Why Moses couldn’t have got the ten commandments at sea level I don’t know, but it was the significance of his receiving the sacred stone tablets on Mount Sinai that lured us up another mountain almost ten years since we last vowed never to go near one again.
We have a tendency to forget what a mountain is. The dictionary describes a mountain as a ‘large natural elevation of the earth’s surface rising abruptly from the surrounding level.’ Having a fun filled, action packed traveller’s lifestyle (if lying around until noon before descending on the town’s eateries like a duo of locusts counts as action packed) we don’t tend to spend our time reading the dictionary. Mountains are pretty and at a distance twinkle their aged wisdom.
Which idiot it was decided that shlepping up a steep vertical incline for half a day would be a good idea is confined to history and will form the basis of arguments for years to come. I’m writing this post while Deirdre loafs around in bed thinking about descending on the town’s eateries like a locust so we shall say the fault is hers.
The late morning drive through the desert to look at a bush bought on the feeling that, after a couple of weeks catching up with work in Dahab and slipping into the routine of a resident, we were finally travelling again. In a van with eight other travellers the warm ground level landscape contrasted the incongruent mountain top snow.
The trail starts almost on the doorstep of St Katherine’s Monastery. It was here Moses spoke with God on a matter that began to shape and influence three religions for the next couple of thousand years.
The daddy of the area, Mount Sinai stands 2285 metres tall and is normally ascended by two tracks: the camel trail and the 3750 Steps of Repentance, laid by a penitent monk. Stepping around camel shit we guessed we were on the easier camel trail and, other than some wheezing, had little difficulty until we joined the Steps of Repentance 750 rock shorn steps from the summit.
From that moment the twinkle went from the mountain to remind us just how big a bastard they can be. You know that bit at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? The bit where the beautiful angelic spirits released from the Ark turn spiteful and start melting the Nazis? The Mountain did that.
Deirdre is afraid of heights and I dislike effort. The last 750 steps were torturous; ascended in lethargic bursts punctuated by breaks for rest and complaining. The rest of the gits in our group* – with the exception of a woman in her fifties who had trouble early on (and still beat us to the top) – were younger, fitter or longer legged and made the peak with far less drama.
God was no where to be found when we finally reached the top but Ibrahim, a Bedouin, was there to serve up some hot spicy noodles with bread. Ibrahim, along with the souvenir hawkers, sleeps under blankets on the mountain top for six days a week, visiting their families in the nearby village on the seventh.
Initially we had the summit almost to ourselves but as the sun lowered in the sky more groups arrived. Initially I was a little irked to have to share the views with the crowd but where we were just doing some arduous sightseeing many others, Muslim, Christian and Jew, were undertaking a pilgrimage.
We had been told to bring torches but most had not. The pathetic florescence from our efforts added to the mobile phone/flashlight combo of the guide didn’t inspire confidence and we drifted away, in dribs and drabs, from the summit before sunset in an attempt to get as far back along the trail as possible before darkness fell.
Unhampered by adequate light, the descent was – a stumble here, a twisted ankle there – mostly an enjoyable silent stroll under the benign witchcraft of a multitude of bright stars. I loved that bit. Looking back up, the torchlights of better prepared trekkers minutely broke the darkness as they made their way down the mountain.
Entrance Fee & Other Costs
No fee to enter. The spicy noodles were E£20. Turkish coffee in a plastic cup from a gaslit Indiana Jones style (see Raiders of the Lost Ark again) cafe/shack cost E£10.
Day or night trips from Dahab cost around E£120 per person. Going by bus and paying the entrance fee to the park the trip will cost around a third of the tour price.
What to Bring
Though it is warm to begin the summit is above the snowline so bring winter clothing, even in the summer. Take your own food if you want to avoid paying for reasonably expensive food and beverages at the many mountainside shacks/cafes. Also take water and a torch (essential).
* We actually had a very good group but they are still gits for being so fit and skinny.
Our visit to Mount Sinai was provided courtesy of Dahab Safari.