BEIRUT: The arrival of spring ushers in much that is well-anticipated, from warm weather, blooming flowers, a rejuvenated outdoors, and of course the hiking season.
And with our feathered friends chirping again, it seems only fitting that bird watching is the theme for this year’s regularly scheduled hiking trips in the mountains.
Mark Aoun from Vamos Todos explains why this time of the year is perfect for hiking. “In spring, everything is green and there is a lot of water [in rivers and lakes],” he said. “The landscape is just beautiful.”
The Lebanon Mountain Trail Association sets off this weekend for its annual “Thru-Walk” of the 440-km Lebanon Mountain Trail, which leads from Qobeiyat in Akkar to the southern town of Marjayoun.
The trail was established in 2008 and is divided into 26 sections. It travels through different biospheres, including protected areas such as the World Heritage site in Qannoubine Valley or the Chouf Cedar Nature Reserve toward the end of the trek.
Actually tackling all 440 kilometers is a daunting challenge, organizers say, but one that’s well worth it.
“Your life will change if you walk the entire trail once. Enjoying the nature and meeting people [with the same passion] is a great experience,” says Christian Akhrass, field specialist at the LMT Association.
He has taken part in the Thru-Walk every year since its launch five years ago and will be the group’s leader this year. Five people have registered to hike the whole trail, Akhrass and his assistant included.
Karim al-Jisr, the president of the LMT Association, says 2013 will see a good turnout. He adds that “140 individual persons have registered [to take part in the trek], who will accumulate 680 overnight stays.”
The association has also reached out to several embassies, which run programs to support their touristic and ecological causes.
Last year, the Canadian Embassy was involved in the inauguration of the Bruce Trail Friendship Trail in the Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve in section five of the LMT. The Friendship Trail was established by the LMT and the Canadian Bruce Trail Conservancy and serves to promote international cooperation between the two countries and the two trails.
For participants of the Thru-Walk, transportation from Beirut and accommodation on the trail is organized by the association. Depending on the location and LMT section the hikers stay in guest houses, hostels or monasteries.
Naturally, safety is a big concern and the Lebanese Army has been informed about the detailed program in advance. The ongoing tensions in the north and elsewhere are considered with caution.
“We are not worried about the situation on the trail,” Jisr says. “All the accommodations are safe. Our main concern is the access to the trail. We will avoid passing through Tripoli this year.”
Foreigners planning to hike in south Lebanon generally require permits, which are issued by the Army in Sidon. These were collectively facilitated by the organization. Due to current tensions in the region, the association informed all participants about security precautions and handed all names of hikers to the Army.
The outdoor organization Vamos Todos has similar concerns about its tours, Aoun says.
“We avoid routes leading through Tripoli [to reach the hiking sites] these days,” he says. “We follow the news and stay in constant contact with local guards in the areas of our tours.”
People who want to take part in the hike should be well prepared. Good, already-broken-in hiking shoes, extra socks to prevent blisters, along with rain, sun and mosquito protection are the essentials. A trash bag to avoid littering on the trail is listed in the packing instructions as well.
As for other tips, Akhrass advises people to drink enough water to avoid dehydration. Lunch bags are given out daily for hikes lasting between three and six hours.
This edition of the Thru-Walk is dedicated to Lebanon’s aviary population, whether permanent bird residents or those that are just passing through. The event will include both awareness sessions on bird hunting and bird-watching information. Most of the nature reserves along the way focus on the protection of birds such as eagles, hawks and robins.
Spring and autumn are the best seasons to spot birds because they are migratory periods.
Dalia Jawhary, from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon, says: “Most of the birds here are migratory birds that stop in Lebanon. Some of them are seriously endangered species [due to excessive hunting].” The SPNL held an event last Saturday at the Important Bird Area in the Bekaa Valley’s Anjar to highlight “the miracle of bird migration.”
The hike is scheduled to continue, irrespective of weather conditions, and ends on April 28, after 26 days of hiking and three scattered rest days.
Akhrass says: “In all the years of the tour we only had to interrupt one section because of dense fog. Otherwise, if it starts to rain for example, we simply put on a jacket and keep going.”