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London, England, United Kingdom
March 21, 2011
Gravesend, United Kingdom
September 25, 2009
From journal The Ancient Delights of the Middle East
May 5, 2007
From journal Sharm-el-Sheikh and its attractions
November 27, 2005
We hitched a ride from our hostel in the coastal town of Dahab on the Sinai peninsula around 11pm at night. After picking up a few more passengers, it took us about 90 minutes to reach St. Catherine's Monastery, where the trail begins to the summit of Mount Sinai. We began climbing just before 1am under a near full moon, which provided enough light to keep us from having to use our flashlights.
For the most part, the climbing was fairly easy during the first 5km of the trail. It was wide enough for several people to walk abreast, since it was also used by the camels to carry visitors up the trail. Also along the way there were a few small stalls selling breakfast items, coffee, tea, and other trinkets. We did not stop at any of these and continued our way up to the summit.
About 3.5 hours into our climb, as we neared the summit, the camel trail stopped as we hit the Stairs of Repentance. These are the final 750 steps that must be climbed to get to the top. This climb was more strenuous and slow-going than the trail due to the rough and random placement of these rocks. A flashlight was definitely needed here, and it took us almost an hour of climbing and resting to reach our goal.
The view from the summit is raw and quite surreal. The land around us feels ancient. The landscape of the surrounding peaks and valleys is full of jagged peaks, sharp rocks, and dry desert floors and is quite inhospitable. We arrived at the top about 30 minutes before sunrise and remained at the summit for about an hour. There is a small makeshift Christian church and a Muslim mosque near the summit that is an interesting focal point against the barren background.
Our climb back down to St Catherine's Monastery took us another 3.5 hours and was fairly uneventful. Even though it was only 9am by the time we were loaded onto our minibus, the day was already quite hot. I can't imagine trying to climb Mt. Sinai under the noon Egyptian sun. All in all, I would highly recommend this trek. It is not technical at all, and anyone who is reasonably fit can make it to the summit. It will certainly be one of the highlights to your trip to Egypt--for better or for worse.
From journal The Sands of Time
October 7, 2002
The climb up the mountain is far different from the climb Moses made thousands of years ago to be sure. Today there is a nice wide camel path that will guide you gradually up the mountain. Along the way are throngs of camel sellers, as well as four or five stands selling water, soft drinks and candy. It's not likely that Moses stopped for a Snickers on his way up but, whatever, the climb still offers spectacular views.
During the summer I suggest not going up during the day; the heat is absolutely unbearable and dangerous. Plus, seeing the sunrise from the top is a magical experience. If you leave around 2:30-3:00am you will make it up in time for sunrise, but bring a flashlight and warm clothes. It gets cold on top of the mountain. Blankets are also for sale on top for about 5 Pounds.
There are 2 ways up the mountain, the Camel Trail and the Stairs of Repentance. For all but the most fit and adventurous, I suggest the Camel Trail; it will take you the majority of the way up the mountain, but you still will have to master one last set of stairs. The Stairs of Repentance are 3750 steps built by a monk for repentance. They go straight up the 2285 meter mountain and it will likely leave you breatheless by the end. If you are going to do the stairs bring lots of water and be very careful at night. I suggest for the average hikers around to go up the camel trail then come down the stairs. Coming down the stairs is not too difficult and it offers great views of the monastary.
On the top of Mt. Sinai there is a Greek Orthodox church as well as a mosque, although both are usually closed. During the summer months the mountain is often flooded with people waiting for the sunrise and fighting for spots on the mountain. I found that if you get up the mountain aroun 4:30-5:00 you should beat the rush and get the best seats, to the right of the church on the ledge. Then all you have to do is snuggle up with your partner, or chat with your mates and wait for the sunrise. You won't be disappointed.
From journal The Sinai in a Weeknend
Among the sites in the monastary are a beautiful chapel featuring original doors from the 6th century, as well as the remains of St. Katherine, the supposed Burning Bush through which God talked to Moses, and a well from which Moses drank. There is also a macabre room full of all the bones of the former monks of the monastary. St. Katherine can be done in about an hour or an hour and a half. It can also get crowded at times (thus be rather frustrating), but it is a beautiful monastary tucked into the mountains of the Sinai, and worth a visit.
March 25, 2002
We arrived Saturday morning around 10am by jeep with our hired guide and bedouin driver, and quickly toured the monastery before it closed at noon. The Burning Bush was amazing to see. I didn't know it still existed. Hard to fathom that we were here, a place so remote and historic. We even saw the well where Moses met his wife, as it too is enclosed within the high walls of the monastery.
The monastery grounds are very peaceful. Huge mountains loom in the background. Tall Cypress trees distinguish the surrounding area as a holy site, as they supposedly only grow in areas believed to be holy. The hostel is a short walk from the monastery. There is a dining area with long wooden tables and benches, and several dormitory and private rooms.
We were the only people staying overnight in the monastery. Our room had two twin beds and a private bathroom with a shower. There was a window without a screen. Cost was minimal, around $25 US for lodging and meals. It was very clean, simple and perfect.
We were gone all afternoon, hiking up Mt. Sinai and exploring the mountaintop until sunset. When we descended the mountain, it was dark. In the dining hall, we were served a late dinner of spaghetti, meat links, bread and water. It was strange being the only ones eating in such a large hall.
Mosquitoes kept us awake rather late that night, but we fell asleep around 2 am (just when most hikers leave to climb Mt. Sinai to avoid the heat). At 7:20 am the next morning, we awoke to a slight earthquake which sounded like a big truck with a noisy engine.
Breakfast was served in the large dining hall. The meal consisted of a hard boiled egg, pita bread, humus and olives. We wandered around the monastery grounds until our guide led us to an area near the entrance of St. Catherine's where we saw a section of mountain that was carved into the likeness of a calf. Our guide told us the story of Moses, and how he brought the Israelites here to camp out at the base of the mountain while he climbed Mt. Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments. While Moses was gone, his brother Aaron made a sacrifice in the form of a golden calf for the people to worship. It was interesting to hear the Exodus story told from a Muslim perspective.
Other hotels are quite a distance from the monastery, the closest being 3.5 km away in Al-Milga, with reportedly infrequent taxi service. I think you will miss out on the overall feel for the place if you don't stay here. I found the hostel to be very peaceful, remote and wonderful.
From journal Honeymoon in Sinai Desert, Egypt
Climbing Mt. Sinai was a special highlight of the trip for me. We began our ascent around 3:30 pm in the hot desert sun, wearing shorts, boots and daypacks. Our guide led the way up a sandy, smooth trail, 8-12 feet wide. This was the camel route, where you can ride partway up the mountain for $10 US. We chose to walk. Another route, Steps of Repentance, is shorter but much steeper.
Although the path had a gradual slope, the stagnant air and heat knocked the energy from us. There were several bedouin snack tents enroute, but most were closed since we were traveling in June, the slow season. In fact, we were the only tourists on the mountain which really surprised me, as guidebooks warn of the throngs of people that typically congest the mountain.
The rocky terrain reminded me of the moon. Tall, jagged, dark mountains had ripply edges. Very sparse vegetation. Unusual aromatic weeds grew along the path between rocks. Some had little yellow flowers on them, and others looked like soft green fuzzy ferns.
The ascent took a little over two hours. We passed Elijah's Hollow, where prophet Elijah heard the voice of God after fleeing the wrath of Jezebel, and saw the 500 year old cypress trees that represent God's presence.
Toward the top, we found a snack tent open and loaded up on semi-cool Fantas, Snickers and water. The bedouin verified that we were his only customers that day. I was impressed by his willingness to camp out at that remote destination all day waiting for hungry, thirsty tourists.
After this began a rocky, steep section to the summit, where camels cannot advance. It was a tough climb in the afternoon heat. At the summit, we had the mountaintop to ourselves, except for our guide and a couple of bedouins who operated a snack tent and appeared to live there.
The view from the summit was beautiful. Mountains everywhere. All major religions are represented at the summit with separate structures. Christians built a chapel in 1934 out of material that existed from an earlier church built in 532 by monks. Recently, mosaic tiles and manuscripts were discovered underneath the chapel, and a French archeological team is currently excavating the site.
We wandered around the mountaintop until sunset, finding geodes, pottery shards and unusual plants. While the sun disappeared behind the mountains, we sat in the stillness and watched the darkening sky produce beautifully bright stars. Our descent only took one and a half hours. It was a pleasant walk, with a refreshingly cool breeze. Magnificent stars and a flashlight illuminated our way.
This entire area has religious significance. It was here that Moses climbed Mt. Sinai and received the Ten Commandments. Six hundred years later, God reappeared and spoke to the prophet Elijah who was living near the base of Mt. Sinai.
Christian hermits migrated to this spiritual, holy place in the 3rd century to escape Roman persecution. The monastery was founded in 330 AD, after freedom of worship was granted throughout the Empire. In 527 AD, when Emperor Justinian ordered a fortress to be built around the church to protect the monks from numerous attacks by marauding bedouins, massive granite walls up to nine feet thick and sixty feet tall were erected.
It was named for St. Catherine, who converted to Christianity and was subsequently beheaded for her beliefs. Legend has it that her broken body was transported by angels from Alexandria to the highest mountain in Egypt. Three hundred years later, a monk living in the walled monastery received a vision, went up that mountain (Mt. Catherine), and found her bones. Today her skull and left hand are kept inside the monastery. Each November 24th, the monks take her hand out and kiss it.
Inside, the impressive fortress walls surround Moses' Burning Bush, Jethro's well, the lavish Church of the Transfiguration, twelve chapels, a museum, library, icon gallery, refectory, olive press and a mosque. Today, twenty-two Greek Orthodox monks reside here in the smallest diocese and oldest working monastery in the world.
We hurried in before the noon closing time to visit the monastery. Of keen interest to me was seeing the Burning Bush. I hadn't realized that it still existed. Yet, there it was, in the courtyard, the green, healthy three-leaved Burning Bush from thousands of years ago. This thorny plant supposedly does not exist anywhere else, and cannot be successfully grown from a seedling or root. This was the bush that God turned into fire and spoke through to Moses, convincing him to return to Egypt to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. It was amazing to actually stand there looking at an ancient living bush from biblical times.
We also saw the well where Moses first met his wife, one of Jethro's seven daughters. Across the well is the entrance to the Church of the Transfiguration. Inside, pillars, chandeliers, 6th century icons and an elaborate patterned floor decorate the interior the church which is in the shape of a basilica. It is the oldest example of Byzantine architecture in the world, and it is gorgeous. Behind the alter is the Chapel of the Burning Bush, where St. Catherine's remains are kept in a gold box under a burning candle.
Admission is free. Hours are 9-12 Monday - Thursday, and Saturday.
Narbonne, France, -- Choose State --
September 18, 2000
Interestingly, it was built around the bush that burst into flame at Moses's feet, and legend has it that the bush is still growing after all these centuries. There indeed is a bush, a member of the blackberry family, in the monastery and some branches of it can be seen by visitors. Apparently the bush is quite oily and in extreme heat could spontaneously combust.
The monastery is very remote and until only recently was seldom visited, and very few visitors were permitted inside, but the pressure of tourism, the Egyptian government and the need for funds have caused the monks to permit tour groups to visit, and a village has been built up a short distance from the monastery, complete with fast food and gifts.
When I visited the place, it was a tedious process getting through the United Nations checkpoints because each vehicle had to be searched thoroughly, at least twice, before proceeding across the blast-furnace desert to the monastery. I rate the visit a high point of my trip up the Red Sea from Yemen to ALexandria.
From journal Along the Red Sea