Climbing Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai, the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, according to the Bible. Holy it is, but I always wonder why everyone is so hyped about climbing Mount Sinai at sunrise. It’s freezing cold in the morning and what’s so nice about sitting there on the peak with 200 other tourists fighting for a nice spot to catch the view? That’s the plain reason why I didn’t visit Mount Sinai last time in Egypt. But this time, with the revolution driving all tourists away, and the chance meeting of this Slovenian woman on the ferryfrom Jordan who happened to live in Santa Catarina and who might be able to give me a ride from the port of Nuweiba, I decided to give Mount Sinai a chance.

Upon arriving in Santa Catarina, I found that I would need to hire my own guide to climb the peak, although the path up was pretty clear and straightforward. As I could not find anyone else with whom I could share a guide, myself nearly being the only person staying at the hostel, the hostel manager suggested that I could try to climb the peak during the day. The way to Mount Sinai involved passing through Deir Santa Catarina (St. Catherine’s Monastery). During the day when the monastery was still open, I could just pretend to be looking around in the monastery if anyone asked me to hire a guide.

Deir Sant Catarina

And so it went, I visited the monastery and shook my head whenever anyone asked me if I wanted to climb Mount Sinai. However, later I found out that I also had to pass this road outside the monastery before I could reach the way to the mountain, and that road was completely lined with old kids and young men, all prospective guides desperate to make a buck from this stupid foreigner. As I stepped onto the road, all the eyes turned towards me. I couldn’t pretend anymore because that road led to nowhere but Mount Sinai, so I turned back to figure out an alternative route.

Opposite the monastery there was a slope up another hill where all the tour groups would climb several meters to get a nicer view of the monastery. So I followed the tour groups up the slope and while no one was looking, slowing moved myself towards the direction of Mount Sinai along the slope, hiding behind rocks whenever possible, till I reached a remote section of the road to Mount Sinai where no touts would see me. Then I quickly hopped back onto the road and continued my way up Mount Sinai, rid of all the touts!!

After about 2 hours, I reached the peak, absolutely blown away by the layer after layer of mountains across the deserts. Though I’ve seen similar kinds of scenery before, the fact that I was the only person (apart from a few Bedouin shopkeepers) up there on the peak was surreal. Not a sound next to my ear except for birds chirping and flapping their wings, I closed my eyes and imagined myself floating in the air with the birds above those mountains. Nature is amazing.

View from the peak

My two other companions on the peak

After sunset came the difficult bit, descending from the peak in pitch darkness. I am really not the best in directions and I was too engaged in the scenery on my way up to take note of the landmarks in my surroundings. Everything looked completely different at nighttime and I lost my way, although I had a torch. I tried looking for the right way by tracing the donkey shit along the road. Eventually when I was sure I was on the right track I became a bit paranoid with the emergence of wild beasts, as I was told that occasionally there are foxes hanging about in the mountains. The more I thought about it the more afraid I got – it was a vicious cycle. I turned up the music on my iPod to divert my attention and walked as fast as I could, until eventually I saw the shadow of a priest (at first I thought it was a ghost and got more freaked out) and was relieved to reach the foot of the mountain, finally…

The next day, I was secretly laughing to myself when a couple, who had ascended the mountain the night before to catch the sunrise, was pissed that the hilltop was full of people.  So my advice is: If you are ever going to Mount Sinai, forget about sunrise, go for the sunset!


Bedouins chilling with music and songs around a bonfire inside their tent.