the cave is supposed to be I leave a large pile of rocks and a note and quickly move on. From here I continue east along the base of Mt. Turan and then when I get to a nice cleft in the mountain and began my ascent to the top of the mountain from there. I climb straight across boulders, rocks, and shrubbery till I get to the road about two thirds of the way up and from there begin to climb using roads. I quickly arrive at the top of the mountain, 548 meters. This was not a point for me, but a mandatory check in point. From here I begin to climb downwards now.

I start to descend by heading west and then south on the trail which encircles the mountain top. On the eastern side of the mountain top I head north east with the trail and here I continue till I get to an intersection of two trails. One straight north and the second mine continuing north east. Here for the first time I do not remember exactly where to head or even the way the terrain is supposed to look. I only remember there is an Arab village, a real problematic one too, and then after is the Jewish settlement which will lead me to my 9th point. I decided to continue with my trail north east and made my first navigational error of the exercise. The trail does lead me to the settlement but in a circuitous route and leads me down the mountain and I have to climb back up to get to the access road to the settlement. Once I get to the access road I take it till I get to a trail which leads north west and follow the trail towards a a local peak which contains my next point. I begin to get frustrated though as the trails are taking me around the peak but not towards it so I leave the trail and head into the brush in an upward climb. My point is a power lines pole so I am looking for the power lines as well. I slog my way through thick brush and as I close on the peak I see the lines in the sky so begin to walk beneath the lines towards the peak. I finally arrive at the pole and the peak and almost exploded with frustration when I see the pole is right next to a trail. So I take the point, my 8th, and head north east and descend the mountain.

I now head straight north in parallel to a road and arrive at a Christian Arab town, and from there head up a hill to its east and then north to the peak. From the peak I make my next navigation mistake. I once again do not remember the terrain I need only I need a path heading north and down from the hill and it will lead me to the Tzipor aquifer. There was a path a couple meters to me west but it seemed to lead back to the Arab town so I went east and further along the hill. The path led me towards a Jewish settlement and towards the general direction I needed, but there was no path down so I decided to just cut a straight line down as by now I could see the aquifer. Little did I know this slope was quite dangerous with thick brush and drop offs of several meters. I had several near misses till BAM! I walked on to what I thought was a large bush and fell straight through what was really a tree and a four meter drop off, the tree caught me and slowed my fall so I was not injured but I realized to continue was too dangerous so I decided to stop and wait the 45 minutes to day light. I practically instantly fell asleep when I sat down and 40 minutes later awoke to begin plodding on. I finished the descent with no further injuries and found the trail I needed quickly and began to book it to make up for lost time. My 9th point is a tree located in an open area after an olive grove. But when I arrive at the olive grove and cross it I see the area is not so open it is in fact covered in intense brush and undergrowth and dotted with trees to find this point borders on impossible. To pass the exercise I only need 6 points and I already have 8 so I decided to make up lost time and skip it.

I push along the trail towards the mandatory crossing point of a road which cuts across our area of operations. I follow my trail downwards and when I see the point I simply cut straight for it and arrive quickly. I find out there are only 2 people before me and one passed there not so long before me. So I quickly move out of there and start on the last 11 kilometers of the exercise. Here I enter a deep canyon containing the tzipor stream. The path radio antenna here is difficult to walk along with due to low trees and mud, with the trees being the more annoying as my radio antenna was constantly getting tangled up in their branches. But I push on and after a few kilometers the canyon widens out a bit and I see the trail leading up and out of the canyon to get to point 10 my last. I get to the path and climb it to the top of the canyon form there I walk 200 meters north and before me is the fish pond and I find its gate which it my last point. I take the point and continue along the lip of the canyon eastward with the stream below to guide me. After about a kilometer I finally can see the Kinneret and practicaly begin to cry from joy and the excruciating pain shooting through m legs and the soles of my feet. I push forward though and begin to descend into what is now more of a valley and towards the end point. I head along a road towards Kibbutz Ginosar and when I get to the road parallel to the Kinneret I head south towards the access road to Tamar beach. At the intersection with the access road I get permission and cross the road. From there I stumble the last kilometer to the beach of the Kinneret drop my rucksack and just collapse from exhaustion. 50 kilometers in a single night, and the pain in my feet was unreal I could not stand on them much less walk straight.

After a few minutes of just lying there I joined the other two guys there in a dip in the Kinneret and then we came back to help with the BBQ. After 85 kilometers and only 1000 calories in 2 days I could barely control myself from just tearing into the food like and animal. But oh boy did I eat, and eat, and eat. We would eat till our fill, lay down and sleep an hour, then go back for another round.

Misakem Erez Day 1

The first of our Misakm’im (Final Exercises) is Erez. The Misakem is named after Brigadier General Erez Gershtien former warrior and commanded in the unit d of the unit who was killed in Lebanon by a road side bomb. The Misakem takes place between the city of Akko, which sits on the beach facing the Mediterranean sea, and Tamar beach on the west side of the Kinneret (Lake of Galilee). This is an individually done night navigation carrying no less than 35 kilos (77 lbs.), with no map, and little food. Rest is dependent on the soldier and his ability to navigate. The total distance done varies slightly as each soldier has a slightly different route with different points to find, but my route came out to be 85 kilometers (53 miles). Study for this navigation begins days in advance and the brief each soldier must give before setting out takes hours. One must detail each step they will take what is around them, and where they are going. One must constantly be aware of significant terrain points, and other navigation aids. One must have a full understanding of how the terrain is built and will appear and in which direction water flows. (Water is the number one force in changing terrain and therefore dictates how terrain appears). All this for 85 kilometers.

Monday morning the last soldiers finish their briefs and we go over our equipment for the second and third time. Each jerry can is checked so it’s full, each radio is inspected so all parts are functioning and tied on. Then all the bags are loaded up, each soldier puts on his vest and then adjusts the bags so they are fit to sit just right. No one wants the bag which will bang him in the back of the head for 2 nights straight. As the sun sets we load the bags on the bus and the gather in a tight circle around the menorah and light candles as a tzevet before we all load on to the bus. (It was Chanukah if you have not figured this out yet). In a short few minutes we are at the start point, unload the bags and vests and are now ready for a quick diner and start. Each person is released in 5 minute intervals and I was last, so I had over an hour wait till I got to go, but finally it was my turn to go too.

The first portion of the navigation is over flat agricultural areas with no real obstacles except for water canals. My first point is only 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the start point and I start with a slow run. I quickly arrive at the bridge to cross the first canal and jog another kilometer, but then I have to cross a bog and there is no bridge. So each step I take very tentatively praying the ground is solid enough to hold me and finally I find a dry way across. From there I return to a quick walk and in 20 minutes I have taken my first point already. To the second point I head south till I arrive at a wide canal and then head east along it till I arrive at my bridge. From there I continue east till I arrive at another canal heading south and follow it south. It is along this canal I stop for my first water break; 10 kilometers done 75 to go. From the break I head till I reach my bridge and then I head back east count road intersections, two, and then to my right is an olive grove I continue east till its end and I am where my point, a large boulder, should be. But I can’t find it, then I realize why the corner its supposed to be in has become the compost pile with all the tree clippings pilled as high as I am where my boulder should be. So I leave a huge pile of rocks there with a note and move on (This is SOP for the situation). Point 3 is a good 11 kilometers from here. So I pick up the pace and along the way start to pass people. The next 3 kilometers slide by but then again I run into a problem. The mandatory crossing point for the road before me is not there. I followed by route to the inch and the crossing was not there so I decided to try looking south first but found nothing so I went north and 100 meters north I found the Hummer. With crises averted I report with the hummer and they tell me because there are a large number of Bedouins roving around the next area the next 3 kilometers must be done in pairs so grab a cup of tea and wait for another soldier to arrive.

With a partner to boot I started the next portion of the navigation. Here the area becomes hillier with water flowing into a large river network. (When I say water flowing I refer to when there is rain or during the winter season the rest of the year it’s just a large valley). We cover the next 5 kilometers in a good pace and quickly find ourselves at the gas station we have to cross the road at. From here I for the first time am not sure on where I am. From here I must enter a long river valley which will start by heading south and then turn sharply to the east. My only problem I can’t see the start of the valley. So I take an azimuth of 180 degrees (due south) and start walking and with time the sides of the valley start to appear out of the darkness as they close in. So I walk south further take the turn east and forest to the north, quarry to the south then bam my Y-intersection, 100 meters more and there is my tree. I get the codes off the tree and move off.

From here I need to follow the power lines to the next mandatory road crossing, my only problem is I can’t see the power lines. So I start in the right azimuth and still can’t see the power lines, and then before me is a new settlement which I don’t remember from the maps (It was not on the maps I checked afterwards) but smack in the middle of the settlement is a tower holding my power lines and its all light up from the settlement. So I follow the power lines to the road and the hummer. At the hummer I met one of the mafkatzim (Team Leader literally a Platoon Leader recon units do not use platoons rather they have teams) and he told me rain is coming so get on my rain gear. As I pulled my rain gear out I felt the first drops hit me, so I quickly put it on. From the crossing point I walked with my power lines up the start of the slope of Mt. Atzmon looking for the path which was supposed to cross the ridge line eastward. As I climbed up the slope the trees began to become close together and harder to climb between. And then before me was a trail leading east so I took it, but in a few minutes I realized this was not my trail. So I kept climbing up and the slope was still a hard climb even with fewer trees now. Finally I arrive at the top of the lower peak with my trail upon it, and before me I see the trail running eastward towards the top of the mountain, my point, and as I looked up I could not believe my eyes. The mountain seemed to rise up into the sky and into the heavens. As the slopes rose up they met fog and clouds from the rain; with clouds ringing the peak it fades and appears from view with an almost mystic feel. I begin my trudge up the mountain by heading down the small valley below the lower peak and then rise again towards the middle peak. As I reach the middle peak I find another soldier there looking around and I ask him what he is looking for and he tells me the point at the top of Mt. Atzmon. I laugh and tell him to look east and he looks up at the peak rising into the clouds and fog and almost starts to cry from the climb before him. I laugh and push on towards the top of the mountain. I have to head down from the middle peak and then began to climb the main peak. I feel almost as if I was in the Lord of the Rings and the climb continued, through, cold, fog, and drizzle. The peak finally began to close in and I reached the path which circles the peak, and I went to the south. I followed the path and then when a path lead north I went with it and reached the peak and my 4th point. From here it was downhill as I twisted my way down the mountain towards the valley below. The paths here begin to disappear and change from the aerial photos so I decided to just go straight down and ditch the paths. I finally made it to the valley below and to the old well which was my 5th point, and last for day one.

From here I had to move to my sleeping point on Mt. Achim which was the other side of the small valley I was in. So I began to climb up and then headed east towards my position. I finally get to the turn in the path which leads me to my sleeping point and head up the path till I get to the hummer. I then have to get my sleeping position a bush I was assigned and learned ahead of time. So I head to the corner of the olive grove there, and then north to the first tree, east from there east between two trees and then the tree before me was my position. I get there and crawl under the tree and pass straight out. A little bit of food latter on and back to sleep. I had finished 3rd on day one over all but on time I had finished first.