Sunset at the top of Mt. Sinai

Mount Sinai Travel Blog

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5 am came early especially after the previous night sleeping in a seat on the train from Luxor. We headed out before the sun was up. It was a 7 hour drive to St. Catherine’s city with military checks along the way. There was a brief stop at a pharmacy for Mick’s meds……still not well.

The streets were empty making for a totally different urban landscape as we said good-bye to Cairo.

The landscape became even more flat and barren….if at all possible.

We had a quick stop for bathroom and snack then through the security for the Suez Canal. There were many soldiers posted at high points above the road as we entered the tunnel. One of them waved at us.

At least they are friendly.

I had asked Ahmed if it would be possible to get closer to the Suez Canal that so that we could get pictures of it and the ships. As soon as we exited the tunnel, we turned down a road to the right that took us down a military road that could get us as close as possible and hopefully we would not be spotted by the Egyptian military.  The land was flat and barren…….desolate. If we  happened to be spotted,we would be in trouble. What kind of trouble was not explained but…….trouble none the less.

Halfway down the road we stopped the bus and allowed those of us who wanted to get out, did. There wasn’t much to see but it was bizarre. It looked as if there were cargo ships sailing across the desert.

After a brief highway stint we were skirting the Gulf of Suez. We didn’t stop but the view from the bus was tropical …but barren as well.

The driving on this highway was very crazy…..and I’ve seen much crazy in my travels. Most of the time drivers are passing each other, even when there are cars in their path. The on-coming cars just move over. On one occasion we were faced with on-coming traffic three cars wide……someone had to slow down.

The terrain began to change. Golden deserts gave way to mountains and valleys of red. We had a couple of rest stops and a few security checks, as well. The last check point was the U.N. Peacekeeper post at the Sinai entry. This was exciting…….we would be there soon.

Seven hours after our start, we made it to St. Catherine City, the village that serves the monastery and Mt. Sinai’s tourists. We checked into our accommodations. With a welcome drink and a friendly smile we were led to our individual bungalows. Ours was at the front with a dramatic mountain view. The door was a wreck! It had cracks big enough to see landscape through and the area around the lock had obviously been broken into. This place was……rustic, lite!

After our check-in we had a buffet lunch and a pretty good one at that. It was 35 pounds and included hummus, rice, cucumbers, tomatoes, pasta, veggies, and even a desert table. Over all, it was a good deal and I had two plates of food, the most on the trip, so far.

According to Bedouin tradition, this is the mountain where God gave laws to the Israelites.

However, the earliest Christian traditions place this event at the nearby Mount Serbal, and a monastery was founded at its base in the 4th century; it was only in the 6th century that the monastery moved to the foot of Mount Catherine, following the guidance of Josephus's earlier claim that Sinai was the highest mountain in the area. Jebel Musa, which is adjacent to Mount Catherine, was only equated with Sinai, by Christians, after the 15th century. Also, for Muslims, there is a chapter which mentions the mountain in the Qur’an, entitled SÅ«rat At-Tin, in which God swears by the fig and the olive, by Mount Sinai, and by the city of Mecca.

Christian orthodoxies settled upon this mountain in the third century, Georgians moved to Sinai in the fifth century, although a Georgian colony was formed in the ninth century. Georgians erected their own temples in this area. The construction of one such temple was connected with the name of David the Builder, who contributed to the erecting of temples in Georgia and abroad as well. There were political, cultural and religious motives for locating the temple on Mount Sinai. Georgian monks living there were deeply connected with their motherland. The temple had its own plots in Kartli. Some of the Georgian manuscripts of Sinai remain there, but others are kept in Tbilisi, St. Petersburg, Prague, New York, Paris and in private collections.

Now it was time for our climb.

We drove to St. Catherine’s Monastery and met our guide for the hike, Moses, yes, I did say Moses! Five of us had signed the waiver for the stairs option. It is a steep hike of 3000 stair-like things, more like rock chunks and boulders on the side of the mountain. The stairs are known as the “Steps of Penitence. From there we would meet up with the main trail and then take the remaining 750 stairs to the top of Mt. Sinai. Mary, Beck, Devon, Rob, and I all signed the waiver and decided to give it a try. The rest of the group took a more leisurely track to meet the upper trail and then climb the last 750 that we would be climbing.

We had our first look at St. Catherine’s and it was as amazing as in pictures and I looked forward to my visit, the next day.

For now, it was up the mountain and hopefully make it to the top. For me it would top my previous record that I set near Alghero, Sardegna of almost 1200 steps along the ledge of the limestone cliffs.

The climb was rough. Only five minutes into this, I was wondering what I was doing and if I could make it. I thought about my mother and grandmother. How they would love to be in this very special place where God appeared to Moses and gave us the commandments to live by. I would get to climb the same mountain as he did and see the same view. I dedicated my journey to the top, to them. I repeat, it was rough. I was the slowest and most always at the back of the pack. I was the oldest of the group and felt it but, didn’t give up…….I persevered.

For the others on the track, they had the option of camels to the junction for 85 pounds.

No one succumbed even though they had three Bedouin trailing them, just in case.

We took frequent rest and water breaks…..mostly for me to catch up. The view from each new stop was even more breathtaking than the last. The nearby mountain tops were soon in sight.

Some of the areas of our climb included rocks of three feet in height or more…….but we kept going.

In the upper areas of this outer rocky area, there were holes in the rock facing that looked as if they may have been shelter ….if not, I don’t know. Before we crossed to the first landing area, we made our last look back at St. Catherine’s, now looking smaller and far away.

At the landing I discovered areas where people had stacked rocks, the meaning of which I have still not learned.

I have seen this in many places, some of which are Iceland, The Faroe Islands, The Canary Islands, and Cyprus. I stacked rocks to leave my mark on Sinai, as well.

At the top of a steep set of rocks, we went through a grand arch. The views were increasingly incredible. The mountains were harsh and dramatic……like on would expect from Sinai. Climbing to the next level, a single tree stood out…..could this be “The Tree”?

Just past this landing, we reached the junction and connection to the upper area. We had made it to through 3000 steps. It was only 750 to go…..but, they were very , very steep.

On this climb we finally passed people that were descending. There were elderly people, and many of them, on their return from the top.

They told us that it was so worth the journey to experience the top. We continued our climb.

Nearer to the top, there were several stations set up with Bedouin selling drinks, snacks and drinks…..and insane prices. We were now even with the surrounding mountains. The climb continued.

A final steep section revealed another landing. Here, we met with another monastery. We had reached to top, almost. Just a hundred yards around the landing and the monastery, we had made it.

We had reached the summit of Mt. Sinai!

We had climbed in a time 1 hour and 50 minutes. The view was a bit cloudy to one side and very misty on the other. It was still everything I had expected and more.

The sun began its decline and colors started eminating from the distant sky.

The feeling inside me was in one of peace and satisfaction. It had been hard  but I knew that this was a piece of my travel adventure that I could not pass up as it may never come again. I am thankful that I had the chance and that I that I had faith in myself.

The other’s reached the summit around 25 minutes later, looking haggard but appreciative, also. We took a great group photo with the sun setting behind. It was a special group moment.

With some of the last moments before the sun dipped below the mountains, a firey red burst from the center…..a sparkle of yellow, as well. The day was ending and we had made our mark today. My life’s history now included a trek to the top of Mt. Sinai!

Now it was dark! It was really dark! There were no lights….

.at all!  We began our descent. The trail was very dangerous. We all had flash lights but, we were on a mountain in the middle of the Sinai Penninsula where there is no light anywhere around. The blackness was scary as we had two hours of descending to do. Also, after the climb that 5 of us had done, this would be even harder for our group. I lagged behind as my shoes were giving way very often. I had been hiking too many times on volcanic rock and the soles were a bit worn down. They were a serious limitation. I had to move slowly and even then I almost went down several times.

You could hear as others were sliding on the mountain, as well. Diane actually took a fall but, suffered only abrasions and potential bruise.

Moses gave us a rest break an hour into the descent but……….

my weary knees just needed to move on. Now and then on the trail Rob and I had Bedouins come from behind….a bit scary. Again, it was pitch black and we could barely see with our flashlights. They could have tried to mug us or worse and we would have been in serious trouble.

I was so happy to reach to bottom……..but so happy that I had made the effort to do climb to the top!

We returned to the hotel and had a buffet dinner and retired to our bungalows. We were all beat and were barely able to stay awake. We did nothing more than brush our teach, wash our face, and get in the bed. I only hoped that I could walk the next day. In the last few hundred yards of the trail, I had twisted my ankle. This usually turns into a major problem. I could only hope that Sinai would heal my injury.  

Stigen says:
It's a proper walk up there in the middle of the night ! and so crowded at the top !
Posted on: Oct 21, 2010
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Mount Sinai
photo by: TravellingAuntie