Noam Pratzer
Love being outside and helping people get outside!

Getting Out

Climbing up to John Gardner Pass.
Climbing up to John Gardner Pass.

For the past four and a half years I’ve worked as a lawyer in Jerusalem. I was lucky to start my legal career in Israel at the Supreme Court and since then have had the privilege of working for dedicated mentors alongside fantastic colleagues while being exposed to some of Israel’s most interesting, cases, start up companies and transactions. But my attention and my heart were always elsewhere.

Multiple times a day I would find Non Disclosure Agreements and Partnership Agreements replaced on my screen by GoogleMaps and GoogleEarth. From the comfort of my office chair I’d seek out remote places and fantasy-plan treks through the Canadian Arctic, Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains and Chilean Patagonia. I couldn’t shake the wanderlust and the feeling that my real life was somewhere outside…

My parents introduced me to the outdoors and to travel from a young age. As a child I would hike, swim and bike near my Grandmother’s cabin in the Laurentians in the summers and spend winter holidays skiing. As we grew up we traveled more, hiking and exploring different parts of Canada and the US as a family.

At the age of 25 I left Toronto and moved to Israel. The move took an emotional toll on me. Feeling lonely and lost, with most of my family and friends still back in Canada, I found refuge in the outdoors. 

Initially it was road biking. I had run marathons and triathlons back in Toronto and I loved the blend of intensity and calm that I felt during long runs or bike rides. For over a year, every Friday morning I would maneuver my bike out of my small one bedroom apartment in Nachlaot and ride out the backroads into the Jerusalem hills. 

After a few close encounters with Israeli drivers, a friend convinced me to try out mountain biking. He scared the pants off of me on our first ride, racing down a debris strewn trail in the Jerusalem forest. The next week I bought a used mountain bike and started exploring the extensive trail network outside Jerusalem. I found everything from gentle 4×4 trails to hair-raising downhill single track. Mountain biking slowly started taking over from road biking as my Friday excursion of choice. 

After each monotonous and often lonely week, I’d head out on my Friday morning adventure  and feel alive again, getting my weekly microdose of vitality, and even ecstasy. 

In the fall of 2016 I finished my internship (‘staj’) year, and had one month off after the Israeli bar exam before going back to work at the law firm. I wanted to escape into nature and so, borrowing an item off of my dad’s bucket list, I booked a three and a half week trip to Patagonia. 

I started the trip by hiking “The O,” a 115 km trail through Torres del Paine National Park, with an old college roommate. Majestic is an understatement. Torres del Paine is a place of unspeakable wild beauty; and even wilder weather. Each day brought a mix of torrential rain, sunshine, blizzard and hurricane style winds. But it didn’t matter, I had never seen anything so beautiful, nor had I ever felt more vigorously alive. 

Drinking from the river at Torres Del Paine National Park.
The “O” Trail in Torres Del Paine National Park.

On the fourth day of our trek, we were slated to climb over the John Gardner Pass towards Glacier Grey. We had been hit with a late season storm, bringing about ten inches of snow over the previous 24 hours, and the deep snow made the hike to the pass grueling. As we reached the top of the pass, the winds became so strong we couldn’t stand straight. Bodies bent over almost ninety degrees from the waist, 50 lbs on our backs, we stumbled across the pass, being blown in every direction. As we exited the wind tunnel I looked up and felt tears in my eyes (not from the wind) and a knot in my throat. 

Deep in the valley below, and extending as far as the eye could see, was Glacier Grey. Grey left me speechless, feeling deeply alive and connected; humbled and insignificant. The moment quickly passed, we still had a long way to go and a slippery root entangled forest to descend through. More people were coming over the pass and we had to clear the way. 

Climbing up to John Gardner Pass.
Climbing up to John Gardner Pass.
Glacier Grey, as seen from John Gardner Pass.

That moment of crossing the John Gardner pass and looking up over Grey Glacier will stay with me forever. Not just the physical beauty of the glacier and the rush of the wind, but the feelings and awareness the moment awoke in me. An aliveness and connectedness, coupled with a humbling sense of my own smallness in the face of the world’s vastness.  

Although my heart had been opened to nature’s power before, Patagonia left me seduced and hopelessly love-stricken. That trip also sparked love affairs with trekking and rock climbing, currently my two favourite ways of getting outside and feeling alive. (I’ll share stories from other trekking and climbing adventure in future posts!) 

Since coming back from Patagonia, and meeting my wife Yael at a Jerusalem climbing gym, we’ve replaced my Friday biking excursions with family rock-climbing adventures.

Heading out rock climbing in Ein Prat National Park.

Friday adventures, hiking, biking and climbing in the hills and desert surrounding Jerusalem do not satisfy the wanderlust that I pray will always plague me. Nevertheless, these weekly excursions out of the city have provided many of the minor riches and sacred moments that infuse vitality into the rhythm of regular life. From my lonely early days in Israel, riding my road bike alone through the Jerusalem hills, to exploring the Jerusalem climbing scene with my girlfriend and now wife, these short day trips are always invigorating highlights of my week. Each Friday, when I finally get outside, I feel my life slow down and simplify. I notice trees and insects, the tease of the wind and the smell of the plants and the dirt. And as my senses become more alive, and less distracted, so do I. Escaping from buzzing phones and backlit screens, I connect more to myself, to the people joining me on the adventure and to the world around me. Although I am always craving, planning and dreaming of the next big adventure (and luckily there have been many good ones since Patagonia), I’ve come to realize that it is the small weekly microdoses of adventure, that invigorate the rhythm of my life, and connect me to the place I live and the people around me. 

Over the last few years, I’ve begun to share the treasures I’ve discovered, hiking, biking and climbing around Jerusalem on an increasingly frequent basis. I love showing friends and family, local and from overseas, the places and activities that have brought so much vitality to my own life.  Sharing these small adventures has become part of the rhythm of my week; taking my wife’s family rock climbing on a Friday, and my friend’s boss, on his first trip to Israel, on an early morning mountain bike ride. 

I realized that, over my years of mini-adventures, I’d accumulated something well worth sharing. And so, two months ago, I founded Get Out Jerusalem. My vision is to build an outdoors community that makes it easy to discover the many microadventures in Jerusalem’s backyard.  And then, just as we were getting ready to launch, the coronavirus came around. Like so many, more important, ventures, my project had to be paused. 

As I sit praying for this plague to pass, I must admit that I also eagerly await the opportunity to get back outside and help others to get outside and explore. But in the meantime, as we’re all home, I thought I’d share my reflections on my own journey outside as well as, in coming posts, a little bit about some of the opportunities for microadventures that I’ve discovered surrounding the beautiful city of Jerusalem. 

I hope that by the time my next post, about Jerusalem hiking, is out, we’ll all be able to get out and enjoy Jerusalem’s beautiful trails (even if we are socially distancing as we hike)!

About the Author
Noam Pratzer is the founder of Get Out Jerusalem, a platform promoting outdoor adventures in Jerusalem's backyard. Noam studied philosophy, law and economics at the Universities of Toronto and Pennsylvania and is an ordained rabbi. He worked at Israel’s Supreme Court and as a corporate lawyer before founding Get Out. Noam finds sanctuary in nature, is a passionate hiker, cyclist and rock climber, and loves sharing this passion with anyone!