“Climb the Masada Fortress,” they said. “It’s a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” they said. “It’s the thing you’re supposed to do when you’re in Israel,” they said. You know what they DIDN’T say? That it was 700 %#$^&* steep, crumbling steps 400 metres UP a maddening, winding path (aptly named the “Snake Path”) to the ancient fortifications in the middle of the MF desert in 40+ degree heat!!
What do you want me to say? That the expansive view of the desert from the top of the rocky plateau was awe-inspiring? Was it a memory I’ll treasure forever and do all over again despite how bone-deep exhausting it was? Do you want me to admit that the arduous 5am journey (sans caffeine, might I add) where I come out looking like a sweaty sewer rat was worth it? Is that what you want me to say?!!!
FINE, IT WAS WORTH IT.
But only just.
IT’S A PLACE FULL OF HISTORY…
High above the Dead Sea, at the edge of the barren Judean Desert, the ancient fortifications of Masada (meaning “strong foundation or support” in Hebrew) is perched on an isolated rock plateau. Seeing the defensive advantages of the cliff-top location, Herod the Great – King of Judea – built Masada fortress as a palatial castle on the “lozange-shaped table-mountain,” complete with storerooms, cisterns, and a menacing wall.
Now an Israeli national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a place of great importance for the Jewish people and a symbol for determination and heroism. To this day, many Israeli soldiers are sworn in at this spot.
…WITH A DARK PAST
The refuge was conquered in 66 CE by a splinter group of Jewish Zealots – the Sicarii – and used as a stronghold for their revolt against Rome until the tail-end of the Jewish-Roman War in 68 CE. Upon being invaded, the rebels and the resident Jewish families of Masada were purported to have committed mass suicide – choosing death over slavery – but that is an inaccurate choice of words.
Judean law does not condone suicide so to avoid breaking the covenant, they drew lots and took turns killing each other – except for the last man standing who apparently took one for the team and broke the law. Quite the macabre loophole.
HOW I DID IT
During a heatwave in late May, a fellow traveller said climbing Masada in the 40+ degree temperature was like “broiling in the depths of hell.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
With that description in mind, we opted for the Masada Sunrise, Ein Gedi & Dead Sea Tour with Tourist Israel. We reasoned that hiking the fortress in the wee hours of the morning meant we could avoid being burnt to a crisp. Unfortunately this meant that the cable car would be out of commission (opens at 8am) so we’d have to hike up by foot. No big deal, right? Cue the ominous music.
We were picked up at a nearby hotel in Jerusalem at 3am (2am from Tel Aviv) and arrived at the entrance of Masada with just enough time to trek to the top for the sunrise. After descending the plateau, it was a blur of activity as we quickly cycled through the nearby Ein Gedi and Dead Sea. It was definitely an abbreviated visit but honestly, I was so desperate for a nap that I was practically crying tears of joy when I saw a bed when upon reaching in Tel Aviv at 2pm.
DID YOU KNOW
…that we are more likely to retain memories of events when we felt intense emotions? Well, as you could probably gather from my rant, the overarching emotion I felt while climbing the Masada fortress in Israel was pain.
So I was able to recall ALL of the thoughts (or at least 91 of them) for you to gain insight into what the experience was REALLY like:
Hiking up Masada at 5am
1. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this time of day.
2. It’s so dark out here that I suppose I still haven’t.
3. I wonder why it’s called “Snake Path.” I hope there aren’t actual snakes!
4. Now I really wish I had some light to see.
5. …and a tour guide to confirm or deny the presence of snakes.
6. Some literal and figurative illumination would be really welcome right now!
7. One step down, only 699 steps to go.
8. But is that a regular-sized person step or a Lebron James-sized step?
9. Is it like when Google tells me something is a 15-minute walk and it’s 30 minutes?
10. They never factor in limb length and my legs are about as long as a corgi’s.
11. Either way, I’m too lazy to count to refute whether it’s more than 700 steps.
12. Why does the path keep winding back and forth across the mountain?!
13. So inefficient. It would make way more sense for it to go straight up!
14. I guess that would also make it easier for enemies to invade but…
15. They should’ve been thinking of all the cardio-hating tourists who’d be making this hike thousands of years down the line! Inconsiderate.
16. Ohhhhh….that’s why it’s called “Snake Path.”
17. It may be a roundabout way up but it’s aptly named.
18. How is it still 23 degrees WITHOUT THE SUN?!!
19. I desperately need caffeine but the sunrise tour was a good choice.
20. Otherwise I’d be an Asian fried dumpling right now.
21. I’m going to pretend to admire the view as cover for a little break.
22. “Oh look how beeaauuuuttiful the darkness is!”
23. They should install hammocks at regular intervals for restorative naps.
24. I’d also accept a rustic escalator. They had those back in 68 CE, right?
25. How are 60-year olds lapping me?! I’ve never felt so unfit in my life.
26. That includes the time I drank gravy in the privacy of my own home.
27. This makes me regret not doing more cardio at home. Almost.
28. What if someone got hit by a sudden need to go number 2?
29. They’d be shit out of luck. Pun intended. Hehehe.
30. Must stop laughing at own joke to conserve energy and breath.
31. That inert cable car is just taunting me from the top of the mountain!
32. I don’t even have the energy to shake my tiny carny fists at it in frustration.
33. Is the top of the mountain a %#$^&* mirage??? It’s not getting any closer.
34. I feel like I’m on a %#$^&* treadmill without the “stop” button.
35. Did I wander into a Groundhog Day alternate universe and that I’m fated to walk the same %#$^&* path, back-and-forth. %#$^&* forever.
36. Noticing correlation between how far up I climb and how much I curse.
At the top of the flat rock plateau of the Masada fortress
37. I have arrived!
38. Where’s my medal of valour for that tedious journey?
39. Or at least a light refreshment or a moist towelette?!
40. My legs are feel like jelly. The ultimate leg day.
41. I need to lie down. And a nap. And a drink. Like, a BIG drink.
42. Is this it? Dafuq…it’s just a bunch of rocks!
43. It’s a nice view…I guess. But was it worth the climb…?
44. The guard needs to stop yelling at me not to sit on the rock!
45. The whole damn thing is a rock and after that hike, I’ll sit anywhere I damn well please!
46. Ok well NOW what do I do??
47. Take photos I guess…otherwise how will people know I was here?
48. I’m sweating like a wildebeest. I probably smell like one too.
49. I’m going to look faaannnntastic in the photos.
50. I’ll just turn away and make it look artistic versus hiding my glistening, beet-red face.
51. So this is why face filters were invented for.
52. Man, you can’t find this kind of square footage back home.
53. Generally people venture into the desert to relinquish themselves from mortal trappings. Clearly King Herod did not prescribe to this ideology.
54. But this is the pre-AC era. How did they live???
55. You better not have a fear of heights if you’re living up here.
56. In the Bible when they say the Israelites were lost in the desert for 40 years, they were being literal, not metaphorical. This is where they were.
57. How do they get weekly groceries?
58. What poor unfortunate soul was tasked with venturing out to gather supplies?
59. And I thought going to the suburbs for a party was a pain in the ass.
60. Dating up here would be so limiting.
61. You’d swipe through all the viable options on Tinder in under a minute.
62. It must’ve been a mad dash to snag the hottest Israelite.
63. Who am I kidding, they’re all hot.
64. I’d watch a reality tv show filming the drama unfolding between people stuck up here.
65. “The Bachelor: Masada Edition”
66. Ghosting would be so difficult up here. Not many hiding places.
67. I am NOT looking forward to the hike back down.
68. Can someone carry me? Preferable someone attractive and muscular?
69. Perhaps in a golden palanquin, Cleopatra-style?
70. I’d even accept being strapped in a Baby Bjorn at this point.
71. Ugh, I’m going to put it off as long as possible.
72. Oh, is it breakfast time? Out of my way suckers! See ya at the bottom!
The descent down Masada at 7:30am
73. I feel like I should’ve stayed up there longer for the hike up to have been worthwhile.
74. %#$^&* cable car is still closed…
75. You’d think the way down would be easier but it’s hard on the ankles!
76. I have such weak ankles…
77. What if I just tuck and roll…?
78. Pandas do it all the time and they’re fine!
79. Then again, they ARE an endangered species.
80. How am I supposed to appreciate the scenery watching my feet so I don’t slip and fall to my death?
81. Imagine you had a bunch of kids and accidentally left one behind but didn’t realize until you were halfway down.
82. Ah, we have 7 more kids. He’ll be fine. I’m not climbing back up there.
83. “Sayonara Moishe Junior! Have a good life.” I didn’t like him that much anyways.
84. It seems like it’s taking longer to get down than it was to get up!
85. This would make one hell of a Slip ’N’ Slide.
86. It would be a much more pleasant way down.
87. What a wasted opportunity.
88. Finally made it! My legs feel like they’re liquified.
89. I imagine that I’ll experience mild PTSD whenever I climb stairs from now on.
90. Elevators are my new best friend.
91. Now, where’s breakfast?
Was climbing the Masada Fortress in the middle of the Negev desert during a heatwave that made it feel like I was broiling in the depths of hell worth it? Sigh, I don’t know. It’d be more worth it if there had been a lavish buffet at the top but I’d do it again. I guess I’m a masochist for unique experiences like that.
If you’re putting together your itinerary for an upcoming trip to Israel, check out this expertly curated one.
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