Tristan Love, our Gecko’s Marketing Coordinator, lived in Egypt for a couple of years and has climbed Mt Sinai a crazy 22 times! She tells us about the area below:
The Sinai Peninsula of Egypt is a beautiful, if desolate, rocky landscape with jagged pink granite mountains launching up into clear blue skies. Away from the amazing snorkeling and diving to be had along the coast in Dahab, Nuweiba and Sharm el-Sheik, the area around the biblical Mt Sinai is eerily quiet. The small town of St Catherine’s is home to the Bedouins and those that support the St Catherine’s Protectorate. Mt Sinai (or Mount Horeb or Gebel Musa as it is also known), is of course, the mountain where according to the Bible, Moses received the Ten Commandments.
Christians originally came to the area in the third century to escape persecution and it has remained a site of pilgrimage ever since. At the base of the mountain is St Catherine’s Monastery, dating back to the 6th century. The monastery is Greek Orthodox and was built around the site where it is thought that Moses found the Burning Bush. The monastery is associated with the Christian martyr, St Catherine of Alexandria. On her death by beheading, angels miraculously took her remains to Mt Sinai where they were found by monks around the year 800. The monastery is unique in that it has been reverently left alone by all those who have invaded the area since it was built. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the monastery is filled with one of the largest collections of illustrated manuscripts in the world along with books and icons important to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
The climb to the summit of Mt Sinai starts right near the monastery and takes 2 – 3 hours each way. There are two ways to climb. The first is an easy switchback trail which you can walk up or ride a camel. The second route is via a staircase that monks carved into the rock face hundreds of years ago. Known as the Stairs of Repentance, there are 3700 stairs to climb. The walking/camel trail meets up with the Stairs of Repentance for the final 700 stairs and to reach the summit, everyone must climb these final 700 steps.
Along the way, Bedouins have set up small shops where you can purchase cool drinks and chocolate bars for energy! After sampling hot chocolate in each hut, I reckon Hut 5 at the bottom of the final 700 steps has the best! You can also purchase small Bedouin handcrafts at each of the huts.
On reaching the summit, the best thing to do is grab a good spot and rug up to watch the sunset or sunrise. The sunrise climb is generally busier than sunset. The summit can be quite cold so you should take a warm jacket or pullover with you. The Bedouins also hire blankets to the climbers. The sunset or sunrise is absolutely stunning and washes the surrounding mountains in a beautiful pink and red light. There’s time for a reviving hot chocolate before commencing the descent and you can walk down via the stairs or the camel trail.
No matter what your religious inclination, visiting St Catherine’s and climbing Mt Sinai is a wonderful experience and a definite must if you are travelling through this part of Egypt.
What does it cost?
Both the monastery and Mt Sinai have free entry. While there is no charge to visit the church inside the monastery, they do charge to visit some of the other areas within the complex. It is also nice to leave a donation on leaving the monastery. There is a row of Bedouin gift shops in the monastery car park where you can purchase handicrafts such as blankets, singing camels and knitted gloves and scarves (handy for the cold wait on top of the mountain!). The church has its own gift shop where you can purchase religious souvenirs.
Your local leader can advise on the current costs of a hot chocolate on top of the mountain and hiring a blanket. If you’d like to ride a camel up the camel trail to the start of the final 700 stairs, be prepared to bargain! You will also be accompanied by a camel boy who will lead your camel and it’s appropriate to give them a tip. Again, your leader can help with advising you on what to pay. You will generally need to walk the whole way down the mountain rather than riding a camel back down the trail.
Best time to go?
Believe it or not but it does snow in the Sinai! Therefore, if climbing Mt Sinai is something you’ve always wanted to do and a definite must on your trip, it’s best to avoid mid-December through to mid-January as Mt Sinai can be covered in ice and therefore unsafe to climb.
St Catherine’s Monastery is open 9am – 12pm each day except Friday and Sunday and any important days in the Greek Orthodox calendar.
Do I need to do any physical preparation for the climb?
Not really. It is a fairly easy walk up the camel trail. The stairs are more challenging and require a bit more fitness. Climbing the whole 3700 of them should be avoided if you have knee problems. I’ll be honest – I rode a camel about 15 of the 22 times I’ve climbed the mountain! Riding a camel up the mountain is a very peaceful experience and if you missed out on riding a camel in the desert, this is a good opportunity to do so.
If climbing for sunset, it’s much safer to walk back down using the trail rather than the stairs – there are no lights on the mountain.
What do I need to take?
A good torch or head torch is essential because you’ll either be climbing up in the dark or climbing back down in the dark. It does get quite cold once you’ve reached the top and you can be waiting for a while for the sun to set or rise. A day pack with a warm jacket and long pants will come in very useful and if it’s towards the end or start of the year, gloves, beanie and a scarf are also required. Thermals are not necessary unless climbing in winter. You definitely don’t need trekking boots – better to go with trekking shoes. Runners are OK as long as they have good grip.
And obviously water and some snack food to keep hydrated and your energy levels up. You can purchase these either on the climb or from one of the stores in the small village of St Catherine’s.
We have quite a few trips that tackle Mt Sinai. Check out all the trips by clicking here.