Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Climbing Mt. Sinai

One of the highlights of our trip has been the climb up Mt. Sinai.  We had planned this for a while, and after talking to our host at Desert Fox Camp, we were asked if we would prefer to be on the mountain for sunset or sunrise.  We originally decided on sunrise, as we would leave in the middle of the night and hike up the mountain when it was cool.  However, I later read that much of the hike is done in the shadow of the mountain during the time in which the sun is about to set, and that it wasn't too hot.  We asked our host what he preferred and he said the sunset hike was his favorite, as there are fewer people on the mountain.  We figured we would get back to the hotel and be able to get a full night's rest versus being exhausted the next day due to climbing down the mountain in the morning hours.  Therefore, we went on the sunset hike, and we are glad we did. When we reached the top we had the mountain to ourselves for about two hours with only one other visitor arriving as we were leaving.  We had heard that, even lately, there has been up to 200-300 people on the mountain for the sunrise.

Our hike began around 2:15 p.m. when our Bedouin guide came to meet us. It was still quite hot that afternoon.  We walked from the desert fox camp to the beginning of the trail.  This took about 20-30 minutes.  Usually, hikers will begin at St. Catherine's monastery, but we began at the opposite side of the mountain, taking a completely different trail. We passed by a few people on camels as we made our way to a rock where it is said that Moses met an angel.  After doing some research later on, we found that this is believed to be the rock where Moses was told to get water for the people.

Our guide and a Bedouin with camels.
We then walked for about 10 more minutes until we came to a rest stop with some water.  We had brought our own water, but our guide got some at this stop.  There were also some kids who tried to sell us some bags and other items.  We did not buy anything, and, after a short a rest, continued up to where the actual climb began.

The climb was not too challenging at first, but it was still tiresome.  Overall however, I will say that the climb is nothing to fear and it was very enjoyable to see the mountain scenery that was around us.  The landscape is rugged and wild, and the views are amazing as you rise into the hills.  

After an hour or so we came to the first of many rest stops on the mountain.  These rest areas sell things such as water, soda, handicrafts, and other goods.

Elijah's Hollow
As we rose up the mountain, we came to other rest stops.  In fact, there were far more of these than I expected to see.  Some sell more goods than others.  One had a place for people to sit and drink tea in a covered area.  As we climbed, we reached Elijah's hollow, which is a nice little garden courtyard area that is near the top of the mountain. This is where people believe that Elijah escaped to when he was fleeing from Jezebel. This is where he was fed by ravens from God.  It is at this point where one begins taking the stairs of repentance up to the top.  If you begin at the monastery, you can take stairs (all 3,750 of them) the whole way, but that was not possible with the route we took.  Anyway, the stairs were somewhat challenging and the wind was quite rough.  There are some big drops next to the stairs and no handrails, so it's scary at times.  We had to rest three times on the way up, as the climb is somewhat challenging and takes about 15 minutes or so.  I think there's around 700 stairs in total from Elijah's Hollow to the top of Mt. Sinai.

Finally, after a few hours climbing, we reached the top and the views were incredible.  I had been doing videos during various parts of the climb, which will be posted here in the future as well as on my Youtube page.

The Top of "Mount Moses"

One of the rest stops
Our guide left us alone at the top, as he wanted to go down and drink some tea at a shop that was near the summit.  We spent at least an hour up at top taking in the incredible views and enjoying having the area to ourselves.  There is a mosque up there that we took a look inside of (there was nobody there) and a church, which was locked up.  You could, however, peek through a hole on the door and get an idea of what it was like in there.  It is really incredible that they built buildings up on the top.  The top of the mountain is actually quite large and there is a good amount of room for many people.  There are places that rent blankets and sleeping pads for those who want to spend the night.  The wind is something else though, and temperatures can get down to freezing.  Even in the summer it gets quite cold up there.

We waited for sunset and watched it over the mountains.  We could see far into the distance, but not to the red sea or Saudi Arabia, which we are told can be seen from the nearby mountain, Mount Catherine, which is taller.  The sky was a bit hazy and the sunset was not quite as red as on other nights.  Later we were greeted by a man from Scotland.  He mentioned that he took the stairs all the way up from St. Catherine's Monastery.   That is a quicker route, which only takes about an hour and a half, we were told, but it's quite tough.  Also, some of the steps are said to be around a meter high.

After spending a while on the top and watching the sunset, we headed back down the mountain and met our guide.  He took us back down as night approached.  We made it past the stairs as darkness came, which was good, as we did not want to go down them in the dark.  Then we hiked down the mountain, which took about half the time as going up. It was killer on the knees though. When we reached the first rest area near the place where Moses hit the rock to get water, we rested and looked at the stars.  Then we made our way back to Fox Camp.  We were exhausted, but it was worth it.

The Shadow of Mount Sinai.

We had some tea and then headed off to bed.  The guide's services cost us 120 EGP, which was worth it. (We also gave him an extra 10 EGP since he was so nice.)  While it is possible to do it without a guide, it is technically illegal and it is easy to get lost in some spots.  As far as the climb, I recommend wearing enough sunscreen and take plenty of water.  Although there are places to purchase water, the truth is that the prices of the shops at the top are quite high, and they are said to rise as the elevation does.

If you do not stay in St. Catherine's, there are excursions to the town and the mountain from Dahab and Sharm, and they are not too expensive.  However, we found it worth it to stay in the town, as it is quite beautiful and quiet.  The land is rugged and dry, but it's like no where we had ever been before.  Hearing the sounds of the call to prayer echo through the mountains in the evening as the sun sets is beautiful and haunting.  Overall, a trip to Mt. Sinai is something that one should consider, even if one is not religious.  It is something we will not forget.

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