I woke up at 1 am, put on my clothes and got ready, then went outside to meet our guide where he said he would meet us, in the tent in the harden outside the rooms. I was half sleepy, half ready to go climb Mount Sinai, and half excited! (If you can have 3 halves )
I have talked earlier to the hotel’s receptionist and he told me I must have a guide with me, and then gave me the choice to climb through the traditional route or through the real footsteps of Moses through Wadi Al-Arba’in, passing some landmarks that are standing from his time. Given that I was going to pay for the guide anyway, I decided to take the less traveled route. Besides, seeing a rock that pumps water since Moses’ time until now, should be interesting! (for those who know the story, it is the rock he hit with his stick and it got drinkable water for him and his people…)
1.30 am I woke our guide up from his tent and 1 cigarette later we started our hike.
The only more interesting thing about the route through Wadi Al-Arba’in I think is that no one uses it…while the other traditional route is really crowded with people and camels and souvenir shops, this one leaves you really walking alone, humbled by the size of rocks and mountains that cover up the moonlight every now and then.
A while later Wadi Al-Arba’in route meets the traditional route again, and that is when you feel you were lucky to have some time on your own. Though when you look backwards on the traditional route, and see the line of pilgrims with their flashlights, it is something to see!
We had a little break in one of the small cafés; we were hungry, as dinner was almost 7 hours ago! We got ourselves two over priced instant noodles, for EGP 30, while you buy them (undone) for EGP 1.5! That is a HUGE profit margin
The last bit of the hike was literally climbing. Not as in mountain and rock climbing, but stairs climbing. There are around 700 steps, non standardized, as they are carved out of the rocks of the mountain, so some are really high and some are too small to be counted, but in over all, this was the most tiring part of the climb, and this was the part we had to do really quick as light was starting to show up in the horizon and I didn’t want to miss sunrise after all!
We made it on time.
This, I can’t explain, but this easily is the best sunrise I have ever seen in all my life! And as I’ve heard before, it really feels like the sun is showing up from underneath you! Quickly rising to be in level with you, and in another 10 minutes it is well above you, a normal 6 am sun!
The climb down was the hard half of the day; after all, descending a mountain is always harder than climbing it!
Our guide gave us the choice to descend through the traditional route, again: crowded and full of camels and dust made by camels, and people offering rides on those camels, or we can take yet another route, all made of stairs carved of rocks.
I have read about this descending route, so I said we’d go for it. Those stairs are even worse than the ones we had to climb to get to the mountain’s summit; they are very steep and very high. After 40-50 minutes, knees start to hurt and legs start to shake and with every step you feel like they will give way underneath you, but luckily I didn’t fall! Though I saw a couple of other people slipping on that climb down, no serious injuries – not even blood – but I’m sure it hurts to fall on stairs!
As hard and steep as it is, it is very scenic! It is really beautiful!
On that climb down you pass by several points that offer great photo opportunities, I was really sad that I didn’t have a camera with me on that trip. Also at some height you finally start seeing the monastery underneath you, it is a really scenic route and worth its steepness!
Advice on Climbing Mount Sinai:
1- Always have warm clothes with you, summer or not, above the mountain gets really cold at night and during sunrise.
2- If its winter, take even warmer clothes, Mount Sinai and Mount Katrina are the 2 only places that snow in Egypt in winter.
3- Wear a fleece so you don’t get a cold because of your sweat. Or do it like I did and take another t-shirt with you to take of the wet one once you’re at the top.
4- Take a flashlight with you, just in case. The guide WILL NOT have a flash light, they know where each and every rock is and they can walk it blind folded, or they just use the weak phone lights when needed. So take yours in case.
5- Take snacks with you, lots of them! Everything in the mountain is really really over priced, so just take some chocolates and chips and sandwiches if you can with you. Also don’t forget to take water with you, 1 bottle for 2 people should be enough, of course depending on how much you usually drink.
Actually the only thing that is not over priced are the souvenirs, well they cost basically nothing but $1 rocks that have some really good color patterns and shapes isn’t very bad if you’re interested in getting one…
6- Start the climb early, take your time climbing, and when up there look for a good spot. It gets crowded!
I would say start you’re climb at midnight, or maximum 00.30 am to be able to take your time and make it to the top before all the crowds.
7- No matter what they tell you, if you are going for the traditional route (starts right at the monastery’s gates) don’t take a guide, that is money waste, the traditional route has 100s of people climbing every night, there is no possibility of getting lost there! And on the climb down you’ll also find lots of people to follow.
Only take a guide if you’re going on a less traveled route. St. Katherine is inside a national park and is full of – unmarked – hiking trails, so if you’ll take another route, you could get lost.
Our guide took EGP 120, I don’t know if it’s a good price or not but I think you should average it around that…
8- Don’t rush your climb down. Take your time above the mountain, sit for a while. Most people start the climb down right after the sunrise “to beat the heat”. It doesn’t warm up THAT fast, so don’t worry, it’s better to beat the crowds – or let the crowds beat you in that case, and enjoy your climb down at your own pace.
I again have to mention that this was by far the best sunrise I have ever seen! Where was your favorite sunrise? (Pictures or links to them are welcomed.)
And did you or are you planning to climb Mt. Sinai soon?
Photo Credits: Christian Reistad