Scaling Mount Sinai – Sinai, Egypt

After our charming dinner, I headed off to make some last minute travel inquiries before we had to shove off at 11pm. Kelly and I armed with our frozen (doesn`t stay frozen long even at night) water and hiking shoes, jumped into the van for the two hour drive to Mt Sinai. I tried to sleep but my head kept bouncing off Kelly`s shoulder and hitting the window as the kamikaze driver barreled around the tight turns.

We stopped suddenly and literally fell out of the seat as I blearily rubbed my eyes. I muttered something rude as I scrambled for my shoes which had found their way off my feet somewhere along the way and I here I was standing the the dirt in my sock feet. After I had composed myself, I found Kelly and apologised for my very uncharacteristically impolite and impatient behaviour. I shocked even myself as the words came out but luckily it only lasted for 20 seconds. Usually I am a morning and night person but I think I was a little confused at what time it was, considering most people don`t try climbing mountains in the middle of the night.

So we began our trek to the base of the 2285m mountain when we met up with Hend, an Egyptian girl from Alexandria. She told us that even tho she was from Alexandria, she had never made this climb before. It reminded me how many times I have had the discussion with those halfway across the world who haven`t seen their own backyard. I thought about what familiarities I have taken for granted.

It took me a few minutes to get my footing and even tho I had a flashlight, I kept tripping up on the road. I was thoroughly amazed at how dark it was and when I looked up, I had to stop for a minute to admire this one star. It shone and flickered crimson, indigo and fiery white with such intensity. It was as if it was winking at us. We ambled long the long dirt road which took us past St Katherines monastery (where you can see the burning bush…it did look pretty dry) where it came time to make a decision.

There are two ways up: The Camel Trail and the Steps of Repentance. There were men trying to sell us camel rides and ask if we needed a guide but we refused as did most of the other hikers. Honestly, I didn`t expect such a turn out but there was easily over a thousand people marching up the snakey trail. It was about two meters wide and flashlights clearly defined the crowd. We decided to take the steps…all 3750 of them. I wondered if I could think of 3750 things to be repentant about by the time we reached the top.

This is also the mountain where it is believed that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Because it was pitch dark we scrambled around for a while looking for the way. There didn`t seem to be any markings and there were no clear steps either. We heard a creepy gurgling growling noise coming from the darkness which I joked to perhaps be golum. As we crawled over the boulders, I stumbled clumsily again and again prompting a concerned “Be careful” from Hend.

About a twenty minutes up, just as we began seriously doubting our path, we found a stair! Yay! With a renewed vigor we stomped up one by one until suddenly after about 12 they stopped and we were back onto rock navigating again. At least we knew we were on the right path.

We stopped to rest and while perched upon a great stone shelf, I felt something sticky on my fingers. I looked down and noticed a little bushy plant growing out of a crack. I picked a sprig and upon inspection I found that it had the most curious aroma. I thought it was something like lavender but none of us, although we all agreed it was familiar, could pinpoint it.

We kept up our climb and as I glanced down (we were getting reasonably high now) I could see in the distance the other trail. It was lit up with now what looked like hundreds of candles, wynding around a pass away from us. I mentioned that we were going in the opposite direction of all the others but surely there were not two sets of steps.

I couldn`t believe that out of all these people, we three were the only ones to attempt climbing the steps up. I thought that for sure we would see a few random lights trailing behind or in front of us but nope. Just us. To tell you the truth, I thought was pretty cool bringing the spirituality of the experience to a different level.

When we finally did get onto a steady flow of steps, they were not even or uniform. More like stacked stepping stones and boulders, I really had to be careful as now my flashlight had dimmed considerably. I was relying on the extra light emitted from the girls` torches. We stopped for a rest and I just listened to the silence sitting in the shadow of the night gazing up at the moonless sky.

Stars were strewn across the heavens like billions wildflowers in a grassy meadow. I don`t know if it was our altitude or the fact there was no moon to distract, but I know I have never experienced such an exquisite display of heavens jewels. Captivated by the flares of light piercing through the obscurity, some flaming past with incredible speed and some sweeping past softly leaving a faint glitter in its wake.

We passed by a little stone building which in the dark looked like something from the Blair Witch Project. I urged Kelly to go inside jokingly but nervously added “no don`t!” as she took a few steps forward calling my bluff. We investigated the exterior finding odd shaped windows with bars blocking them high up above and a small dwarf size door. “Can you imagine carrying a key that size around?” I exclaimed pointing at the pear sized ancient looking keyhole.

We began to doubt our course once again as we had veered quite far from where we thought the others must be. Were we going up the wrong mountain? There was no lights or chatter in the distance and in the darkness we couldn`t really make out which way the summit must be. I was startled by a sudden “Oh my God” from Kelly who had stopped in front of me and was pointing at a door. About 20 steps up, there was an ominous looking empty frame of a doorway. Through it we could see stars in the sky on the other side. We trod up to it and passed through the large opening and found an marvelous view of a rocky valley and sheer rock faces.

Dawn was approaching slowly and if you looked carefully you could see an ever so slight brightening in the distance. We continued our ascent stopping to look at the tall pine tree which seemed to have several levels. As we came upon a bend we saw several lights in the distance and found the steady stream of others just up ahead where the paths converged.

We decided to sit and take advantage of our last few moments of solitude. While snacking on water and cookies, we basked in our sense of accomplishment. When we finally did join the rest of the trekkers it was very apparent that we had take the right path as we now had to contend with a noisy crowd huffing and puffing complaining all the while.

Sunup was approaching quickly so we all split up weaving in and out of the mob sprinting up the last bit of stairs. As I reached the summit, I took one look around at the hoard of people and dismissed the idea of trying to find the others in time. I located an empty spot close to the cliff edge and settled in to watch the sunrise.

Yesterday when we were walking to dinner, Danny Kelly and I had a conversation about all the sunrises they had seen from mountaintops. I have seen sunsets but this was to be my first sunrise. They were renting blankets and mats but even though I had been warned that it would be cold up at the top, I felt the air temp was just right. I looked down at the mounds of brownish rounded peaks below in the valley which seemed to stretch out forever.

I looked across out over the water at the sky opening up gently letting in more and more light. All the stars had now gone to bed and the sky spanned every shade of blue as I lolled my head from East to West. Behind me an old couple were singing softly in another language as they held each other in the crisp mountain air. I wondered how long they had dreamed of this moment.

I focused my gaze back to the panorama thinking just how quickly it was coming. Just then, in harmony with the gasps of awe, came the first break of day. The deep orange dot expanded rapidly into a full blazing sphere gracing the scape. I felt tingles crawling up my spine hitting my neck and exploding into a cascade over my shoulders and down my body.

The moment was surreal and I was overcome with emotion at the enormity of it all. I sat their long after most of the crowd had left listening to the birdsong as they flitted from cliff to cliff. I watched the sunbeams caressing each crevice and mountain tip and immersed myself in the stillness.

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One Response to Scaling Mount Sinai – Sinai, Egypt

  1. Hend says:

    It was an amazing night with all sparkling stars and this number of people gathering at the same time to watch the sunrise. Hope we would meet again someday.
    take care 🙂

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