My Climb Up Mount Sinai, Egypt
Mount Sinai, also known by some as Moses mountain, is a majestic and awe inspiring place, rich in history and religious significance. Mount Sinai is 2,285 meters in height and is located near the city of Saint Catherine in the Sinai region of Egypt.
I got a chance to experience the climb up Mount Sinai when I was touring around Egypt, and as a novice hiker, I must say that this mountain was pretty challenging, although not an impossible task. You do need some degree of physical fitness to endure the full hike. The view at the summit is definitely worth it.
For experienced climbers, I suppose this is child's play as the route is pretty well mapped out. I heard from a local that on a good day he could easily get up the summit in 45 minutes.
Before our adventure hike up the mountain, we had to first endure a 9-hour bus journey from Cairo to St Catherine (including a 1 hour lunch stop). As we got closer to St Catherine, we passed by some police checkpoints, and certain areas require a police convoy to escort the buses further along the highway.
Our hotel (Morgenland Village) was located in a pretty remote area—just 15 minutes drive to St Catherine's Monastery where we would start our ascent.
If you are staying in Sharm El Sheikh, a popular seaside resort destination near the Red Sea, you can also join a tour to climb Mount Sinai. However, to get to the start of the ascent, the tour will need to pick up climbers from their hotels at night time (~ 9:00 pm) and it will take about a two- to three-hour bus journey to get to the starting point.
We reached the hotel at about 6 pm and had an early dinner and rest. At about 2 am, we commenced our 4-hour hike up.
My local guide explained that some people prefer to climb in the day to catch the sunset instead, but I personally think that climbing down at night is a bit more dangerous, as the probability of falling down is higher. But at least these climbers don't need to be so physically exhausted at odd hours of the night!
The initial hike up was manageable because there was a proper trail which was not terribly steep. The only thing to be careful of was slipping on loose pebbles and stepping on fresh/dried camel poop, which was everywhere (yucks). Camels are available for hire at a cost of USD $25 if you need a little help with the ascent, but they will not take you all the way to the summit. The camels stop just before you reach the last leg of the hike, which is a tiring climb up 750 steps.
The guide explained that the majority of these steps were created by a monk who was seeking repentance from God. When he passed on, other monks from the monastery completed the rest of the steps up to the summit.
Along the way up, there are several rest stops where you can take shelter from the cold and buy a hot drink for 15 Egyptian pounds, or some light snacks like chocolates and cup noodles.
Although rest stops are a welcome relief for hikers (especially for those inexperienced ones like me), try not to stop too long at each stop. This is because your body heats up as you climb but cools down quickly when you stop, which will make you feel really cold when you restart the hike again. If possible, only stop for a maximum of 5-10 minutes.
Interestingly, there are people who appear out of nowhere midway up the mountain, offering to give you a hand. My local guide warned us not to be fooled by the friendliness of these people as all they are really trying to do is to get you to pay for their services after helping you get up the mountain (as with most things in Egypt, they try to portray something as being free, only to request money afterwards).
We reached the summit just before 6 am, in time for the sunrise at about 6.15 am.
After spending some time enjoying the amazing view, we started our descent a little after 7. The route down seemed easier and faster and our guide explained that there are generally two ways of getting down. One way was the path that we took during the ascent, which was a route covering 750 steps and a rocky zig-zag but gentle pathway. The other route is a knee-busting ~1500 steps down (although our guide did say that this way has better scenery). We took the same way that we took during our ascent and reached St Catherine's Monastery at about 9.30 am.
We ended the hiking tour by visiting St Catherine's Monastery to see the supposed original burning bush where Moses received a commandment from God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
Would you like to climb Mount Sinai in Egypt one day?
What to Bring
To prepare for your night hike up Mount Sinai, I would suggest that you bring the following:
- A hiking stick - I find this is most helpful on the way down to prevent slipping/falling.
- Torch light - it's better to get your own head torch light. If you didn't bring your own torch, hand-held torch lights are readily available for rent.
- It gets colder as you get higher up the mountain so do bring something to cover your neck and face and wear a warm jacket. You can also bring a poncho if you want but I really won't worry too much about the rain since it only rains a couple of times a year in Egypt.
- Snack bars and water. The cold weather and exhaustion does make you a little hungry.
- Good shoes for hiking. Make sure you tie your shoelaces tightly: else it will be easy to sprain your ankle on the uneven and rocky terrain. Surprisingly, I saw this lady hiking up the mountain wearing a dress, stockings and flat ballet shoes. My guess is that she probably hikes a lot wherever she is from—but I definitely would not recommend it.
- Bring muscle relaxant/pain relief gel (e.g. Deep Heat Gel)—this was a life saver for our sore legs after the hike.
Lastly, no matter how difficult the hike is, remember to take time to stop and enjoy the stars!