Preparing to climb Mt. Sinai for the sunrise (this is about 3:00 a.m.)

When I booked my tour to Egypt with Gecko’s Adventures, one of the main reasons I picked the one I did was because it included climbing Mount Sinai for the sunrise.  I was not disappointed.

We were awoken at 2:00 a.m. with a pound on the door and by 2:30 a.m. we were downstairs, sipping on hot tea and waiting to pile into the van to take us to the base where we would start. There, we met our guide, Mohammed. He named our group “Alpha Star” which is what he would yell out continuously for the next several hours so as not to lose any of us (unfortunately that was not entirely successful).  We all thought he said “half a star” at first, but it made a lot more sense when we realized it was actually Alpha Star.  Anyway, he still managed to lose us.

Shady had told us that the guide’s job was to bring up the rear so as not to lose any of the slower people.  He said we should feel free to go on ahead.  Now keep in mind, this entire climb is done in the dark, with only your flashlight  (torch) to lead the way.  We all started off walking together, about 3:00 a.m. Shortly after we passed St. Catherine’s Monastery, we dropped off Michelle and Kristen who were going to ride camels up.  The beginning wasn’t so bad but it wasn’t long before the terrain got really rocky and increasingly steep.  There was another Gecko’s group climbing at the same time as us and we soon all blended together.  Their group was about half younger folks (twenties) and about half older (fifties or so); the younger guys all wanted to speed on ahead and so they decided they were going to join our group.  That totally confused Mohammed and I don’t think the rest of the way he really knew who was in our group or how many we had.

The view ahead as we walked up (thank god for a flashlight!)

There were little rest houses every so often and after the first one we all got separated.  Chris and Jana went on ahead with the younger guys from the other Gecko’s group.  Then came me and Randall, followed by Anthea and Lauren.  Megan had an asthma attack just before the first rest house and turned back and Mohammed just left Sophie, Linda and Khanh behind. So much for the guide bringing up the rear to ensure we didn’t lose anyone.

The hardest thing about the whole climb was doing it in the dark.  This was especially true since my flashlight started dying out, making my light way too dim to be of much use.  Luckily, Randall came to the rescue and gave me his camera batteries, which were rechargeable. It was still a little scary, though, as camels were trying to run me off the path and there were times when the path was so narrow I felt like one wrong step and I would be tumbling off the side of the mountain!  For those reasons, I didn’t venture too far ahead, even though I would have preferred to go a bit faster.  We also didn’t know how much further we ever had to go and Shady had said it would take as long as four hours and I definitely wanted to be at the top for the sunrise about 6:30!  When I did try to venture ahead, Mohammed yelled at me for not staying with the guide.  When I tried to explain to him that half the group was already 20 minutes ahead of us and that he had left the other part of the group way behind, he really didn’t have much to say.

We ended up making it to the top by about 5:30 a.m. – about two and a half hours.  After renting a thick blanket to stay warm and buying an overpriced Snickers (which had never tasted so good despite being slightly stale), we all managed to reconvene and huddle together to keep warm until the sun finally came up.  Luckily, we had a lot of entertainment in the form of various folks praying and chanting and singing out loud.  Despite the cold, it was well worth it as the sunrise was gorgeous!  Once it was up, Randall took a nice group photo of us all at the top and then we were on our way back down.  Needless to say, the way down was MUCH easier.

St. Catherine’s Monastery

We reached the bottom about 8:30 and then just had time to kill until the Monastery of St. Catherine’s opened at 9:00.  Of course, it ran on Egyptian time, so it was closer to 9:30 when it actually opened.  The monastery dates back to the year 337 when the Byzantine Empress Helena ordered the construction of a chapel around the putative burning bush that God used to talk to Moses.  The alleged “descendant” of the bush is still there, but I would say whether it is actually is open for debate. It was interesting to see nonetheless.

It wasn’t long before we were back in the van, on the road again, this time heading to the seaside resort town of Dahab.

Note: I visited Egypt in January 2008, pre-revolution. This was originally published in 2010.

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