An Exclusive Interview with 33North’s Founder
Discovering Lebanon’s natural beauty and cultural heritage takes on a new dimension with the Boukaat Loubnan Trails (BLT), a groundbreaking long-distance trail that seamlessly connects the western and eastern mountain ranges. In this exclusive interview, Gilbert Moukheiber, the founder of 33North and the visionary behind BLT, shares insights into the inspiration behind the trail and its unique features.
Inspiration and Objectives: The inception of the Boukaat Loubnan Trail was inspired by the desire to showcase the pristine beauty of the Bekaa region, a relatively undiscovered destination for trekking among many Lebanese. Moukheiber aimed to create a long-distance trail that links North Bekaa, the Anti-Lebanon Mountain Chain, and the region of Mount Hermon, emphasizing the fusion of natural capital, cultural landmarks, and human heritage. The trail also celebrates traditions such as Transhumance, recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Trail Overview: Spanning an impressive 400 kilometers, the BLT ranges from 800 to 3,088 meters in altitude, offering both medium and advanced difficulty sections. What sets this trail apart is its sustainable development, utilizing old footpaths and dirt roads that minimize maintenance costs. The linear and loop style design encompasses Lebanon’s highest summits, including Kornet es Sawda and Mount Hermon, as well as its deepest valley, Wadi Johanam.
Main Trekking Destinations:
- North Bekaa Trail (NBT): Extending from Deir El-Ahmar to Hermel, this trail traverses rolling hills, ancient churches, nature reserves, and Roman-era ruins, concluding in the Karm Chbat nature reserve in Akkar.
- Anti-Lebanon Trail (ALT): Stretching from Al Qaa to Anjar, ALT offers a rugged journey through historical ruins, Hima, Roman temples, and the strategic eastern border region. The distinguishing feature of the Anti-Lebanon Trail is the inclusion of Fajr el Jouroud, Lebanon’s exclusive dark tourism trail, spanning a distance of 60 kilometers.
- Mount Hermon Tour Trail (MHTT): Covering towns and villages from Al Manara to Hebbarieh, this trail boasts Lebanon’s highest peak, Mount Hermon, and includes visits to Rachaya al Wadi and the Citadel of Independence. The Mount Hermon Tour Trail stands out as the sole trail in Lebanon that allows hikers to explore 12 Roman landmarks within a 5-day hiking itinerary.
Al Terhal Trek Expedition:
An annual trekking adventure on the BLT, the Al Terhal Trek Expedition honors the tradition of Transhumance. This unique experience occurs in May and November, involving the seasonal movement of animals between Mount
Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges.
Challenges and Rewards: The trail presents the challenge of creating awareness due to its novelty, but the rewards lie in discovering Lebanon’s hidden beauty and supporting local communities. Hikers can expect a variety of agritourism initiatives, cultural tours, and economic support for local businesses.
Supporting Local Communities: BLT actively supports local communities by equipping guesthouses, providing capacity building for hosts and guides, and collaborating with local associations for culinary sessions, workshops, and agritourism initiatives. The trail also serves as a platform for economic support, and 33North plays a crucial role in destination management, marketing, and awareness creation.
Organizational Details: Operated and promoted by 33North, the full trail experience includes guiding, food preparation, luggage transfer, and camping gear. Safety is paramount, with collaboration with the Lebanese army, local authorities, and trained local guides ensuring a secure hiking experience.
Conclusion: The Boukaat Loubnan Trails emerge as a testament to Lebanon’s natural and cultural wealth, offering a transformative hiking experience that simultaneously supports local communities. As awareness grows, these hidden gems promise to become a staple for adventurers seeking an unparalleled exploration of Lebanon’s diverse landscapes and heritage.